Correlation does not imply causation unless Darwin is involved

You have probably heard the saying, “correlation does not imply causation.” In other words, just because two things are associated, it does not mean that one causes the other. Perhaps this time-honored standard of scientific investigation should be amended based on what is often practiced by Darwinists. I propose, “correlation and Darwinian storytelling imply causation.” This kind of thinking does not pass scientific muster, but it is the kind that is often practiced, particularly when the evolutionary roots of behavior are being studied.

As a case in point, consider the recent study, Musical Aptitude Is Associated with AVPR1A-Haplotypes.1

NewScientist2 reports on the study:

MUSICAL ability is linked to gene variants that help control social bonding. The finding adds weight to the notion that music developed to cement human relationships.

Järvelä thinks musical aptitude evolved because musical people were better at forming attachments to others: “Think of lullabies, which increase social bonding and possibly the survival of the baby.”

And from the original source:

Interestingly, AVPR1A has been known to modulate social cognition and behavior (see the recent review by Donaldson and Young [55]) making it a strong candidate gene for music perception and production. Several features in perceiving and practicing music, a multi-sensory process, are closely related to attachment [56]. Based on animal studies Darwin proposed in 1871 that singing is used to attract the opposite sex. Furthermore, lullabies are implied to attach infant to a parent and singing or playing music together may add group cohesion [57]. Thus, it is justified to hypothesize that music perception and creativity in music are linked to the same phenotypic spectrum of human cognitive social skills, like human bonding [13] and altruism [17] both associated with AVPR1A. It is of notice that both altruism (also called pathological trusting), and intense interest towards music and relatively sparse language skills are the characteristic features of Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), a neurodevelopmental syndrome with elfin facial features, supravalvular aortic stenosis, hypercalcemia and scoliosis [55], [58]. AVPR1A is also associated with autism, an opposite phenotype with poor social communication skills [14], [46], [59].

The source article is actually titled appropriately. In other words, it suggests the mere genetic association (correlation). The authors seem to want us to believe that since Darwin proposed studies in 1871 about the singing behavior of animals and reproduction, it is reasonable to think that evolution is the hidden causal variable in the mix.

References:
1. Ukkola LT, Onkamo P, Raijas P, Karma K, Järvelä I, 2009 Musical Aptitude Is Associated with AVPR1A-Haplotypes. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5534. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005534
2. Genes help us make sweet music together, NewScientist, 6/2/09


Re-post from Uncommon Descent.

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9 Responses

  1. When one attempts to define behavior exclusively in carnal terms, then you get explanations like this. Remember, “the things of the spirit are as foolishness to the natural man”. This is nothing new. This sort of thinking has been with us since the beginning of humanity. And now we have Dawrinian-minded genetic scientists to illustrate it even clearer.

  2. Back in grad school, there was a popular saying among the philosophers and cognitive scientists: “correlation does not imply causation, but the two are highly correlated!”

    Now: if correlation does not imply causation, does anything imply causation?

  3. Now: if correlation does not imply causation, does anything imply causation?

    Certainly, I’ve blogged about this before (1, 2, and 3).

  4. Thus, it is justified to hypothesize that music perception and creativity in music are linked to the same phenotypic spectrum of human cognitive social skills, like human bonding [13] and altruism [17] both associated with AVPR1A.

    I don’t know if Mike will agree with me, but my experience with musicians, and artists in general, over the years, has been somewhat the opposite of these traits mentioned. Oh yes, as musicians, we bonded in a musical organization (band, orchestra, choir etc), but that was a bond of necessity. We were dependent on each other to produce the musical product. Off stage, however, I was in many bands (and this is true with most) where most of the musicians couldn’t stand each other, and this usually had to do with egos, personalities and measurement of musical ability.

    (Check out the biographies of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and others: not exactly your bestest buddy types!)

    It has also been my experience with a large portion of artists, in all areas, that they are closed off, lacking in trust of others and not very giving in any way.

    There are many exceptions to this, but, overall, this has been my experience. So I find these conclusions to be faulty from their inception.

    I also agree with the Shrink that there is a major double standard happening, with the correlation and causation argument, among Darwinians!

  5. Mike and DB. Great points. It certainly would seem to me that imagining musicians as having a superior ability to form attachments is misguided, and even more misguided is attributing this to some evolutionary history. Such is the state of a large part of the scientific world.

  6. The corrolary, “music cements human relationships” is debatable and subjective as DB points out.

    Try this instead:

    – Caring, loving human relationships are a reflection of God’s character

    – Music, when created or utilized to “cement these relationships”, signifies God’s glory and manifests His character

    – Therefore music is a gift from God (as no man is the author of any Good thing)

  7. Try this instead:

    – Caring, loving human relationships are a reflection of God’s character

    – Music, when created or utilized to “cement these relationships”, signifies God’s glory and manifests His character

    – Therefore music is a gift from God (as no man is the author of any Good thing)

    Beautiful! Straight from the mind of our Lord an Christ through Mike!

    Thanks Mike for stating the obvious!

  8. Excellent Mike! Whereas man is the author of no good thing, neither is nature. Only God is the author of any good thing.

  9. The same can be said of many things:

    ex:

    – Healing the sick is a reflection of God’s character

    – Medicine, when utilized to bring healing, signifies God’s glory and manifests his character

    – Therefore medicine is a gift from God

    Neanderthinkers such as the guy quoted in the original article may scoff at that, but Beethoven is no more the author of music than Fleming is of medicine.

    When seen in this light, the misuse of things like medicine or music pimped out in order to sell more drugs or records becomes much more objectionable. Because that is not a signification of God’s glory, but rather, of man serving his own desires of the flesh.

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