Is there a bias to believe?
I recently heard about a study done by a researcher that was trying to show that men were smarter than women. He basically collected the test scores from 100 random math classes and arranged them by percentage of questions answered correctly. He eliminated most of the top test scores from women because after all, women don’t really like math, and those that scored highly on a math test were obvious anomalies that should be excluded from the study as outliers. Anyway, after this correction, he found that those that scored in the top tier were predominantly men, so his conclusion was that, indeed, men were smarter than women.
Okay, so obviously, I completely made this story up, but I imagine that you were probably thinking… “What? That study is completely biased! He shouldn’t get away with that!” Luckily, no scientist would ever get away with this trick because true credible science is always performed by going to great lengths to eliminate bias.
A majority of scientists identify as atheist or agnostic, a much higher percentage than the general public, buy why do you suppose that is? Is it because most scientists are bleak immoral heathens? I believe this comes about because scientists are constantly trained to recognize and avoid confirmation bias, and unfortunately, most religions depend on this bias for full acceptance.
I recently attended a talk by Ian Hutchinson, a scientist at MIT of Christian faith that ended his talk by showing why Christianity was “true”. Specifically, that the Bible was true and that it was the word of God. When pressed about specific passages in the Bible about the world being created in 6 days, the creation of man (when we know that humans evolved by natural selection), the female coming from the Adam’s rib, etc, his response was essentially “well, we know that some parts of the Bible are written metaphorically and not meant to be taken as literal truth”. This should strike you as vaguely familiar to the scenario I presented earlier. If we’re being completely unbiased and seek to find whether the Bible is true, we cannot simply discount certain passages (or entire sections as most Christians tend to do with the Old Testament), simply because we don’t believe those parts were intended to be true. Like the earlier scenario, no one should be allowed to get away with that kind of bias.
Truthfully, there is tremendous bias for people to believe in God. Some find it devastating to deal with religious doubt because there is such enormous pressure to believe. Pressure to be considered a “good” person, fear of the stigma of not believing, family pressure, community pressure, political pressure, peer pressure, employer pressure… the list goes on and on. But sound, rational decisions are rarely made with such pressure biasing you to one conclusion. And the pressure to believe isn’t coming simply from external forces. Many say that they themselves want to believe in God, (this is no doubt a consequence of how they were raised, as few people want to believe in a different God than they were brought up to believe), and though many people would feel that something is wrong with a statement as biased as “I just want to believe that men are smarter than women, so I will only accept claims that support that conclusion,” the same doesn’t seem to hold true for belief in God.
But it’s important to at least acknowledge that there is pressure and bias for you to believe in God or to be considered a member of the particular religion in which you were raised. Scientists are trained to recognize instances of bias in order to avoid them in the future, and just recognizing it is a difficult step. So, assuming you’re a Christian (after all, I am in the Bible belt!), being completely truthful to yourself: do you sincerely believe that the Bible is true and is the word of God? Or is it that you want to believe in God and be considered a Christian?
PS. If you’re thinking, “of course religious claims are far-fetched and most people are heavily biased toward believing them, but if it makes people happy to believe it, what’s the harm? Why would you want to rain on their parade?” then please check out my first post.