Monday, September 27, 2010

Correlation and Causality in Miracle Hunting


The discussion I put on limits of scinece was pretty successful (well received) but the skeptics get hung up on the threat that miracles might be real. We have to put that fire out immediately lest someone get the wrong idea and strat seeking God. This little discussion with Hermit is in the comment section, there are other comments there (limits of scinece no 3) that are wroth seeing, the reader might want to drop in. The little exchange with Hermit is pretty typical of a lot of exchanges on boards concerns Lourdes miracles:

The question was, "What method, other than empiricism, can we use to reliably distinguish between real and fraudulent miracles?"

Empiricism is the method for that. Of cousre it goes without saying you have to combine logic withe empiricism or you can't interpret your data.

The Global knowledge idea deals with the overall question God and life and the big picture, the ascertaining of miracles is really small picture. Empirical methods would be the method there, but empiricism as an ideology or a philosophy is way too limited.

The Lourdes rules are clearly an attempt to demonstrate that something out of the ordinary, or miraculous, has occurred.

What's wrong with that? that's what your trying to figure out.

What they don't do, of course, is demonstrate that there is any reason to connect a visit to Lourdes to the spontaneous remission of any condition, especially since such spontaneous remissions occur at a greater frequency for patients who DON'T travel to Lourdes than for those who do.
No you are clearly confused about the nature of remission. Now this is what the member of Lourdes committee told me in our exchanges of email: Remission never means the total absolute vanishing of traces overnight. Remission is not the condition is totally gone in one night as though it never existed. That's what some of the Lourdes miracle are and that is not remission. Remission is the backing up of the condition over time, it reverses itself for a while. Many remissions cease and the disease comes back.

Moreover, as I pointed out in my piece, the rules are set up to screen out remission. You are also confused in saying there's no way to tell, there certainly is, because you go by the appearance of remissions that we know are remission. Study the instances that re not claimed as miracle see if the case conforms to it. that's why they are able to determine how to screen for it in the rules.

For example they don't take leukemia healing for 10 years after the incident becuase remissions are high.

Having a fever appears to be more closely associated to spontaneous remission of some cancers than visiting a shrine of any kind. So, if anything, Lourdes appears to be associated with a suppression of such "miracles", which are more probably die to hormonal or immune system mechanisms.

Your thinking is so illogical. If you have a case where the disease is gone without a trace overnight, that is not remission that's something different. So you look to see what int h patient background is different than other Patience. If the only thing is going to Lourdes then you got it. that's every reason in the world to connect the two, especially since the rules say it has to be immediate.

Problems of Causality and Corrolation

Quite often I find skeptics assuming that I don't know the difference in correlation and causality.Moreover, they assume that knowing the difference is enough to kill a causality argument. Some assume that since they are clever enough to know the very basic information, the difference in correlation and causality, that I must not know that because I'm a Christian and Christians are stupid, and they are so very clever to know some basic fact that all high school kids should get, correlation is not causality. What they don't get is that just I argue inductively that correlation is indicative of a cause if certain conditions obtain, that doesn't mean I don't know the difference. The difference only kills the argument when you can establish that a stronger correlation exists between alternate causes and the phenomenon. Atheists often seem to act like they think the mere possibility of an alternate cans is as good as proven fact. This happens a lot on the religious experience argument where they seem to think that just the mere fact that experiences are connected to brain chemistry is enough to destroy the connection between God and religious experience.

Correlation is indicative of Cause.

What these very clever atheist don't get is that correlation is indicative of cause. part of the problem is that certain people don't seem know what indicative means. Be that as it may, there is an epistemological gap in our knowledge it a problem at the most fundamental philosophical level. We can only establish causality in one way, buy making very tight correlations and eliminating alternate causes. This is the only way there is, and that's what Hume really proved with the billiard balls.

Science can't prove causes. We can only prove correlations. When I assume causes on miracles, it's the only way we ever establish cause.  Because if we can't observe causality and it must be inferred from correlation, then you can't say "I have eliminated an alternate cause by showing causality and eliminating it." That's just a repeat of the same problem. The alternate causes are only possibilities, they are not proven either. What it boils down to is in the final analysis a really tight correlation is the only way to determine cause. Although it is important to eliminate the alternative possible causes, essential in fact. What this means is I am right to assume causes from correlations, given that I can eliminate alternatives, and I usually can.

All of this means that medical evidence showing the disease went away, when examined by scientific medicos is good evidence for miracles. It's not absolute, there is no absolute. There will always be a gap in our epistemology. We will always have to make epistemic judgment.

This is really a simple concept. It is not wonder, then, that atheists have had a great deal of trouble understanding it. I say that because they always try to approach it as some big hairy radical deal that’s a fallacy in and of itself. I expect the skeptic to question the argument, but to actually question it in a way that implies that there’s some big logical problem with correlations is quite amazing. That they try to twist the argument totally out of proportion is just, as Dylan said, “sleepy time down south.”
Take a couple of analogies that illustrate Science's willingness to draw assumptions of causality from correlation. First the idea of smoking as a cause of cancer. In 1963 (or so) the Surgeon General made the ruling that smoking might be the cause of cancer and thus a warning was printed in cigarette packs. That ruling was made not because they had direct scientific proof. In fact when the tobacco companies responded that science could not find a mechanism in tobacco smoke that causes cancer, they were right about that. They remained right about it until this century. For almost a quarter of a century the whole campaign and war against smoking rested totally upon statistical correlation. I used this fact to indicate that science takes correlation proof seriously as proof. It’s not illogical to assume that if a correlation is tight enough causality is a logical inference. The atheist response has been “but the link from smoking to cancer has been proved.” It is true that the link has now been proven, but only recently (in this first decade of the twenty-first century, the ruling was imposed over forty years ago when all they had to go by was a correlation)..(1) That is typical. The fact that the link was proved and a mechanism found over forty years latter doesn’t in the least blunt the fact that for almost half a century science was willing to assume that as a fact based upon statistical correlation. This is all common knowledge. I remember when the Surgeon General made the announcement, even though I was a small child. I remember when cigarette ads were banned. A multi million dollar industry, probably a billion dollar industry was destroyed and taken down all on the basis of statistical correlation.

Anyone with half a brain should be able to conclude that science respects a good correlation; we may treat correlations as causality if (and only if) the correlation is tight enough. Another analogy is that of the neutrino. Before I go into that let me point out that I am not arguing from analogy. I understand that the similarity to cases in these analogies is not proof of the existence of God. I am not saying that. The function of an analogy is nothing but an aid to illustrate an idea that is exactly what I’m about here, nothing more. My argument does not proceed from arguing the analogy. But the fact is atheists treat the correlation of God to miraculous healing as though there is no implication of God’s reality in the experiences because, they think, there is no proof of causality in a correlation. But I am here illustrating the fact that their beloved priesthood of knowledge,  scientists, are willing to assume a strong correlation as rational warrant for a causal relationship.

The second example is that of the neutrino.(1)

DONUT home Fermi National Acceleration Laboratory*:


Neutrinos didn’t emerge onto the particle physics scene until 1930, when Wolfgang Pauli invented the neutrino to “save” conservation of energy, which was under threat from observations of beta decay in radioactive materials. Scientists such as Henri Bequerel and Marie and Pierre Curie performed the first studies into radiation starting in 1898. In the years that followed radiation was classified into 3 categories: alpha, beta and gamma. In studying beta radiation, scientists discovered a disturbing phenomenon. It seemed that when a nucleus underwent beta decay, which consisted of the emission by a neutron of an electron to create a proton, conservation of energy was violated. There was a missing amount of energy that could not be accounted for by their measurements or calculations. In 1930 Pauli made his hypothesis....

It was not until 1933 that Pauli admitted the possibility of a zero mass neutrino (the discovery of the neutron in 1932 by James Chadwick forced him to change the hypothesized particle’s name to neutrino). Today we know that neutrinos have some unknown mass and that they move close to the speed of light. The first detection of neutrinos occurred in 1956 by Clyde Cowan and Fredrick Reines who found a convenient source of neutrinos--nuclear power plants. Power is created in nuclear plants when atoms undergo nuclear fission, a process of which the neutrino is a byproduct. Cowan and Reines employed a 400-L tank of cadmium chloride as their target. The neutrinos struck a proton inside the target, producing a positron and a neutron. That positron encountered an electron; the two annihilated each other, producing two gamma rays (or photons). The neutron was absorbed by a cadmium chloride atom, producing a photon at a 15-microsecond delay from the emission from the positron. Using this knowledge of the photon emission, Cowan and Reines were able to detect the electron neutrino.

Leon Lederman, Mel Schwartz, and Jack Steinberger followed with the detection of the muon neutrino in 1962. They fired a GeV beam of protons through a target creating pions, which decayed into muons and muon neutrinos. Thick shielding halted the muons but the neutrinos continued until they entered a detector where they produced muons, decaying into electrons and a photon that were observed in the spark chambers.(2)

Pauli describes his reasoning in asserting an unproven hypothesis (the neutrino)

I have hit upon a desperate remedy to save the “exchange theorem” of statistics and the law of conservation of energy. Namely, the possibility that there could exist in the nuclei electrically neutral particles, that I wish to call neutrons, which have spin 1/2 and obey the exclusion principle and which further differ from light quanta in that they do not travel with the velocity of light. The mass of the neutrons should be of the same order of magnitude as the electron mass and in any event not larger than 0.01 proton masses. The continuous beta spectrum would then become understandable by the assumption that in beta decay a neutron is emitted in addition to the electron such that the sum of the energies of the neutron and the electron is constant...(3)

Now I’m sure atheists are saying “that’s just the way science works. State a hypothesis and test it.” Of course it is, and that’s fine. But the problem is that’s pretty much what has been done in regard to mystical experience, as well as miracles. Religious believers have been a lot more definite about their hypothesis than Pauli was about his, but it’s the same thing really, and with very similar results. The only real difference is the scientist can eventually get “absolute” proof (in a scientific sense) when the question is an empirical one, but we can’t get this kind of certainty of God. Nevertheless, we can be as certain, thanks to the M scale, as where the physicists in their discussion of neutrinos at the time that Mel Schwartz, and Jack Steinberger did their work. We can be as certain in terms of Lourdes miracles, at least certain that some a typical process has occurred for some inexplicable reason what was the normal course of nature know to us has been altered. It is the medical diagnostic tools that give us this certainty. Of course, I’m not advocating understanding religious belief as scientific hypothesis, but the basic logic of the co-determinate is the same. One can clearly see that the logic of the co-determinate is not a fallacy, formal or informal; it is not the same as saying “I believe it, so that proves it.” It is not a radical move that I invented. It’s the normal way correlations have been used to assume causality since modern science began. It’s the use of the term “co-determinate” that gives atheist the idea that this is some new brand of logic I invented. If I called it “the correlate” they would probably not say that, and that’s all it is. In that case they would turn around and say, “Correlations are not proof of causality.” No, they are not, but on the other hand I did not claim to prove it. I only claimed that it’s reasonable to draw a conclusion from the association!

Here’s an even more interesting twist: Since the work in 1962 science assumed that Neutrinos were proved, but they didn’t have direct proof until much latter:

Fermi lab: Phyiscs at Fermilab

Discoveries at Femrilab: The Tau neutrino

An international collaboration of scientists at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory announced on July 21, 2000 the first direct evidence for the subatomic particle called the tau neutrino, the third kind of neutrino known to particle physicists. They reported four instances of a neutrino interacting with an atomic nucleus to produce a charged particle called a tau lepton, the signature of a tau neutrino.(Ibid)

The “detection” of muon was in 1962 and yet it says the first direct evidence of the subatomic particles called tau neutrinos wasn’t until 2000. I know these are different particles that are coming out of a different stage in the process. But the fact remains, the original hypothesis was merely an attempt to explain the actions of certain particles in a certain context, theory was manufactured to fit the apparent case. The theory was born out latter with empirical proof. The point is that the theory was deduced from the action of particles around the neutrino, not from direct evidence of the thing itself. The neutrino is the co-determinate of those reactions, it goes with them logically and is implied by them, just as the foot that makes the impression in the snow is logically deduced from the impression and is thus implied by it and inseparable from it.

Much the same thing has happened with respect to the scientific study of religious experience. First people have had such experiences for thousands of years. They developed an explanation for them (God, the divine, the supernatural). With that explication there evolved a complicated economics of metaphor that emerged as a means of understanding that which is beyond understanding. Then, after all that fuss, the hypothesis is partially corroborated with empirical scientific techniques (such as the M scale). What has been corroborated is that the process works, as we would expect it to in living up the exceptions derived form our teachings on the divine. Real experiences that are truly affecting the brain produce real measurable concrete change in life and a valuable way of life that revolutionizes the lives of those having these experiences, and dramatic and positive way. Thus, the scientific findings corroborate that the experiences conform to what the divine is supposed to do. We should not be surprised since that understanding is derived from the experiences themselves, but now that process is proved valid through science.

Atheists will be very insistent to demand “this does not prove the origin.” Remember, I never claimed, “proof!” But why is it not reasonable to assume that the origin is the divine, since it conforms to our ideas of what it supposed to be? After all, that is literally exactly what the supernatural actually was in its original conception.(4) Thus it is a reasonable construal. I never said it was “proof” (except in the practical sense, close enough to proof to place confidence in the hypothesis). In response to this, some atheists have lunched an old familiar tactic from message boards, ridicule of a hypothesis by use of reduction to absurdity. So they will say there’s a high correlation between global warming and pirates, therefore, global warming causes piracy. This is supposed to prove the fallacy and stupidity of asserting a “co-determinate.” Reductio Ad Absurdum is not necessarily the best-advised course for an argument. It is totally fallacious to think that just because one can construct a false association based upon absurdities a valid association is illogical. The logic of the argument within the argument is what must determine whether or not an association is logical. This relates back to the soundness of an argument. All they are saying at this point is “that’s not sound,” although their only reason for thinking so is that they don’t like the conclusion I’m drawing. They cannot tell me why the argument is unsound without elevating my claims to the level of proof. But I don’t claim proof.

(3) Don't need to show hit rate

The argument is made we must show the percentage of those healed vs not healed.

That's ridiculous. The reason is because we do not know the reason when someone is not healed. We cannot assume "Ok not being healed means there's no God, because some are healed." Knowing the hit rate is important in many cases. such as prophesy, "so and so is a true prophet he predicted x," but how many predictions did the make that did not come true? Knowing the hit rate on healing when you can establish an actual healing is irrelevant.

(a) We don't know if the failed healing is the result of no God just didn't want to heal. Because a will is on the other end of the prayer we cannot treat it like a natural process and expect it to behave like a drug in a field trial.

(b) Miracles are supposed to be impossible. they violate natural law. that's the whole theory of naturalism in a nut shell; nothing happens apart form natural law.

Thus if one miracle happens that proves miracles and all it takes is one. proving that x% are not healed doesn't prove anything. miracles are supposed to be impossible and can't happen, if one of them happens, or we can assume it happened, then that proves they do happen. We don't know the rate because God is not a drug. Divine healing is a matter of God's will.

(3) God's action in healing is not indicative of God's feelings about those healed or not healed.

This is the whole fallacy of the God hates amputees thing. You might as well say God hates breakfast because not once in my Christian walk has God ever made me scrambled eggs in the morning.

St. Augustine proved that there is no correlation between worldly prosperity or success and God's love. Rome was sacked by the vandals and everyone was saying "this disproves Christianity." but Augie said "no it doesn't, divine favor is not based worldly success. Stuff happens to Christians too, God causes it rain on the just and unjust."

(4) No double blind

Lourdes evidence does not need to be double blind First of all these are not "studies." They are not set up as a longitudinal study to see if healing works. These are real people and their journey to Lourdes is part of their journey in life in a search to be healed, they are not white lab mice plotting world conquest.

Secondly, double blind is used as a means of control so we know data is not contaminated by the subjects knowledge of the test. People suffering from an incurable disease cannot cure themselves. So it doesn't matter if they know. If the data shows the condition went away immediately and it can be documented that all traces are gone, the of course can assume healing, provided there is no counter cause such as he took a wonder drug before he left for Lourdes; they do certainly screen for that.

Of course there are still epistemological problems. There will always be such problems. That's why you can't prove you exist. But just as the answer to that problem is "Make epistemic judgment based upon regularity and inconsistency of data," so it goes with miracles, proving smoking causes cancer or anything else.

Thomas Reid got it right, we are justified in assuming empirical evidence provided it's strong evidence.

One more problem. When I say "correlation" this invites the question "how can you find a correlation if you don't know the hit rate? A correlation implies X and Y are seen together a lot, not just in one instance. But we can't go around giving people cancer and praying for them over and over to see if they ar always healed. We have to let multiple cases stand for correlation. But since we can't say why healing didn't take place we have to use empirical means to assert on a case by case basis.

(1) Website “Cancer Research UK,” URL, “Smoking and Cancer” visited March, 24, 2009.

(2)Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Donut home, “Neutrinos What are they?” Website URL:, visited March 24, 2009.

(3)Fermilab website URL: visited March 24, 2009.

(4)The page on my website dealing with the nature of the original concept of the supernatural and how it has been degraded. “What is the Supernatural” on website Doxa. URL: visited March 24, 2009. The major work on this section I explication of the original concept of Super nature comes from the article “Christianity and the Supernatural” by Eugene R. Fairweather of Toronto Universe (1965) published in the book New Theology No. 1 edited Martin E. Marty. Also Mathias Joseph Scheeban, Nature and Grace,

G.J. Mattey, Thomas Reid,Theory of Knowledge lecture notes. Philosophy, UC Davis
prior to the Revision of May 22,2008. Now located at:

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