Developing Critical Thinking Skills through Analysis of Cause and Effect

There are many factors and circumstances to take into consideration when trying to determine the relationship between cause and effect.

Reflective Practice February 24, 2021

In Norway, approximately 48,000 people living in a nursing home have been vaccinated. Around 33 people of this group have died. The Folkehelseinstituttet, the Norwegian health authority, denies that these elderly people have died as a result of an injection with the Pfizer vaccine. Elderly people in other countries have also died after vaccination. In America there are 55 deaths, and there too, it was denied that the vaccine was the cause of the death. Critics of vaccination question the denial. Why is there discussion about the cause of death? To answer that question, it is instructive to look at how Solomon built the temple.

These types of cases are registered on a database of the federal government, the “Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System” (VAERS). These reports can be submitted by anyone, caregivers, patients or family members. The website therefore warns that “when evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that no cause-and-effect relationship has been established for any reported event.”

The Scottish philosopher David Hume, who has reflected on cause-and-effect relationships, claimed that we can only observe that one thing happens after the other; we cannot observe why this happens. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, continuing in line with Hume, argued that causality is an apriori of the human mind. Based on this line of thought, science is very careful to make statements about cause-effect relationships.

The philosopher John Randolph Lucas has helped to clarify the concept ‘cause,’ suggesting that this concept is under tension: on the one hand it is “straining towards the ideal of a complete cause” and on the other hand “towards that of the most significant cause.” Take, for example, the event that the candles burn when you enter the church at 10:00 on Sabbath morning. Nobody is present, and yet you know that Peter has lit them, as he always does. The circumstances of the event are important as well: for example, there must be oxygen in the atmosphere otherwise the candles will not burn. In addition to the circumstances, there are negative conditions that are important as well. For example, the candles burn at 10:00 because Peter has not been caught in a traffic jam. If you want to describe “the complete cause” of the candles burning at 10:00, you might need several pages.

The second way in which we speak of causes, focuses on the most significant one. From the whole range of conditions necessary to bring about an event, we choose one that we feel is the most important factor. If we want to know why the candles are lit at 10:00 when we enter the church, we are not pointing at the level of oxygen in the atmosphere or the fact that there was no traffic jam, but to Peter’s decision to leave in time for church.

In 1 Kings 5:5 we read that God says to David, “your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.” Yet in the next verse we read that Solomon says to King Hiram of Tyre, “command that cedars from the Lebanon be cut for me. My servants will join your servants.” In addition to wood, stones were also needed to build the temple. The text says that Solomon employed seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the mountains: “At the king’s command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones” (verse 17).

It took numerous things (wood, stones, etc) and people (stonecutters, loggers, etc) to build the temple, and yet the text says that Solomon built the temple. This means that from the vast array of conditions required to build the temple, only one factor is chosen, Solomon’s plan. We do something similar when we talk about the cause of death after vaccination.

Choosing the most important factor from the whole range of conditions is sometimes a matter of faith. For example, in Isaiah 8, God says that the royal house of Israel will fall, not as a result of a conspiracy but at the hands of the LORD (Isaiah 8:13-14). The point is that God does not deny the potential of a conspiracy, but merely says not to dwell upon it. The cause of the fall of the royal house of Israel is not to be sought in men, but in God’s sovereign rule.

In summary, when we see some elderly people in Norway, America, and in other countries die shortly after vaccination, it is not simply a matter of acknowledging-denying the obvious cause. It is important here to recall David Hume’s comment. We only see that one thing is happening after the other; we do not see why. Determining the cause is not simply a matter of observation but also of interpretation. Data reports that around 45 people die in Norwegian nursing homes every day. When the cause of death is determined, old age needs to be considered as a causal factor in combination with other factors such as a common cold or potential adverse side effects to a vaccine or medication. Sometimes, only a small amount of knowledge and experience is required to determine the cause of an event, but finding the cause of death requires sufficient knowledge and skills because of the sheer quantity of factors involved.

As educators, it is paramount that we teach and train our students to understand this relationship between cause and effect. We need to help them explore various (both positive and negative) conditions involved in a cause and effect relationship and to select which factor is most important among these conditions.  This is crucial to develop critical thinking in your students, a much-needed skill to make a positive contribution to the world around them, and in this case to help stem the tide of fear and uncertainty.

Author

Dr. Brouwer has lectured in theology in Hong Kong and Peru and is currently serving as a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church in Belgium.

    1 comments

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    | February 26, 2021 at 6:13 am

    Good reasoning. Older people die for a myriad of reasons. Hence it is reasonable to state other causes of death (ie not a vaccine) may have contributed or even entirely explain these deaths.
    Some of these vaccines, at least the mRNA variants, are made using our ability to synthesize specific pieces of genetic code and deliver it into the human body. Incredibly powerfull stuff and scientifically really promising.
    Buy… we have very limited understanding of how our internal machinery really works. Many genes, in fact 90% or so we believe are dormant, while our knowledge of active genes is sketchy at best. All pepers I have seen indicate direction for further research at best. Nevertheless We nor use this tech on the entire world population. In this case based only on short term insight, and empirical data, bypassing major rules that normally apply before introduction of any medicine, let alone an inherently risky vaccine, turning the world population into guinee pigs. These concerns are in my view real but not part of media or government narratives what claim complete safety, consistently downplay short term side effects and do not even mention longer term risks. May the lord have mercy on us all…

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