Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Confirmation Bias Goes Both Ways

We must all always be mindful of our confirmation biases, especially as atheists. Do not be quick to let a piece of evidence "confirm" your position without having done some investigation as to whether its claims check out. In fact, you should be even more skeptical of the evidence that supports your position because your argument is riding on its veridicality, and if you don't do your homework and fact check its claims, your opponent will. So make a concerted effort to be skeptical of all the evidence for and against your position. Don't find yourself doing the very same thing that all too often we find many theists doing. Look up criticism of the evidence that supports your position and do the very same thing that your opponent will do to try and refute it. You might find that the "evidence" does not check out or you will find that it makes you better prepared to deal with the faulty arguments against it if it does. Either way, you should strive for making the most informed case possible, and that may mean getting rid of certain bad arguments.

Having spent the past several years debating theists, in my personal experiences their confirmation biases are often blatant. They fail to make an effort to look into the evidence against their evidence. And atheists are no exception. Back in 2007 for example, when the documentary Zeitgeist came out, it made a bunch of historically inaccurate claims for the argument that Jesus never existed, and millions of atheists jumped on it with out having fact checked anything. Even scholarly mythicists like Richard Carrier denounced it. This was a clear example of atheists falling victim to the inherent confirmation biases that we ALL have.

But we're better than that.

We are the skeptics, we are the rationalists, we are the ones who base our worldview on evidence and reason. We must not find ourselves doing the very same thing that our opponents do without regard, because then we will be no better than them, even if we're right.


  1. This is an idea that I think we all need to keep reminding ourselves of. I try to do this, but it's hard. When I'm reading something that confirms my ideas it's easy to just go "oh yeah, that makes sense" and move on. Recently I read an article about a survey of the beliefs of clergymen which had some pretty surprising results. My first reaction should have been suspicion, but I was being lazy and just accepted it at first. I'm glad I read the comments, because someone laid out all of the reasons why it seems fishy. I was disappointed in myself for not thinking of those things on the first read.

  2. I struggle with this too. It's just so easy to just accept things as truth that favor your positions. The thing for me is that I hate being wrong, and so that forces me to make an effort to verify whether my "facts" are really facts. It's just something you must condition yourself to do. Now when I see evidence that supports me, I get skeptical - and that's a good thing. But it's a constant struggle that I deal with.



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