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Confirmation bias infection

24 Aug

“I don’t care what you say, I know what I know! And this is a problem that affects A LOT of people!”

Have you ever run into someone so wedded to her own view that she denies any evidence to the contrary?

If so, then you my friend have been stymied by Confirmation Bias.  The way I understand this pretty common phenomenon is that once someone’s mind is made up, he is loath to change it, no matter the data to the contrary.

We are all guilty of tendencies in this direction. And you can imagine that in our election season where Americans seem so impossibly entrenched in their points of view, this type of behavior pops up across the political spectrum.  No one is immune.

Why is that?  I think we have grown increasingly suspicious of ‘other’, attributing almost malicious motives to those with whom we disagree.

Love me love my dog As my dad grew older, he idolized his two dogs.  This pillow’s message was his recurrent mantra.  I see a similar tendency in our society these days.

  • LOVE ME, LOVE MY VIEWPOINT!

And woe be to anyone who disagrees with someone’s opinion, because in criticizing that person’s conviction, you are attacking the person (so he FEELS).

What to do?

Fortunately, there is a type of remedy and it doesn’t cost a penny.  Recently I listened to a discussion about confirmation bias.  And I was challenged by a practice I heard in the radio program’s interview with Dennis Prager.  In the conversation about entrenched views and a divided country, the interviewer asked him to pick one of his ‘Pragerisms’ that he tried to live himself.  He quickly offered:

  • Seek clarity over agreement

Well that applies across the board to many relationships, doesn’t it!  Right off the bat I thought of marriage.  Beyond that particular arena, this advice would do us all good in our polarized world.

And do you know what?  If our goal is to understand the other person’s point of view and to be able to articulate it accurately to HIS or HER satisfaction, then the pressure to change that person’s mind or cleverly present OUR view melts away.

We’ll also inoculate ourselves against the contagion of confirmation bias.  One person CAN make a difference in his corner of the world.

 

Do you want to stand out from the rest of society? Then use logic!

6 Apr

And practice thinking!

You’ve seen that smart-alecky bumper sticker:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

It’s actually a true analysis of many Americans.  When I was hired at a classical Christian school, I was assigned one ‘extra class’ to teach: logic….to 8th graders!  Not knowing the first thing about rational thought and argumentation, it took a year for me stumbling my way through the curriculum to begin to understand it.  And as I continued to grow more skilled in the tools I was acquiring, I realized what a treasure I had been handed.

Logical reasoning is foundational to reading correctly, to arguing cogently, to sniffing out holes in other people’s assertions.  This discipline also goes hand-in-hand with apologetics, that body of knowledge that provides a rational defense for the truth of the claims of Jesus in the Bible.

In my personal life, I continue a gentle but on-going campaign, through prayer and conversational engagement, to provoke a family member to let go of her 4 score of false teaching imbibed in a liberal church.  When we start to disagree and I turn to the Bible to back my point, she’ll retort:

  • That’s just man’s opinion!

She does NOT believe in the divine and infallible inspiration of the writers through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Why not?  Because every other Christian she knows, outside of our family and one of her nieces, believes that a ‘fundamentalist’ (her word) interpretation of the Bible naïvely accepts what was the view of primitive men and women, way back ‘then’!

Right off the bat, her argument is weakened by resorting to Chronological Snobbery, that fallacy that rests on the assumption that simply because something is old OR new, it must be better or worse.  No legs under that assertion!

When she restates her attack and critical view of the Bible, she then reminds me that we have travelled this road before, she and I, and we just need to leave it be.

And being the gracious gal that I am, I demur. (I’ll leave you to decide the truth of THAT claim!)

Today, though, I heard a powerful way of reasoning that I think will give her pause.  Let me try out this hypothetical dialogue. Then you can let me know what you think and how she might respond.

me: Just because someone is baptized as a baby, that doesn’t make them a Christian

her: That’s not so!

me: Well, John records Jesus informing Nicodemus that he had to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. And Jesus likens this spiritual birth to the wind blowing where it wants; man does not control or initiate being ‘born from above’.  It’s a God-launched change, unlike man-centered baptisms that ASSUME the efficacy of a priest declaring ‘you’re a Christian by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (and this procedure).

her: (Version A) – That’s just John’s view!

me: What?  John was an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus!

her: (or Version B) – Humph, the Bible was written by men and things get lost in multiple translations and in all the copying.

  • It’s at THIS point where we usually reach our impasse and move on to something else.  I respect her because she’s older and I don’t want to be TOO pushy.
  • But now I think I will add….

me: You do believe that Jesus died for your sins and that you’ll have eternal life with him when you die?

her:  Yes, at least I certainly hope so!

me: And where do you find that in the Bible? What makes you so sure that you are banking on a true doctrine or teaching?   (Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, advises: ‘Ask a question to make a point.‘)

her: I’m not a ‘Bible scholar’ like you, but I know the church teaches that.

me: Why do you trust what ‘men’ say and teach? What if that doctrine is just a primitive and naïve interpretation?

her:  I have no idea.

me: (another possible question for her) Do you believe the accounts of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?  If so, why?

her: That’s a solid belief that every Christian agrees on; nothing controversial there!

me: So do you always believe a position to be true because ‘everyone believes it’? Could ‘everyone’ be wrong about something?

I’m not sure how she might respond.  Any ideas?  My fervent prayer is that this dear lady finally abandons her resistance and trust God.  After all, if one can believe the biggest miracle (or fish story!)

  • of the immaterial God coming to earth in the form of another mortal human being,
  • of being murdered under trumped-up false charges,
  • and of then being raised from the dead and ascending to Heaven,

….then why not take Jesus at his word regarding the truth of all the Scriptures?

Matthew 5:18  (Jesus asserts) I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.

Behold, the power of thinking critically and logically!

 

 

Logical Gal asks: Why are you a liberal? Why are you a Christian?

8 Jul

“You’re just a Christian because you were brought up in a Christian family!”

What are you going to say to THAT marginalization of your belief?

As always, the logical gal or guy takes a deep breath, then formulates questions that soften the smug accuser.

  • So, let me get this straight, you vote the same political party your parents do/did?
  • And you parent your own children they way you were raised? (or you share a love for the same hobbies as your mom and dad?)

You can see the many possibilities this line of questioning offers!

I can almost certainly hear your interlocutor start to backpedal…..

“Well, no….but that’s not the same thing!”

You can then ask:

  • How so? How is it different?

Or, you could gently probe THEIR spiritual background and ask how THEY were brought up and if THOSE experiences have had any influence on their views today.

Likely their responses will be either:

  1. “Yes, my parents were agnostic and so am I!”

(to which you calmly remark:

  • So you have just followed the path they laid out?)
  1. “No! I think for myself!”

(to which you calmly remark:

  • So only agnostics look at evidence and see the most reasonable conclusion?)

Other possible questions:

  • Based on your premise, then all Muslims are followers of their religion solely due to their family and cultural milieu?
  • Why do recent polls in America show an increasing rise in those claiming NO religious affiliation?  Likely some of these ‘nones’ were brought up in Christian homes!
  • What do you think accounts for the striking growth of Christianity in Communist China? Or in Africa?

Genetic Fallacy

But the best response to a Genetic Fallacy (you only believe X because of the origin or genesis of the belief) is:

  • You know, you could be right that I’m a Christian because I was brought up in a Christian home.
  • But the MORE important question to consider is this: Does God exist or does He not? For if God does NOT exist, then it really doesn’t matter why I believe what I do. And we are wasting each other’s time discussing it!
  • But if God DOES exist, then Who He is and What He says and What He has done and WILL do are relevant to your life and mine, don’t you think?

Now, more than recently, we must be able to ask discerning questions that gently challenge.  Speaking the Truth while showing compassion toward the other person is the mark of a Christ-follower.  With the Holy Spirit both guiding and restraining us we profess what is True to those whom God has made in His image.  The results are up to Him.

Logical Gal and how to write a letter to the editor

7 Jul

letter to the editor

Today’s Asheville Citizen-Times sported a guest columnist who is Director of Radiology at a local medical school.  He wrote about 750 words asserting as FACT two ‘propositions’ about the theory of evolution and the nature of Christians.

About evolution, his statements were along the line of ‘it’s settled science’.  And his view of Christians painted a strawman group of people who can’t ground their beliefs in anything true or factual.  He also maintained that most Christians accept the theory of evolution.

Nor did he build a case around either premise.  His commentary turned out to be nothing more than multiple statements offered as ‘fact’.  He then finished up by accusing Christians of being anti-science and a threat to democracy if they support creationism.

As a thinking Christian, I have to keep my emotions in check.  But it’s not enough to avoid mild rants about how our current society sees Christians.  I don’t always compose a letter to the editor. This time I felt like I should.

But what do you do when there are so many un-truths in one piece?

direction?

 

I had to limit myself and choose a main topic and maybe one side issue.  First I prayed that God would guide me.  And He did!  Before I sat down at the computer, I listened to a podcast while walking and heard some ideas that gave direction to my thoughts.  Then I jotted down my points BEFORE I started writing the letter.

Taking a few minutes to line up my direction kept me, I hope, from volleying back with an equally shot-gunned answer.  I also tried to write at a 5th grade reading level (the audience of daily papers, they say) and keep my tone winsome.

Here’s my response.  We’ll see if the paper publishes it.  At least the guy or gal whose job it is to monitor letters and perform ‘triage’ on them will have to read it!

 

Dr. ‘Joe Blow’ seems to think that only Christians trust beliefs they cannot see. Were we to sit down to talk, I would offer the following for his consideration:

We all start with a story or world-view written by the community we most identify with. This world-view is a lens through which we see and explain different facets of life. Dr. Rowe has faith that the scientific view of the world is true.

Reason calls us to verify our view with facts and experiences. What can be measured lends credence to the story.  Christians rely on the evidence of the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. No top-rate New Testament scholar, secular or religious, disputes the historicity of the death and rising to life of Jesus of Nazareth.

However certainty about one’s assumptions is impossible. We should retain those offering the most explanatory power.

Therefore, the best any human can do is exercise reasonable trust.

If Dr. Rowe were married, I would ask him how he is sure of his wife’s love. I would point out that he couldn’t have the same kind of certainty he probably has about the temperature at which water freezes. But he can look at his experiences with his wife and choose to trust her love for him. She has probably built up a track record of faithful exercise of loving actions toward him.

Thinking Christians look at the evidence and their experiences of God in their lives and make the rational step of trusting the God of the Bible.

Question: which is easier for you to do – write a response to someone with whom you fundamentally disagree or dialogue face-to-face?

 

 

 

Logical Gal falls prey to a fallacy

18 Jun

You’d think I’d know better!

I’m the one, after all, who has TAUGHT logic.  But it was my husband who picked up on my faulty thinking and asked me, “Isn’t that a fallacy?”

And darn if he wasn’t right!  Good for him.  And good for me, because it reminded me how easy it is to swallow someone’s line of thinking without even questioning. Especially if one is PREDISPOSED to agree with the one making the case.

Fallacy Picture

A columnist whom I respect was condemning, as misguided, the thinking of a friend by summarizing a recent conversation.  The columnist wrote:

“My friend said the following –

  • Our neighbors, even though they engage in a behavior I don’t approve of, are actually very moral people.
  • In fact, one of them as helped me set boundaries on my son’s video game habits.

The columnist had preceded this conversation snippet by arguing that we should be aware of the danger of having our minds changed through continual exposure to wrong-doing.  That, over time, we would find the ‘wrong-doing’ acceptable and normal.

I recognized the attempt at sarcasm in the columnist reporting the friend’s view.  This friend apparently was okay with behavior once considered immoral and had shifted to evaluating one’s degree of morality based on video game beliefs.

Video Game Danger

When I pointed this out to my husband, his questions to me were:

  • What’s the connection?
  • Does the source of the advice on video games invalidate the advice?  That sounds like a fallacy!

This dear man of mine was asking about the RELEVANCE.

Relevance

With that question, my mind quickly sorted through the fallacies I knew and BINGO!

This mistake falls under the label of:  Ad Hominem Circumstantial Fallacy.

The way this works is to point out the background or affiliation of the person making a case and thereby invalidate their point of view NOT on the merits of their case but on who they are.

So the gal whose neighbors of questionable moral background OFFERED advice on how to curb a teen’s video game habits is being logical when she evaluates the suggestions for themselves.  It really doesn’t matter who proffers the advice, even though we sometimes disparagingly remark, “Consider the source!”

If we were to be an authentically logical Joe or Jane, we would not even dismiss a suggestion purporting to come from Adolph Hitler on how to make Wiener Schnitzel.  We wouldn’t trot out the Ad Hominem Circumstantial fallacy and dismiss his recipe by saying: “Oh, he’s a Nazi and mass-murderer – what could he possibly know about cooking!”

Wiener Schnitzel

Question:  Which views or whose views do you routinely discount because you don’t agree with them about something else? 

 

 

 

 

Logical gal distinguishes between possible and reasonable

19 Apr

I learn a lot about using evidential tools from a homicide detective names J. Warner Wallace.  His website is stocked with mega resources on Christian case-making  including video teachings on You Tube, blog posts, essays and podcasts. All serve to help us, the ordinary Joe & Jane, who want to think logically and rationally about important topics including our Christian convictions.  The name of his site is Cold Case Christianity.

Cold Case Christianity Crime Scene

In a podcast dated 18 April 2014, he detailed the way of thinking that is most often used by detectives (and doctors) called abductive reasoning.  This is simply a way of coming to the most reasonable explanation that best takes into account the evidence presented.

In a crime scene, detectives collect and inventory the artifacts (aka potential evidence), eliminating nothing.  They then set out to hypothesize all possible explanations.  To me, this sounds like brain-storming, where the one rule is:  Don’t rule out anything!

Brainstorming

‘Toggling back and forth’ between the evidence and the explanations is the way J. Warner describes the process of thinking through the facts until the most reasonable explanation emerges.

Here is where it is critical that we (and jurors to whom evidence and explanations are tediously presented) distinguish between the possible and the reasonable.  Many explanations are possible, but far fewer are reasonable.

For example:

  • Christians claim that Jesus from Galilee rose from the dead, after having been murdered by crucifixion and buried.

What is the evidence?

The tomb where he was buried was discovered to be empty 2 days later.  That is a fact.  Even atheistic New Testament historians and scholars accept that as incontrovertible, that a real man in history, named Jesus, was executed and buried.

Crucifixion

What are some possible explanations for these 2 subsequent claims of an empty tomb and sightings of Jesus?

  • The Romans stole his body
  • The Jewish leaders stole his body
  • Jesus’ followers stole his body and then conspiratorially invented & maintained the fiction about encountering a Jesus who had come back to life
  • Jesus didn’t die, but merely passed out
  • The disciples went to the wrong tomb and then hallucinated
  • Jesus’ twin was executed, not the controversial Galilean

I am not going to take the time or space to refute each of these POSSIBLE explanations.  I want simply to point out (and you can look up for yourself – Defending the resurrection) that despite many possible explanations, rationally we must settle on the one that is the most reasonable.  This explanation will be the simplest approach that takes into account all the details.  Considering every possible explanation is going to present far more barriers to overcome.  Logical people do not cling to complicated, contorted explanations UNLESS they carry a BIAS going into the their investigation.

And Bias is a topic better suited for another day.

May you & I rest in the FACT that we are created in the image of a rational divine being who has endowed us with the capability of rational thought.  And if you are an atheist, may God bless you.  And may you thank HIM for giving you the gift of thinking. Be courageous to follow the evidence where it leads!

Happy Easter!

Empty tomb

 

Logical Gal – what affects your conclusions?

24 Feb

Here are some assertions that could lead to two very different conclusions:

  • There is a problem in allowing people with a rigid view of the world to decide the content of schoolbooks.
  • They’ll get some thing right, but they will leave out facts that go against their beliefs.
  • The result will be students not ready to compete with their peers from countries like China and Germany

Who controls our schools - 24 Feb 2014

Who might be this group of people with the rigid point of view?

–My first thought was of those with an agenda, like climate alarmists…..

–Or those who refuse to follow the evidence where it might lead, like militant materialists….

—A third possibility might be those who see the world in black and white terms (wealth = wrong, poverty = noble)

Income inequality - 24 Feb 2014

However, since I happened to come by those assertions in a letter to the editor of the Tampa Bay Times, I doubt the writer had those categories of people in mind.  Tampa is a ‘blue’ city in the midst of a ‘red’ state.  So it’s a good bet he was thinking of Christians who believe the Bible is authoritative.

It just galls me that most people project onto others this characteristic of skewed sight and limiting pre-suppositions.  Do they truly think they HAVE the truth?

Blind mouse - 24 Feb 2014

Note to self – don’t assume you are neutral and agenda-free and have perfect sight!  Practice humility.