How Atheists Obtain "Facts"
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05-03-2012, 02:13 AM (This post was last modified: 05-03-2012 02:16 AM by Starcrash.)
How Atheists Obtain "Facts"
I just want to take a little dig at theists by relating a story that happened this weekend. I was watching a bunch of YouTube videos posted by a news program called The Young Turks, and I saw a year-old video on the aftermath of the dead birds, bees, and fish. It turns out that an EPA document leaked by Wikileaks lends strong evidence to a harmful pesticide being the reason that bees in America are dying, and the EPA has killed the story for financial interests.

My mother and I had a previous discussion about the bee disappearance, and so I thought she'd be interested in knowing about this. I passed it on, and she immediately went about checking on it by looking up sources. "That's fine," I thought, "I already Googled the name of the pesticide (clothianidin) and found plenty of unbiased sources that back up this story. Of course I'd check the facts before passing this on as truth."

She concluded that there wasn't a source to back up my claim. I pointed out that there were literally about 100 relevant jouranalistic sources that showed that the basic facts were true. She dismissed them all because they weren't "from sources she trusted".

My mother listens to Rush Limbaugh on a daily basis --- it's her main news source --- so you can imagine where I, as an atheist, went next. I asked her how she knew she could trust a source, and she said that if a source regularly told her things that were true then it became trusted. I personally think this faulty thinking is common among theists, because many of them trust the bible on this same basis. I asked if her news sources could not possibly be mistaken. She admitted (after I shot down a couple foolish equivocations) that they were run by regular old people, and people make mistakes, so yes --- her sources could tell her things that were not factual. So I asked the obvious question: "If your only standard for facts is that you get them from trusted sources, but your sources can give you bad information, then how do you sift out the bad information from the good?" And then I ranted about Rush Limbaugh, who proudly boasts that he has a conservative bias and even admits that it's his job to spin the news in a way that makes conservatism look good, and that makes him an objectively poor news source. She wouldn't hear any of it.

This illustrates the difference between atheists and theists in fact-checking. Theists believe that the bible is true because it has agreed with their own world-view enough times that it becomes a "trusted" source. Atheists don't believe in the bible because we have different standards for examining evidence, such as "did the author have an agenda to promote?" I know this isn't true about all atheists or all theists, but it seems to be a fair rule-of-thumb, based on our expected different views of the bible.

Quote:“….there’s some forms of logic puzzles that I enjoy a lot where you’re trying to decide whether somebody is a knight who always tells the truth, or a knave who always lies. And so if somebody makes one true statement then you can establish for certain they’re a knight and every other thing coming out of their mouth is true. In real life, it doesn’t work like that. And so you see these apologists saying things like “Oh yeah, they dug up this ancient city that nobody knew about and it was in the bible, so the bible’s confirmed again.” No, that proves that this sentence in the bible is true, but it doesn’t make any progress towards determining whether Jesus rose from the dead.”

-Russell Glasser, from The Non-Prophets podcast

My girlfriend is mad at me. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried cooking a stick in her non-stick pan.
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05-03-2012, 11:18 AM
RE: How Atheists Obtain "Facts"
Good post! That fits in well with what I've seen of my family. Facts are only useful when they agree with your point of view. I think we all tend to think in that way at least a little bit, because change (especially changing your mind) is uncomfortable and sometimes very inconvenient. But a healthy skepticism and an honest self-evaluation goes a long way toward being open enough to accept facts that are disagreeable to your position.

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05-03-2012, 01:36 PM
RE: How Atheists Obtain "Facts"
Confirmation bias is hard to overcome even in scientists (they are people too... or so I've heard.. I may be biased Tongue). That's why what they do has to be checked and rechecked, preferably by people that might oppose it and won't hold that bias. It's hard when what you do or put a lot of thought into turns out to be wrong, but if we are to go forward as a society, we need to figure out how to make it standard that bias can't be avoided, but that doesn't make it ok either.

A theist and an atheist go to heaven.
theist: "See! There is a heaven."
atheist: "So, you consider heaven a joke too?"
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05-03-2012, 10:03 PM
RE: How Atheists Obtain "Facts"
(05-03-2012 01:36 PM)craniumonempty Wrote:  Confirmation bias is hard to overcome even in scientists (they are people too... or so I've heard.. I may be biased Tongue). That's why what they do has to be checked and rechecked, preferably by people that might oppose it and won't hold that bias. It's hard when what you do or put a lot of thought into turns out to be wrong, but if we are to go forward as a society, we need to figure out how to make it standard that bias can't be avoided, but that doesn't make it ok either.

Yeah, I know it. Check out this video by Derren Brown, an atheist whom I respect very much.





It's about dating techniques, and how they may help or hurt your attempts to get a second date with a woman. The 3 guys tried out 3 techniques. It's laughable to call this a real scientific experiment because the sample size is so tiny and it should be the same guy trying all the techniques in order to remove other variables like attractiveness of the guys, but nonetheless it produces some data.

The end result is that the guy using the open body-language, innuendo, and confidence won over the girls more than the guy who was "just himself"... but they declared it a victory for the guy who was "just himself"! That's clearly the result they wanted; when they didn't get it, they said he was successful anyway. That reeks of confirmation bias... they looked at the parts that supported their theme and ignored the data that didn't support it.

And this is from Derren Brown, a guy who is very rational and open-minded, a man who thinks like a scientist. But he's still human. So I totally agree with you, that we're all broken machines that need to rely on others to catch our mistakes. That's why I value the scientific method, because it's "calibrated" for human error.

My girlfriend is mad at me. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried cooking a stick in her non-stick pan.
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