We're all biased

When I was studying philosophy at Oxford University, I wanted to find the truth. The complete, absolute truth. The truth that’s supported by mountains of evidence and tomes of deductive reasoning.

But as I explored the ideas of the greatest thinkers throughout history, I internalized a critical lesson: we’re all biased. As I wrote in a tutorial paper, “All human conceptions of reality are perspectival and limited.”

I don’t mean to say we cannot know any universal truths. Actually, I’ve just shared a truth, acquired within the limits of my own perspective, that seems to be universally relevant.

Still, when we come to terms with this reality, it can change our attitude.

For me, this understanding has deepened my curiosity and desire to listen:
How do you see reality? What has your experience taught you?


I share that curiosity and desire to hear about others’ experiences with you, @Carson! I am especially interested in the relationship or interplay between our limited perspectives and the interpretations or meanings we draw from our experiences…which is no doubt why I’m drawn to psychotherapy. :laughing:

I have learned much from my experiences, and something I was reflecting on this morning – which comes off the back of something I said yesterday in this conversation re. blindness – is that to be human is to have blind spots. Limitations, if you will. Biases, yes, in terms of inclinations, even prejudices. This is why we need each other and need to be open to hearing about ourselves from one another!

The theme of blindness is present all throughout Scripture, and it’s often associated with slavery. It is the human condition. We are always being blinded or obstructed by something. Thus there is seemingly always a bondage in which we remain. Maybe that’s why Jesus’ application of the prophet’s words to himself in Luke 4 is so powerful.

… the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Part of allowing Christ to set us free is to allow him to un-blind us…and to not fear that process! Facing shame…and inviting others into the process of doing so…is terrifying. But it is so crucial for our freedom and our being in the world and with others.


Hi @kathleen,

You took the words out of my mouth! :slight_smile: I was going to write about blind spots today but I had to revise the post in light of your wisdom. That’s my roundabout way of saying thank you… and acknowledging that my take isn’t that special! :slight_smile:

I also learned a lot from you. I hadn’t considered Luke 4 in this light. What a gift it is that Christ helps us to see. One way that I think God does this is through loving community - like what we are trying to build here. (Another post on this theme: But now I see).

I’m also grateful for how you normalize our being blind. It’s not necessarily something to be ashamed of or feel bad about. It is just part of the human condition…

I think I was conditioned by my school and ministry context to want to know it all. “If you complete this class, then you’ll have this material mastered.” And probably my own proud heart was part of it. But, to accept these limits as part of life is to see a tad bit more clearly.


Hi @Carson,

*I originally drafted the below response on the discussion Do Christians believe in the truth? but never really felt it fit completely with the topic. *

Years ago a friend and I would text witty quotes or sayings back and forth for fun. They could be from something we read or just from our own thoughts. One particular one that I came up with was,

There is one absolute truth, by which, all other truths are judged to be either true or false.

Since we were both Christians I thought she would agree and applaud my pithy saying. I was shocked that she flatly disagreed with it. Saying that there is no absolute truth and that it’s all subjective. Later on I asked her what is Jesus since he identified himself as The Truth. I don’t fully remember her response but I do remember she wouldn’t accept the idea of an absolute truth that exists outside our own subjective viewpoint. I was flummoxed by her position.

Rewind a few years from that episode to when I was in on mission in Amsterdam. I was walking the streets with a friend praying and sharing the Gospel. In one conversation we were talking to a man who argued that there is no moral absolutes and my friend, Matt, argued dogmatically that there is. His arguments his attempt to convince the man that there is a God. While I didn’t disagree with the points that Matt had made, I questioned him about his dogmatic approach to try and convince the man of truth.

From that encounter in Holland I began to craft an illustration that helps me understand and potentially describe absolute truth and why we often disagree what it is. Imagine truth as a diamond with an infinite number of facets. Each facet is like a window we can look into and see the colors and brilliance of the diamond. One person can turn to another and describe what they see. That other person may recognize some of what they say but then disagree about other things. At some point some will realize how impossible it is to fully know the diamond while others will not, determining that their known facet(s) is(are) all they need in order to know all there is about that diamond. Knowing the truth is impossible unless the truth was able to communicate with us or to become like us and walk amongst us. Only then can we know the diamond in any significant way.

I like the diamond illustration to both recognize the unknowable aspects of truth and also how it assumes our inherent biases in understanding the truth. Then it points back to how the truth can only be known if that truth became like us.

Then in Don Richardson’s book “Peace Child” he makes mention of a redemptive element that he believes exists in each culture, and God uses that element to help lead that people group to receive redemption. I’ve reflected on this numerous times as I’ve interacted with people that have a completely different view or culture than me. We all have some slice of truth that God can use to redeem mankind for His purposes. What matters is that we go and share the truth with others and trust God to tug on that redemptive element to draw them to redemption. Or as Paul put it, “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:22‬ ‭CSB‬‬


Me too! I very regularly hear blindness preached as purely a moral issue. That is, that it is something that we deserve condemnation for because we have consciously chosen it. I now find that problematic. But as to ‘knowing it all’, I would even go on to say that I needed to know it all because I had to get it – whatever it was – right. Failure was not an option; it was destructive and it was shame. Thus, for fear of getting it wrong and bringing destruction upon others and shame upon myself, I would just avoid acting…maybe even avoid the whole situation or person/people altogether. It took me up until probably 4 years ago to recognize that I was trying to do the impossible – earn the grace that was given to me. Talk about pride! :woman_facepalming:

But how difficult it is to act wisely or correctly when you don’t have all the information!

@chris, I like the metaphor you’ve used, and it reminded me also of St. Paul:

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Cor. 13:12)

I think it has been mentioned on here before that we cannot know the fuller picture on our own. To know God more fully, I need my neighbors. And, one day, we shall all know fully; but that time is not yet. So, now Chris, I can think about how it’s like viewing a diamond through one of its many facets. And yet we know it’s a diamond because it has revealed itself (in part) to us in a way we can comprehend!


Chris, I’ve experienced this too. I think writing it down has helped me and others visualize what we’re saying. These words might be used in different ways by different people; that’s fine, as long as we can define them we can then discuss them more accurately and with less confusion.

For instance,

An objective truth is a statement that accurately represents reality. For instance, “2+2=4” or “children are younger than their mothers.”

A subjective truth is a belief that a particular person believes. For instance, “Vanilla ice cream is the best ice cream” or “my mom is the best mom.”

Some people want to say, “All of my beliefs are subjectively true.”

Ok, I can roll with that. It’s a little confusing, but I get the sense of it. My beliefs are my beliefs, and I need to acknowledge that.

The question is, given that all of your beliefs are subjectively true, are some of them also objectively true?

For instance, it is my subjective truth that I believe 2+2=4. However, even though I am an individual person who holds that belief, isn’t it also the case that it is objectively true that 2+2=4?

If someone will go with this, then the point is that part of our discipleship is to line up our subjective beliefs, in the way we’re using this term, with as many important objective truths as possible, and to avoid believing as many important objective falsehoods as possible.

For instance, it is good if subjectively, I believe the objective truth, “God in Christ died for my sins.”

Sometimes, however, someone says, no, my beliefs are only subjective, therefore they cannot be objective. In this case, I feel compassion because I think they’re very confused. The problem here is that this is a radical skepticism.

Let’s call this the “Exclusively Subjective Belief Hypothesis” (ESBH for short). The Exclusively Subjective Belief Hypothesis states, “A person’s beliefs are exclusively subjective; none of them are objectively true.”

Let’s ask, “Is the ESBH objectively true?”

Well, if I believe it to be true, then it is only subjectively true, and therefore, by definition, not objectively true. So the ESBH is not a statement that conforms to reality. Therefore, if I believe the ESBH, it is objectively false.

However, if no one believes the ESBH to be true, then it might be an objectively true statement. However, no one could know it to be true, because as soon as someone believed it to be true, it would be an objectively false statement.

So, the rational approach is for no one, upon considering the ESBH, to think it is true.

This is all a very casual way of putting it. I welcome anyone helping me to sharpen my thinking here.


I’d be interested if you could summarise any examples of redemptive elements in other cultures? This is something I’ve thought only a little about, but I find the idea interesting. I suppose it’s bringing together the fact that God wants no one to perish (2 Peter 3:9), whilst at the same time Jesus clearly states that He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). If you can give some examples of how you think this might work, that would be helpful.

I have previously got myself tied up in knots thinking this sort of thing through. In the end, I have to allow myself that I may not objectively know truth as an absolute, but what I do believe makes the most rational sense when I weigh it up against other ‘truths’, according to criteria of evidence and sound reason. However, I haven’t studied philosophy or theology to the levels that many others have, so I am reminded of the greater limitations of my understanding of evidence and sound reason! I suppose this is one of God’s methods of keeping us humble! All we can do is work with the knowledge that we have.

I have been in conversations in the past where I was able to convey my belief in the absolute truth of the what the Bible teaches, but I had no humility in sharing it, possibly similarly dogmatic as @chris described his friend. Learning more about how other people also hold to truths, particularly when they’re so convinced by subjective truths, has been a really humbling lesson, and has helped me to share my beliefs possibly more effectively. I still make a whole lot of assumptions about other people’s beliefs based on my limited experiences of different viewpoints, which I often realise afterwards. So frustrating! But it’s part of the learning process, another way for us to humbly grow in more effective evangelism, as Carson says at the start:

A gentle heart must surely be more effective when witnessing than being 100% sure of everything.


Do you think bias is the engine that drives one to study?
What I mean by that is without bias and, for me, desire; why would you engage with or pursue anything contrary to your present reality? Lack of bias is a neutral position that means nothing changes in one’s reality.


So interesting! I am perplexed about how to respond.

For me, yes, definitely. I want to have a better understanding of the truth than I currently have. Other people help me get there (or, sometimes, take me further away). But I think it is God’s intention for us to discover and live out the truth in community. E.g., Ephesians 4:14-16.

On the other hand, I don’t think God has bias. So I guess he has no need to study either - his knowledge is comprehensive, immediate, and whole.

How do you approach this?

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Yea, it can be a recursive loop!

For myself, I acknowledge that all of my experience is that of a subject, of a knower, of a person - it is subjective in that sense. But that’s kind of trivial. Even though it is my particular perspective, I can apprehend objective truths like “green is a color” and “2+2=4”, and have every reason to believe these truths with a high degree of certainity.

I can identify… I have been on the same journey of going from a dogmatic to a hopefully more humble presentation of truth.


That’s a very interesting way to look at it, @jimmy! And I think I’m with you, depending on how you’re using ‘bias’. If it’s bias in the way of inclination or preference, then, yes, that definitely drives my study. I tend to be more curious about things that interest me! It makes me think of the phrase, ‘I am partial to [insert whatever thing you like].’ That is, one would be inclined to favor one thing over another. If I have no opinion one way or another about something, then I generally let it be. I suppose that could make one ‘impartial’ in a way.

If I follow you correctly, it sounds like you’re stating that if something has lack of bias/impartiality/objectivity, then, being neutral, that something is static rather than dynamic. It’s not really a subject (one that acts) but an object (one that is acted upon). I think I can get behind this too.

Though now I’m wrestling with Carson’s comment…

Though there is an unchangeableness about him, I don’t think any of us would say that God is static! However, Carson, does not God show favor? Or is it that his mercy/favor is for all, which takes away the bias…? :thinking:


I’m back! And have been thinking more about this… :laughing:

What I have been pondering is whether lack of bias always equates to being static.

Bias comes from the French word meaning slant or s l o p e*, and is used in English to figuratively describe the way a thing leans. It refers to the ‘angle’ at which we approach something. (Makes me think of Bing Crosby’s character in White Christmas – “You don’t have to apologize; everybody’s got an angle.” Ha! ) So, yes, we all have our slants and our preferences.

Bias, however, can also be used in relation to judgement; particularly, unjust judgment. It is the showing of preferential treatment in an unjust manner. In the Bible, it’s often referred to as ‘showing favoritism’.

While it is human to have bias and for that bias to be evident in many respects, humans also have something that God does not – an inclination to have our biases, slants, preferences color our conclusions unjustly. For God has an angle we do not – all the facts at his perfectly just and merciful disposal! So God has an angle – a dynamic subjectivity – from which he acts, but it is without unjust preference.

So, yes @jimmy, while my biases drive my study, I also recognize that they drive the conclusions I draw about the world and the people around me. And it is in my conclusions that I can be blind to my unjust tendencies and actions. :slight_smile:

*Sorry for the spaces there. Apparently this word is also a derogatory term for someone of SE Asian descent, so the automatic filters were picking it up!


Hi @alison,
It’s been so long since I read Peace Child I had to go find his explanation of the principle I was referencing and it turns out he called it a redemptive analogy.

The key God gave us to the heart
of the Sawi people was the principle of
redemptive analogy- -the application to local custom of spiritual truth. The principle we discerned was that God had already provided for the evangelization of these people by means of redemptive
analogies in their own culture. These
analogies were our stepping-stones,
the secret entryway by which the
gospel came into the Sawi culture and
started both a spiritual and a social
revolution from within. (The Peace Child ph 10 ebook edition)

Then he lists others including Paul appropriating the Athenian Unknown God in Acts 17:23. The peace child (tarop in the Sawi language) was a baby given in exchange between tribes and as long as the child is alive there will be peace. A culture that praised Judas because treachery was a virtue realized that he killed God’s peace child, and ultimately repented and received the gospel. Another favorite missionary story is Bruchko where Bruce Olsen spent time with the Moltilione people of South America and learned of their legend that a man will come to teach them from the banana leaves how to cross over the great serpent and into their version of eternal life. I’ve heard of others but can’t remember them now.

Ultimately the point is that our various biases aren’t inherently the problem. Instead I’d say it is how we handle them and engage with those with a different bias. Maybe even stepping into that bias to see how God can use it to open a whole culture to see God’s truth.


I think this work of bridge building is so essential. Start with the religious assumption, then use this as a bridge to who God really is. We see the same principle throughout the Bible.

For instance, Abraham is told to go sacrifice Isaac on a mountain. This fits with the religious custom of child sacrifice. It is awful to consider, but it fit within the religious matrix. Then God flips it: I will provide for you. Do not sacrifice your child to me!

That story is part of what changed the world so that we now see child sacrifice as an unthinkable horror.

A very recent example can be found in Glen Scrivener’s book The Air We Breathe, connecting the primary values of Western civilization with the person of Jesus.


This is so beautiful, and really excites me about considering this approach in reaching out to people of different worldviews. We can be prayerful about using existing biases to communicate the truth. It removes the need to be battling against biases and faulty beliefs the whole time. There’s something that feels so constructive about this idea.


I really agree with this, often people’s idea if truth varies by their upbringing and worldview. By accepting Christ, we able to see truth from a God who is accepting of all cultures. I believe that in every culture, an aspect of God can be seen, therefore it’s truly important to understand people from where the are, not from an outsider perspective.

From an experience with a non christian friend, she suggested that truth was subjective because people see things differently. Another friend of mine chimed into the conversation, saying that that wasn’t truth but rather an opinion. This got me thinking that though the truth is objective, what one can perceive of it is more opiniated that one would it to be.
It is just as Chris mentioned here, on top of that the language used seem to bring up a different understanding.
From my understanding, truth means what is true and therefore there can only be 1 truth. However, according to my friend’s understanding, truth=opinion. Be it from her upbringing or character, he idea of truth is more emotionally driven and it might not be the best to enforce a specifically logical or harsh argument/ understanding of truth when trying to help her see the implications of what she is saying. Thus, our overall understanding differed just based on our understanding of the word truth. A better question to ask would be "what do you define as truth? " or “How do you see truth?” in this case.

Nonetheless, it is with God’s guidiance and understanding that we can bring into light objective truth, just as Carson has said here. I guess this also part of the wisdom God gives us. It is human to be biased and we can never see all aspects of objective truth, but slowly having our biasness peeled away as we grow to be more Christ like is part of like becoming Christ. :blush:


I really like this @kiko. If someone believes truth=opinion, and you try to argue with this person that ‘you are right and they are wrong’, my guess is they will form this conclusion: ‘your opinions seem to make you judgmental.’

But approaching it the way you recommend, by humbly asking questions and listening, seems far more likely to build trust and build bridges of understanding. If that takes place, then perhaps they could also come to see that some of our opinions are completely subjective (preferred flavor of ice cream) and some are also objective (2+4=4 is objectively true, 2+3=5 is objectively false).


Wise words! Thank you! Even when our intentions are good, we can come across as judgemental to the one who views our understanding as an opinion as well as to the one who thinks there’s more than one reasonable way to the truth.