Confirmation Bias

Disclaimer: This post is from the archives, and may not represent the current views of the author. It also may not be at all interesting to read. Continue at your own peril!

I realized today that August has become a strange month for me. A solemn one. While I was walking to work this morning, I was thinking back to this time a year ago. I was going through some tough stuff, and it was an emotional time for me. By that point, I was pretty sure that my faith had gone down the drain and was never coming back, but I was still desperately trying to hold onto it. I am going to save some of my discussion of this for a later post, because the one-year anniversary of my “last prayer” is coming up soon, but today is the anniversary of something else that I want to talk about.

During this intense period, I was home for a weekend and had the opportunity to go to the youth group at my church back home. I was at the back, by the sound board, before the service started, and I was talking to my friend, John-Marc. He had just come back from vacation or some sort of retreat (I forget where), and was all excited. He told me that while he was away, he had received a word from the Lord – a prophecy of something that was to come soon. As he talked on and on, I sort of nodded my head, while in the back of my mind I was thinking, “It’s kind of unfortunate that I don’t believe this stuff anymore.” Once I got home later that night, I wrote down what he had said so that I wouldn’t forget it. Here’s what I wrote:

“On August 10, 2008, at youth, before the service, John-Marc Stevenson was telling me about a prophetic word that he heard from the Lord. He said that revival was going to come into Canada, but that it was going to be started in the small town churches where they have to sacrifice every Sunday to come to church – rather than in the States, where revivals start in the big churches. He said that people would come to these small churches and then take the revival back to their churches and it would ‘spread like fire throughout Canada.’ He mentioned that this was going to happen soon.”

So there you have it. Today marks the one-year point of that prophecy not coming true. Since that time, I have not heard anything about any sort of small-town Canadian revival. I have not heard of any sweeping change in churches across Canada. As far as I can tell, the churches, both big and small, are pretty much the same.

Now, I don’t mean this to be some grandiose, comprehensive argument against Christianity or religion. Certainly this is not sufficient for something like that. But I do offer it as an example of what can go wrong when you rely on what some might call “voices in your head” to tell you what is going to happen in the future. Or even what has happened in the past. I wrote this down and made sure to remember it not because I believed it would happen, but precisely because it was specific enough that I could see whether or not it actually happened. Most prophecies are something like, “The Lord is going to use you mightily in his kingdom” or “God is calling you to a greater purpose” – these kinds of statements are completely untestable. But this one offered me a way to see if the prediction came true. Other than the vagueness of “soon,” I could sit back and wait to see if it happened. And as such, it is representative of the kind of thinking I left behind. I remember this prophecy because it is a way of showing myself what I left. And when I think about it that way, leaving the faith just doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Of course, it still is discouraging to me, because I am likely the only one who still remembers this prophecy. John-Marc has likely long forgotten it, and since it never came true, it has simply been lost in the recesses of his memory. Those he told it to have also likely forgotten, but I didn’t – I wrote it down. But this is discouraging because the failed prophecies are the ones that get forgotten – and those are the ones that are most crucial to determining if a person is telling the truth. Even the Bible says that the way to tell if a prophet is from the Lord is to wait and see if what he says comes true. If it doesn’t, he wasn’t from the Lord. That right there is the scientific concept of falsifiability. Of course, when we forget all the ones that fail, and remember all the amazing ones that come true, it’s a case of confirmation bias. That’s a well-known and well-established bias in psychology – we remember and seek out those things that confirm what we already believe. And this cognitive bias is what drives a lot of superstitious thinking. When something bad happens, we immediately remember the black cat that crossed our path the week before, rather than remembering also the numerous times a black cat crossed the path and nothing bad happened at all.

So here I am, sitting and remembering a prophecy that never came true. Why is it important? Well, the prophecy itself is not. So nothing happened. Who cares? But the thinking processes behind it certainly are. It is the type of thinking that I have tried to leave behind, and though I can never fully escape it, I would like to prevent it as much as I can. So I commemorate the event to remind myself of the fact that I am biased, and that the best process for discovering knowledge that we have is the scientific method, precisely because it limits and challenges our biases. So, here’s to knowledge. I raise a glass of liquid and toast the efforts of those who pursue truth, wherever that might lead them. Until next year…keep watching out for revival.

10 responses to “Confirmation Bias”

feeno

Jeff

What any one of us would give to be the only voice of reason? I like John-Marc and maybe he heard correct, but didn't understand what soon meant? Again God has never given me a vision or ever let me hear voices. I truly wish he would, but he hasn't. Unfortunately tho, I agree with you that John-Marc was probably just wrong? There have been times of revival that have broken out in different eras and places throughout history but they aren't usually prophesied about by teenagers from Canada? However John-Marc can be sure of revival breaking out in him. and maybe that's what he was experiencing?

Your black cat analogy was perfect. I will be using that someday, hope you don't mind. People always seem to forget the 99 times God told them to do something and it didn't work, then the 1 time it does they want to use that as proof, wow. I'm not throwing God under the bus, I'm throwing blow hards under the bus. (I don't believe John Marc is a blow hard) but I do know several.
But you could probably turn that scenario around (if there is a God) and 99 times someone gets themselves into a tight spot and God gives them his grace to avoid disaster, then the one time they don't escape the tribulation (like they wanted to) they blame God.(?)

As always very thought provoking post. I'm back and I will be checking in again regularly.

Vacation was fun, relaxing, re- energizing and entertaining. I wish I didn't have to work sometime. I enjoy my work but the stress of finding work and collecting money sometime is very stressful. (something most self-employed people probably say every day.) Work is still good right now. I hope it continues. But me my wife 2 daughters and 1 of their friends had a nice week in the Mountains of North Carolina.
We hiked some, went to see several waterfalls etc.. But I spent to much time walking behind my wife carrying shopping bags as we went from "quaint" little store to store in some historical town she dragged me through. I can hike for days with out getting tired, but I have to sit on a bench every time I pass one when I'm stuck shopping?

See ya soon, feeno

Cori-Beth

I think the trouble is, we have too many "voices" in our head! lol Maybe your friend did hear God and misinterpreted what was said. Or perhaps he heard what he wanted to hear. That's between him and God. Perhaps revival is happening in the smaller churches in Canada and we haven't heard about it yet. Of course, with today's media outlets, this might be unlikely. Again, maybe he misinterpreted, or didn't hear the voice of God after all… Or, like feeno said, there could be a revival breaking out in your friend instead! Anyway, talking in circles…

On a lighter note, hey feeno! Sounds like you had a great time on vacay, other than your wife "dragging" you from store to store! lol I went fishing with my dad, sister and brother-in-law a couple weekends ago and had a blast! We saw a baby black bear that was soooo cute! Good thing mama wasn't nearby! Caught three fish, but my sister caught 11! No fish fry, but maybe next time. Oh, this was up near Georgian Bay at my brother-in-laws family cottage. Beautiful!

Corinne (-:

feeno

Cori-Beth

I can't believe you saw a baby bear.
We were supposedly in "black bear" country and if it wasn't for the black bear statues, pictures, carved wooden images, stationary, t-shirts etc. we wouldn't have seen any. Good for you. Also I'm pretty impressed by you and your sister's fishing skills. I went fishing for ten days one summer about an hour and a half north of some place called Sudberry Canada.

We caught Pike and Walleye. And we ate fish almost every meal. But it too was with my Dad, uncle and cousins and brothers and I do have great memories of that trip from 30 years ago.

Talk 2 u soon, peace, feen

Jeff

Lol feeno, John-Marc isn't a teenager. He's married with a kid…but I'm sure he'd appreciate the compliment 😀 While both you and Corinne have given some good alternate explanations, I think the general idea you've both accepted is that he was still wrong in some way. Of course, if he simply misheard, my question would be, why doesn't God stop mumbling and speak clearly…but setting that aside, like I mentioned, I don't particularly care whether this prophecy in particular came true. I was using it as an example of the general type of thinking that many, if not most, people use.

Anyway yeah, sounds like you had a good trip overall! I don't really get the whole shopping thing…for me, that's definitely not a vacation. Shopping is a chore…vacation is for getting away from the life of consumerism and enjoying yourself 🙂

And good job with the fishing skills, Corinne! I think three is still respectable 😀

Cori-Beth

Actually, feeno, it's Sudbury, but no matter. I think it depends on where you are from as to how it is pronounced, and hence how you might think it's spelled. I pronounce it sud-burrie. But, again, whatever. (-:

Jeff, Yes, it would be nice if God wouldn't mumble! I had to laugh at that statement that you made, Jeff! It's so true! At times, all we do hear is mumbling! How very philosophical of you to say!

Yes, I did get the point in so many words, of you saying that we if all of a sudden something you pray for comes true, then that's proof God exists. We have fallen too much for "cop-outs" and "church words" – I know I'm guilty of this as well, as are many other Christians and those of other religions and faiths. It becomes ritualistic, rather than an individual and personal belief/faith. Not saying your friend is like this, but just needed to make a point.

I think the big question you seem to be asking in your post is, "Does God exist even if He doesn't seem to answer 99 out of 100 times?" Also, "Is it proof of His existence when He supposedly answers that 1 out of 100 times?" I guess the answer to those questions is a personal one for each of us.

So, when exactly is "soon"???

Corinne

feeno

C-B

Your a pretty smart cookie, maybe it runs in your family?

I love my bro's and sis's in Christ, but feel sometimes they are afraid if they don't say or do the riht thing that they are letting God down or something.

On the Atheist site me and Jeff visit there was a story about how the Atheists went to the Creation Museum, and when an Atheist asked a fair and simple question to a Creationist, all the poor sap (the Christian)could say was "accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and you'll see." I know the Christian meant well, but it seemed he was scared to say something like "good question, I'm not sure".

I am smart enough to know that nothing I say or do for anyone can "save" them. That is not my job, it's the Holy Spirit's, so that Christian shouldn't feel so guilty about every time he is confronted by a non Believer that he needs to "save" them.

Sudbury? Whatever, all I know is we got dropped off at some desolate location and they gave me and my Brother a boat, that was the only way to get to where we stayed. Cabins on the Lake, real cool.

Hope all is well with you and your Biz. Later, feeno

Cori-Beth

Hey Feeno!

I absolutely agree with you on the part about many Christians being afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, that we are somehow letting God down. Of course we are going to let God down! It comes with the territory of being human, not just a Christian! We can't help it!

That being said, we are not expected to be perfectionists. We are not. We can sure try, but we will never achieve it. We are bound to screw something up at one time or another, it happens!

Also have to agree that no, we are not the ones who "save" people, it's the Holy Spirit. We can say our peace, plant the seeds, and pray for the person. That's witnessing in a nutshell. It's not up to us, it's up to whom ever we spoke to to make that choice, whatever it may be. That's what choices are about. We shouldn't feel guilty and have to save someone, and guilty if we don't "convince" them. Although, there are times, we can't seem to help it. We need to stop guilt tripping ourselves. Yes, that's me, too! That's when "The patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon" comes into play! lol

"Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and you'll see."? That pat answer doesn't always work. In fact, most of the time, it doesn't. However, we are do be always ready with an answer. Not just something simple and pat like the one said by this person. We need to meet people where they are at, not where we want them to be! How quickly we can turn people off!

Wow, feeno! You have made me do more thinking than I wanted to today! Stop it! lol It made me put into writing what at least some of what I believe and know as truth. Looks like, for the most part, we believe the same thing! Hey brother in Christ! Howzit going?! (-:

I have my blogs that speak about my beliefs as well. Working on something about a cell phone. "Can you hear me now?!" Just have to get the words down on paper first! Too many thoughts in the head right now. I know "Just write!" The mind of a writer is confusing and maddening at times!

As well, my Flame Gurl series will be changing too so that the Christianity in it is more obvious rather than just being a "moral" to the story, and subtle Christianity. Long story as to why these have changed. Let's just say, sometimes God doesn't want you to walk through the open door in front of you (5 books in the series later). He may want you to do a complete 180 and walk through the open door on the opposite side of the room. Unique things happen, in not so unique ways!

I guess I used Jeff's blog to state my thoughts about things unrelated to the blog entry! Oh, boy! Sorry Jeff! Had to say what I said! I have to and need to get back into writing more. Enjoy reading your entries… You are very thoughtful and very well spoken. As are you Feeno!

Well, should go now.

Corinne

feeno

So last night after our first game in the city tournament I came home to tell you all about it. But I got to typing and it sounded really bragodocius, so I didn't publish my comment. But after tonights game I just can't help myself. Last night I went 3 for 4 with plenty of rbi's in a huge win. We were down 15-6, we ended up winning 18-16. I also stopped a big rally with 2 pretty cool defensive plays at first base. So tonight when I left for our game I told my wife I hope I play as well as last night. To make a long story short, I played better. We beat up on a this team pretty good. The score was only like 12-0, but we called off the dogs early. I went 2 for 2 with 2 rbi's and 2 runs scored. And didn't look to old at first base on a few balls I dug out of
the dirt. Our next game is mon. night against a team that won 36-2 tonight. I'm a little scared of that, but our big guns haven't even played well yet. It's been a couple of us old guys and couple of real young guys. We have 3 eighteen yr olds, 3 fortyfive year olds and about 6 or 7 guys all around 25, they usually are the studs. It's nice to feel we've one our first 2 games with out a lot of help from them. My pizza is here. Peace out, feeno

C-B, The site is called "Debunking Christianity"

Thanks Jeff, your friend who is a legend only in his own mind. But thanks for at least pretending to care.

Good night now. feen

Jeff

Wow, nice stuff, feeno! That's pretty impressive. Going from 15-6 to 18-16 is a HUGE comeback. And 12-0 is certainly brag-worthy 😀

And no, I don't just pretend to care. I used to play baseball in our church league way back when, so I have respect for those that play the game. And my favourite position was first base, so there ya go. I don't mind the updates 🙂

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