Tag Archives: Bias

Assumptions of Bias

During the past week watching the news and reading Facebook posts about the violence and racial tensions in this country, I was struck by the assumptions made by some who protested the loudest. One such assumption—a  statement I read more than once—was that white people are afraid of the big black man, and that’s the problem.

I would argue that this assumption contributes to the problem of racial tension and is not true because it is an over generalization. All white people cannot be lumped into one set of beliefs or viewpoints any more than all black people can. Many white people, as well as many black people, would prefer to be part of the solution.

As I pondered all of this, I was reminded of something that happened to me just a month or so ago. We were having mandatory “Implicit Bias” training at work. It’s not the first time we’ve had this training, but this time something happened that made me think about how sometimes our assumptions about implicit bias can be part of the problem. We focus on and assume bias where diversity and camaraderie might flourish if we didn’t try so hard to see the negative.

The presenter was talking about the online Harvard Implicit Bias Project tests. I’ve taken several of these tests before so I raised my hand to offer my unique experience.

“I’ve taken the race Implicit Bias test three times,” I said, “and each time it has revealed I have a strong preference for African Americans. I have no explanation for why that is because I really only know a few African Americans.”

The presenter thanked me for chiming in and started talking about how we don’t always know where these biases come from. Then she said,” That was very brave of you to admit that.”

”Wait,” I replied, “I think you misunderstood me. Why would it be brave for me to say I had a bias in favor of, strongly in favor of, blacks?”

“Oh,” she said,” you said against.”

My boss, who was sitting at the same table as me, replied,” No she didn’t, she said in favor of.”

Later I talked to several people who were on the other side of the room and they all said they clearly heard me say what I actually said. But the presenter—who spends much her time talking, thinking, and studying about implicit bias—heard what she assumed any white woman would say, that she was biased against blacks.

I share this because I think it is so important not to assume we know what others think about difficult issues like this. We have to stop making broad general assumptions about whole groups of people whose only thing in common might be the color of their skin. Human beings—and each individual human being—is so much more complex than that.

The second presenter at this training had commented at the beginning that we didn’t need to talk about religion or spirituality, because that isn’t really very important for people in Oregon. I found this comment odd because it was another inaccurate assumption. For me, my faith is very important and it is the teachings of Jesus that inform much of my belief about others. It is my understanding that we are all created in God’s image, no matter what color our skin, that helps me in dealing with and accepting those who are different from me.

D.C. Talk does a great song called Colored People that I want to end with. I’m linking to YouTube because often embedded videos don’t work on this free blog. I encourage you to follow the link and give it a listen.

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Science, Faith, and Reason

Many people believe that there is no room for God in scientific exploration and that belief in God must be based on irrational and unsubstantiated faith. Someone recently said to me:

I have a hard time trying to reconcile your belief in God and your belief in science. The two don’t really mix. I have always been a “prove it to me” person, I know that is why you call it “Faith.”

According to Dictionary.com, science is “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” And the scientific method is “a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.”

Although there are certainly scientists who are atheists, there are many well-known scientists who are (or were in the case of those who are deceased) either theists (meaning they believe in a creator God but not necessarily the Christian God) or are Christians. Albert Einstein was a theist. Blaise Pascal was a Christians. Isaac Newton was a monotheist. A New York Times article title Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science reports:

According to a much-discussed survey reported in the journal Nature in 1997, 40 percent of biologists, physicists and mathematicians said they believed in God – and not just a nonspecific transcendental presence but, as the survey put it, a God to whom one may pray “in expectation of receiving an answer.”

The scientific method, applied in an unbiased way, leads to discoveries about our physical and natural world. But it cannot answer the moral questions of life — why we are here, what our purpose in life is, whether a particular human action is right or wrong.

Scientists who are atheists often claim to be unbiased in their pursuit of truth. But none of us is completely unbiased. Everyone views the evidence before them in light of their own experiences and beliefs. If a person believes there is no creator God, then they will view scientific evidence through that lens or bias, and every piece of evidence will support that belief. If, on the other hand, a person believes in a creator God, then they will view scientific evidence through that lens or bias, and every piece of evidence will support that belief.

For example, scientific evidence of DNA has shown that humans have some DNA in common with other creatures. The atheist sees this as evidence that all life evolved from a single celled organism in a regular progression, even though there is no direct evidence that one species gave birth to a different species. The theist, on this other hand, sees this same DNA evidence as supporting the idea of a creator who used similar building blocks in the creation of various basic forms of life.

Science can never prove beyond all doubt the existence or non-existence of God. But science, coupled with reason and philosophical study, can reasonably lead to the conclusion that God does exist and is the creator of all things. In God: The Evidence, scientist Patrick Glynn “demonstrates that faith today is not grounded in ignorance. It is where reason has been leading us all along.”

I admit that my consideration of scientific evidence is filtered through the bias that God exists. Glynn, however, had no such initial bias. He was an atheist for many years, but the scientific evidence and reason led him to a different conclusion.

In my experience, faith and science, bounded together by reason, mix quite well.

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