critical thinking and intellectual honesty

Critical thinking is crucial in forming rational beliefs about the world. Those who reject critical thinking risk highly irrational and false beliefs. Although individuals can believe truths independent of critical examination, the danger of such thinking is proportional to the long term effects of that belief. Although some commentators on this website have been highly irrational, they probably will not suffer the any immediate or future consequences of their irrational beliefs besides public shaming. Not everything is trivial though.

The Christian generic belief is that there is life after death, granted by God based on criteria. Broadly, Christianity is most split on questions of “Who is God?” and “What is the criteria for eternal life?” These questions have huge consequences. Sub-questions to this include “How accurate is the Bible?” and “How is the Bible best understood?” Using the elements of critical thinking helps us evaluate claims on these issues. From criticalthinking.org:

CLARITY: Could you elaborate further on that point? Could you express that point in another way? Could you give me an illustration? Could you give me an example? Clarity is the gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don’t yet know what it is saying. For example, the question, “What can be done about the education system in America?” is unclear. In order to address the question adequately, we would need to have a clearer understanding of what the person asking the question is considering the “problem” to be. A clearer question might be “What can educators do to ensure that students learn the skills and abilities which help them function successfully on the job and in their daily decision-making?”

If there is a claim “God is omniscient.” Clarity would ask: “In what way is God omniscient?” “Is this analogous to anything else?” “What would be an example of a characteristic that would make something not omniscient?”

ACCURACY: Is that really true? How could we check that? How could we find out if that is true? A statement can be clear but not accurate, as in “Most dogs are over 300 pounds in weight.”

If there is a claim that “God is omniscient.” Accuracy would ask is “What evidence exists to suggest God is omniscient?” “What would constitute valid evidence to show that?”

PRECISION: Could you give more details? Could you be more specific?
A statement can be both clear and accurate, but not precise, as in “Jack is overweight.” (We don’t know how overweight Jack is, one pound or 500 pounds.)

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Precision would ask: “The beginning of what?” “What constitutes ‘the end’?” “When exactly does God declare the end?”

RELEVANCE: How is that connected to the question? How does that bear on the issue?
A statement can be clear, accurate, and precise, but not relevant to the question at issue. For example, students often think that the amount of effort they put into a course should be used in raising their grade in a course. Often, however, the “effort” does not measure the quality of student learning; and when this is so, effort is irrelevant to their appropriate grade.

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Relevance would ask: “Does declaring the end from the beginning have anything to do with omniscience?” “Is there anything else that would enable God to declare the end from the beginning besides direct knowledge of the future?”

DEPTH: How does your answer address the complexities in the question? How are you taking into account the problems in the question? Is that dealing with the most significant factors? A statement can be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant, but superficial (that is, lack depth). For example, the statement, “Just say No!” which is often used to discourage children and teens from using drugs, is clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. Nevertheless, it lacks depth because it treats an extremely complex issue, the pervasive problem of drug use among young people, superficially. It fails to deal with the complexities of the issue.

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Depth would ask: “Is that a convenient superficial understanding of the context or is the context more nuanced?” “Is the context suggesting a different understanding of this proof?”

BREADTH: Do we need to consider another point of view? Is there another way to look at this question? What would this look like from a conservative standpoint? What would this look like from the point of view of . . .? A line of reasoning may be clear accurate, precise, relevant, and deep, but lack breadth (as in an argument from either the conservative or liberal standpoint which gets deeply into an issue, but only recognizes the insights of one side of the question.)

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Breadth would ask: “How would the ancient Hebrews have understood this statement?” “How would someone who does not ascribe to omniscience, view this statement?”

LOGIC: Does this really make sense? Does that follow from what you said? How does that follow? But before you implied this, and now you are saying that; how can both be true? When we think, we bring a variety of thoughts together into some order. When the combination of thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination, the thinking is “logical.” When the combination is not mutually supporting, is contradictory in some sense or does not “make sense,” the combination is not logical.

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Logic would ask: “Does this actually prove omniscience?” “Is omniscience even the logical conclusion of that statement?” “Does God declaring the end from the beginning actually contradict omniscience because it suggests the declaration was not eternal?”

FAIRNESS: Do I have a vested interest in this issue? Am I sympathetically representing the viewpoints of others? Human think is often biased in the direction of the thinker – in what are the perceived interests of the thinker. Humans do not naturally consider the rights and needs of others on the same plane with their own rights and needs. We therefore must actively work to make sure we are applying the intellectual standard of fairness to our thinking. Since we naturally see ourselves as fair even when we are unfair, this can be very difficult. A commitment to fairmindedness is a starting place.

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Fairness would ask: “Do I have a vested interest in this statement being true or false?” “What would a neutral third party think about this statement?” “Am I fairly understanding critics of this statement?”

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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