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Confirmation bias and eisegesis

September 26, 2011

I always thought of confirmation bias as being something when you notice events in your life that support a particular hypothesis, and don’t pay attention to events that don’t necessarily support that hypothesis. So, if you’re looking for evidence of God’s involvement in your life, then you’ll be sure to remember the time your keys were lost, but you found them after praying about it. However, all those times when you prayed and nothing seemed to happen…of course, those won’t be remembered.

Somehow, I thought that since I don’t try to find ways to attribute things to God, that I was immune from confirmation bias.

But then, I got likened to an apologist:

I’m sorry but you are simply wrong about me. You are just lie [sic] most apologists who make a hypothesis and then make everything “fit” into it and support it, rather than asking questions and make conclusions based on the outcome.

and later on:

The only thing I am accusing you of is twisting what people write in this thread in attempt to fit your hypothesis. That’s it. And I have witnessed you doing it at least 4 or 5 times. I don’t care what extreme you do or don’t fit into. I am only judging you by what you have written in this thread – which isn’t a small amount.

I guess there’s a related term (and 3-dollar word to boot!): eisegesis. Eisegesis is a term in Biblical study (well, I guess it’s from any kind of textual analysis) where one reads his own viewpoint into the text. It’s not ideal. (The alternative, which is generally what people intend to do, is exegesis…trying to pull out the text’s meaning.)

…I would have never made the connection between confirmation bias and eisegesis.

…in any case, the strength of the criticism gave me pause (and the person making the criticism is one who I’ve gotten into a bit of an argument with before, so I suppose he would know if I have any particular bad habits.)

In an unrelated, yet completely related matter: you know you have royally screwed things up when the person you’ve been talking to takes down the post you’ve been commenting on, writes a post calling out the person who caused her to take down that post (but of course, this person doesn’t mention any names, but you know it’s you because the  criticism is pretty specific. [kinda like what I'm doing right now.]) In said post, this person considers changing the rules by which she will engage with others.

And then that person takes down *that* post and writes another one that’s even shorter, yet still seething.

As was true in the discussion when I got called an apologist, I really haven’t internalized how I was in the wrong. I don’t agree with the characterizations of what I’ve been trying to do (although I can see how someone could see my style of argumentation as being eisegetical.) Then, as now, I can’t really go back and try to evaluate where exactly I went wrong (or if I started out wrong?) Things just seemed to proceed smoothly, until they became a trainwreck.

Nevertheless, what I do know is that there is a problem: the trainwreck is real. I’m pissing people off and that is not my intention. And I cannot deny that the complaints are extremely consistent with one another… So, it’s not them; it’s me.

I guess this is something to add to my regimen to cultivate grace…(I’m not doing so well at this -_-).

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6 Comments
  1. You GUESS there is a related term? Eisegesis Christ, Andrew! Careful there. You almost sounded contrite.

    • I didn’t really realize it until someone else made an off-hand allusion (and to a different Lakoff, no less), but it’s part of the way I write and speak. Don’t know how much actually fits as a “women’s language” though.

  2. Seth R. permalink

    I find most discussions where “confirmation bias” is invoked to be kind of dumb.

    Mainly because I’ve come to the conclusion that confirmation bias is something that everyone is doing – and it’s stupid to keep acting surprised when we discover people doing it. It’s equally stupid to think that confirmation bias is something that “other people” are doing, but that we – in all our objective awesomeness – are magically immune from.

    • But even if everyone is doing it, does that mean we shouldn’t try to minimize when we do it?

  3. Seth R. permalink

    I’ll admit I’m kind of getting to the point where I don’t really give a fig whether someone has “confirmation bias” anymore.

    I only care if their position is compelling.

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