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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Divinely-Inspired Bias: the Impetus of Closed-Mindedness

Critical thinking is part of my degree in sociology/humanities. I took my first critical thinking  and Socratic questioning class right around the time I was questioning everything about my Christian beliefs. I was right on that cusp of realizing the Bible was not anything special and wondering what that meant about belief in God. I do believe that that class and several following it helped me to critically examine my beliefs and ultimately walk away from them.

At that point, I was in a place in my journey where I was able to receive the ideas of critical thinking and honestly ask myself questions I would not have been able to ask only a couple years before. Before, I could never have asked questions like “does God actually exist?” and honestly examined that belief. Because before, the bias that said that God exists was too strong to even ask that question. It was a question I should never ask. Not because there was something wrong with my thinking, but because I needed that bias to stay strong in my mind. It was instrumental to my well-being for one crucial reason:

With my instilled God-assumption, if I answered the questions wrong, there would be hell to pay.

We all have biases. It is the mark of a true critical thinker to always be searching for their bias and their assumptions so as to challenge them; to teach one’s self how to see one’s own biases. It is the mark of a true critical thinker to constantly be trying to challenge their biases in order to find what is true and to be able to accept findings even if they go against previously-held beliefs.

This is far easier to do when you do not have divine sanction on your previously-held beliefs. Or when you do not fear divine punishment for holding the wrong beliefs.

The difference between religious and non-religious people is that non-religious people are not afraid to be wrong. I will not get sent to hell or ruin my life or not get blessings or displease an almighty deity if I am found to be wrong in my conclusions about life, the universe, and everything. I now have no eternal stake in the issues brought forward, in the things that I question and the biases I challenge in my own mind. I am free to accept or reject findings, evidence, and ideas purely on the basis of their own merit and not on the interpretation of a holy book. I will not be punished for being wrong. I will not be found spiritually lacking or in need of divine forgiveness or repentance if my opinions are found to be wrong. As such, it's not difficult to admit I *am* wrong and to change my mind. (As I have in very drastic ways very often in the past 10 years.) 

This is not true of religious people. There is a much heavier weight on the shoulders of the religious on being right and being found right and making sure one's beliefs and findings match one's ideas of what one's God says. When that God has the power to punish you or extract repentance and atonement for being wrong, can you see why? When you come at an issue with divine instruction from a Being that holds your life and afterlife in their hands, you have a much stronger need to be right and to have your evidence match your beliefs. The divinely-inspired bias is much stronger than any other bias for these reasons.

For a specific example: the issue of gay parents. There are quite a few biased and bogus “studies” out there that say that children raised with gay parents have all sorts of problems later in life. They’re mostly sponsored by religious organizations, which is very telling. The entire conservative American church NEEDS gay parents to fail, to be inferior. If it were found that gay parents raise healthy kids, then the conservative American church's entire worldview would be threatened. Their entire view on "god's order for the family", everything they base their beliefs and practices on, everything they vote for, would be threatened. Their God would be found a liar in their minds and they cannot have that in any way. Because if God's way isn't true in this one thing, then that starts to topple their house of cards. "Maybe God be found true and every man a liar" is their rallying cry. The field of Sociology often sees religious people trying desperately to make findings fit their conservative religious worldview on gender and family order.

Look at Answers in Genesis and “studies” put out by Creationists. There is no way that these can be unbiased because, by their own admission, they start from the assumption that God exists and that he made the world in 6 days. They start from the assumption that none of their “scientific” findings can go against what they think the Bible says. They embrace confirmation bias as a positive thing. This is divinely-sanctioned bias at its most blatant.

Parenting is a context in which I encounter this bias often. We have decades of research that states that spanking kids is harmful. And when I present this research, in return I often hear "But the Bible says that if you spare the rod, you hate your child". That's some strong bias that is able to disregard decades of research in favor of a hotly-disputed Bible verse that many Christians don't think even says you're supposed to smack children. But when you believe that getting it wrong means raising kids that won't follow your God and might turn into terrible humans because your Deity says so, that's not an easy bias to get past. 

When you think God exists and is on your side against other sides, you will be biased. Your entire worldview depends on it. There is no way to conduct studies in an unbiased manner when you have already reached a conclusion on the matter before the study begins. That's not how we science. When your pre-conceived conclusion is, in your mind, sanctioned by God and thus absolute, you will be biased. There is no way around that. You would never accept a conclusion that went against what you believe to be from God. Your eternal life and the quality of your earthly life depend on you being right.

This is a very strong bias, a very good reason to uphold their beliefs, to embrace confirmation bias. This is a divinely-inspired bias, I propose the strongest bias in existence. And only the very intellectually-honest and brave will be able to overcome it.

It’s true that many religious people are met with this conundrum and they change and adapt their beliefs to fit the evidence, while still hanging onto some basic, unproven assumptions. This is why we have a growth of theistic evolutionists and LGBTQ allies in the American church. It’s why we have Universalists. It’s why I went from Evangelical to progressive Christian for a while. But I would argue that if one still holds to any form of a belief in a God that rewards and punishes, there will always be some divinely-inspired bias there.

And I know all too well what happens when you finally pin-point and question that last bias. That’s why we have apostates.