Recently a lucky Florida native found a surprise in her midday snack of Goldfish crackers.
Patti Burke told WKMG that she believes that the markings on her fish shaped cracker are a sign from God, that he "is still in our life every day, and he wants to show that to his people"
Now I know that I am a skeptic, but seriously? A LITERAL Jesus fish?
So what is going on with the well manicured woman? Insanity? Possibly. But mostly it is Confirmation Bias.
Confirmation Bias is a tendency for people to favor information (or make up information) that confirms their already(personally) affirmed hypothesis. Confirmation bias controls much of how we interpret what we read and what we choose to read.
So rather than look at this strangely marked Goldfish with curiosity, this women's bias was towards the divine so she saw the divine. I think this is something that plays in to all of our ideas, but it plagues the religious communities in to constantly seeing miracles from the irrelevant. God's sending a sign when you hit all the green lights, it's a shout out from heaven when your favorite song comes on right when you need it, it's truly miraculous when there is a strong wind when you are thinking about something stressful. These things, although innocuous, work to confirm what a person already believes. It's like a child who finds a plate left of only crumbs on Christmas morning believing that that confirms Santa's existence.
I truly hope for all those believers out there that their higher power isn't making statements in so ladies processed foods.
What does confirmation bias mean for skeptics? It means that we must be diligent in the research that we do and how we approach new ideas. Are we simply choosing Richard Dawkins as a source because we know he has the same view as ours? Do we only read news articles from known liberal media outlets because we know that they will have the slant on the story we like?
But is this really a bad thing? To seek out what what we want to be true and make it true? In my previous examples, not really. There is little harm in me only reading www.jezebel.com and Friendly Atheist or a Christian woman finding little miracles to make her faith stronger.
When confirmation bias gets dangerous is when it confirms something that will harm another. Like the phenomenon of children being accused of witchcraft and being abused, neglected, and sent out in many third world populations. A woman gets sick in the village and the religious leaders use this as confirmation of the child's sorcery.
My hope is that we can use the knowledge and understanding of confirmation bias in order to educate those who are vulnerable, especially when the ones spouting the evil is someone in power.