I was a bit surprised to see that Victor Reppert took a defensive stance in response (I believe) to my previous post, in which I said that he seized upon a certain article that appealed to his confirmation bias. Victors words were:
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. - ReppertHe seems to think that the accusation of confirmation bias was used to refute his argument, but since anyone can be accused of having confirmation bias, it is a meaningless charge. What's surprising to me is his failure to grasp what it means to say that someone has confirmation bias, and that he would see this as a refutation. So let me try to set the record straight.
Confirmation bias is something that afflicts us all. It is the natural tendency to favor information that agrees with what we already believe, and ignore or discount information that doesn't support those beliefs. When we search the internet for articles to help us make an argument, for example, we may skip over ones that contain any information that supports the opposite viewpoint, and look for only the ones that strictly support our own position. When we read something, we have a tendency to interpret it in a manner that agrees with what we believe. And when we recall something, we tend to be (unconsciously) selective in which facts come to mind. These things are well documented.
There is no shame in saying that someone has confirmation bias. We all have it. It's perfectly natural. We want our own beliefs to be true, so we seek out information that helps us to confirm those beliefs. I certainly don't exempt myself from this. It would be disingenuous for me to say that someone else has confirmation bias, but not admit the same thing about myself. It's not an accusation or a "charge", as Victor puts it. It's simply a recognition of the human condition that we all share.
When I say that Victor has seized upon an article that appeals to his confirmation bias, I am not making the case that his position is invalid for that reason, because that would be a logical fallacy on my part. I am simply pointing out that there is another side to the argument that he has glossed over or ignored. I'm saying that Victor has found an article that supports his side of the argument, and he has declared victory by simply presenting one side of the story. Furthermore, he bolstered his case by selecting an article written by a supposed atheist. The implied argument is that if an atheist agrees with the religious position, that lends additional credence to the religious position. But that's a fallacy. Of course, having said these things about Victor's argument, it is incumbent on me to prove my point by presenting the other side. Please note that none of this implies that one side or the other is right. It is simply a commentary on Victor's approach to presenting the argument.
Victor asks: "Is Confirmation Bias Avoidable?" I think he's asking, "Is the charge confirmation bias avoidable?" What he means by this is that any argument could be countered by charges of confirmation bias. I disagree. You can't refute your opponent's argument by accusing him of confirmation bias. The fact of being biased says nothing about whether or not you are correct. If someone tells you that your argument is false because of your bias, you have every right to retort that this is a fallacy.
Nevertheless, confirmation bias is real, and it affects all of us. So what can we do about it? The first thing is to recognize that it exists, and that it affects the way we seek and process information. The second thing is to make a conscious effort to see both sides of the story. You owe it to yourself to at least look at opposing viewpoints and try to understand them. Finally, if someone says you have confirmation bias, don't get defensive about it. Ask yourself, "Am I making an honest effort to examine the issue objectively?" Nobody can be perfectly objective about all things. But recognizing that and making an effort to be more objective can make a big difference. At least you might adopt a stance that is a bit more nuanced - a stance that takes into account truths that exist in your opponent's side of the story. That only serves to make your own stance more defensible. That's the best you can do.