Correlation and Causation

Years of reading through and listening to debates on the internet and in other spaces is enough to make me yearn for mandatory courses in basic logic. In particular, it seems most people do not have even a remedial understanding of the difference between correlation and causation.

Enter President Barack Obama, who delivered remarks today at the National Prayer Breakfast. Meandering and condescending are but two of the words that come to mind after listening to this address. At one point the president lectures the audience on humility. Yes, Barack Obama was prodding his audience to be more humble. I’m just going to let that sink in for a minute and have you pause and reflect. Maybe you’ll even think about another concept: irony.

And no doubt many of you will need to take blood pressure medication after reading this part of the speech:

And this is the loving message of His Holiness, Pope Francis.  And like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable; to walk with The Lord and ask “Who am I to judge?”

But that’s not what caught my attention, nor is it the part of the speech that has gotten or will get the most attention. After some discussion of the events taking place in the Middle East and in Paris, and the dangers of theocracy, he intones:

 Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Yes, of course he went there, would you expect anything less? Now many will rightfully complain that he is dredging up events that occurred centuries ago in order to morally equivocate, and that is indeed happening. We’ve all heard this song before, and we have naturally become somewhat inured to it.

Without jumping into the Crusades and Inquisition and why using even these centuries-old examples is flawed, let’s look at the more recent American examples, and let’s talk a bit about cause and effect.

President Obama is, essentially, comparing Christians justifying slavery to Islamic terrorists burning people alive. He is saying, “You see, Christians did some terrible things in the name of religion, just like these people.” Again, let’s ignore that we’re talking about something that took place two centuries ago rather than two minutes ago, and explore the inadequacy of this analogy.

The thugs in ISIL, the theocrats in Iran, the butchers in France: all of these groups are comprised of individuals acting in the name of their interpretation of Islam. Granting for the sake of argument that they are all acting in a way that is contrary to the true meaning of Islam, however that is supposed to be defined, they are clearly and unmistakably acting in accordance with their religious dictates. Put more bluntly: their interpretation of their religion is causing them to behave in a specific manner.

Now let’s look at slavery and Jim Crow. Yes, it’s true that some defenders of each would use the Bible to defend these practices; however, did anyone ever pick up a Bible and, “Gee whiz, God is really talking to me, I’m gonna go buy me a slave.” To put it another way, slave holders and, subsequently, practitioners of Jim Crow acted on purely, dare I say, secular reasoning to engage in their behavior. Christianity did not cause them to own slaves, nor did it cause southern politicians to enact Jim Crow laws. The Bible was used as an ex post fact rationalization for what they did.

Some may try to argue that this is a distinction without a difference, and to them I’d suggest that they still do not understand the difference between correlation and causation. Take away the Bible and you’d still have slavery in the southern parts of the United States. Christian beliefs did not inspire slaveholding – economic self-interest did that, and the latter also largely explains Jim Crow (plus a whole lot of irrational racism that didn’t have a whole lot to do with the Bible and Christianity).

Take away the religious motivation and do we have gunmen killing members of the press? Do we have the beheadings? Contra the ramblings of certain atheists, not all or even most violence throughout history has been “inspired” by religion, but the maniacs in ISIL are undoubtedly acting upon religious motivations. It isn’t some ex post fact rationalization for their behavior; no, it is the primary cause of the behavior.

Much of President Obama’s address is an exercise in moral equivalency with some vague platitudes thrown in, so about what one would expect from him. Failures in logic are just a little bit of icing on the cake.

Incidentally, Noah Rothman at Hot Air makes a good point:

It’s strange that so few see the contradiction inherent in this assertion. The president, and many of his allies on the left, frequently trip over themselves to emphasize – correctly, as it happens – that ISIS’s acts of brutality are not archetypical Islamic behavior. The insurgency’s most recent atrocity, the immolation of a captured Jordanian pilot, is apparently a violation of Islamic norms according to even Koranic scholars in the Middle East.

But to assert this and in the same breath suggest that Christianity was also a violent, expansionist religion a mere 800 years ago is a contradiction. Why make this comparison if ISIS is not representative of Islam? Isn’t the concession in this claim that those who commit acts of violence in the name of their religion, regardless of whether those acts are supported by a majority of coreligionists, are representative of their faith? Therefore, by perfunctorily nodding in the direction of a moral equivalency between Christian and Islamic violence, isn’t the president invalidating his own claim that ISIS, Boko Haram, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah, Abu Sayyaf, and a host of other fundamentalist Islamic terror groups are agents of a violent strain of the Islamic faith?

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  1. A few years back I discovered that there’s no more polarizing question than: who is more humble, Bush or Obama? People on either side literally can’t comprehend how this could even be a question. I mean, literally. It’s beyond their imagining. If you want to ruin something, try that question.

  2. Why would the National Prayer Breakfast have Obumbler there anyway?
    The Crusades and the Inquisition are old and tired anti-Catholic canards.

    Obumbler is a dictionary definition of a jackass.

    Islam is an evil that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth and Obumbler makes excuses for it.

  3. I believe Obama comments are a direct attack on Christians. Only a demagogue would use such an illogical comparison. It’s similar to your child arguing … “but all my friends do it!”
    We now have both a President and a Prophet.

    And he learned his theology from St. Reverend Wright.

    Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., took me on another journey,” Obama once said.

    “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” he told his congregation. Rev. Wright 2001

    Obama is more indirect …. “Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place”

    Nothing new here … same old, same old … don’t get upset by massacres, burnings, attacks on America … it’s been done in the past. And we have no moral authority to object to it.

    “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in President’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

  4. Brevity is the soul of wit. To wit, the following sentence is to be repeated whenever Obama opens his mouth. “Everything that guy just said is bull#$%^.”

  5. Very interesting post Paul.
    There seems to be some correlation between our pope and our president. They seem to espouse some of the same beliefs. There seems to be some correlation between the Troubles of our Church and those of our Country.
    Or — the cause— the events and tides of history that brings them together on the world stage at this time. These two personalities in these two positions just now.
    The president likes our pope- he likes the fact that he said “who am I to judge?” The president might think that comment shows a weakness in our pope, an unwillingness to stand up and demand respect for the Truth of Christ in His Church. An unwillingness to take a line and stand on it. Perhaps that perceived weakness could be seen as an inroad for enemies of the Chruch.
    The president does make and stick by his judgments. No matter the howls and cries and pleas from people to react, to fight the enemies of America, he stands strong in his convictions. He doesn’t try to please everybody, saying one kind of statement one day and another kind another day.
    He is consistent in his denigration of America and of Christianity.
    The military is being weakened, Christian chaplains driven out; those who have attacked us are released from prison for time served, fights among citizens encouraged, as well as drug use encouraged and what they used to call “free love” and birth control for the destruction of the family and society.

    The pope has made strong statements about life and marriage, but we wait to see if he will be strong and defend the faith in this Synod… or if he will take the popular stand.

  6. ” in order to morally equivocate, and that is indeed happening. We’ve all heard this song before, and we have naturally become somewhat inured to it. ”

    A touch of psychological warfare at breakfast to push back some of the righteous objectors to the deeds being committed to further blur what is good/bad or right/wrong or lawful/unlawful ?

  7. Slavery, in particular, is a really bad example to use as Christian moral equivalence for the simple reason that practically every civilization throughout history engaged in it (ahem, some still do). From the far East, to deepest Africa, to New World Aztecs. Only in a Christian west was it first abolished.

  8. What strikes you about Obama is the degree to which every substantive utterance seems to be a restatement of some conventional prejudice you hear in a certain sort of bourgeois subculture. Unlike Messrs. Truman, Nixon, Carter (and perhaps Reagan and Bush the Younger), I doubt he ever did any serious reading outside a classroom setting. You wonder if the man ever had an original observation in his life.

  9. Years of reading through and listening to debates on the internet and in other spaces is enough to make me yearn for mandatory courses in basic logic. In particular, it seems most people do not have even a remedial understanding of the difference between correlation and causation.
    When I finally got a basic logic class, it made me wish for it just because it would’ve made math so much easier…. but of course there’s a lack of understanding about it, decades of “science reporting” have made sure of that.
    It’s much more “interesting” to say ‘X causes Y,’ rather than ‘when two students did a class assignment and looked at a group of 50 volunteers recruited by being in the same psychology class that we’re in, according to the 37 self-reporting diaries that were turned in and actually had anything in them, 15 total times X had happened before Y.” Even if the first article says that, by three or four articles later it’s been restated as “study out of X college says X causes Y.” If you’re lucky, it says “X MAY cause Y.”
    When he talks about “THE inquisition” as an event, it’s pretty clear he hasn’t bothered to do much research. I’ve started using it as a big warning bell that someone isn’t doing their research, and so I really shouldn’t trust anything they say on the topic without verification.
    Please excuse me plugging my own writing: “The Inquisition” is an organization; “the _____ Inquisition” is an event. That I found, folks usually mean the Spanish Inquisition when they say ‘the inquisition,’ and it’s a warning they’re going to be regurgitating really bad pop history and propaganda.
    Basically, exactly like Art said– he just echoes pop belief.

  10. I did have mandatory courses in basic logic. Oh, that’s right . . . 40 years ago at my Catholic Prep School. Silly me.

  11. So ironic that this baby killer President has an ally and fellow traveler in our radical Jesuit pope. Chastisement?

  12. Pope Francis & Obama to Congress;
    global warming alarmism
    expanded welfare state
    illegal immigration
    submission to UN
    government control of healthcare and education
    anti-capital memes
    help for the ‘poor'(or give me your money – I’ll do good with it)
    cherish homosexual relationships
    muslim outreach
    no mention of abortion
    no mention of the slavery of national debt
    no mention of the destruction of the family by the welfare state
    no mention of US government oppression of Christianity

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