Abstract: Confirmation bias is hardwired into the human psyche and a 21st century person is thus liable to accept and pass along a story without reflecting on or perhaps even worrying about its accuracy. Many have written about confirmation bias in recent American politics. But evangelicals have other prior beliefs which come into play: one’s views about the historicity of the Bible; about End Times; about Israel and Palestine; about how the scientific method works. We will examine specific recent tall tales that demonstrated how evangelical cognitive filters have sparked viral rumors. The first category contains stories which provide confirmation of our Christian beliefs and relieve us from the disconfirmation that comes largely from evolutionary science. For example: claims that ancient giant skeletons have been dug up; that the remains of Pharaoh’s chariots have been located under the Red Sea; that NASA computers proved the Long Day of Joshua. These stories give us comfort that, “We Christians were right all along.” The second category contains those stories which reinforce a negative bias about the Other, the ones that prove, “They were up to no good all along!” Some recent rumors: that the United Nations stated that asking children to attend church was a violation of their human rights; that Pope Francis offered a mass to Lucifer; that a water park in Britain forced its users to wear “Islamically-appropriate” attire. We will select a few of these stories to trace how they were picked up and transmitted by evangelicals worldwide to thousands and millions of recipients; the more lurid ones flourish on YouTube in English and then later in Spanish. We conclude by offering suggestions as to how to challenge fellow Christians to pause and reflect before they copy and paste.
This paper has its basis in my own research and also on published works on cognitive theory. I have written a relevant book that is now awaiting publication from Spain, Los mitos que los cristianos creen. Y que comparten [The Myths that Christians Believe. And Pass Along.]