Come Let us Reason – Correlation vs. Causation
Understanding Correlation and Causation can help straighten out thousands of errors in thinking. And, I might add…in thinking about spiritual things especially. Let’s give a few examples.
1 – When Shirley walks in the door I always get a cold feeling. She must have a spirit.
2 – Every time I clap my hands Jessica jumps up and down.
3 – When I saw the visiting minister, he had a scowl on his face. Maybe the enemy is after him today or he is unhappy with me.
4 – That town has a lot of cancer cases. Moreover, there was a period of years where the water was not that good. That is why they are getting cancer.
5 – When the dominoes started going down so did my computer malfunction.
The main point of causation and correlation, is that there can be events taking place simultaneously but not be caused by each other. Let’s take a look at the first example.
Every time that Shirley walks in the door you get a cold feeling. Does that mean that Shirley has brought the cold? Does that mean there might be something spiritually awry with Shirley? Likely not. However, perhaps in this case there is a good and easy explanation. If this is Wisconsin in the middle of Winter, anyone who opens any outside door is going to let a lot of heat out and the people in the house will feel less heat. In this case, the causation exists, but it does not correlate to attitude or spirituality in any way.
Jessica and the clapping hands give us a sense of what is going on with correlation and causation as well. The difficulty for us is that we only have so many claps and jumps to go off of. In other words we only have so much information. Instead of saying that the clapping hands are causing Jessica to jump, perhaps there is the sheer coincidence of hands clapping at the same pace of a workout song that Jessica is working out to. Moreover, the moment that you walked in, just happed to be the jumping exercises. Thus, the two correlate, but there is no causation.
The Visiting Minister’s scowl. Here there is a scowl to someone in the congregation. They left with the distinct feeling that something is wrong. But, the difficulty with thinking that the enemy is after him could be easily resolved by understanding more about the situation. The scowl at you is just a correlation, but you did not cause the scowl, nor has the enemy caused the scowl. The best way of knowing why the minister scowled, would be to ask him. The likely answer would be, “Hmmm…I was scowling????” Thus, the person that perceived a scowl is often wrong. However, the minister might say that his/her back was hurting her/him at that exact moment. Or, they might say they ate too much pizza the night before and they have an upset stomach because of their poor decision. The timing of the scowl, merely correlates to your passing by. There is no cause from the enemy or from yourself.
The town with the cancer cases is an interesting example. It would be easy to pin the number of cancer cases on a given water issue. Moreover, it is possible for something like this to be a contributing cause of poor health. A while back in a small town in Wisconsin researchers were actually asked to come and check the water cause of the number of cancer cases. The tests came back fine and similar to the surrounding towns that were not having more cases of cancer. Correlation is sometimes at work in these cases, which can give the initial observer the felt effect of causation, but in reality there was not cause whatsoever. The cancers will have to be pinned on something other than the water.
Dominoes. This one is plain for the eye to see. Just because the dominoes were falling at the same time as the computer malfunctioned, there is no causation. A little virus or bump in the electrical grid or hard-drive issue are possible causes of the computer malfunctioning. Dominoes however are not.
As human beings, we must be careful to separate causation from correlation. If we do this we can be better able to trace the facts and not apply unnecessary meaning to mere happenstance.