Darwinism Psychology Science

Correlation does not imply causation unless Darwin is involved

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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

9 Replies to “Correlation does not imply causation unless Darwin is involved

  1. 1
    russ says:

    “Think of lullabies, which increase social bonding and possibly the survival of the baby.”

    But why did evolution select for Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major given how little it contributes to human survival? It cann’t have produced much additional human bonding, given the amount of additional time and energy Mozart had to put in to writing it, and that others must put in to produce a performance, and that still others must invest to appreciate its beauty. Or am I looking at this wrong?

  2. 2
    Clive Hayden says:

    “Think of death metal, hardcore gangster rap, which increases social bonding and possibly the survival of the baby.”

  3. 3
    TCS says:

    I know of no cases or studies in which a lack of lullabies has been implicated in a person’s death. For Darwinism’s purported mechanisms to work, you need a lot of death, a lot of time, and a lot of luck. However, people survive things all the time that are actually terribly traumatic (resulting in problems with attachment), and yet, they often manage to reproduce.

  4. 4
    Nakashima says:

    Mr TCS.

    You should have known that New Scientist reporting is rubbish, look how they handled that Tree of Life article! 🙂

  5. 5
    Nakashima says:

    Mr Hayden,

    “Think of death metal, hardcore gangster rap, which increases social bonding and possibly the survival of the baby.”

    Since gangsta rap comes from gangs, there would seem to be some correlation there to social bonding, ne?

    It seems to me that Darwin’s original comment (if it is quoted correctly) tried to explain singing in terms of a sexual selection trait. Looking at all the girls with posters of musicians stuck to the ceiling above their beds, that sounds pretty close!

  6. 6
    uoflcard says:

    …just, wow. This is science?

  7. 7
    PhilosophyFan says:

    ” Looking at all the girls with posters of musicians stuck to the ceiling above their beds, that sounds pretty close!”

    Heh. You’d need to somehow show that this interest leads to good stock of offspring.

  8. 8
    GilDodgen says:

    When I was in junior high school I first heard Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. I was so inspired and moved that I vowed I would learn and perform it, which I did.

    Great music speaks to the human soul.

    The evo hypotheses concerning the arts are transparent lunacy, defended with obvious acts of desperation to deny the fact that the arts would have no significant statistical survival value, even given the most optimistic, fantastic, and out-of-contact-with-reality speculation.

    Oh, and one more tiny detail: How did those random mutations convert Ida into Mozart, given the probabilistic resources?

    Do the math, and then don’t bore me with any further idiotic speculation that obviously conflicts with reality and reason.

  9. 9
    TCS says:

    Gil–Your comments concisely reduce this type of speculation to the absurdity that it is.

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