Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CONFIRMATION BIAS EXPLAINED (and why it's dangerous)

If you're wondering what confirmation bias looks like the following should help.

In spite of having no supporting scholarly evidence (or links) to support his case, a FB friend of mine decided to post this "Letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar." According to the chain-like FB post, proof of the letters existence lies somewhere in the Library of Congress.

The supposed letter from Pontius Pilate describes Jesus as some kind of Prince Valiant golden child.

This is some great find because neither biblical scholars nor academics have developed any proof of, let alone consensus on, what Jesus looks like. Here's part of Pontius Pilate's Hallmark card-like description of Jesus ...

... His golden colored hair and beard gave to his appearance a celestial aspect. He appeared to be about 30 years of age. Never have I seen a sweeter or more serene countenance. What a contrast between Him and His bearers with their black beards and tawny complexions! ... I say that such a man who could convert water into wine, change death into life, disease into health; calm the stormy seas, is not guilty of any criminal offense and as others have said, we must agree -- truly this is the Son of God.

My FB friend bought into the description. We shouldn't be surprised. These kind of descriptions have been around and supported by those who want to believe things about Jesus that simply can not be proven. Unfortunately, these descriptions have even drifted towards confirming the existence of an Aryan Jesus.

While it's often better to leave this stuff alone, some times it's good to confront this kind of ignorance head on. Here's my FB response to my friend ...

It's a miracle, _________ ... You've uncovered what the Bible and religious scholars have not. The fact that Jesus had golden hair, and did not exhibit that "tawny complexion" so evident in his inferiors must make this true. How about this one ... "Nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification ..."? You'll find this in the Bible, if you ever bother to pick one up.

(In the FYI department, the "Nor give heed ..." quote is in the Bible, Timothy 1: 4.)

Here's the problem with believing and promoting this type of evidence. It leads people to embrace only information that reaffirms what they believe, or want to believe. Over time, it replaces fact and carries a certain degree of truth and reality for people who ultimately are intellectually lazy.

This is the essence of "confirmation bias."

Now, to be sure, confirmation bias might be good for children who want to believe in, say, Santa Claus. But in adults it prevents them from seeing the truth, or keeping an open mind. Worse, when confirmation bias is applied in this "Aryan Jesus" context it can help to create or sustain twisted caricatures of Jesus that simply are not there ...

The point is confirmation bias leads people to believe only information that confirms their beliefs, which is dangerous because of how it distorts public discussion and undermines policy debates. If the focus is on acquiring and remembering information selectively the discussion becomes an exercise in futility. No one likes repeating the same information, again and again, only to have the other person rolling around in cul-de-sacs of ignorance.

So, to take this lesson a step further (and to it's illogical extreme), if someone is inclined towards believing Jesus was a blonde haired golden child, who would have been opposed to something like the Affordable Care Act, they might also be inclined to embrace this historical interpretation of Jesus ...

I know, I know, but the point remains. People who search for "information" that verifies their belief system rather than the truth will believe just about anything ... as long as it fits their world view.

And that, my friends, is why confirmation bias can be a dangerous thing ...

- Mark 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A Liberal's naked hatred of whites is their religion.