Something that has come to my attention (it has always been there) is a phenomenon that is happening every day. With the ongoing debates about the racial divide and COVID (which is ongoing), it seems like so many people just can’t agree. Of course, many people on both sides of the aisle are not terrible people. They just seem to disagree on so many issues. When I started doing campus apologetics (back in 2005), I started to engage with plenty of atheists and skeptics. I can recall several times where we would look at the same arguments for God’s existence/the Messiah, and not come to the same conclusion.
It was then that I began to explore the issues about how people form their beliefs. One thing that has always been at the forefront is confirmation bias. For example,in the online article “What is Confirmation Bias?” People are prone to what they want to believe, the author says the following:
“Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true.
Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions. For example, some people will have a very strong inclination to dismiss any claims that marijuana may cause harm as nothing more than old-fashioned reefer madness. Some social conservatives will downplay any evidence that marijuana does not cause harm.”
Granted, there are textbook definitions as well. But the point is we all tend to look for what confirms our existing beliefs and we can tend to shun any contrary evidence. If one has an a priori commitment to something, it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it).
I have seen confirmation bias in religious discussions, political discussions, medical discussions, etc. It is part of the human condition. I explored this even deeper in the book by Jonathan Haidt called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided on Politics and Religion. I also had a chance to witness to his nephew at The Ohio State University.
What I find amusing is when someone cannot admit they are susceptible to confirmation bias. I used to hear atheists tell me that only religious people were guilty of confirmation bias. I then began to push back and tell them they do the same thing. I do not know anyone that is able to approach a topic like faith or politics without being prone to some confirmation bias. This does not mean we can’t arrive at any objectivity. We are not doomed to pure subjectivism. God’s existence is an objective reality. Whether one has the desire to embrace Him or they don’t see the need for Him has no bearing on whether He exists or not. Same goes for the resurrection of the Messiah. We are making an historical claim. One’s feelings, emotions, and state of happiness has no bearing on whether he rose from the dead. But we need to work hard to curb our confirmation bias.
Another problem we have is that there is an overload of binary thinking. Binary thinking is always seeing things in terms of two options that are usually mutually exclusive. That is all the possibilities are either option A or option B and not both. As the following article says:
“When the brain reacts in a binary way, it leads to quick, irrational decisions and action; when a dialogue is engaged between the emotional and rational parts of the brain…. We can come to believe that reality is defined by two mutually exclusive categories…. Events are thus construed as dilemmas to be resolved in favor of one alternative or the other.”- see – “When Binary Thinking Is Involved, Polarization Follows”- https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/empathy-and-relationships/201701/when-binary-thinking-is-involved-polarization-follows
Some extreme examples of binary thinking are the following:
“You can’t be supportive of Black Lives Matter, and support the safety and care of the police as well. You can’t be for both.”
“You Christians only care about protecting the baby in the womb and then you don’t care about what happens to the child after they are born.’
“ Are you conservative or liberal?” If you’re for the poor and the oppressed, you’re liberal. If you care about pro life positions, you’re conservative.”
You can’t be pro science and support Biblical faith. It’s one or the other.”
“ You can’t care about climate change and be a conservative. That’s a liberal position.”
Facts, Interpretation, and Application
Another problem is people don’t agree on facts and data. For example, when someone asserts certain issues about the racial disparities in our country, I always tell them the following:
An assertion is the act of asserting something without evidence. Evidence is facts or observations presented in support of an assertion.
You may hear the following:
“ I think that there are a lot of economic disparities in our country.”
“I think the criminal justice is rigged to hurt the black community.”
“______ is a racist.”
My response is that perhaps these assertions are true. But you need to provide data and evidence to support these assertions. Just asserting something because you feel that way or someone has had a powerful experience does not mean policy can be made off that experience. Policy is made by looking at evidence and data. And guess what? The evidence and data that is given might have some bias. For example, if I cite the article here called University Administrator Forced To Resign Over Study Finding No Racial Bias In Police Shootings – The Police, someone will probably tell me it comes from a biased source. Granted, the firing did happen. But the point is that we do not always agree on the facts and data. We also might have different facts and we can cite sources that disagree with each other. Because we do not agree on the facts, we then might not agree on our interpretation of the facts. We make inferences off the facts and try to come up with the best explanation.
The bottom line is that if we are going to attempt to love God with all our being, we need to be aware of these issues. We all have assumptions, or presuppositions and worldview commitments that impact how we interpret the world around us. Just remember, these issues when you have discussions with people who do not arrive at the same conclusions as you do.