Cognitive Dissonance: Confirmation Bias.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance: a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming and denying.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Confirmation Bias.

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias, myside bias or verification bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs (such as religion). For example, in reading about gun control, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations, for example: the existence of humans 'therefore god' argument).

A series of experiments in the 1960s suggested that people are biased toward confirming their existing beliefs. Later work re-interpreted these results as a tendency to test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives. In certain situations, this tendency can bias people's conclusions. Explanations for the observed biases include wishful thinking and the limited human capacity to process information. Another explanation is that people show confirmation bias because they are weighing up the costs of being wrong, rather than investigating in a neutral, scientific way. This explains why hell/eternal torture and the fear that those threats instill is such a powerful motivator.

Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Poor decisions due to these biases have been found in military, political, and organizational contexts.  This is one of the main reasons people cling to their religious beliefs, even though they have been comprehensively proven to be false, and not only proven false but shown beyond a shadow of a doubt to be downright ridiculous. For example, the erroneous belief that the earth is about 6,000 years old, or that the universe was created in 6 days, this is absolutely false, there is no doubt about this fact. Any argument to the contrary is done out of ignorance or because some other psychological force is in control, such as fear.

The implications here are pretty plain, in matters of religious faith/superstition, if you believe something is true, the tendency is to work from the conclusion instead of working towards a conclusion. This is counter-intuitive, in most areas of your life you probably use evidence to establish facts about the world around you, but in regards to religion and faith, there is no evidence, that is the nature of faith. Faith is believing something is true in spite of the fact there is literally 0 evidence to support the belief. So you see why this is problematic, I hope. Consider why you believe what you believe, if you are religious that is. In every case you're working away from a presupposition, you've already decided the answer so by nature the ONLY way for you to support your conclusion is to make inferences that you think would lead to the conclusion.  For example, the universe exists, therefore, god did it. Or I feel happy when I sing songs on Sunday morning, therefore, Jesus did it. It is a HUGE step to say the only answer to why you feel joyful when you sing or why we exist is because a magical, invisible man in the sky did it. If you have one reasonable bone in your body, you must acknowledge that using this logic absolutely anything is permissible as the reason "why". I could say the reason I feel happy when I hear music is because it was invented by a race of now extinct pink unicorns and they knew how to make a person smile. There is exactly the same amount of evidence to support my pink unicorn theory as there is for your theory about god, none. Confirmation bias is one of the major reasons you draw the conclusion that god did it instead of extinct pink unicorns.

I am going to lay out the problems with prepositional logic and confirmation bias as simply as I possibly can and attempt to show why and how you must approach your beliefs if you want to do so rationally.

If you are a theist - you are claiming that the nature of god is knowable, and, indeed, you know it. However there are thousands of other god’s you easily disregard, and have never even considered seriously.  For example the pagan gods such as Abellio the Celtic tree god, or Malakbel the the Arabian vegetation god or the gods of other contemporary religions, such as Islam (Allah) or Hinduism (too many to list).  Also, you must consider the fact that there are millions of people who easily disregard your god/mirror your feelings towards their god who are outsiders to your faith or members of other faiths (aka they believe the same way you do, using the same "proofs" yet you regard their beliefs as unreasonable, impossible or likely even ridiculous). You must also consider that your choice of god is very likely determined by culture and birth location and a result of simple childhood indoctrination. This is evidenced by localized religions, such as salt lake city's Mormons, the bible belt's protestant Christians, India's Hindu's, Ireland's Catholics etc.  Furthermore, children are not religious, they are only the children of religious people. They do not have the mental faculty, life experience, or knowledge to contrast with what they are being told is true of the world. Look, for example, at the children of the Westboro Baptist Church who stand with signs at protests saying that “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” I doubt any of those children would have been doing that if they had not been born into such a sick, sick family.

Another method one can use to test the validity of their beliefs, or religious faith in general is called, The Outsider Test for Faith (OFC) as defined by John Loftus: What if you had been born in Saudi Arabia as a Muslim baby and were able to examine the Christian faith with a healthy amount of skepticism as a Muslim? If yours is truly the religion designed by god, shouldn’t it hold up to skeptical scrutiny? “Test your beliefs as if you were an outsider to the faith you are evaluating." (Loftus) If you acknowledge you probably would have remained a Muslim in these circumstances - there is a high probability your belief is simply an accident of birth and culture, or at the very least not the result of careful, objective reasoning. If you believe the "evidence" would have convinced you to convert to Christianity, that means one of two things: (1) You believe you have solid, objective and falsifiable evidence that can be examined through the eyes of a Muslim and still be self-evident. Why then don't more Muslim's convert or consider the Christian religion as a serious alternative to Islam? Where is this evidence and why doesn't it seem to convince people who aren't born into Christianity by accident of birth? (2) You are delusional in regards to your faith, which is not so much a virtue as willingness to believe something that there is no evidence for whatsoever. In fact, this is not a virtue at all, this is willful ignorance and frankly I find it despicable.

Another way to approach this is to assume that I have never heard of god, Jesus, or the bible. I ask you to explain to me what make your particular brand of magic somehow superior to all of the others? Remember, I have never even heard of god so you will have to start from scratch and explain this in a way that will seem reasonable to someone who is not familiar with the basic premises of your religion. I am curious how it all began, so you’ll need to start by telling me about how god spoke the universe into existence in six days, created Adam from dust, created Eve from Adam's rib and placed them in the Garden of Eden before they ate the fruit from a forbidden tree of knowledge, causing god to cast them out of the garden so that he could guard the tree of eternal life with a flaming sword and a cherubim, because if they ate of it they would live forever. Be sure to explain how we can know this is actually factual but the Samoan creation story is just mythology.

Anyone who is willing to consider their faith (Christianity/Islam/Mormonism/Jehovah's Witness/Judaism, etc) critically can only come to one possible conclusion, that is that there is no evidence to support their beliefs, and therefore the only justification is blind faith. Regardless of what some people say, blind faith is never, ever a good thing. September 11th is evidence of that fact, as are the crusades, the inquisition, the wholesale murder of women accused of witchcraft, hatred towards homosexuals and the current assault on women and their rights from the religious right. These are only a few of the reasons why blind faith is dangerous. So if you believe that a magical sky man invented by primitive Shepard's and desert nomads created the universe 6,000 years ago. And a talking snake tricked a woman made from a rib into eating a magical apple that doomed billions of good people to an eternity of torture in hell, or anything equally as ridiculous, I beg you to take a critical look at WHY you believe what you believe. 


  1. I have to say Jay that this is quite a bias explanation of what bias is.

  2. yes, it looks like you have looked for and found evidence of what you want to believe and have not deeplye considedred the possiblility that perhaps its not blind faith but rather that some Christians actually have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ - they know him personally. Have you ever taken the time to find out who He is as a person?

  3. Some people have a personal relationship with aliens, and unicorns, garden gnomes and fairies too! Those people are generally called schizophrenic. Jesus is a fictional character, he's not a "person" and if you genuinely believe you can have a "relationship" with a silent, invisible person I'd imagine you really need to spend some time investigating what actually constitutes a REAL relationship.

    When one person lives in a persistent delusion, we call it insanity, when many people share the same delusion we call it religion.

    There is NO such "person" as Jesus...


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