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Cherry Picking 101

January 2015
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cherry pickingWe all do it. We choose what we like and cast off what we don’t like, often with little regard as to what it is we are really casting off. In science it is defined as “choosing to make selective choices among competing evidence, so as to emphasize those results that support a given position, while ignoring or dismissing any findings that do not support it–a practice known as “cherry picking” –and it is a hallmark of poor science or pseudo-science” (quote source here).

Now bear with me through this next definition:

Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position. It is a kind of fallacy of selective attention, the most common example of which is the confirmation bias. Cherry picking may be committed intentionally or unintentionally. This fallacy is a major problem in public debate.

The term is based on the perceived process of harvesting fruit, such as cherries. The picker would be expected to only select the ripest and healthiest fruits. An observer who only sees the selected fruit may thus wrongly conclude that most, or even all, of the fruit is in such good condition. A less common type of cherry picking is to gather only fruit that is easy to harvest ignoring quality fruit higher up the tree. This can also give observers a false impression about the quality of fruit on the tree.

Cherry picking can be found in many logical fallacies. For example, the “fallacy of anecdotal evidence” tends to overlook large amounts of data in favor of that known personally, “selective use of evidence” rejects material unfavorable to an argument, while a false dichotomy picks only two options when more are available. Cherry picking can refer to the selection of data or data sets so a study or survey will give desired, predictable results which may be misleading or even completely contrary to actuality. (Quote source here).

Okay, you can stop snoring and wake up. You get the idea. Selective choosing or “cherry picking” is often accomplished by suppressing evidence in order to support a given position. What brought this subject to my mind was a bookmark that I purchased when I was at a Christian bookstore in Houston in December. This bookmark had the following statement written across the top, “Prayer Changes Everything,” with the accompanying verses printed below the caption:

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. ~Matthew 21:22

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. ~I Thessalonians 5:16-18

After almost six years of unemployment on top of the difficulty I found recently while trying to secure affordable housing on a very limited income while I was in Houston (I did not find it after looking for 14 weeks in Houston and I’m back looking for it here in Florida again), I found that bookmark to be very encouraging so I purchased it. And last night as I was contemplating for the umpteenth time in the past six years when this particular trial of mine (long term unemployment and now the housing issue added to it) was finally going to come to an end, I ran across that bookmark in my Bible. Of course, regarding my long term unemployment situation I have also become aware over this long period of time of circumstances beyond my control that are involved. Yeah . . . .

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I am “up” 98% of the time regardless of this ongoing trial of mine, but since a few days before Christmas when I was still in Houston until now (almost a month later) I’ve been battling a cold/flu type illness that has been determined to hang on through my road trip from Houston back to Florida and the two weeks I’ve been back. Fortunately, it is nearing it’s last cough and sniffle.

Isaiah55_10-11Anyway, as I mentioned above, last night I pulled out my Bible and the bookmark was in it, and I read those verses (see above). As a read Phil. 4:6-7 I was reminded of the fact that the only promise contained in those two verses was not that my prayers and petitions would be answered in the way I was/am hoping for, but that by “not being anxious about anything” (e.g., including the housing situation and the long term unemployment problem ad nauseum) and presenting my requests with thanksgiving to God for all He has done for me during these six years; that it is the peace of God that he promises to give me, which truly does transcend all human understanding and will guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus (and it will do the same for you, too). After reading those verses I decided to read the entire book of Philippians (it’s not long, only four chapters).

So often we (as Christians) focus on the verses that we like to hear while ignoring their framework (as in context, context, context). Verses like those cited above make for great bookmarks, posters, and all the other things we tend to print them on, but they don’t tell the whole story. They only tell a tiny piece of it–the pieces we want to hear while ignoring the rest. There are no quick and easy Cliff Notes on how we can get everything we want without any cost to us when it comes to living out genuine, authentic Christianity.

We tend to “cherry pick” our way through the Bible, selectively choosing what we want and leaving the rest (which tends to be most of it) behind. The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians while he was in prison, and in Chapter 1 he goes to great lengths to explain how his “chains” were advancing the Gospel. In America we don’t often equate being in chains (e.g., in Paul’s case, in prison) with the success model of Christianity we have so often been sold on–a model that is completely opposite from the biblical evidence of the New Testament. Let’s read what Paul had to say in vv. 12-30:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me [his imprisonment] has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Read that last verse again, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” We are in a war, but often here in America we are fast sleep to that fact and the enemy has come in like a flood. We are often more interested in “what’s in it for me” (e.g., the verses we like to read) then what it really means to follow after Christ and what is required of us (as in counting the cost of following Jesus Christ). And Paul clearly describes that war and how we are to fight it in Ephesians 6:10-18.

There is so much to learn in these four brief chapters in Philippians and not just those few “catch phrase” verses that end up posted on bookmarks, postcards, coffee cups, etc. We need to “dig in” and search just as hard as we do with our work or our entertainment or all the things that keep us distracted and from doing it. There is no “coasting along” in the Christian life. None. 

Forget about the “success model” of Christianity that is so prolific in our culture and find out what the true model of Christianity looks like by reading about it in the Bible and not getting it second hand from the latest best selling Christian book to come off the presses. Cherry picking doesn’t work when it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s all or nothing, and you’ll find it all in the Bible. And the Bible doesn’t lie or have ulterior motives like some folks do (as Paul described in the verses above).

Let’s look at the context surrounding Philippians 4:6-7 (the “bookmark” verses). It gives us the whole picture (vv. 4:4-9):

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

“Rejoice in the Lord always . . . let your gentleness be evident to all” –that puts those verses in the right context. And the following verses tells us what we should be setting our minds on–things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable; things that are excellent or praiseworthy. “And the God of peace will be with you.” And Paul admonished us to “put it into practice.” So put it into practice . . .

Put it into practice . . .

Put it into practice . . . .

Got it?

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” sung by Natalie Cole:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here



  1. nhiemstra says:

    Reblogged this on Flotsam and Jetsam


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