A Church Sign and Confirmational Bias5 May, 2009
I spotted a church sign not too far from the street corner upon which (((Wife))) works:
Consider All Decisions.
Consult With God.
God will whisper,
“This is the Path. Walk in it.”
And my first thought upon reading it? Confirmation bias.
Now, keep in mind that I am an atheist. I see nothing in nature, nothing in the universe, which cannot be explained through natural processes. I see no need to interject god(s). Which means, of course, that when I consider a decision, I tend to find natural or logical reasons for, or evidence to support, doing what I want to do in the first place. Rarely, I consider a decision, look at the evidence, and then change my mind. I suspect that I am a rather normal human being in doing this.
Now take a second look at the quote from the church sign. Does this mean that a theist (not necessarily a Christian, but any theist who believes in a personally interested god(s)) thinks about a decision, does he or she find that god(s) reinforces whatever it is they really wanted to do in the first place? Except that, the decision having been confirmed by god(s), it now becomes personal holy writ? Unalterable by mere humans? Does the person have absolute faith that god(s) have guided their decision making process?
All human beings have confirmation bias. Accepting and working around that bias is one of the most difficult things that any adult does. It involves critical thinking skills (which, unfortunately, grade and high schools don’t do very well). It involves a willingness to confront and challenge one’s own belief system (which, unfortunately, religion does not do very well). If god(s), in a person’s mind, is telling them, “Yes, this is the right decision. God approves of your decision,” is any critical thinking, any confrontation of internal bias necessary? Or does the illusion of god(s) approval trump common sense, evidence, and critical thinking? Does god(s) become the ultimate authority figure to be obeyed in any decision?
This would make sense. After all, if a man is a homosexual hater, chances are pretty good his god(s) will be too. If a man believes that children should be beaten, his god(s) will also approve. If a man is a bigot, so is his god(s). Confirmation bias. Except that now, all of his prejudices are confirmed by his version of god(s). Which means they cannot change.
Of course, if the question one is pondering is, “What is a good natural fertilizer?” and god(s) answer is “Shit,” does that mean that the last part, “Walk in it,” should still be followed?