Monday, April 2, 2012

Confirmation Bias Bias

There are a number of ways people have to avoid arguments while appearing to actually be saying something of significance. One of these ways, I have noted, is to make an issue of what is called "confirmation bias".

The way it runs is something like this: "Anyone who believes X, or has a vested interest in X being true, is more lilely to seek and present evidence for X, while also ignoring or not reporting evidence against it." Some I've seen (notably atheists, but others as well) use this reasoning as a sort of magic wand giving them the freedom to wave off arguments -- with little or even no further rebuttal deemed necessary.

Of course I won't deny that "confirmation bias" can and does happen. I will, however, deny -- rather strongly -- that I fall victim to it with any notability. Ever since I began work in apologetics, I have made it a point to do everything I can to seek out and give consideration to opposing arguments and information, even if this means reading the works of fringe nutters like Tony Bushby. I've gone out of my way, in fact, to seek out contrary views on the matters I research. I've also changed my mind on numerous issues over the years as I've done more thorough investigations, including some that have got me in hot water with other Christians (eg, the nature of hell, preterism, the atonement). So I don't want to hear it about "confirmation bias" in my work. You can find it -- perhaps -- and collect it in a thimble.

Not that anyone ought to anyway. Whether someone has "confirmation bias" or not, the responsibility of the opposing party doesn't change one whit to address fact claims an arguments. Labeling someone as a victim of "confirmation bias" is something that should only be done, if at all, after you've shown they've fallen victim to it -- not before. And not as part of a rhetorical campaign to discredit your opposition while giving their arguments short shrift.

But then again, you don't even need to point it out if it happens to be true. if you think someone is subject to confirmation bias, the only real excuse for pointing it out is to be able to take them aside -- privately -- and counsel them about it. There's absolutely no reason to go pointing out publicly that you think an opponent has confirmation bias. What does that do to refute their arguments? Nothing. All it does is bamboozle the gullible into thinking you've said something of substance.

Conformation bias isn't the only thing that's used as a sort of argumentative short-circuit (shortcut!) this way. Another favorite is to broadly appeal to things like the existence of urban legends. It goes like this: "Urban legends happen. Therefore (e.g.) the Resurrection could be one." Why bother even writing entire books and composing serious arguments when this is enough to set your audience into the Neverending Nod of Satisfaction?

if anyone pulls this one on me, and says I must be guilty of confirmation bias, I'll just throw back they they're guilty of confirmation bias bias.

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