Article Watch: Searching for God…

Published: July 29th, 2004

David Lang has written an article entitled Searching for God in Mac Bible Software. A comparison of speed and accuracy.

Although he focuses on Bible software for the Macintosh, the points he makes are equally valid for Windows-based Bible programs. The author looks at two different aspects: speeds and accuracy (hence the subtitle), and says:

I did some comparative searches using each of the currently developed Mac Bible Software applications. The results were somewhat surprising, not only because of the vast difference in search speed among the various Bible programs, but also because of the high degree of variance in what was actually found.

It certainly doesn’t surprise me ;-)

These same words could have been spoken by somebody testing different Bible software programs for Windows.

I’ve mentioned before that speed is a very subjective thing. Don’t get me wrong. There are speed differences between applications, and some are very noticeable. But I think H. Van Dyke Parunak’s review article has already addressed this issue quite thoroughly.

I do want to comment, however, on the second aspect. Many people find (when they do in fact find it out) the discrepancies in the results returned by a given search rather bewildering. This is not a platform-specific issue. It has to do with a number of factors. But let’s get the facts first. Even a cursory look at the search for “god” in various Bible packages for Windows will prove revealing. Libronix Digital Library System lists 4717 occurrences (or 4473 using the “nostem” modifier). BibleWorks returns 4444 hits in 3876 verses. Bibloi reports 3638 matches (read verses). Pradis (Zondervan) finds 3876 hits (taking “hit” in the sense of verse where the search term is found). PC Study Bible lists 4444 matches. Lightning Study Bible returns 3877 verses. And I could go on and on… (I chose these ones, in no particular order, because I happened to have them at hand on this computer).

What’s going on here? Are they all wrong? Are some of them wrong while others are right? Believe it or not, the answer is that they are all RIGHT. In other words, all of them accurately return the right results according to the base text included in the package (in this case KJV), the search syntax used, the search routines followed, and the standard output adopted. The problem is that all of these are areas where different programs can (and certainly do!) take widely different approaches.

I will not go into all the details (see David’s article for some of the common explanations that account for the differences). Suffice it to say here that even such popular and extended lectronic texts as the King James Version CAN have typos, that some programs use stemming (LDLS) or double-wildcard searches (Bibloi – but not in this particular instance!) by default, and that default search settings and statistical output vary considerably from one program to another. On top of that we should remember that the meaning of such terms as “hits”, “matches”, “occurrences”, “verses”, etc. is not always consistent.

So, what are we to make out of all this? One of the lessons is, IMO, that we should get to know (and I mean “really know”) the way a program works. The second thing is that we should always double-check our results.

As we have seen, even a seemingly innocent, one-term search like this one can become a real headache if we haven’t done our homework first. So… in the not so familiar rendering of the NET Bible, “The one who has ears had better listen!”

Update (July 30): David has posted a follow-up article (Searching for Jesus in Mac Bible Software) with further clarifications and some corrections.

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