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Friday, May 05, 2006

Inductive Bible Study and the Misuse of Correlation 

The main material here is taken from washingtonubf.org, which in turn took it from a 1952 book, Methodical Bible Study, by Robert A. Traina. Emphasis is from the UBF web page.

There are two basic types of reasoning: deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning starts with general principles and uses them to derive individual facts. Inductive reasoning begins by accumulating facts and, from there, develops general statements and conclusions. Both types of reasoning are useful. Mathematics, for example, is based on deductive reasoning, whereas natural sciences like biology and chemistry should be inductive. The Bible should be studied inductively, from the author’s point of view....

Inductive Bible study has three main steps: observation, interpretation and application....

Observation is to notice what the passage actually says. This may seem obvious or trivial. We sometimes try to skip this step, or we do it quickly and superficially. In our personal Bible study, this is usually the weakest link. Careful, thorough observation requires skill, thought and much effort. Our powers of observation need to be developed....

After observation comes interpretation....There is a definitive phase in which you discover the basic meaning of the particular terms, phrases and sentences. Then comes a rational phase, when you try to discover the reason or reasons why the author makes those particular statements. These include both the general reasons (why they are true and necessary) and the immediate reasons (why they were needed in that literary context and historical situation). Finally, there is an implicational phase in which you try to understand the wider meaning and general implications of the statements and teachings.

The first phase of application is evaluation....Evaluation is to assess the worth of something....Once we have properly interpreted a passage evaluated the relevance of the specific teachings, the application will naturally follow....

Earlier I said that inductive Bible study has three steps: observation, interpretation and application. But there is another step called correlation. Correlation occurs when we accumulate what we learn from the Bible over a long period of time and use it to shape our world-view and our way of life....

Inasmuch as I am less than one hour from taking a workplace-related test in applied statistics, it's nice to hear about correlation. And it's wise to remember that [OE 5/5: LINK CORRECTED] correlation does not indicate cause/effect:

Children with bigger feet spell better. In areas of the South those counties with higher divorce rates generally have lower death rates. Nations that add fluoride to their water have a higher cancer rate than those that don't. Should we be stretching our children's feet? Are more hedonist articles in Penthouse and Cosmopolitan on the way? Is fluoridation a plot?

Although studies do exist which establish all of these findings, the above responses to them only make sense if one does not appreciate the difference between correlation and causation....Often the changes in the two correlated quantities are both the result of a third factor.

The odd results above are easily explained in this way. Children with bigger feet spell better because they're older, their greater age bringing about bigger feet and, not quite so certainly, better spelling. Age is a factor in the next example as well since those couples who are older are less likely to divorce and more likely to die than are those from counties with younger demographic profiles. And those nations that add fluoride to their water are generally wealthier and more health-conscious, and thus a greater percentage of their citizens live long enough to develop cancer, which is, to a large extent, a disease of old age.

So let's apply correlation and causation issues to scripture. Glenn R. Morton and Mike Hardie did so:

Re: Lack of Apologetical predictions
Glenn R. Morton (grmorton@waymark.net)
Tue, 10 Nov 1998 20:37:10 -0600

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In reply to: John W. Burgeson: "Re: Abiogenesis (new subject line)"
Hi Mike,

Due to a need to get some writing done, I am going to keep my answer short.
If there is something I didn't answer in your note that you think I really
should, then let me know.

At 10:19 AM 11/10/98 -0800, Mike Hardie wrote:
>glenn wrote:
>>While some think it acceptable to
>>conclude that such a passage is merely allegorical but I don't. If it
>>looks wrong, we should find a solution or call it what it really
>>is---falsehood. Only by risking having one's religion being be false, can
>>one really find out if it is true.
>A good point. But supposing just for a moment that it is possible and
>plausible for God to sometimes communicate via allegory, judging something
>*literally* wrong could potentially miss the point. Treating a passage as
>literal, after all, is no more empirically testable than treating it as

there are two issues that always get wrapped up together in these
discussion. 1. Can God communciate via allegory and
2. did God communicate by allegory in early Genesis.


>>I think I would disagree. Causation can be empirically verified by a high
>>degree of correlation between two events always temporally related in the
>>same fashion--one before the other.
>But how can it be empirically verified? We infer causation from constant
>correlation only because we have the (untestable) metaphysical belief in
>causation. That is, the connection between causation (which is not
>observable) and constant correlationg (which is observable) is not itself
>empirically testable.

Correct, causation can not be proven, but it can be inferred and it is
inferred from empirical data, not from spiritual data and not from metaphor.

>Yes, we infer causation partially through an empirical process -- i.e., we
>empirically observe correlation, and from this infer causation. But the
>principle of inferring causation from constant correlation is not itself an
>empirically verifiable thing.

I could agree here. But one could apply the same concept to God in
detecting design, as one does in detecting correlations and inferring

>>And one could possibly argue that God himself is not totally
>>beyond empirical verifiability. The origin of the universe requires a
>>cause. If there was nothing, there is nothing to cause the universe.
>But that is not empirical verification, it is an exercise in logic. Modal
>logic would appear to be distinct from empirical observation by a wide

Logic of course is not irrelevant to the determination of causation in

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