Sunday, February 8, 2015

The confirmation bias fallacy

As we all know we each have certain biases that influence how we think and feel about certain matters we encounter in our lives. This is nowhere more prominent and clearly demonstrated than it is in religious belief. Many refer to their religion of choice and it doctrines as the absolute "truth" about mans origins, life, and his purpose in general. Some go as far as stating that there are mysteries which science can never hope to discover but that are only explainable through the acceptance and belief in faith based religious explanations.

That being said, I would like to focus on the informal logical fallacy known as confirmation bias and how it is used and expressed in the lives of fundamentalist believers. As a former fundamentalist Pentecostal evangelist myself; I can attest to the power of faith and its ability to stifle the search for knowledge and it's rejection of reason over the acceptance of unprovable and irrational beliefs.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias: The tendency to look for information that confirms our existing preconceptions, making it more likely to ignore or neglect data that disconfirms our beliefs. For example, when we compare ourselves with others we are more likely to remember other people's mistakes and less likely to think of our own.

The Bible has many examples where the knowledge of men and faith in God are compared and defined. Of course the knowledge of men is often represented as imperfect and of course inferior to the knowledge of God who according to the scriptures is the giver of said knowledge.

 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8


Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 1 Timothy 6:20

As you can see it is not prudent to question what one has received by faith. It is referred to as evil and an evil snare to lead believers into a rejection of belief. Ever since I can remember I was and still am today a very inquisitive individual. When I was an evangelist I often questioned to myself the many what at the time I believed to be divine spiritual experiences I had. I "felt" the presence of God every minute of every day and it often gave me goose bumps and was accompanied by a warm tingling sensation all around me. The air felt electric and I felt like I walked inside a shield of divine protection. I often held entire conversations in my head with the Lord which were usually one way but I liked telling him how grateful I was to have found his grace and have been saved by his sacrifice of himself. 

It was these subjective feelings coupled with other everyday experiences that at one time held me captive to the faith. There was no way back then that you could convince me that my God wasn't real. I would reply that I knew he was real because I felt his presence and believed he guided my every action. I spoke in tongues, prophesied, cast out devils, others claimed to have been healed through my ministry. I often cried like a baby when I was overcome with the presence of God and felt what I believed to be his love for me. I had recurring dreams where I often saw myself floating in the air and every dream brought me higher and closer to God. I would often wake up from these dreams and find myself speaking in tongues and overcome by the power of the Holy Ghost. 

As a believer I looked for signs everywhere. If I was about to preach and had a bad experience on the way to the church I took that as a sign that the devils minions were out to stop me from winning souls for Christ or hinder his powers from using me as a vessel through disrupting my focus on the Lord himself. If thing went well I thanked God for the blessings being bestowed upon me although I thought I was never deserving of such favor. I aspired to be a modern day apostle like Peter or even Paul. I wanted God to use me to the fullest potential. I wanted to do greater things than even He did in my ministry as he promised I would. 

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12  

Confirmation bias became my friend and at the same time my worse enemy. I didn't care what so called arguments or evidence  you may have have that refuted my claims about the inerrancy of the Bible. My experiences told me otherwise. The only evidence I cared about was the testimony of a fellow believer who claimed to have been benefited in some way by my ministry. My evidence for my beliefs was the Bible and any and everything else were snares of Satan to deceive and lead me astray. If you did not believe in the scriptures as I did that was your problem and I could only help you if you humbled yourself and let Jesus into your heart to reveal to you as he did to me the truth of his gospel. 

Confirmation bias is the culprit in Christianity or Islam or any other religious beliefs that makes it seem like you are talking to the wall when dealing with believers. Their faith and subjective experiences trump whatever evidence you may have to the contrary. Prominent apologist William Lane Craig said it best: 

"Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa."

It takes determination and an open mind to break free from this cycle of ignorance that one succumbs to in the name of faith. It took me six years to completely overcome the effects that my faith and deep indoctrination had on me. But I can say that it felt like a great weight had been literally lifted off of my shoulders.

Note: All biblical citations are taken from the New International Version of the scriptures.

 Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Revised ed.). Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 1994. ISBN 0-89107-764-2.

3 comments:

  1. William Lane Craig's quote does sum it up nicely. Honestly, he is the one theist whom I have to wonder if it is just a charade as he seems way to smart to remain a believer. On the other hand people like Ray Comfort just seem completely whacked out.

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    1. I agree, Ray Comfort is one of those guys you just look at and give him a laugh and pity his stupidity. I see WLC differently though. He does exhibit a lot of intelligence but because of confirmation bias he seeks to rationalize that which cannot be rationalized. It's nothing more than very strong attempts at holding on to his faith against all odds through the use of logical fallacies and misinterpretations of science and reason.

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