I like the saying, “If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” This folksy phrase is related to the old adage, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” I like these sayings because they make sense and generally are true. But not always.
Correlation does not imply causation is the phrase used in science and statistics that states that a correlation between two variables does not necessarily imply that one causes the other. In other words, just because it walks like a duck does not guarantee you’re looking at a duck.
But even though intellectually I understand that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, I still like the simplicity of smoke causing fire. It’s clean, simple. Black and white.
Unfortunately though, life isn’t always so clear-cut as much as most would like it to be. But those of us who have made the trip around the block a few times — in other words, old folks — we see the correlations a little more clearly than those with less experience. In some ways, life becomes “clearer-cutter” the older we get.
Take one of the latest studies released. I’m always a little suspect of so-called “polls” or “studies” that announce that this is that or that is this, that some percentage of us believes one thing or another. Maybe it comes from remembering my dad’s lesson, “Don’t believe everything you read.” Or my natural American inclination to question authority. But this particular study makes some sense to me. There’s smoke, so there’s most likely fire.
According to NBC News national political writer Carrie Dann, one in five Americans say religion does not play an important role in their lives. She reports that a new NBC/WSJ journal poll shows this as the highest percentage since the poll began asking participants about their focus on faith in 1997.
According to this study, Dann reports, “21 percent of respondents said that religion is ‘not that important’ to their lives, compared to 16 percent who said the same in 1999. In 1997, 14 percent of Americans said religion did not play an important role in their lives.”
So lack of religion is the smoke. What’s the fire? Does correlation imply causation in this case? Pornography, child molestation, violence against women, crudeness and lack of politeness, drug use and addiction, declining American power. Mere coincidence?
I know it’s simple. But crudeness is rife in our 2014 culture. It didn’t used to be. Even major newspapers like the New York Times are questioning their prohibition against using curse words in print. An op-ed published in the Times by Jesse Sheidlowermarch advocating for curse words recently opined, “Our society’s comfort level with offensive language and content has drastically shifted over the past few decades, but the stance of our news media has barely changed at all. Even when certain words are necessary to the understanding of a story, the media frequently resort to euphemisms or coy acrobatics that make stories read as if they were time capsules written decades ago, forcing us all into wink-wink-nudge-nudge territory.” His op-ed included the caption, “A four letter word that rhymes with duck.”
More “comfortable” with offensive language? HELLO! IT IS O-FFEN-SIVE!
In this case, if it sounds like a duck, it must be duck. Less religion equals less culture. And it also means more pornography, more child molestation, more violence against women (or violence in general), more crudeness and lack of politeness, more drug use, and less American power. So yes, given my more than several trips around the block, I correlate lack of religion to many of the ills our society is facing. Do I know of all the studies backing up my belief? No.
Please pardon my dismissing, in this case, the science of correlation not necessarily equaling causation. I could be wrong but I don’t think so.
When there was more religion — when more folks believed there was something, someone, out there bigger than them to whom they were accountable — there were fewer of many of our societal ills. Now, though, we’ve lost sight of the duck. And the fire.
But the quacking I’m hearing — the waddling and feathers I’m seeing — sound and look awfully like a duck. I pray we can find and turn that quacker around. Before the fire consumes us.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.