Correlation Does Not Equal Causation


As a Protestant, I held firmly to the belief that salvation was by faith alone. To explain passages like James 2, I said that, by saying faith alone is not enough to save us, what James meant was that real, strong faith produces good works and it is that kind of faith that saves us. Faith causes deeds. That was the bottom line for me. And it did seem that those who had the strongest faith did the most good for the world. This seemed to prove that I was right in my belief.

But in my statistics class my professors stressed time and again that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. In other words, just because as faith increases good works does the same, does not mean that faith causes that increase in good. I don’t know many people, if any, who would say that the increase in good works causes the increase in faith, but the relation between the two could reasonably be interpreted that way, as well.

But I don’t think that either one causes the increase the other. Rather it would seem that there is some sort of outside variable that is causing this correlation between faith and good works, as is common with most cases of correlation. That variable is God’s grace. This is the only thing that causes an increase in either. This is why it is possible, though uncommon, to see someone who has strong faith but few good works. God’s grace is the only thing that saves us, and it’s God’s grace that allows us to have faith and do good. Both are necessary responses to God’s grace. That is my new bottom line.


2 thoughts on “Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

  1. I ran into a street preacher that makes rounds to my university every semester. I usually avoid talking with these guys, but I couldn’t help myself this time. We started talking about faith and works as well and I told him that the audience Paul is speaking to in Romans is not the same as the audience James is writing to in his letter. Paul is speaking to Jewish Christians in Rome and James is addressing a predominantly Gentile Christian audience. Paul emphasizes faith because of his Jewish audience’s desire to continue to practice Jewish customs and religious tenets. James speaks of works because he knows that that his audience has faith, but he wants to encourage them grow in love and charity towards themselves and others.
    Anyhow, the street preacher disagreed, because he believed that James is talking to Jews also. He cited the fact that James is addressing his letter to the “12 Tribes.” Now, at the time I had no answer, but being the historian that i am, I remembered that James says “12 Tribes of the dispersion.” James could not be addressing the 12 tribes literally, because they are dispersed. Among who you might ask? Among the Gentiles! That’s why they are called the Lost Tribes of Israel, because they are lost among the Gentiles. They have mixed with them. In order to bring them back, you must convert the Gentiles to the God of Israel. So when James says he is writing to the 12 Tribes, he’s writing to Christians that have none or little knowledge of Jewish religion. Therefore….Paul and James are not contradicting themselves and James is not a Catholic epistle and Romans a Protestant one, but both are Catholic.

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