Confirmation Bias

We all have it. It’s a Psych 101 term for our tendency to gravitate to things that confirm our position while skipping information that could contradict it. Pass caught on the goal line during a football game, half the crowd screams Touchdown, the other shouts Incomplete. We see what we want to see. This has to do with heuristics, presuppositions, worldview mechanisms, stuff like that. It means we tend to enter a situation with plenty of stuff already decided: we sort of know what we’re gonna find before we start to dig.

What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are. – C.S. LEWIS

An old friend made a passing comment the other day, implying the religious elements in my novel were vague, nothing overt. Like hash brownies, I laced my book with spiritual principles. Oddly enough, when I was submitting the novel to agents/publishers, one editor refused it on the basis of its “definite worldview statement.” When pressed for clarification, he admitted he didn’t like all the Christianity in it. Some (see earlier post) only see violence and language.

What to do? Nothing. Robertson Davies said “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” While I’m prepared to shoulder the burden of honing my craft and clear communication, I have zero control over how someone else processes my work. Someone once said we must cater to people’s intellectual integrity but we shouldn’t pander to their intellectual arrogance. Seems a fair balance to me.

2 Comments on “Confirmation Bias

  1. 1 Corinthians 10 23 & 24 “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. NIV

    Because we have been bought and are now responsible to represent- we could get ourselves in big trouble with God. Especially if we are a stumbling block- “avioding any apearance of evil” must be a week-long task, not just Sunday morning. As living epistles, we are also targets-
    our compromises become other peoples standards-

    When our faults are showing, and people want to take issue with us because we aren’t perfect, God’s grace will be suficient. But if we are beaten for being dumb- we get no credit or help (1 Peter)

    Our life long task is trying to reflect God more clearly- isn’t it?

    • All this is true – except I’m not making the connection to Confirmation Bias. Help me out. And please don’t think I’m denying the need to be a testimony.

      Regarding those Scriptures – Jesus said offenses would indeed come and that stumbling blocks are certainly out there, but there are plenty of religious folks who pin that accusation on everything they disagree with or personally find distasteful. In those cases it’s simply shallow, victim-mentality logic that excuses people’s need to discern. The world won’t be a sinless place until Jesus returns. Until then, we have to “judge a righteous judgment” and take personal responsibility to navigate. We are charged to walk circumspectly, test everything, discarding what is bad and holding fast to that which is good, etc, etc.

      The “appearance of evil” charge must have moral substance. Extreme examples: the Amish consider electricity, automobiles, and zippers to be “worldly”, Seventh-Day Adventists consider Saturday the proper day for worship. They have liberty in this nation and the freedom of conscience before God to do that. But to then extrapolate that line of reasoning to the point where modern amenities become evidence of carnality, and attending a Sunday service becomes taking ‘the mark of the Beast” is plain foolishness. Yet in their eyes I’m offending God every time I drive to church. I know it’s extreme, but still…

      Remember – those accusations are well established and stem sincerely from their world-view/theology. I’d wager they’re propped up by a handful of Scriptures. But most Christians dismiss them as exalting form over content , as putting a particular application over the deeper principle. Sort of like eating with unwashed hands.

      I’ve explained my stance on realism in fiction in earlier posts, both my trepidation and obligation. I understand not everyone is going to agree with it. Fair enough. But if – as you correctly say – our life-long task is to reflect God more clearly, then don’t you think we of all people should be more concerned with Character rather than Cosmetics?

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