Confirmation Bias

Hallo skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about one of the most commonly used logical fallacies out there, confirmation bias. It is used in a range of topics including alternative medicine, religion, UFOlogy, astrology, psychics, mediums, and almost all topics which skeptics keep tabs on. Confirmation bias is a logical fallacy which is often referred to as cherry-picking, however is slightly different. While similar, cherry-picking refers to picking single studies from a sea of negative papers, confirmation bias is the picking out of specific results, not specific studies.

One of the most simple and common uses of confirmation bias is praying. I recently saw one of those Facebook like-hoarding pictures which asks for likes to confirm ones religious views, which read “Like this photo and in the next 120 seconds god will do you a favour”… it had over 30 000 likes. I read that and immediately saw it as a perfect example of confirmation bias. To anybody who likes that status, I can almost guarantee that something good will happen to them in the next 120 seconds. The reason is that people want it to come true. If something slightly good happens to that person in the next 120 seconds, they will attribute that to liking the photo… your basketball team makes a buzzer-beating game winner? God did that. Mum decides to give you a little extra ice-cream for dessert? god did that. Get a new twitter follower? god did that. Whatever happens, god is the reason.

It doesn’t even have to be within 2 minutes, you will remember anything that happens for the whole rest of the day and give credit to god… because a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years, or some post hoc reasoning like that. Even if nothing good happens, that means the devil was going to do something bad to you but god saved you because you liked the photo.

This photo is a perfect example of how confirmation bias works. Another common example is in alternative medicine. Lets say somebody gets cancer, and they decide to, along with their doctor approved, scientific medicine, have a chiropractor try to fix it. Once the cancer has been removed, the patient might only remember the chiropractic treatment that cured the cancer, and forget all the scientific medicine that actually removed the cancer.

Confirmation bias is one of the most common fallacies out, and is often combined with other fallacies like post hoc ergo proctor hoc, placebo, reliance on memory and the availability heuristic to form the greatest of all fallacies, the anecdotal evidence.

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Why do I say “Oh God!”, not “Oh Zeus!”

I was listening to a gateway Church podcast recently (yes, I listen to all the hit Christian podcasts), and the preacher presented to the audience an argument for why Christianity is a much more valid religion than Buddhism or the Greek gods of mythology. He presented this (paraphrasing):-
Why is it that when a theologian debates with an agnostic or a heathen (he used those terms), you can talk all you want about various theological concepts and ideas, but when the idea of Christianity or Jesus comes to the fray, they always get a bit more animated, angry and excitable. This is because Christianity has some undeniable truth about it, and they always have to resort to a bit more force in their words. And Why is it, that when they see something that amazes them they say, “Oh My God” and when they bang their hand with a hammer they say “God dammit!” Why is that? It’s because somewhere, deep down inside, they have the breath of the holy spirit within them. Blah Blah Blah… and on he went.
I had to stop the podcast at this moment. I had to think about this one because it was an argument for god, and not just some more “Believe in Jesus” talk. I have thought about it, and here are a few reasons why us atheists say God, not Buddha. I’ll also say that I personally do not say “Oh my God”, I prefer to use “Zeus almighty!” or “Thor! God of Thunder!”

First of all, most of us in the western world have grown up in Christian backgrounds, so must of us atheists used to be Christians, which means that our ‘cursing of god’s name’ is just a remnant of our pasts. I f I had grown up in a home where my father and mother had said, “Zeus help me” every time I was being stubborn, I would probably grow up to use Zeus as a curse word in my vocabulary. It’s also a lot easier to say ‘god’ (1 syllable), as opposed to ‘Anextiomarus’ (Celtic sun-god) (6 syllables) when I’m angry.

Second of all, The reason why atheists get so animated when you start talking specifically about Jesus, is because we are sick of it all. Most of us can tolerate you saying that your god wrote the rulebook and then just sat back and watched it all happen, but when you start telling me that “God made me with a special plan in mind”, “Jesus is patiently knocking on the door to my soul”, or “You really do know that god is real, but you are just suppressing it and denying it”, because these statements are so out there, random, intangible with reality, unproved, logically strange and impossible, that our brains overload with logical fallacy alarms, dumbass alerts and goes into shut down mode, or explodes.

The third objection to this argument, the reason why we use deities in our curses at all, is simple, and it comes back to 90% (ball-park, don’t quote me on this) of us having grown up in religious homes.  There is mounting evidence in many scientific tests that swearing reduces the sensation of pain. So when you stick your hand in a bucket of ice-cold water, using some expletives will give you a substantial amount of time more, with your hand in the water. When I was a Christian, and still now in my Christian home, saying “Oh My God” was as bad as the f-bomb or any other common expletive. So nowadays, ‘using god’s name in vein’ still gives me that therapeutic feeling that I experience with other swear words. That’s why I still do it.

I hope today’s post has put across the point that this argument for Christianity is paper-thin, with no logic or evidence to support it. I will you with a quote from Carl Sagan, “You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to believe.”, Carl Sagan, an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and science popularizer of some note.

The Holy Trinity and Mary

Hello there,

I had an Ethics and Faith lesson today. We were circling around the theme of Easter, seeing it was our last lesson before Easter holidays, and we were set the task of finding specific bible passages and how they relate to the time after Jesus’ birth, death and Resurrection.
We were then told to write a mock interview of a new testament character and write it up in a newspaper article for ‘Jerusalem Today’. The first question I was asked by my skeptical friend was, “Who’s your daddy?”, and I thought it would be a good idea to try to sum up some of the holy trinity there. Today’s post will be a transcript of my answer to that question.

*deep breath*

You are asking me about me and my father. Well, I was conceived through Mary and god, so he is my father. The Holy Trinity also states that I am God, so I am also my own father. But that means that I am my own father and God is his own father, as well as us being our own sons. We are also each others and our own grandsons and grandfathers. But then the holy spirit comes into play.

*breathe*

He is also God, and he is also me, and we are both him, and together we are one. So the Holy Spirit conceived me, and he conceived god, and he conceived himself, but he also conceived me, and I conceived my father, so both him and me conceived our own fathers, and each other. God conceived the holy spirit and me, which makes us brothers. This means that god, the son of Jesus, and god the son of the holy spirit, are cousins, so god is his own cousin, which means we are all our own cousins. We were conceived through our cousins. which is a bit weird, to have a baby with your cousin, and the baby turns out to be yourself, and your cousin, and your cousin turns out to be you too, which makes the family tree very complicated.

*breathe*

But Mary my mother is also considered holy, and is my mum. That means that she is also my father’s mother, which means that Mary impregnated her son, through his father, who also impregnated another son, the holy spirit, who impregnated his own father. Mary is the husband of her own son, and conceived her son through her son, as well as giving birth to her husband through her sons brother and her son, and his father, and his cousins, grandparents and grandsons.

*breathe*

God is god, and god is Jesus, and god is the holy spirit, except when god is not Jesus, or the holy spirit, then he is just god. Jesus is Jesus, and Jesus is god, and Jesus is the holy spirit, except when he is neither god or the holy spirit. The holy spirit is the holy spirit, the holy spirit is god, the holy spirit is Jesus, except when he is not god or Jesus, then he is just the holy spirit.
*breathe*
Makes sense?

To which my friend replied, “You have to put that on your blog tonight.” So I did, here it is. That’s it. I will leave you with a quote from Voltaire, “As long as we believe in absurdities we shall continue to commit atrocities.” Voltaire, a French writer and Philosopher of some note.

Is this just me?

Dear skeptical colleagues,

I am going to be blogging about something which has been getting on my nerves for a while now, and I want to know if something like this happens to most skeptics around non-skeptical fellows. I am constantly being talked to by my family as though I am not a skeptic, and am just an annoying contrarian who just disagrees with everything any body says. My most common response is, “That depends on what you say.”, and then I get a simple, “yes Jack.” as if to say that there is no hope and that they are going to just stop discussing it because he will just keep on denying. I find this very annoying, and I really do get the idea that they have no idea what I actually stand for in my life.

It’s not just my parents, and I have heard experiences from other people who are skeptics who just get addressed as closed-minded people who just argue for the sake of arguing. I am going to challenge that point.

It all flows from the point that Christopher Hitchens strived for his whole life, “It’s not what you think, but how you think.” I do not tell you that you are wrong so that you know that you are wrong and you can correct that mistake next time, I tell you how you are wrong.  I like to understand why some people tell me outrageous things, especially in lay people, because if they have arrived with some serious logical flaw, I like to correct their thought process.

For this reason it also follows that it is what you say to me that matters. I will not disagree with whatever anybody says to me. The skeptics I talk to on the internet and at school I will happily agree with almost everything they say, because I agree with their logic, their evidence and their conclusions. This is definitely a very un-contrarian thing to do. But when somebody says to me that if they look hard enough they can see the other side of the moon (true story), then I get angry and ask them “Why the hell are you saying that? What possible logic could lead you to the conclusion that you can see the other side of the moon? Do you understand the concept  of a sphere? What is going on in there?” (I don’t say that, I am a lot more calm (most of the time)).

The problem is that my family (the people I have to spend the most time with in my life) often say very stupid things, and I try to help them, but they just feel uninterested because it’s all sciencey and over their heads. Its annoying. Please contact me if you also have experiences like this, I want to hear how you deal with it.

I will leave you with a quote from Mikhail Bakhunin, “From the naturalistic point of view, all men are equal. There are only two exceptions to this rule of naturalistic equality: geniuses and idiots.” Mikhail Bakhunin, A Russian revolutionary of some note.