A psychological explanation for faith

I would be interested to hear people’s thoughts on confirmation bias and it’s impact in faith - in particular in the context of prophecy.

patience, perseverance and faith are all admirable qualities - both in Christianity and in the secular world.
Having a “can do” attitude and not being a “quitter” is what we all want to be, and yet that very attitude can lead to some very poor decisions.

Battling on against the odds shifts from being heroic to idiotic when you are pushing against a door that’s marked “Pull”.

This seems to be the most problematic thing about prophecy. Given that we are all susceptible to confirmation bias - how are we able to trust ourselves when we hear a prophecy?

Let’s imagine that someone gets a prophecy that they are going to be successful in business. Great! Now that same person receives prophecies from a number of different people over the next couple of years talking about a lot of different things, including comments about business (as well as a lot of other stuff as well). If the person has already latched on to the business thing then they are going to “hear” that in any subsequent prophecies and believe that it has been confirmed in the mouths of many.

If the individual has a talent for business then no harm has been done - but if they have zero talent for business and would be much better doing something else - then you have a situation ripe for years of frustration and heart ache.

Given that we are still waiting for some of Daniel’s prophecies to be fulfilled 2,500 plus years later it doesn’t even seem like we can put a time limit on a prophecy after which we are confident that a prophecy is false.

So it’s an interesting question - how are we meant to deal with personal prophecy in the church when you see so many christians who are either confused about their calling - or have been ploughing the same furrow without obvious success for years or decades.

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I don’t have a good answer to your question, but just to pick a nit, not all Christians are still waiting for Daniel’s prophecies to be fulfilled. Some (like myself) lean to a full or (in my case) partial preterism.

Of course, maybe preterism is the ultimate exegetical confirmation bias. (I did say on the relevant post that confirmation bias was my personal blindspot.)

@Shot, welcome to the forum. We appreciate your contribution to the discussion.
You bring up a great question, one that I know I struggle with at times. How do you know that who you hear is from God? Discussing it this morning around the table, one thing is to see if the prophesy is bringing the people (or yourself) closer to God. If not, it is not from God. We need wisdom.


I don’t think anybody escapes confirmation bias. The best we can do is to be aware of it and so be appropriately wary. In Christian modes of living that involve trust, praise, and worship, we freely and unapologetically thank God for all the great blessings we see around us. It takes an especially mature Christian to include, shall we say, “less than desirable” events that we label rather as trials and thank God for those too, and even more wisdom yet to not forget horrendous evils afflicting so many others even while we may enjoy our own personal season of blessing. Most of us probably want to stay in our personal “happy place” most of the time, and thank God for the good stuff. We do this for people we love too … look for the good to credit to their account and strive to overlook what we don’t like. All of which sends the self-styled skeptic screaming something like “confirmation bias” as he flees the room. Trust doesn’t get built or cultivated out of nothing. And we should not chase after the fleeing skeptic’s bait that would lure us into an empiricist prison that I argue may be inappropriately prone to a different sort of bias … may I call it “disconfirmation bias”? We have good reason to prefer the latter bias in matters of empiricism and science, but it becomes quite a liability in its own right when it comes to relationships, trust, faith, and matters of living with others and with God.

All that said, I don’t think we are let off the hook in expecting that prophecy must come true. The prophets of old asked us to expect as much, and if this came with some caveat that the wait-time has no expiration date whatsoever, then practically speaking, the exhortation to do this has already been defeated. At some point I think we have to realize that either the prophecy was wrong or we misunderstood it. That latter response carries a lot of potential mischief. Nonbelievers will mock (rightly so?) the predictions of Jesus’ coming which seem inevitably to be adjusted to a few years later when they go unfulfilled.

So yes … the business person who as felt called or affirmed in that direction still has the crucible of reality to face. Not everbody’s conviction that God has called them to do something will be right. Discernment from a larger body of believers seems a good check on that to help keep wishful thinking at bay and subject to truth. Also, I think it would be rare that God would call somebody to a task or vocation without having prepared them first. From the royal court-educated Moses to shepherd boy David with his slings and wild animals, it would seem that few of these people were just thrust into their roles (though they surely may have felt that way at the time!) without requisite preparation. Not saying God can’t or never has done that … but just thinking back about how God usually seems to work as recorded in Scriptures.

Jesus said, “Be prepared ! for you know neither the time nor the place.”


I think I’d be very cautious about any prophesy you hear. Look at all the false prophesies concerning the end times. Besides, the main job of a prophet is to speak the word of the Lord, not simply to predict the future. Finally, in the OT, if a prophet’s predictions don’t come true, he’s supposed to be dragged out and stoned! Ouch.



I believe this Canadian prophetess pretty much explains the metaphysics of Faith,
and even how it intersects with the search for an authentic love for the Father, and
for those loved ones around us.

A Canadian view on Faith and God’s Love ?

“That’s the way it is” [or: “Don’t Give Up on Your Faith!”]
by Celine Dion


Lyrics (Selected Verses)
I can read your mind
And I know your story

It’s an uphill climb
But I know it will come to you.

Don’t surrender, Cause you can win
In this thing called love.

When you want it the most, There’s no easy way out.
When you’re ready to go, And your heart’s left in doubt.
Don’t give up on your faith, Love comes to those who believe it!
And that’s the way it is.

When you question me for a simple answer,
I don’t know what to say.

When you’re ready ‘to go’ [Canadian for “to leave”],
And your heart’s left in doubt,
Don’t give up on your faith, Love comes to those who believe it.
And that’s the way it is.

When life is empty, With no tomorrow,
And loneliness starts to call,
Forget your sorrow, [Bec]ause love’s gonna conquer it all.

Don’t give up on your faith, Love comes to those who believe it.
That’s the way it is.
That’s the way it is.
[End of Selected Verses]

I think that pretty much settles the matter. (I wipe some tears from the corners of my eyes…)


Very good - I suppose these discussions have a tendency to become a bit over serious, so your post very amusingly lightens the tone.

To misquote Damon Runyon “that makes as much sense as Chinese music”

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I love the quote!

And, I must confess, there is something inside me that hears an authentic element to the idea that

“Don’t give up on your faith… it comes to those who believe!”

This line of reasoning It may not be the truth of “logic”.
But it does seem to be the way the human brain processes the Universe … and thus it is a kind of

Beautifully tying us back to the very title of your thread! “A Psych[ - ]Logical Explanation for Faith”

Many thanks Mervin,

It is probably fair to say that some prophets are extremely specific (like Dr Sharon Stone) in terms of both what they see and the timeframe. So in that regard it is obviously testable.

Other prophesies one reads or hears in church are much less specific.

Given that even someone like Dr Stone admit that they usually have a lot less than 100% accuracy - say 60% but with significant variation, ,'confirmation bias that distorts what we pay attention to, leads us to a point where more or less any personal prophecy is more or less useless once you take into account these distortion effects.

I struggle to see how prophecy is really much more instructive than reading a Chinese fortune cookie.

I don’t know which of Daniel’s prophecies you’re talking about, but assuming there are still some that are unfulfilled, then my answer is just keep waiting. The OT has been prophesying for thousands of years that Israel would become a nation again. This only happened a couple decades ago in 1948. It took more than two thousand years for that one to be fulfilled. It’s not up to us to decide when this or that prophecy should be fulfilled, that’s God’s job.

We are in agreement.

My original comment was that given that some prophesies take thousands of years to be fulfilled, it is not possible for us to put a time limit on whether a prophesy is false or not.

Clearly there is a difference between prophesies about world events (Daniel and Revelation) versus personal prophecy.

If some receives a prophecy that they will have a certain calling and achieve certain things - and they die without fulfilling that prophecy then something has gone wrong.

Even then as I understand it, you can’t necessarily say that it was the prophesy that was wrong - maybe the individual was at fault - perhaps they didn’t have enough faith, or the right heart or the right relationship with God. Hence my flippant fortune cookie comment.

In a lot of ways I think focus on this kind of role for prophecy is unhelpful or even worse: a distraction. While it is true that prophecy is sometimes about specific future events for demonstration of authenticity, I think it was more often used in the old testament to chastise the people, open their eyes to the injustices they perpetuate on their neighbors, and call them back to God. I think this remains true today too. I’m suspicious of people who are always in to end-times calculations and intrigue or always looking for “crystal-ball” style fortune-telling. Until I see them taking the main bulk of biblical prophecy seriously which calls them to take a hard look at our own lifestyles and the injustices we perpetuate around ourselves in the service of our own comfort --until that sober self-reflection and repentance is evidenced, it is difficult to take all their other prophecy-analysis seriously. Keeping prophecy under a suspicious eye and cultivating doubt about it may be necessary to keep from believing just all of its contemporary manifestations to be sure. But it is also a hiding place that we find rather convenient rather than submit ourselves to the hard biblical prophecies of judgment that cause us to squirm.


Very well said and I more or less completely agree with you.

Different churches emphasise different gifts and having been exposed to rather a lot of prophecy, I am increasingly skeptical of either its accuracy or its utility.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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