Thinking Critically in a World Where the Practice has all but Disappeared
I was blessed to have been graced with an excellent sermon, last Sunday morning, which really got me thinking. The subject matter was not necessarily ripped straight from the Bible itself, yet, has much significance, particularly in the New Testament. “Critical Thinking” was the subject. Part of the sermon was explaining how few individuals actually exercise critical thinking skills in today’s time.
This is all too painfully clear just about anywhere one looks. However, in the political world, this ignorance is on full display. I have to admit that I, too, have taken part in plenty of this sticking of one’s head in the sand. Even when I almost wholeheartedly believed I was being completely objective in my investigation, reasoning, and judgment. The truth is, it takes work, concentration, and discipline to think critically about any given subject. When one arrives at a point where he is doing so, answers become much clearer. Furthermore, the world in effect has the shroud pulled away, as one tends to see what is actually happening, versus what the world wishes to have portrayed.
First, a quick refresher on exactly what “critical thinking” is. The definition is as follows:
“The objective analysis and evaluation of a particular issue in order to form a judgment.”
This idea is simple enough, right? All we have to do is lay down our biases, allegiances, and preconceived notions or beliefs, and go on a fact-finding mission! Well, as you may have guessed or possibly already know, that is easier said than done. Before the process of critical thinking is attempted, it would be a waste if the truth were not the object of our pursuit. Confirmation bias is not the M.O. of critical thinking. So, if you simply seek any shred of “evidence” to satisfy your yearning to prove your belief right, then critical thinking will be of no use to you.
Objective analysis is necessary. The name of the game is seeking the truth, the facts, and analyzing that data objectively. This must be done with as much impartiality as one can muster. We obviously understand that human beings are all hardwired to be biased in some fashion and to a certain degree, but that must be conquered internally by the one who wishes to employ critical thinking. If not, we will relegate ourselves to being among the flock of half-sedated sheep which characterizes the overwhelming majority of Americans (and the world, for that matter).
After our honest and objective (as humanly possible) analysis of the facts, an evaluation of the sum total of the facts must be done. This is the act of bringing together all of the known truthful information regarding the particular issue or subject in question, in order to form a conclusion based on our best understanding of the facts. I should note that this is, of course, regardless of what our personal feelings or beliefs are on the issue or subject in question.
Finally, there is a judgment that one will have to arrive at, in order to complete the exercise. Now, judgment has a certain “dirty” feel or connotation attached to it in common American speech, because of the idea that good people do not “judge.” This is due in large part to the idea that Christians should not “judge,” which is a near universal misunderstanding of scripture. Jesus appeals directly to Christians, saying “judge not, and you will not be judged” in Luke 6:37, among several additional instructions in righteousness.
The fallacy in the misinterpretation of Luke 6:37 has led to the false conclusion that good people shouldn’t judge others. The intent of the passage is that one should not judge in a rash, harsh, or uncharitable manner. When one is making a judgment, or a decision, critical thinking must be employed, precisely so that sinful judgment does not occur. If we are taking an honest approach to gathering facts and applying them to a given situation, we will be forming a sound judgment, without allowing bias or contempt to enter into our decision.
Now that we’ve dispensed with the controversial nonsense regarding the act of forming a judgment, we can continue. The judgment phase is where the application of the facts to the given situation is cemented. This does not mean that additional information cannot provide the necessity to change our judgment or decision about a given subject or issue. However, simply given the information we have gathered in good faith, we have arrived at the best possible judgment befitting the data.
Now, putting this into practical application with the world around us, we must first enter into a state of mind where we do not allow bias to blind us from the truth. Once we exhaust all avenues, and have arrived at the truth, then we can go about the sometimes perilous business of forming opinions based on the truth. Yet, the truth must always be honored and acknowledged. You see, it’s the truth that can unite opposing sides, when it seems there is an ocean of difference between their views. Once the truth is sought more vigorously, once the public begins to wake up and reject partisan hack journalism, Americans can find themselves on common ground once more. From there we may have civilized conversations regarding possible solutions to the questions and problems of the day.