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Confirmation Bias

By Undercover Agnostic ~

I’m starting to get it — to put my finger on an idea that I couldn’t articulate well before. Through a book called, “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian, I now have adequate words to describe what I am thinking and feeling. The missing phrase from my vocabulary has been confirmation bias.

This explains why and how I was able to stay locked into Christian ideology for over 40 years. As a young child, I was presented with “truth” of who God is and what he requires of us, as defined in scripture. I was taught that this truth must be defended and protected at all costs. So I fenced in these beliefs and settled into my own Christian pasture, tending and nurturing the biblical seeds that had been planted. My goal has always been to uproot any idea, question or doubt that could potentially threaten or undermine my belief in the Bible and its many claims. So, in the arenas of history, science, philosophy, psychology, sexuality, and religion, I had to constantly “weed out” every idea that didn’t fit. If I had a question or doubt, I only examined it from the perspective of a Christian.

It’s like listening to a debate between William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins, but ONLY listening to Craig’s side and turning the channel whenever Dawkins has the microphone. This is called confirmation bias — only reading about or listening to perspectives that confirm my existing belief.

Because my goal wasn’t the pursuit of truth (I had already discovered truth), but rather to unwaveringly defend my dogma, I needed constant assurance that what I was defending was right and good. As a result, there was no room to consider any position that challenged or differed from the neat, careful rows of beliefs I was cultivating. My source of wisdom came solely from my pastor, Sunday School teachers, discipleship groups, and Christian books — too numerous to count — each offering reassurance that that I was thinking rightly about myself, God and the world.

Within this wonderful safety net, I was able to insulate myself from outside ideas by arrogantly rejecting anything and everything that could potentially choke out my theological garden. It makes so much sense to me now. It wasn’t until I opened up (ever so slightly) my giant stone fortress, to explore, more objectively, various interpretations of Hell, that my walls started to give way. Suddenly, my purpose shifted from defending my beliefs, to searching for truth, wherever the evidence would lead.

For the first time, I listened to the other side of the debate. And as I opened my mind to hear differing perspectives and consider evidence that I hadn’t been willing to consider, my existing beliefs started to erode. New ideas poured in like a broken dam, flooding my garden and washing away the very soil that once held my roots in place. One moment, I was a devout, Bible believing, fundamental Christian, and the next moment I was standing in the middle of my spiritual rubble.

The only reason my beliefs could flourish for so long is because I had protected them fiercely from scrutiny, reason, evidence and skepticism. Once the other side weighed in, my beliefs could no longer thrive.

Now, I find myself on the outside of the garden, skeptical of religion, doubting the existence of God, agnostic about the historicity of Jesus, and awesomely inspired by evolution. Because everything I have read, watched and listened to lately, has strengthened my inclination toward atheism, I only want to listen to people who validate this new embarkation. I find myself, again, victim to confirmation bias as I saturate my Ipad and Kindle with atheistic speakers, thinkers and authors. But since I spent 40 years indoctrinated into Christianity, it only seems fair that I should be permitted to exhaustively explore the other side for the next 40 (I’m kidding).

At some point, I hope to arrive at a balance, where I can hear both sides without prejudice and continue to seek truth wherever the evidence leads, even if, one day -- god forbid -- it brings me back to faith. But for now, I’m being happily pulled along by a powerful current of reason and critical thinking and I can’t see myself ever turning around and swimming back upstream.

So, I shall just sit back and enjoy the ride. Wheee!