Confirmation bias on God’s own growth hormone

I try to avoid crapping on folks whose lives have gone from downhill in spite of their professed faith in the LORD, regardless of how loopy they sound and how strongly their stories support the futility of the concept of benevolent gods who intercede in human affairs. But I reckon that when someone seems to be doing great and wants to give God the credit, it’s a perfect opportunity to highlight what lunatics people are surrounding this stuff.
First, there’s the set-up:

Check out what this guy went through and how God intervened supernaturally to change his life. It’s amazing! I wish they’d include more of the details, but it’s nevertheless an inspiration. No matter how far you’ve gone into the realms of darkness, God’s light will still penetrate!


This leads the unassuming reader to think he’s about to see something remarkable in the linked video.

Instead of anything “supernatural” or “amazing,” you see a religiously confused and depressed Nick Nolte look-alike who, having lost his family though divorce and armed with both a Satanic Bible and a habit of cutting himself (as this “mocks the blood of Christ”), claims to received orders from the devil to kill the senior pastor of the church-cum-media outlet responsible for filming this and similar videos as part of an “invasion by God” theme. Ultimately representatives of the church show up (it’s not clear why), and the man subsequently has a vision in their presence in which he is called full-bore to the ministry.
It is clear to any non-indoctrinated person this this is a pitifully stupid production. No amount of foreboding, sad, and suggestive theme music can overturn the reality that this entire account is nothing but a sham. One need not be a hater to point out that if the supposed agent of change in this tale were a comic-book superhero, a magic unicorn, or a few hits of acid, people would openly laugh at and dismiss the whole thing. It’s entirely reliant on the private revelation of a mentally unstable person influenced to the nth degree by people around him who are unconditionally prepared to both convince him of and accept the veracity of such “visions.” And there’s no evidence this guy’s life is actually any better, and that he wouldn’t do well to consult a physician to at least explore the possibility of secular medications.
But rather than preach at more length to the converted, I’ll post my favorite comment to the video post (#6, from “txmom4”):

That is amazing! And Craig, for you to have the evil one after you in such an obvious way….you know you’re making a big impact in the kingdom of God. I mean, that’s a little scary to hear about. But to know that your influence in this world is so big that Satan would send someone directly to get rid of you. This is going to sound completely crazy but I pray every day for God to use me in that capacity – so much that I’m a threat to the evil one. That I’m so useful to God that Satan’s only defense is to get rid of me.

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  1. #1 by WTFWJD on February 5, 2009 - 5:03 pm

    LORD? Lazy Oblivious Retreaded Divinity?

  2. #2 by Jared White on March 3, 2009 - 10:55 am

    Hey Kevin, thanks for linking to me…I guess. I know you apparently get a kick out of mocking people you don’t know anything about, but I have just one simple question for you: how do you know that whatever was described in this video isn’t actually true? On what basis do you accuse this man or this church of lying? Furthermore, aren’t scientists supposed to search out knowledge and meaning in spite of personal bias and follow the evidence wherever it may lead regardless of comfort level or preference? It seems to me that you’ve already decided how reality is framed, and thus anything that contradicts your predetermined conclusion you dismiss out of hand.
    I fail to see how that is scientific, open-minded, or free-thinking.
    Jared

  3. #3 by Kevin Beck on March 3, 2009 - 11:30 am

    Jared:
    “I have just one simple question for you: how do you know that whatever was described in this video isn’t actually true?”
    I think my post addresses this, but then I’m used to writing mostly for people who operate without a few critical, and crippling, assumptions. Based on your blogging, you are plainly someone who has begun with the idea that God is a fact and worked backward, sideways, and up and down to bend various interpretations to suit this conclusion.
    So I’ll say it explicitly: There’s simply no evidence that God intervened in this man’s life.
    Now, you can complain that I am unfairly accusing the man in the video of lying, or of not being open-minded or scientific. You obviously don’t understand what it even means to think scientifically. To think in such a way is to be skeptical, to require that evidence be adduced to claims. The more outlandish the claim–and stating that you’ve been approached by a God is a very stereotypical vision and under considerable emotional pressure is indeed outlandish, given that no one has reliably documented such a thing–the more compelling the need for evidence.
    You wrote: “[A]ren’t scientists supposed to search out knowledge and meaning in spite of personal bias and follow the evidence wherever it may lead regardless of comfort level or preference? It seems to me that you’ve already decided how reality is framed, and thus anything that contradicts your predetermined conclusion you dismiss out of hand.”
    Why on earth would the idea of gods being real be uncomfortable? Accept Jesus. live forever in bliss in Heaven. Childish, but not unappealing, obviously. As for predetermined conclusions, I think I’ve already hinted at which of us is suffering from that fallacy here. How old were you when you, uh, sorted through the evidence that led you to God? Basically you’ve been brainwashed, unkind as it may sound.
    I have no deep-seated or entrenched need to reject deities, any more than I have a need to reject the existence of ghosts. I’m simply not going to take what amounts to a ghost story at face value and trumpet it as a miracle (and it’s far from clear how the film subject’s life got any better anyway–in your post you admitted yourself that the details were scant, yet you chose to give the story a big thumbs-up anyway. Are you getting the idea of confirmation bias yet?
    You are the antithesis of open-minded when your conclusion (that God did whatever it was that supposedly made this guy’s life better) is drawn in advance of premises you then chase down or invent to suit. You may have convinced yourself that you “found” God on your own, but if so, you are lying as well, however amiably. Like many, the god you happen to accept is the predominant one in the culture you were born into, and you decided God was real long before giving weight to the utter lack of evidence for its existence. The idea of being dissuaded from the existence of this god is likely terrifying and is therefore not even on your radar screen. Along the way, you have managed, I’m sure, to vigorously deny the various contradictions and absurdities in the Bible, its failure to comport with modern science knowledge (evolution, geoscience, cosmology). Your affirmation of God is indeed heavily biased in every way; you have a need to believe God is real and hence marshal up all manner of claptrap to support this belief. And don’t tell me I am not qualified to say things about someone I don’t actually know, because your writing is clear on such matters.
    Someone crediting God with literally speaking to him and relieving him of depression tells me no more than someone raised in a different religion making the same claim about a different deity, or by the same token crediting any sentient or non-sentient entity for which there is no evidence. In this case, it was not as though the guy had never heard of the Christian God before his alleged vision; in fact, he’d spent a long time actively being angry with it.
    To an objective person, these things spell an account that is simply not trustworthy in the absence of more data, if you will. At a minimum, it is ludicrous from a scientific perspective to unconditionally accept, as you have, the idea that God has worked a miracle in this guy’s life. Maybe if God had actually interacted with the guy in a non-private way–and let’s not omit the fact that the guy is or was laboring under some kind of mental illness–there would be reason to believe him. But this didn’t happen.
    If someone leaped to the idea that Vishnu or Quetzalcoatl had been the divinity behind this event, would you be so quick to celebrate the work of such a god along with the person giving the story? Of course not–you’d balk just as strongly as I have at the notion that the Christian god was involved. It’s just that simple.
    By the way, what seems like a mockery of people is more often a mockery of their bad ideas, though it’s not easy to separate the two, inasmuch as I care to. When you write goofy things like “It’s impossible to live as a true atheist,” are you trying to insult the intelligence of those who tell you otherwise? If you put tripe on the Internet, someone is bound to notice and comment.

  4. #4 by Jared White on March 12, 2009 - 1:20 pm

    Kevin, I honestly don’t know that this guy’s story is true. However, I have friends I know very well, people I have observed to be rational, capable, well-adjusted human beings, who have had similar spiritual experiences (either with demonic forces or with the presence of God). In addition, I have seen the work of God in my own life in countless ways. It’s true I don’t need a framework of logic to believe in God. But that’s because He is as real a being to me as any human I know. The logic or evidence serves to support that which I already know — just as receiving a card from someone saying “I love you” serves to support what I already understand about them.
    You seem to think my faith in God is like faith in an idea. It’s not. It’s faith in a supernatural reality. No, I can’t prove to you that He speaks to me and guides me in my life. I can’t prove to you that several of the prophetic revelations I’ve received have come to pass. I can’t prove to you that my prayers have been answered in miraculous ways on many occasions. I can’t prove to you that the peace and forgiveness I’ve received from Jesus because of His death and resurrection has completely changed my life for the better.
    But what I am asking is for you to concede that you likewise have no ability to prove I’m mistaken. At the end of the day, we both have an equal measure of faith. Your faith is in materialism. Mine is in theism. Perhaps you might find out some interesting things if you looked a little bit deeper.
    Regards, Jared

  5. #5 by Jim Fiore on March 12, 2009 - 4:10 pm

    we both have an equal measure of faith
    Actually, no, assuming one uses the definition of faith as “Belief which does not rely on direct evidence or logical proof” (versus merely “that which one thinks is true”).

  6. #6 by hopper3011 on March 14, 2009 - 9:17 am

    Actually, no, assuming one uses the definition of faith as “Belief which does not rely on direct evidence or logical proof” (versus merely “that which one thinks is true”).

    Even on that definition, Kevin and Jared have an equal measure of faith: Kevin has faith (in that he has no evidence of the truth or falsity of his supposition) that the phenomenal and noumenal worlds are identical (and faith that the phenomenal world even exists), while Jared has faith (defined the same way) in the idea that we can know anything about God (or even whether or not he exists).
    There is no logical proof for the existence of the material world, just as there is no logical proof that God exists.

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