March 1, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

Not All Critical Thinking Is Equal

Educators believe in teaching critical thinking skills except for subjects they don’t want to critique.

At The Conversation, Peter Ellerton believes children are capable of learning how to think critically. This lecturer in critical thinking at the University of Queensland titles his article, “Thinking about thinking helps kids learn. How can we teach critical thinking?” Critical thinking is not just having a high IQ or being smart, he says. It involves thinking about thinking: developing skills to discern between good and bad reasons for believing things.

Critical thinkers have the ability to evaluate their own thinking using standards of good reasoning. These include what we collectively call the values of inquiry such as precision, clarity, depth and breadth of treatment, coherence, significance and relevance.

He gives non-controversial examples of good and bad arguments to support a proposition. Lazy thinking (the opposite of critical thinking) jumps to conclusions or accepts an authority’s word for it. Students who learn critical thinking become better at more than thinking, Ellerton says. A critical thinker needs training in:

  • challenge assumptions
  • frame problems collectively
  • question creatively
  • construct, analyse and evaluate arguments
  • discerningly apply values of inquiry
  • engage in a wide variety of cognitive skills, including analysing, explaining, justifying and evaluating (which creates possibilities for argument construction and evaluation and for applying the values of inquiry)

The skill of critical thinking may be more important than the student’s major. Increasingly, educators are realizing that it’s not necessary for students to wait for high school to be introduced to philosophy. Ellerton points to a program called Philosophy for Children at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that justifies beginning training in critical thinking in early years. Indeed, studies show that even toddlers have innate abilities to sense fairness and common sense. Like any other innate skill, though, thinking can be improved with training and practice.

Ellerton’s article and the Stanford article suffer from an important shortcoming: they fail to mention how worldview assumptions influence critical thinking. It’s a GIGO problem; garbage in, garbage out. For instance, both articles merely assume that logic is valid for all people at all times. But does logic evolve? Taking one step backward toward the beginning is necessary: where did logic come from? People need critical thinking about logic; they need critical thinking about critical thinking. Logic does not work if it changes, because what makes sense today might not make sense in another culture or at another time.

One must start with the presupposition that logic is valid, and that it is timeless, necessary, universal and certain: otherwise it becomes possible to prove anything, including proving that logic is not valid. The only cause necessary and sufficient for a timeless, universal logic is a logical Creator. True wisdom requires an immutable source. That source is God: the only person in the Universe who knows everything about everything, and who never changes. 

In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapters 1 and 2, the Apostle Paul takes on the critical-thinking experts of the world. The Jews and the Greeks prided themselves on their critical thinking about Jesus and their famous philosophies. But how wise were they, really?

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (I Corinthians 1:20-25).

Need proof? Paul points to a prime example:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (I Corinthians 2:6-8).

There’s an irrefutable falsification of human wisdom: the experts crucified their incarnate Creator! How foolish is that? Since God’s wisdom is greater than man’s, in crucifying Jesus, they actually were fulfilling the plan of God. He responded to the expert chess player’s “Check!” with a resounding “Checkmate!”

Paul is not speaking of some secret teachings he labels wisdom, but of true, factual wisdom that is higher than man and inaccessible to man. The only way to get God’s wisdom is through the Holy Spirit, who indwells those who repent of their own wisdom and submit to God’s plan of salvation through Jesus. Then the Big Picture makes sense.

The one who submits to Jesus by faith gains the “mind of Christ” via the Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16), and becomes able to discern spiritual things that those who are blinded by sin cannot understand. The experts may think they are wise, but God is more shrewd than them.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” (I Corinthians 3:18-20).

Think how futile it is to believe that blind, unguided processes of evolution produced peacocks, giraffes and human brains. If the human brain came about from material processes, one could not know anything, including the proposition that the human brain came about from material processes. Some materialists have even realized that… yet they still continue believing in evolution! C.S. Lewis followed the evidence where it leads, and became a Christian. He argued forcefully that thinking is an immaterial act that refutes materialism.

Most science news sites and journals that mention critical thinking fail to apply critical thinking to questions of evolution or climate change, revealing their bias. We present arguments against evolution here at CEH, but you have links to the best arguments from the other side, so that you can see whose arguments make more sense. Evolutionists, by contrast, pretend there is no other side. They either ignore it completely or beat down caricatures of creation and ID beliefs, feeling victorious over straw men.

Because all men and women, believers and unbelievers, bear the image of God, they have minds that can think amazing things. One only has to read the mind-expanding treatises of those trained in philosophy, mathematics and logic to marvel at the thinking skills of some people. Yet in matters related to origins, quality of life, and ultimate destiny they are clueless without God’s wisdom. Many great minds today believe that nothing produced everything! How wise is that? They cling to ungodly worldviews in spite of the evidence, not because of it. A good example is philosopher of science Thomas Nagel. His brilliant mind brings exemplary clarity to discussions about origins, but his worldview commitment does not allow him to follow the evidence where it leads. He doesn’t want there to be a God, so he toys with every possible excuse he can think of to avoid the implications of the evidence he knows. Another example is the late Robert Jastrow:

Here is what Richard Lewontin said years ago. It’s hard to find a more clear example of rejection of evidence to the point of  absurdity because of a commitment to a worldview.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. (Quoted from New York Review of Books by CMI)

Training in critical thinking is a good thing. We do it here at CEH with our Baloney Detector. But critical thinking that fails to critique worldviews is not critical enough. It leads to dogmatism about materialism, evolution, climate change and other shifting trends. No position that denies God’s existence can supply necessary and sufficient conditions for thinking – let alone critical thinking. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,” Paul said in Romans 1:22. The wise of Jesus’ day proved their foolishness by crucifying their Messiah. This act, though, demonstrated God’s shrewdness by fulfilling His ultimate plan. The situation seemed horrific on a human level, but through it, God was able to deliver the final Checkmate. The wisest argument of man is foolish compared to the simplest truth from God. We must start with God, humble ourselves before His word, and then reason from there. Our reasoning will be fallible, since we are not omniscient like God, but to the degree it follows God’s word it has the potential to be authentic.


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