Atheists Casting Evidence to the Wind, Choosing Confirmation Bias Instead

Atheists Casting Evidence to the Wind, Choosing Confirmation Bias Instead

I’ve been watching the Brett Kavanaugh situation and writing about it on The Stream for a while, but there’s another side to it that’s bound to be of interest to readers here.

It starts with the strong correlation between political liberalism and atheism. It’s not 100 percent, of course, but the connection has been noted by many researchers, and there’s no doubt it exists. The further left a person’s politics, the more likely he or she is to be an atheist.

It continues with atheists’ frequent dismissals of faith as “belief without evidence.” Atheists insist on evidence; they won’t believe anything without it. And it had better be more than just someone’s opinion; it has to be corroborated, usually scientifically.

It proceeds through noting how often atheists have accused me and other Christians of confirmation bias: believing what we want to believe about reality.

And finally, there is the obvious observation that people on the left believe what Christine Blasey Ford said about Kavanaugh, despite the perfect lack of corroboration for her story. It’s her word, and hers alone. The people she called on to support her story all say it didn’t happen. The best she has going for her is her own statements to others including her husband and therapist decades after the alleged event, and even her therapist can’t support the story completely. Yet one Democratic senator after another looked at her and said “We believe you.”

My point ought to be clear enough already, but let’s throw in a couple other data points, for those who might question whether that link between atheism and believing Ford’s testimony is real.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote a statement on the hearings, including:

 Rather than a full and fair hearing that would have examined Kavanaugh’s record and the serious charges against him, the country saw a rushed, perfunctory process that had all the hallmarks of a sham. … As if his troubling stances were not enough, the Senate’s failure to adequately address the serious allegations of Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct is enraging.

Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly [?] Atheist,” echoed that, with emphasis. I’ve searched carefully, and I haven’t found a single atheist website challenging Democrats for believing her prematurely. Neither have I run across any who called down the protesters on the Supreme Court steps for chanting, “We believe survivors!” (For the record, I believe survivors too. No one has questioned that. The question has been whether she is one. See more in the midst of this article.)

So what’s going on here? Could it be that atheists don’t always insist on corroborated facts before they’ll believe?

So let’s return to this matter of confirmation bias. Every major atheist website has raised deep concerns about Kavanaugh’s nomination — using terms like “how screwed are we?” and “alarm.” Atheists are running scared. They absolutely can’t stand the thought of him on that bench.

So that makes two principles they’re violating: requiring solid corroborated evidence, and avoiding confirmation bias at all costs. Could it be they’re not so committed to those principles as they say they are?

(Note: Shadow to Light is asking related questions.)

Concerning comments: If you have something to say about the politics of the matter, I’m totally fine with that, but not here, since that’s not my topic in this blog post. You can choose among five links above where that dialogue would be relevant. This is about the epistemology (requiring corroboration) and social psychology (confirmation bias) instead. So I’m asking us to focus our discussion on that.

34 thoughts on “Atheists Casting Evidence to the Wind, Choosing Confirmation Bias Instead

  1. I think that for more than a few it has been easy to turn to politics as a substitute for religion. Here we have an example which is ripe for comparison against the Salem trials for witchcraft. There is heresy and apostasy as well if you look at any major celebrity who has misspoken against the victimhood hierarchy. Everyone has their ultimate view of what human beings are, where we have come from, and what will ultimately happen to us. The answers to those questions make up any given person’s “religion”.

  2. The correlation is an interesting one. The liberal tends to believe that we are good and with time we will make the world better. That removes some of the need to reach for God. The Christian seems to believe that the only chance we have to hold back the darkness is to keep the light burning.

  3. “The people she called on to support her story all say it didn’t happen.”

    The people she says were there don’t say it didn’t happen. They say they don’t remember it. There is a world of difference between “I was with Brett all night and that didn’t happen.” and “I don’t remember anything about that evening.”

    “Atheists insist on evidence; they won’t believe anything without it. And it had better be more than just someone’s opinion; it has to be corroborated, usually scientifically.”

    Testimony is evidence for something that happens so incredibly frequently as sexual assault. Testimony for sexual assault is often all there is, because sexual assaults predominately occur in private.
    False testimony, when someone lies repeatedly, is also good evidence of someones character. It certainly brings into question whether he should be trusted for his side of a story told under oath. And it is very good evidence that they should not be trusted with a seat on the highest court in the land.

    “For the record, I believe survivors too. No one has questioned that. The question has been whether she is one.”

    That last sentence contradicts your first one. If you are unsure if she is a survivor, because of the lack of evidence, and she is actually a survivor, then your first sentence is a lie. You don’t believe her, even though she is a survivor.

  4. A witness who doesn’t remember is still a witness who does not corroborate. She had no corroboration.

    Testimony is evidence. Of course! Same with your opinion on whether we should trust liars to be judges. Everyone knows that. Thanks for sharing.

    The contradiction you claim to have discovered is simply normal language in use. I believe survivors, but I don’t know if she is one, so I don’t know whether she is actually a member of that category, and thus I do not believe her just on account of her membership in that category. In fact, given the lack of corroboration, I have no compelling reason to believe she is in that category, and of course no compelling reason to believe her.

    Now, could that leave me in the position of disbelieving her when she is in fact a survivor? Of course it could. Obviously! Did I need to state it with that kind of technical precision for a normal reader to understand what I meant? No; a normal reader would understand it exactly as I intended, just as it was written. In fact I’d made my point both clearly and consistently throughout the entire piece. Why you felt the need to point call that final point “a lie,” is beyond. Except you were reaching — really reaching — to find something to complain about. Congratulations. You succeeded. By not reading it as a normal person would read it.

    But let’s go back to the point of the post, okay? Do you think testimony is only evidence when it’s testimony for things that happen frequently?

    And what’s your principle, in general, for treating testimony regarding things that happened with few or no witnesses? Does that testimony get extra value, additional credibility for that?

  5. “The people she called on to support her story all say it didn’t happen.”

    It is my understanding that this is not true. Who are the people you are referring to here, and when did they say it did not happen?

  6. “I answered Shane on this already.”

    Actually, you didn’t answer Shane on this point. You ignored it, and changed the goal posts to “corroboration .” It’s my understanding that your sentence is simply not true. And you haven’t shown that it is true.

    “Nobody wants to engage with the actual points of this point. Strange, that.”

    Eh, I could. But it would be such a colossal waste of time it isn’t worth it.

  7. And if you can’t read a correction as a correction just because I didn’t say “Oops, I didn’t get that exactly right” in those exact terms, it’s because you’re awfully eager to find fault.

  8. “And if you can’t read a correction as a correction just because I didn’t say “Oops, I didn’t get that exactly right” in those exact terms, it’s because you’re awfully eager to find fault.”

    I have no idea how you think your comment was any sort of correction. I’ve read your comment. Repeatedly. You ignore his point, and talk about her lack of “corroboration.”

    If you think your comment was somehow conveying the idea that the OP got something wrong (specifically, that the sentence “The people she called on to support her story all say it didn’t happen” was mistaken) , I suggest you re-read your comment, specifically looking for where that idea is conveyed.

  9. The people she called on to support her story were there, she says, when it happened. They say they weren’t present for anything like that happening. So they’re saying it didn’t happen the way she said it did (with them present). If you think I need to issue a correction, clarifying it in that precise sense, then consider this my correction. “They said it didn’t happen” was a tad bit inexact. I should have said, “They said it didn’t happen as she said it did.”

    Oh, and by the way: In most evidentiary proceedings, when multiple witnesses contradict one person’s testimony, that’s taken as functionally equivalent to, “It didn’t happen.”

    Satisfied? Sheesh. I can’t believe it.

    And you’re not interested in the main point of the post? What, did you give up on evidence being important to you? What did you give up, exactly?

  10. The people she called on to support her story were there, she says, when it happened. They say they weren’t present for anything like that happening. So they’re saying it didn’t happen the way she said it did (with them present).

    [Ok, I’ll waste some more time on this.] Who are the people you are referring to here? Who is “they?”

  11. To be even more clear, you say “The people she called upon to support her story….”

    Who are “the people she called upon to support her story?” What are their names?

  12. Here’s the crux of my thinking: I don’t know of anyone she “called on to support her story…” [I could be wrong. Not 100 percent sure, but pretty sure.] This phrase “The people she called on to support her story” gives the distinct impression that there were people, sympathetic to her (after all, she “called on them to support her”) and those same people said it did not happen.

    No one would write the sentence “the alleged victim called on the alleged muggers to support her story of how she was victimized, but they all said it didn’t happen” Of course the muggers would say it didn’t happen! We wouldn’t expect them to support her story. Nor would we expect the victim to use the muggers as people “she called on to support her story.” That isn’t the category of people that we would expect to fall into the bucket “people she called on to support her story.” That bucket of people is people sympathetic to her (after all, “she called on them”), and not the bad actors themselves!

    Why would the alleged victim call on the alleged bad actors to support her story? It makes no sense. No one would ever write an (honest) sentence that essentially stated, in a damning way, that the victim tried to call on the victimizers to support her story, but even the people she called on said it didn’t happen.

    The whole sentence is designed to make the reader think there were people, sympathetic to the alleged victim, who nevertheless said her story did not happen. That is, it is designed to be a damning sentence. But it isn’t true.

  13. Wow, you’re trying awfully hard to find something wrong. Is “support” all that emotionally distant from “corroborate” in this context? Is that the error you think I made? Really?

    Was Leland Keyser one of those “victimizers”? Really? Do you know who Leland Keyser is?

    I’m done trying hard back at you. Disagree if you must. I’ve said what I meant to say, and I’m satisfied with it.

  14. “Leland Keyser, Mark Judge, and P.J. Smyth. You didn’t know about that?!”

    Two people, Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, were in the room. She is accusing them of being the bad actors. They wouldn’t be “people she called upon to support her story.”

    The two other people Leland Keyser and PJ Smyth, were not called upon to support her story either, as they were not in the room–but rather allegedly in the house, with the music turned up. Furthermore, as she explained, they would have no reason to remember that night because (for them) it was unremarkable. So she didn’t call upon them to support her story either [and, in any case, these two people didn’t say “that night didn’t happen.” Rather, they said they have no recollection of anything like that night happening, nor had they seen Kavanaugh act aggressively toward women. Both of these statements are consistent with Ford’s story, and neither is an assertion that “it didn’t happen.”]

  15. “Wow, you’re trying awfully hard to find something wrong. Is “support” all that emotionally distant from “corroborate” in this context? Is that the error you think I made? Really?”

    No. That isn’t the error I think you made. It is much more serious than that. But it seems like the discussion is over.

  16. With regard to Leland Keyser, as I said, she didn’t say “that night didn’t happen.” She said “I have no memory of that night.” [and, in fact, she has said that she believes Ford!]

    This was Shane’s point all along. And one that you are either unable or unwilling to see.

  17. Think what you want to think. Yes, they didn’t exactly say “It didn’t happen.” Yes, there’s a distinction there. Does the distinction matter, when the person has been called upon to corroborate her testimony? You can have your opinion on that, all you want. I have mine.

    And my goodness, you said something earlier about a “colossal waste of time”? I’m done with this.

    Want to talk about the real issue in this post?

  18. “The people she called on to support her story were there, she says, when it happened. They say they weren’t present for anything like that happening.”

    This, again, is simply not true. Good grief. Leland Keyser did not say “I was not present for anything like that happening.” Simply. Not. True. But in, all fairness, I think you cannot even see it. [Weird.]

  19. Yes, there’s a distinction there. Does the distinction matter, when the person has been called upon to corroborate her testimony? You can have your opinion on that, all you want. I have mine.

    And my goodness, you said something earlier about a “colossal waste of time”? I’m done with this.

  20. Yes, there’s a distinction there. Does the distinction matter, when the person has been called upon to corroborate her testimony?

    Good grief. Of course it matters. It’s huge. The difference between “I was there, I remember, it didn’t happen.” and “I have no memory of that,” is really, really important. The former is being used to discredit Ford, but the latter is what actually happened. The latter doesn’t discredit her! Unbelievable.

  21. You can have your opinion on that, all you want. I have mine.

    And my goodness, you said something earlier about a “colossal waste of time”? I’m done with this.

    So are you, too, please. That’s what “done with this” means.

  22. Want to talk about the real issue in this post?

    Sigh. And waste even more time? This little back-and-forth has shown what a waste it is for me to comment here.

  23. Actually, on ill-advised and probably unwise second thought, I’m going to ask you this: Is it considered a positive thing when the best you can say about multiple supposed corroborating witnesses is that they were unable to prove her wrong? Suppose I accuse you of shoplifting. When trial comes you call 3 people to testify they knew you that week and they don’t remember you shoplifting. They don’t even know if you went to the store during that period. They haven’t proved I’m wrong; they haven’t discredited me. Does that count as reason to think I’m right?

    Now, suppose I have no evidence supporting my accusation except my own testimony. No physical evidence, nothing. These 3 people were my big hope. And none of them come through. What judge or jury would take me seriously?

    Same situation, different names. Ford accused Kavanaugh of something different, but the principle remains. She called 3 people testify, they all said they knew Kavanaugh at the time, they don’t remember him doing that to her, they can’t even verify there was a party. Does that count as supporting her accusation? Does it count as reason to think she’s right?

    She has no evidence for her accusation besides her own testimony. Those three were her best hope, and none of them said anything to help her case. Should anyone take her seriously?

    That, my friend, is what I meant when I said earlier that I recognized there was a distinction, but it didn’t make a difference.

    Now, did you see what I wrote in the OP about confirmation bias? Watch yourself right now as you answer. Do you believe Ford? On what basis? Is there any reason to believe her, other than that she says it? Has anyone ever lied to Congress before? Is it possible Ford had motive to lie? Are you among those who say we should believe her because she’s a victim? Do you recognize that’s a circular claim? Or do you perhaps take it that “we should believe women”? Do you see that “women” and “sufficient evidence” are not synonyms? Do you or do you not take “sufficient evidence” as a requirement for belief?

  24. Clarifying note: Yes, we should take everyone seriously. Including Christine Blasey Ford. We should pay serious attention to what they say. But seriously enough to change the course of American history? That’s another standard, and she didn’t provide anywhere near enough evidence to meet it.

  25. This is somewhat off-topic, but indulge my rambling one bit.

    As a European that follows American politics with some interest, I now firmly believe that America is the only hope of western civilization. Europe is dead; the nanny authoritarian State rules above all and people have no allegiance to family, church or nation. It is high, divine irony that America dodged a bullet and that the agent of survival, or at least a moment of respite, was a celebrity TV with a ridiculous hair, a man who is on tape saying that he does not feel the need of Repentance, and that had all the odds stacked against him: the top of the economical pyramid, the academia, the mainstream media. The fact that he did not cede one inch to the amoral, faux, hypocritical outrage of the Democrat left in the disgusting Kavanaugh’s stalinist mock trials is cause for hope.

    There is an ancient, mystical Talmudic Jewish belief that at every given moment, there are 36 saints (the Tzadikim Nistarim or Lamed Vav Tzadikim) and that on account of them God does not bring destruction to the world. Their identities are known only to God, He who Knows All, praise be to Him. And since only God knows their identities, every Jew should act as if he were one of them, and lead a life of humility, holiness and prayer. What is true of Jews is of course true of Christians (I will not speak about atheists, mainly because there is really nothing positive — positive not in the moral sense but in the sense of substantial, non-trivial — to say, or that one could say, about, to or for them). Speak the truth to the best of your ability; do not give up one inch. And say unto your enemies that they can all go suck a cow.

  26. In your, errr….”conversation” with Philmonomer, did the phrase, “You strain out a gnat & swallow a camel” ever cross your mind? And do you think that Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees for their confirmation bias in saying that?

    As for my take on the column, I think you ticked every box, & from my vantage point in Australia, though we don’t have these kinds of hearings, due to our much less politicized judiciary (frankly I don’t know how you guys can have such an insanely compromised system), we do have this kind of increasingly social & cultural Marxism that we see dividing your nation.

  27. Thought I would be receiving notifications. Sorry for the delay. Look like Philomomer said what I would have.

    “But let’s go back to the point of the post, okay? Do you think testimony is only evidence when it’s testimony for things that happen frequently?”

    I think testimony for something that happens frequently is more likely to be true than testimony of something that happens infrequently, purely because of the frequency that these things occur.

    “And what’s your principle, in general, for treating testimony regarding things that happened with few or no witnesses? Does that testimony get extra value, additional credibility for that?”

    No.

    “Ford accused Kavanaugh of something different, but the principle remains. She called 3 people testify, …”

    Did she call anybody to testify on her behalf? Or did she just mention them as people who were at the party? Did any of those people, aside from Judge Kavanaugh, make a sworn statement?

    Now these weren’t aimed at me, but I’m sure you would ask me the same, so I am going to answer.

    “Now, did you see what I wrote in the OP about confirmation bias? Watch yourself right now as you answer.”

    Yes.

    “Do you believe Ford? On what basis? ”

    Yes. On the basis that she has nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward. Which has been amply demonstrated by what she and her family have suffered.

    “Is there any reason to believe her, other than that she says it?”

    Again, she knew what would happen to her upon testifying, and she came forward anyway, so that is a pretty good reason. Then there is the circumstantial evidence of a party that occurred, around the time she mentioned, with the people she named, in the diary of the accused, that she would have had no information of before she testified. Then there is Judge Kavanaugh’s response, including lie after lie about the things he wrote at the time. In short, she is a credible witness, and he is not.

    “Has anyone ever lied to Congress before?”

    Yes. Judge Kavanaugh did, very recently.

    “Is it possible Ford had motive to lie?”

    Yes. I do not claim to know the inner workings of her mind.

    “Are you among those who say we should believe her because she’s a victim? Do you recognize that’s a circular claim?”

    I think we should believe her because of the frequency that these things happen to teenage girls. It is not a surprising claim. Nor is not telling anyone about it at the time. Nor is opening up to people about it as an adult. She told people as an adult, before she came forward to testify.

    “Or do you perhaps take it that “we should believe women”? Do you see that “women” and “sufficient evidence” are not synonyms?”

    Yes, I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to a woman that comes forward to say that say a man assaulted them. The number of false claims is incredibly small. I do see that “women” =/= “sufficient evidence”.

    “Do you or do you not take “sufficient evidence” as a requirement for belief?”

    I do. I think I gave sufficient evidence above, before your last question, but am happy to expound if you disagree.

    But I don’t think it’s a matter of believing Dr Blasey Ford over Judge Kavanaugh, and that’s why we shouldn’t promote him. He lied obviously, and repeatedly, about his behaviour, and things written in diaries and year books, possibly because he was embarrassed about the way his teenage self appears to him, now that he is an adult and a family man. He did not have the moral fibre or courage to be truthful about who he was back then. A person who is so weak and spineless to be honest does not deserve to sit on the highest court in the U.S.

    “Yes, we should take everyone seriously. Including Christine Blasey Ford. We should pay serious attention to what they say. But seriously enough to change the course of American history? That’s another standard, and she didn’t provide anywhere near enough evidence to meet it.”

    What do you mean by “change the course of American history?”
    What evidence would have been enough to believe Judge Kavanaugh was guilty of sexual assault?

  28. “Then there is the circumstantial evidence of a party that occurred, around the time she mentioned, with the people she named, in the diary of the accused, that she would have had no information of before she testified.”

    Which is no more than evidence that she was at the same party.

    “I think we should believe her because of the frequency that these things happen to teenage girls. It is not a surprising claim.”

    So Judge Kavanaugh is automatically guilty by association because he was a teenage boy at the time, & that’s what teenage boys do?

  29. What we’re seeing here again is the confirmation bias I spoke of in the OP. You say you think “women” is equal to “sufficient evidence.” Should Bill Clinton therefore be in jail for raping Juanita Broaddrick?

    Which means, Shane, you’re giving up the principle that we should believe an accusation if there’s solid evidence for it.

    It’s almost laughable that you’d try to support your position from the fact that she didn’t call the people to testify for her! And Kim has already told how weak the circumstantial evidence is there.

    You assume a lot when you suggest she had everything to lose and nothing to gain from this. Some people do have motives for not wanting Kavanaugh confirmed. Ford might have a book deal in mind, for all you know. Or she might be telling the truth as she remembers it, but she’s remembering the identity of the perpetrator wrong. Or maybe she’s experienced the well-researched phenomenon of implanted memories. None of this is impossible. Of course none of it counts as proof either way; that’s not the point of it. But all of it does directly answer the claim that she had no reason not to be telling the truth.

    What evidence would have been enough to believe Kavanaugh was guilty? I’m not going to answer in terms of a criminal court’s standards, but as far as him being confirmed as a justice, I’d say that if one of Ford’s proposed corroborating witnesses had agreed with her, that would have caused me seriously to doubt we should confirm him. Two corroborating witnesses would have been enough to absolutely convince me not to do it. But zero corroboration? That’s equal to zero credible testimony.

    Finally, if you don’t know what I mean by changing the course of American history, you’re not well-informed enough to be in this conversation.

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