Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Quote: Paul Copan on Bias

“If writing with a goal – whether it be evangelistic, apologetic, or didactic – implies propaganda, then all recorded history is propaganda. . . a work shouldn’t be dismissed simply because of the strong convictions of the writer. Should we discount the facticity or reliability of the accounts of Nazi concentration camp survivors simply because they passionately recount their story?”

- Paul Copan

True For You, But Not For Me – Defeating the Slogans that leave Christians Speechless, (Bethany House, 1998), p.101.

6 comments :

covnitkepr1 said...

I’ve been following and enjoying your blog for a while now and would like to invite you to visit and perhaps follow me back. Sorry I took so long for the invitation.

covnitkepr1 said...

All writings written about a subject in God's word...must be supported with "it is written" concerning the entire scriptures on that subject...Not "I believe" or "I thinkl"

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Philosopher J. Anthony Blair (a former professor of mine at U of Windsor, Ontario) writes of the possibility of a "good bias," as revealed in the comment, "I hope the lieutenant-governor will be biased in favor of the best decision." Professor Blair adds: "It seems that bias means a kind of leaning, or an inclination, or a predisposition. When this results in bad thinking--as when it consists of prejudice or pre-judgment, when it causes close-mindedness [sic], or when it leads to distortion, misrepresentation, or unfairness--then it is bad. When it is an unavoidable feature of our thinking processes or of our methods of communication, then it is potentially dangerous but not necessarily harmful....And when it disposes us to right-mindedness, we regard it as good."

So, yes, people are biased, but the issue is this: Which kind of bias is in operation? One can have an intellectual leaning or inclination towards prejudice and misrepresentation, or one can have an intellectual leaning or inclination towards careful investigation and truth-seeking. The latter kind of "bias" should be cultivated in school and church.

(The above quotes are from J. Anthony Blair, "What Is Bias?" in Selected Issues in Logic and Communication, ed. Trudy Govier [Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1988], 101-102.)

Mariano said...

Show me an unbiased person, and I'll show you a corpse.

Bonobo Nation said...

Should we discount the facticity or reliability of the accounts of Nazi concentration camp survivors simply because they passionately recount their story?

A reverse Hitler card, nice one! A lot of juicy fallacies in this quote. The red herring is obvious; innocence by association. Very sneaky! I like it.

The answer to the question is an obvious yes, despite the implicit emotional misdirection in the (false) analogy. To suggest that we believe what we are told by religious apologists because the Jews relate their experiences of suffering at the hands of a Catholic madman (ah, now that's how you play the Hitler card) in a passionate manner is, well, it repulsive.

One should never trust the writing of someone who writes with strong convictions. This not to suggest that what they say is untrustworthy, but passion is usually based on anecdote, not evidence.

Truth and validity are poorly represented by the above quote. In fact, it says nothing about bias at all except in that it's biases are boringly obvious.

Less vagueness and more precision please!

Brian Auten said...

Bonobo nation:

One should never trust the writing of someone who writes with strong convictions. This not to suggest that what they say is untrustworthy, but passion is usually based on anecdote, not evidence.

Is that your strong conviction?

Seems to me that the quote is simply saying that we can't automatically discount a source just because they are biased or emotional.

The "Hitler card" as you put it is not meant for rhetorical purposes. Copan, it seems to me, is simply using a perfect example of people who would have emotional, strong convictions about something they were testifying about. This is because of the horrible thing that happened to them. Just because someone mentions something like that doesn't mean they are "playing the Hitler card."

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