Reflections – Confirmation Biases

The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him.

⁃ Proverbs 18:17

I once heard a quote to the effect of,

If a man hears a position that he agrees with, he will accept it uncritically, but if he comes across a view that he disagrees with, watch out, he will marshall all the laws of logic and evidences he knows against it.

While I cannot find the author of this seemingly Popperian quote, nor can I quote it exactly, there is definitely a great deal of truth in this.

I write this post to my fellow Christian apologists, I believe there is a tendency to study apologetics to confirm what we already believe and there is a tendency to read Christian authors quite uncritically. How many of us have equal representation on our bookshelves, or are we counting on authors, like William Lane Craig, to always get it right for us and to always portray David Hume and Richard Dawkins accurately enough that they actually refuted their claims, not some misrepresentation of them? Now, I am not accusing thinkers like Craig of poor scholarship, but are we counting on the doctors of our religion to do the heavy lifting while we uncritically lap up their works?

How balanced are our bookshelves? Do we have plenty of books on Intelligent Design and a well worn copy of Reasonable Faith, but neglect books by Victor Stenger, or Bertrand Russel?

Our bookshelves should look like a battle between heaven and hell, not a choir of angels.

This goes for our interlocutors on the atheist side.

One thing I have noticed is that it is easy to quickly read a book by a good Christian author, while a book taking disagreement with what I believe may take me longer to read. Why is this? I really do think there is a tendency for us all to go into a book we take little disagreement with and to let it uncritically inform us, while we are scrutinizing more tightly the books we take exception with. Myself, I find it more impressive when a layperson in Christianity can articulate why they disagree with a top scholar like Craig on a point, as opposed to one who can blindly quote everything he has ever written.

Aristotle once wrote that it is the mark of a truly educated mind to be able to entertain idea without agreeing with it. For folks like myself, few authors resonate with me more than does William Lane Craig and I find his works go down like candy. Unless it is one of his advanced pieces, folks like me cannot say we learned anything, all we have done is further confirm or solidify our own beliefs.

Nothing better illustrates this problem than in politics, when we see a politician we disagree strongly with commit fraud there is no excuse that could possibly vindicate them, but when our favourite politician makes the same mistake we quickly rise to their defence at all costs.

Imagine if Christians could argue so effectively for evolution that their hearers thought they actually thought they agreed with it? Imagine if we knew anti-Christian arguments as well as we knew arguments in favour of Christianity.

If our bookshelves were balanced and our arguments for and against an idea were equally balanced, our representation of Christian arguments would be more effective because we would represent our opposition more accurately and our responses would be more effective in countering.

I would encourage Christians to consider ideas within Christianity that they disagree with and learn how to articulate them as well as they do views they agree with. Examples would be Young vs. Old Earth Creationism, Arminian vs. Calvinist. Secondly, when you buy a book by a Christian author, look for the atheistic counterpart to that book. What have non-believers written in response to the idea represented by these authors?

The solution seems that we should critically read our own Christian thinkers. We should challenge ourselves to find points of disagreement with our preferred authors. One should read widely and find their favourite atheist authors who take Christian authors to task, who give them their reason to write. Furthermore, we should find strengths in their arguments and learn to articulate them well.

My favourite argument against Christianity is the Hiddenness argument. I find it both interesting and compelling. John Schelenberg is an excellent philosopher who articulates it well. I would encourage every Christian to find an atheist author or two that they learn the arguments of and how to articulate them well, in order to better respond to them.

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