“Confirmation bias” is the way we can uncritically use information to show that it agrees with our deeply held beliefs. For example, I believed my Dallas Seminary professors who regularly said, “If you give up inerrancy it is a theological watershed. You may not become a liberal theologically, but many do.” I believed it. It made sense. I could find examples of it in history and in my own experience. It confirmed what I believed to be true. The problem was it did not jibe with all of my experience.
After seminary, I met Christians who did not hold to inerrancy, but still lived under the authority of the Word of God. They were as orthodox as any inerrantist I knew. More troubling for me to process was the fact that many lived the Christian faith with more integrity than some inerrantists I knew. My experience forced me to change my belief or stick my head in the proverbial sand. I found the former a better option and was glad to pitch this particular confirmation bias.
A related idea to “confirmation bias” is the “narrative fallacy.” This is when we connect data to construct a story that fits with the way we desire to view the world. The problem is we many times don’t know the data well enough to construct an accurate story. Furthermore, we may think the data is clearer than it actually is. We end up forcing the data in the direction we’ve already predetermined must be the right one. I’ve read quite a few “systematic theologies” where the desire to tell a certain theological story makes the writer avoid, caricature, or misinterpret alternative views.
In his terrific new, book, God, Locke, and Liberty, Joseph Loconte offers this good word:
“Perhaps the most undervalued quality of a great mind or, at least, an awakened mind, is the willingness to abandon cherished ideas that cannot stand up to new evidence. John Locke possessed such a mind.”
So what do you do to guard against confirmation bias and the narrative fallacy?