As I was reading this morning, I realized that when God speaks, He often gives us something we are looking for when we are doing research–causation. One of the greatest values that research can bring to life is causation, when you understand what causes what.
In research, there is a big difference between causation and correlation and it is very important to understand this distinction. Even for the casual reader, the difference can mean the difference between making a huge blunder and truly understanding our world better.
Correlation. When we recognize that two events are related, we understand correlation. They are correlated. When we see one event, we recognize that the second event happens as well. The only difficulty is which one “causes” the other. Which one really is the first event and which is the second? Or, could it be that a third event causes both of these to happen?
Causation. When one event is clearly the “cause” of the second, we have determined causation. The first event is the reason that the second event took place.
Example: The ice cream and drownings example.
Let’s say that when ice cream sales increases, drownings also sharply increase (a clear example found on Wikipedia). If we can document that when one is documented to increase the other also is documented to increase, and vise versa, we will have shown that the two are correlated. They have a demonstrated relationship to one another.
Next is to question if one causes another. So we can ask:
- When people buy more ice cream does that cause them to be more likely to drown?
- When people drown is it more likely that people buy more ice cream?
- Is there a third variable that could be causing the other two?
As much as the second option seems like it might be true, it is likely that the warmer, summer days are the responsible “cause.” When it is hotter, people buy more ice cream. When it is hotter, people swim more and drown more often because of it. While this is an obvious example, when reporting on research correlative findings it seems very difficult to stay away from projecting causal results. This is something that readers of research need to be very careful about.
Now, getting back to my morning reading. I noticed that when prophets speak, they deliver causal statements. If you do this, this will happen. What God is doing, through His servants, the prophets, is giving us the very thing that research gives us—causality. Thus, what takes many hours and much trial and error, God has revealed to us, through faith.
May your reading of the scripture bring many fruitful, lifelong lessons.