"It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives." (Francis Bacon)
Sin is given many ‘spins’ today, so that what God hates is watered down into human prejudices! But, sin is still sin, no matter what name it is given. In this brief article we will see if ‘Confirmation Bias’ (selective thinking) is a form of sin... or not. Is it just short-sightedness, when the person cannot envisage the end result of avoiding valid opposing arguments?
What is ‘Confirmation Bias’? It is a term used by psychologists to describe the search for, and interpretation of, information in such ways that the findings confirm one’s own preconceptions. This does not only lead to statistical/logical errors, but it can also lead to very serious spiritual problems. My own preference is to refer to this activity as ‘prejudice’ rather than ‘bias’.
This Bias concerns me, academically, biblically, theologically and personally, because it is evidence of not interpreting things properly. The bias can even be a reason for being cultic or otherwise spiritually improper. It certainly leads a person to disregard truth and shun those who speak it. I know these situations occur because I have been on both sides of this fence in the past! It took me well over ten years to realise my error, and an even longer time to put it all right. Now, I am biased for a good reason! So, let us look further into this phenomenon.
Those who do not wish to receive or contemplate truth will resort to this cognitive trickery, choosing and looking for information that appears to ‘confirm’ their prejudice, even when there are other evidences that deny it! It is, then, a very selective process leading to wrong conclusions.
In terms of truth, this attitude shows a definite reluctance to properly research a subject, whether it is biblical or scientific, etc. It shows a poor personality trait preventing the person from thinking logically or with genuine reasons.
Today, environmentalists are costing nations huge sums of money, paid for by taxes, by insisting CO2 ‘causes’ ‘global warming’, which has no basis in truth. Now, the same people are costing even more by throwing aside global warming ideas and adopting the absurdity of human-caused climate change, even though climate obviously changes of its own accord on a regular basis. They have blindness towards all the evidences and only select what supports their power-hungry ideas, despite the paucity of their claims.
Confirmation Bias Has Severe Consequences
We find the same error costing not just money but lives, in the treatment of migrants from the Middle East and Africa: the media ignores anything that would massively underrate the import of Muslims into the West, even after the Paris murders.
Migrants snaking across Europe cause immense trouble and violence, and costs each nation a lot of money to put right their sinful behaviours. Governments also ignore the facts, only saying that ‘refugees’ deserve help, though ‘refugee’ is not defined properly. This, however, must be offset by the need for security and warnings against terrorist infiltration into Europe and social destruction. Thus, the ignorance is deliberate and costly, both in terms of economy and lives.
We see the same deliberate bias in churchmen, especially Anglican leadership. Instead of researching all avenues, they select only the few that support their liberalism and socialistic ideals. Their bias is driving the Anglican communion towards terrorism, environmental error, and economic disaster. But, underneath all this is biblical and theological error, which steers their minds along illicit or ridiculous paths, resulting in even greater radicalism.
In churches I have visited, almost no Christian in them is open minded in the biblical sense. Rather, they come to a false conclusion and stick to it! By ‘open minded’ I mean having the mind of God, to read scripture as it is written and to interpret and then act upon it. This involves a very strict and detailed study of God’s word.
Because so few follow this essential ‘must-do’ process, most Christians are therefore prejudiced and only accept what appears to support their view and doctrine. Such Christians are very stubborn and rarely if ever change how they view things. (As reported by the University of Iowa, November 16th, 2015. Science Daily). However, I do not need a university to tell me this – I have come across it every day for fifty years! These Christians have no biblical impact on society, but they do attract a negative reaction, including scorn and humiliation against God’s Church.
Wrong Biblical Beliefs
Christians tend to hold to false ‘interpretations’ and yet call them genuine. Even when the scriptural opposite is proved to exist. Adherents simple say with a shrug, “That’s the way you see it. I see it this way!” They say this even when their position is proved to be absurd or wrong from scripture itself. And they can become extremely hostile when pushed to look at the real biblical arguments. This is how ardent Arminians manage to exist, and even get themselves dubbed ‘Christians’.
To be frank I have come across very few Christians who think clearly and/or accept genuine interpretation that displaces their own. Amongst the pastors I have known over many years only one pastor stands true, for he humbly accepted my evidences against his Pentecostalism when shown scriptural truth. This was the late Rev. Arthur Harris who lived in Swansea. I therefore had great respect for the man. Some might argue that I only respected him because he agreed with me! Not so! After over thirty years of deeply held Pentecostal beliefs, he finally looked at the scriptural evidences against his beliefs and capitulated wholeheartedly. He did not turn about because the arguments against him were my own! Such men deserve commendation... but almost none today allow me to commend them. It is very sad.
Blind in Both Eyes!
One day, my then pastor asked me to chat with two elderly sisters on the matter of Christ’s birth (it was close to Christmas). Following their thinking I told them that Christ was not born on December 25th, and gave them the reasons for saying so. Their reaction was both shocking and amusing; they looked rather angry and said “Well, if that is the truth I don’t want any more to do with Christianity!”
They were so strongly entrenched in their ‘babe in a manger’ idea and in the commercialised date for Christ’s birth, they were unwilling to accept the truth, or even to look at the details. They preferred to ditch their (false) beliefs altogether rather than examine what they believed in the light of scripture! This same illogic is found throughout the churches, in all subject areas, even amongst pastors and supposed Bible teachers.
Such people hold to illusory correlation of two events or arguments, because they ‘see’ something supporting their wrong beliefs. This is especially prevalent amongst charismatics, who often make outrageous ‘prophecies’. One such ‘prophecy’ proclaimed that God told the ‘prophet’ that Obama would publicly state his salvation by a certain date (in a year’s time). That was several years ago.
Well, I kept that date in my diary and when Obama did nothing of the kind (which I expected), I contacted the publisher of the ‘prophecy’ (Elijah’s List) and warned them. I asked if they realised that the Old Testament says such a so-called ‘prophet’ should be put to death, and publicly denounced. I had no reply (which I also expected). The same publication regularly declares ‘prophecies’ to be from God, but which have no true worth or do not come true.
Every extremist in the world, whether homosexual, Islamist, environmentalist, or any one of the false religions, routinely dismisses or ignores arguments against their beliefs and statements. Even when found out to be lying, they continue in their stubborn denial of truth. In many cases what they believe and do is to the detriment of all people everywhere, including genocide.
The Case Against Christians Who Have Confirmation Bias
Modern Christians, including pastors, think nothing of being wrong. Some have committed adultery, but do not speak against it when they allegedly repent. So many churches have either unsaved or untaught pastors; they allow teachers to teach wrong doctrine; they do not apply discipline. And yet they honestly think God favours them, or that what they believe is acceptable. They have no idea that God hates their lies with a vengeance.
Do You Cross The Line?
There is a line which no Christian may cross. The line is God’s word. God’s word is our standard... not just our ultimate standard, but the absolute standard. To say it is our ‘ultimate’ standard is to allow for the existence of contrary views, when there is no such thing! Nothing can replace or displace God’s word. What He says in scripture is absolute, has no substitute, and no allowance for misinterpretation.
This brings to light the true reason for sacrifices in the Old Testament – that the Israelites were to obey God’s every word, standard and law without fail. If they refused, they would be cut off from their land, or even put to death. The priests were held to even higher standards (which is why Eli’s sons were put to death by God).
Today, pastors and Bible teachers are to teach God’s word without perversion or change. If they apply wrong interpretations they must be held liable; if they continue to ignore truth, they must be denounced and removed.
Christians are not allowed by God to hold to their own interpretations (see, for example, 2 Peter 1:20, bearing in mind that ‘prophecy’ includes not just future events but proper biblical teaching). As I have always maintained, everything in scripture has only ONE interpretation. This is discovered by close reading and study of the text, which cannot in any way contradict any other part.
But, most Christians hold to their ‘preferred’ understanding (which is no understanding at all, being illicit) and completely shun a proper examination of the texts they misinterpret. When these Christians consistently do so ‘across the board’, their very salvation can be questioned (another biblical standard). If their contradiction of genuine interpretation is at the very core of salvation, we may legitimately cast them out of fellowship if they do not comply with scripture. The same applies if they hold to heretical views of, say, Christ being God, etc.
Christians are to be known not just by their love for one another, but by their strict adherence to true doctrine. Indeed, scripture tells us the two must be joined together. After I finished my article on prayer meetings I sent it for peer review by leading teachers. I KNEW it contained nothing but a summation of scripture. The reviewers acknowledged this and YET they added that there may be flaws in the argument! I was intrigued and asked them to explicitly list the flaws. But, they could not!
This is another example of Confirmation Bias. Because they had practised prayer meetings for so many years, as has the Church as a whole for centuries, they ‘felt’ the thrust of my argument ‘must be’ faulty!! They could not provide a single argument against what I said. And so a vital issue was brushed under the theological carpet and Christians continued as usual. Others, individuals who were concerned, wrote and thanked me for giving a correct biblical analysis that greatly helped them.
And so error after error is allowed into the churches and is taught by generations of pastors, preachers and teachers. Could I also be warped in my views, and in this paper? Yes, of course I could be wrong... but I fail to see how!
Many years ago when a large number of us left the established churches, we determined to throw out EVERYTHING we had been taught and to return ONLY to scripture for our beliefs and practises. This we did deeply and with consistency, for over three years initially. And we have continued in this way for the past 30 years. It is why we say that if any error is found and a scriptural argument can be proved against us, we will examine what is argued and acknowledge our error publicly.
The argument must not only be ‘in’ scripture, but it must be interpreted from scripture by the standard of scripture itself. Few Christians today follow such stringency: they are far too busy attending meetings, reading the most popular writers’ output, and agreeing with what their peers wish to hear! After all, researching one’s own position can be traumatic (as I know), and few are willing to put a search-light onto their favoured beliefs, for fear of being found wrong. This would cause major upheavals in thinking and heart, and not many wish to undergo that. So, there is no change and the churches continue to decline spiritually, even when attendance numbers rise.
Psychologists would look at confirmation bias and ask whether ANY of us is free from this diversionary mental tactic. They ask if we REALLY think our views are arrived at without bias and objective analysis, which is a reasonable question. (http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/fl/What-Is-a-Confirmation-Bias.htm ).
Frankly, when I listen to some views expressed by pastors, I wonder if they have had any further education at all, especially training in biblical analysis. It should be noted that even when trained to observe and research, many only act-out these things mechanically, with no real understanding of what they are doing. This is an observation, not a judgment about their souls. I sometimes listen or watch in amazement as pastors and others teaching scripture speak about what, to me, are myths or badly formed ideas. I also find this kind of selectivity in all branches of thinking, including medical, scientific and philosophical.
There are times, as some of you know, I refer to someone like Richard Dawkins as ‘stupid’ (not as an insult but as a matter of fact). They are highly intelligent but, by ignoring valid opposite claims, they become entrenched in their own blindness. Yet, others will say the blindness is in myself! Possibly. That is why, whenever I am challenged or opposed, I automatically return to what I have written or said and go over it again and again, to alter if necessary or to retain.
If you look at my article on Universal and Contextual analysis, you will see that I tend to place wrong thinking in a ‘bubble’. In this bubble a person can be 100% correct... but when exposed to a more universal situation the thinking makes no sense. That is what I see in Dawkins et al. (See ‘Contextual and Universal Validity’, A-381).
The problem with their thinking is that it in searching external ‘authorities’ they only come to secular conclusions. As these secular findings can range virtually forever, there can be no end to their musings. Compare to biblical analysis...
In my work I follow a very strict rule: whatever scripture says is true; anything opposing it is false. That is, my thinking arises from, and returns to, scripture. What external sources say is not relevant to me, even if it agrees with scripture. Thus, there is no running back and forth looking for either agreeable or disagreeable sources, because my only text is scripture. Significantly, though I keep rigidly to this focus (which could easily be dubbed ‘Contextual’), what is contextual is also universal in its application and truth. This is where this approach differs enormously from that of unbelievers’ thinking. Unbelievers will usually dismiss anything biblical because their mind-set is antagonistic to Christian things. They have no actual locus of attention, only a hatred for God. So, everything they do is based on selective views that ‘prove’ themselves to be right.
In my own work, my writing and thinking comes from, and returns to, what God says. This is not because I have avoided anything contrary, but because, in my life, I have proved God to be true and have already looked at contrary views, which I found to be dead and useless. If I have found God to be true, there is no reason to seek answers anywhere else, particularly not with unbelievers, whose whole mental ability is awry because of their unbelief. What I have discovered over the years is that what I know to be true in my own thinking (contextual) is also true in the wider world (universal). Whereas the thinking of unbelievers only fits their own bubble or context and does not work anywhere else. The Christian view, properly examined, fits all situations. That is the difference.
So, if, say, I receive an argument that Christ is not God, I dismiss it out of hand, because I have already studied the topic and know the truth. Why do I need to examine what is plainly non-viable and wrong?
Yes, unbelievers would pounce on what I have said and use it as ‘proof’ I am wrong. That is because they are using selective thinking or confirmation bias. My own approach is far more strict. I build my house from the foundations upwards, logically. Unbelievers arbitrarily build their houses from anywhere they wish to start, from roof down, windows-out, etc. Their houses will quickly fall, because their ‘rules’ are always changing when there are no absolutes! Conversely, everything I come across is automatically checked against scripture. If it does not fit, it is removed. This is not ‘confirmation bias’ – it is ‘truth bias’! Each bit of truth helps to build the house. On the other hand, unbelievers use fairybricks that have no substance because they do not exist. The unbelieving house, then, is built only in the mind but not in actuality! It simply does not exist... unless, as with Dawkins, confirmation bias operates.
As an introduction this paper will suffice.
© November 2015
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
Please 'Make a Donation' to support the work of Bible Theology Ministries
Christian Doctrine Articles are published on www.christiandoctrine.com
Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH United Kingdom