Friday, May 27, 2016

Is Confirmation Bias Avoidable?

It seems to me that the defense of any position can be attributed  to confirmation by its opponents. It is a charge that proves everything, and therefore nothing.

16 comments:

Satta M. said...

It's more like the Principle of Total Evidence- actively seeking out evidence that disconfirms your hypothesis, not just that which confirms it.

Victor Reppert said...

But I wonder how easy it is to convince one's opponents that you couldn't have looked harder for all the evidence on both sides. It seems to me that the people who shout the loudest about confirmation bias are the ones who wouldn't be caught dead looking for evidence against their own position. If you're on the other side you invariably think you have evidence your opponent has overlooked, otherwise, you wouldn't be on the other side.

Miguel said...

When is the charge of "confirmation bias" ever brought up in philosophy of religion? Serious question, I'm at a loss here. It wouldn't work against any classic arguments for theism (cosmological, for instance) or arguments for dualism/against naturalism which can be used against atheism sometimes (for instance, the argument from reason). I suppose it refers to arguments from miracles?

Legion of Logic said...

I've seen multiple examples of confirmation bias destroying someone's ability to reason because they are obviously desperate for their position to be true, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it used in the manner you're describing.

Joe Hinman said...

When is the charge of "confirmation bias" ever brought up in philosophy of religion? Serious question, I'm at a loss here. It wouldn't work against any classic arguments for theism (cosmological, for instance) or arguments for dualism/against naturalism which can be used against atheism sometimes (for instance, the argument from reason). I suppose it refers to arguments from miracles?


Message board atheists bring it up all the time. OIm skeptical just did last night in his attacks on James Hnnam on his blog The Skeptic Zone. I don't think anyone o the caliber of Jell Lowder or Keith Parsons would but people like Is do ot all the time.

Joe Hinman said...

now that I think about it IMS made the Charge against Dr. Reppert. Not surprising he makes it against all Christians.

B. Prokop said...

Miguel,

I get the accusation thrown at me all the time when I bring up evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection. What's most frustrating about the charge is its illogical premise. What usually happens is that some atheist will demand 1st Century evidence from a non-Christian source proving the Resurrection actually occurred. But what is completely nonsensical about such a demand is that any rational person possessing evidence convincing him the Resurrection was true would immediately become a Christian (unless he was either really stupid, or else had some personal reason (like not wishing to repent) from believing).

Thus the very idea of a non-Christian witness to the Resurrection is like a square circle. You're never going to find one, because it's a logical impossibility.

Jeu ufam tobie!

Patrick said...

First, it is incumbent on the one making the positive claim (whisky-drinking elves exist) to provide evidence for the existence of such beings. What would it take to convince you that whisky-drinking elves exist? Such evidence, or lack of it, goes a long way to counteract confirmation bias.

Legion of Logic said...

Patrick,

Of course then you get into disagreements on what counts as evidence, disagreements on how convincing evidence is, etc. I'm not sure that strategy really works on a general basis.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "It seems to me that the defense of any position can be attributed to confirmation by its opponents."

Well, no. The defense of any position is the accumulation of reasons, arguments, and evidence in its favor. The reasons that some people find all those things persuasive, and others not persuasive, can sometimes be attributed to what we call confirmation bias.

VR: "It is a charge that proves everything, and therefore nothing."

Confirmation bias isn't a charge; it's an explanation for why people continue to believe some things when others have come to believe the opposite.

Victor Reppert said...

This assumes that when people disagree, someone has to be intellectually at fault. According to the theory of prior probability that I learned in grad school, this is often not the case. People can look at the same evidence, weight the evidence the same way, and nevertheless reach different conclusion their credence function differed to begin with. No one is being irrational. Burdens of proof, on this view, differ from person to person. Nevertheless, really strong evidence can "swamp the priors" and get convergence, but not all differences have to be explained in terms of irrationality.

Victor Reppert said...

On my view, no "explanation" for disagreement in terms of bias is necessary. Every is biased, so what.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "This assumes that when people disagree, someone has to be intellectually at fault."

Is there another way for people to disagree intellectually?

Or do you think that everyone can be right, and that no one can be wrong?

Victor Reppert said...

Not everyone can be right, but people who are wrong can be wrong without irrationality.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Not everyone can be right, but people who are wrong can be wrong without irrationality."

But do you accept that confirmation bias is real, and that if one is wrong because of its effects the one would be irrational?

Because it seems like you're trying to say that confirmation bias isn't real, and that it doesn't affect thinking in a way that would make one irrational. If that's the case, you'd be wrong on both counts.

Victor Reppert said...

No, neither. First, what I am questioning isn't the reality of confirmation bias, nor the fact that it can lead to irrationality. Satta M's description seems accurate:

It's more like the Principle of Total Evidence- actively seeking out evidence that disconfirms your hypothesis, not just that which confirms it.

Fine, I get that. People should look for reasons on both sides, and failure to do so leads to mistakes. You could get the right answer while suffering from confirmation bias, but you decrease your chances if you do.

My complaint is not with the idea. But the idea, it seems to me, is best used as a tool for self-evaluation. Insofar as my memory is accurate, I am privy to all of the information that goes into my decision to believe this or that. You are not privy to that information. Consequently, you are not in a position to figure out what I have considered and what I haven't.

It isn't just a matter of what you read, it is also a matter of how charitably you read it. If I trust the authority of someone who tells me "Sure, read this stuff, but make sure you don't buy any of it, because you don't want any of your money going for that guy's royalties, since the stuff he writes sucks so badly," then even if you read stuff from that side you will be reading it not to understand it, but to look for something to pounce on.

It seems to me that, when confirmation bias is used as a tool not for self-analysis, but to explain the disagreement of our opponents, it goes something like this.

"I know I have analyzed this issue correctly, and cannot possibly be wrong. So there must be some explanation for why someone whose intelligence is supposed to be a great or greater than mine has come to the opposite conclusion. I know, it's confirmation bias!" That is, rather than seeking to understand one's opponents position and to figure out whether perhaps there is a parameter of the issue that one has failed to consider, you use the idea of confirmation bias to say "Mistakes were made, but not by me." It just seems to me that the people who yell the loudest about other people's confirmation bias look like people who suffer from it most themselves, and don't realize it.