On Bias as an Argument
In an argument, I frequently see people say that their opponent is biased and leave it at that, considering their opponent’s bias to be self-evident and the argument therefore won. Religious people do this all the time and it always boggles my mind. How often have we heard the phrase ‘liberal media’ or admonishments to not trust scientists because they are biased?
This ‘argument’ can only make sense if being biased makes a person wrong. Even though anybody trying to be intellectually honest should try to remove bias since it often corrupts accurate thinking, bias itself does not, in fact, mean somebody’s wrong. For instance, most people believe that George Washington was the first United States president. They would probably be biased and disinclined to spend time out of their day listening to a contrary argument. This doesn’t make them wrong. This is the whole reason philosophers long ago identified the appeal to motive fallacy.
So when somebody makes a truth claim, there are four possibilities as far as bias is concerned.
- The person is biased and correct.
- The person is biased and incorrect.
- The person is unbiased and correct.
- The person is unbiased and incorrect.
What good does pointing out that (you think) someone is biased do you? If your opponent’s bias has led them to a factual or logical error, why not just point out the error? Why even bother with noting the bias since that makes your position no more likely to be correct (or theirs more likely incorrect)?
So when someone accuses me of bias, even though it’s obvious that I’m not biased (since I’ve read the bible multiple times along with a host of apologetic literature, ie, I have done more work investigating the opposite position than the vast majority of the tenants of that position) it’s usually just less time-consuming to say ‘fine, I’m biased – now explain why I’m wrong.’
The same is true with all appeals to motivation. How often must the atheist parry accusations that they are just assholes out to rob people of hope? It seems perfectly clear that someone could be a baby-eating, mother-punching, porn-watching son of Mephistopheles himself, but that would not mean their facts were incorrect or that their reason wasn’t sound on the existence of god. So again, even though I’m a perfectly courteous person (when I’m not venting my frustration at intellectually lazy, self-important cretins who think that by opening their mouths that they’re entitled to my time) it just seems easier to say ‘yes, I’m a horrible person who steals candy from little kids – now explain why I’m wrong.‘ Let me assure you that some of the greatest discoveries in the history of our planet were made by assholes (Isaac Newton is said to have been insufferable). Clearly one’s degree of kindness has no bearing on the accuracy of a person’s position (and usually, in my experience, the atheist is being perfectly cordial, but the religious person feels that any critique of their cherished beliefs is automatically garishly impolite).
As a means to establish how someone is wrong, accusations of bias are meaningless, and by participating in an argument it is implied that you care who is right, not who is biased. Don’t let people pull this shit.