Monthly Archives: March 2016

Gender Confirmation or Confirmation Bias?

As of this post, America is largely concerned with the upcoming election and the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar. However, those aren’t the things I’m thinking about today. There are a few observations I’ve been making that have started to come together, and so I’ll be using this blog post to think out loud. (Side note: This blog has been dormant for a long time, and I apologize for that. Head on over to my church’s site to see what I’ve been writing about every week. Basic apologetics stuff.)

A few days ago I was watching a video (here) dealing with confirmation bias. The video was generally referring to video games, and the YouTube comments on gaming videos in particular, but the principles apply broadly. According to good ol’ Wikipedia, confirmation bias is:

the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

In apologetics, this is something that is frequently on my mind. I know how easy it is to commit this error, particularly where Christianity or particular beliefs are involved. It’s important to realize that it is impossible to be completely objective, since we all have biases. However, I think it’s easy to take our beliefs for granted, and commit the error of confirmation bias unless we are actively working against it. In apologetics, this means that I frequently read books that I know are coming from the other side. I’m not perfect, but this helps me to at least be functionally objective when approaching issues. This idea connects with the second observation I made while watching the trailer for the movie “The Danish Girl.”

This movie is about the first person to undergo gender confirmation surgery. If you’re somewhat confused about what that surgery is, it has more commonly been referred to as sex-change surgery. I hadn’t really heard the new term until recently, but it’s not hard to see why the old one is no longer considered politically correct. The idea that you are undergoing a sex change sounds an awful lot like you are making a choice to go between one gender to the other, which is something that the alternative lifestyle movement is actively against. Calling it gender confirmation surgery carries with it the idea that they want to; that a person is one gender caught inside the other gender’s body. I’m going to take a quick detour to make an observation about that particular idea.

It wasn’t very long ago that the more liberal in society were combating the idea that there are a specific set of feelings for men and a specific set of them for women. It was thought to be sexist and just plain uncouth to suggest that men could not be more gentle and “in touch with their feelings” or that women could exhibit traits that were deemed more decisive or manly. To a certain extent, that still exists today, but it seems to me like the transgender movement in particular has actually regressed this idea. It would seem that it is more likely that if you feel certain ways that tend to be associated with masculinity or femininity, then you actually are a man or a woman, whether you have a male body or a female one. Now, you might be saying “no, it’s not just that I feel certain ways, it’s that I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” but without defining how those two things are distinct (which I haven’t seen done) then this is just a semantics game. End of detour.

Do you see where confirmation bias might come into play when discussing things relating to gender? If you hold to the belief that gender is fluid, and that you can be/feel a certain way, then that makes you correct, and you should change your body to confirm/affirm your belief. Unfortunately, this is not like other situations in which you can try and protect against your bias by reading something from the other side. What could possibly be a way to see if you’re caught up in confirmation bias? Has the transgender community come up with any objective material here? A quick Google search leads to one of those wiki-how pages, which is just blatant confirmation bias. I suppose one could keep undergoing surgeries, if you feel like you’re wrong, once you’ve made the decision, but that would just get expensive (like the Sneeches).

At this point, all we really have is a confirmation of an observation that Francis Schaeffer made years ago, about how we have largely fragmented lives now, with essentially viewing our bodies as separate from “us” and being biochemical machines which can be changed and reshaped depending on our whim. (See blogs on that here and here) However, in order for it to move from that observation to the confirmation bias that I’m talking about, we need to add another piece to our puzzle. There is a particular trend in society over the last decade (at least) which I have taken to calling experiocentrism. We’re familiar with similar words like heliocentric (a model of the solar system with the sun [helio] being at the center [centric]) and the stronger word ethnocentrism (one ethnicity [ethno] being superior [centrism]), and this is similar to that. We have taken the old expression “you never truly know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”, which was originally intended to elicit empathy and understanding, and we’ve added pride. Now we say that experience is king. If someone has experienced something, and you haven’t, that means that you have very little (if anything) to say that can be true or helpful. Our morbid experiocentrism is such that experience is king, and a person’s experience is superior to the opinions of someone who hasn’t experienced the same thing. It’s a convenient way to try and avoid hard discussions and potential criticisms, and to be able to play the “I’m offended!” card, or look down your nose at someone who is advocating a different opinion/belief than your own.

Now we have the figurative mentos for our diet coke. Any probing question relating to the idea of gender fluidity, gender confirmation surgery, or transgenderism can be met with the knowledge that someone has had an experience, and that experience trumps any and all questions or criticisms. Now you have a system that is built to shut out anything but confirmation bias. If anyone dares to oppose this belief/system, they are met with the current rage for rights, with the moral/sexual revolution wielding the courts to make sure that anyone who disagrees for very long or too loudly gets punished. Confirmation must occur and everything else must be silenced. Does this sound familiar to you?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.  And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:18-32

Though that is not the whole story. That is proving that there is nothing under the sun, even though we are inventors of evil and have new ways to flaunt our rebellion against our Creator. The rest of the story is that God is constantly ready to forgive us of our sins, and to change our lives into ones of repentance and faith. The prophets Joel and Isaiah remind us of this.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. – Isaiah 55:6-7

SDG