When most people think of bias, they tend to think of it as something evil and menacing. We also tend to think of it as something obvious and easily detected. That may be true for prejudice (like the kind of prejudice we recognize in racism), but it isn’t always the case for the subtle presuppositions that guide our everyday decisions. These presuppositions are often hidden and seem rather benign.
I’ve been involved in jury trials for the past 30 years; I can’t even remember how many I’ve testified in as a police officer and detective. More recently, I’ve been involved in many high profile cold-case trials (many of these have been featured on Dateline). We’ve never suffered a loss in any of these trials. People sometimes ask me what the secret to our success has been. Has it been the depth and detail of each investigation? Has it been the meticulous way we assemble each case? Has it been the multi-media approach we take with each trail at the opening statement and closing argument? Has it been the determined way in which the prosecutor puts on the case? All of these things are important, of course, but I don’t think any of them have been the key to our success. In my experience, every case is either won or lost at jury selection. You can have the best possible case and the most articulate prosecutor, but if you don’t have the right jury (free of biases and presuppositions inhibiting their ability to see or accept the truth), it’s all for nothing. As it turns out, every case is dependent on the lack of presuppositional bias. This is what causes to people to see the same evidence and come to different conclusions.
If you think this is only the case in criminal jury trials, think again. Let me tell you a story.
Two young men (B1 and B2) were raised in the Church as Christians. Both attended youth groups and pursued their interest in the Bible in their college years. Both attended a Christian undergraduate school (B1 at Wheaton College and B2 at Lebanon Valley College) and earned a degree in Biblical studies of one kind or another. Both eventually found their way to Princeton. B1 earned a Master’s Degree in Divinity; B2 earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Theology. Both men continued their Princeton educations and eventually earned PhD’s in Biblical studies and ancient languages.