Tag Archive | "critical thinking"

Why Believing Without Demanding Proof is Close-Mindedness


One common joke among skeptics goes as follows: “Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out.” Not only do I find this joke unfunny, I also find it pointless. If a person wants to take openness to new ideas to its logical conclusion, she will not end up being gullible or credulous. Rather, she will be a skeptic. True open-mindedness is not the same as accepting assertions without critical consideration. In fact, believing claims without being critical of them results in having a closed mind.

To see this, consider the following example. Suppose a friend of yours earnestly claims that he is being haunted by ghosts in his house. He tells you that he hears whispers inside his house even when he is alone and no television is turned on. During some nights, he hears cries or wails in the basement, even when nobody is there. He even catches glimpses of these ghosts walking around in the small hours of the morning. Worst of all, they sometimes appear behind him when he is looking at himself in the mirror, but the moment he turns around to face the ghost, it has already disappeared.

If you uncritically accept this friend’s allegations without demanding clearer evidence other than his vague anecdotes, you are closing your mind from all other possible hypotheses. You are rejecting many other possible explanations without giving them due consideration. You are being close-minded. By hastily jumping into the conclusion that he is being haunted without systematically investigating the causes of his experiences, your friend is being close-minded too. He has exhibited prejudice against the alternative hypotheses without giving them the deliberation they deserve. That is the definition of having a closed mind.

If you are open to all ideas, you should consider false perceptions such as pareidolia as a more plausible explanation for many supposed ghost sightings. [Photo credit: Pedro Luis Gomez Barrondo]

If you open your mind to competing ideas, you will fairly consider other explanations. One explanation for most ghost sightings is the phenomenon of pareidolia. [Photo credit: Pedro Luis Gomez Barrondo]

Consider the alternate explanations for your friend’s experiences. First off, he may be lying. History is replete with examples of people who claim special access to the spirit world, but who turned out to be charlatans. But suppose he is not lying. Suppose he has really experienced all the things described above. Well, he might be suffering from episodes of delusion. Perhaps some haughty neighbors are playing tricks on him. Or maybe an unusual but natural phenomenon is taking place in his house, one that is amazing and surreal but that does not require supernatural explanations. In fact, the phenomenon going on in his house, or possibly in his mind, might be yet unknown to scientists. His experiences might lead to new discoveries once close investigation has been done. True open-mindedness requires you to consider all these plausible scenarios and assess their likelihood in light of the evidence. In the absence of evidence, open-mindedness also requires you to withhold judgment.

But the cases where we truly lack evidence are very few. When it comes to people’s behavior, for example, we have plenty of evidence for errors in perception, credulity, or even fraud. The case of people claiming to be haunted is well-known and well-documented. There is plenty of evidence showing that people suffering from delusions sometimes claim to be tormented by spirits; treating the mental illness at the root of these delusions often make the “spirits” go away. There is plenty of evidence that elaborate pranks can be sometimes played by people on their neighbors and friends; I myself can relate to the pleasure of giving a friend a harmless fright. Furthermore, there are also a lot of natural phenomena that, when experienced, gives one a sense of the surreal and supernatural. Imagine seeing a Pepper’s Ghost illusion, or being victim to a case of pareidolia, or seeing a St. Elmo’s fire atop a mast near one’s backyard. Some buildings have acoustics that lead to the propagation of voices coming from far, far away. If you are in such a building, you can hear the murmurs of unseen speakers. If a person unfamiliar with scientific thinking experienced any of these or similar phenomena, it is easy to see why he would be tempted would jump to a supernatural explanation. A close inspection of these phenomena, however, does not reveal the supernatural, but only the super in what is natural.

It is a shame that so many people have the mindset that nature is dull and that any extraordinary experience can only be attributed to supernatural causes. This is lamentable because the lessons of our discoveries in science tell us otherwise. Science has shown that, contrary to our intuitions, nature is extraordinary and subtle, its workings no less than mind-blowing. Hastily supplying supernatural explanations for one’s extraordinary experiences is closing one’s mind to the beauty of the world. The lack of critical thinking leads to a close-mindedness that is blinding.

If you content yourself with a lazy explanation for an  astounding experience, you will lose a golden opportunity to learn something new about the world and the human mind.

If you content yourself with a lazy explanation for an astounding experience, you will miss a golden opportunity to learn something new about the world and the human mind. [Photo credit: chelanschool.org]

Does having an open mind mean treating all ideas as if they were all equally valid? Are skeptics being close-minded when they reject some explanations in favor of others? These and similar questions arise from the confusion between treating ideas equally and treating them fairly. Treating an idea fairly means giving it consideration by assessing its merit based on the evidence. If you treat ideas fairly, you will quickly discover that most of them are baloney and only a few are meritorious. Being open-minded requires you to treat ideas fairly, not equally. Believing in competing and often logically incompatible views of the world is close-mindedness; an open mind admits valid evidence and logic. Truly open-minded people know that not all ideas are created equal.

Worse than closing one’s mind to many possibilities, the lack of critical thinking leads to the practice of placing too much confidence on insufficient and flimsily evidence that have undergone very little examination. In short, not thinking critically leads to intellectual laziness and arrogance. Advocates of woo and the paranormal often accuse skeptics of being arrogant. What these fans of the supernatural fail to realize is that skepticism is not just a safeguard against being fooled by others. Skepticism is first of all a safeguard against being fooled by oneself. As the physicist Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you shouldn’t fool yourself, and that you’re the easiest person to fool.” This realization is at the heart of skepticism. It is what make skeptics cautious and fastidious. It is what gives them intellectual humility. In the end, critical thinking is not just the direct implication of true open-mindedness, it is also the product of true intellectual humility.

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An Awesome Logic Primer (Part 2)


 

In the first part of the primer, we discussed the form of a deductive argument, learned the difference between truth and validity, clarified the limits and benefits of logic, learned about logical operators, and were introduced to truth tables, a way of knowing all the truth values that a certain statement can have.

In this part, we are going to move away from the tedium of proving everything with truth tables, going towards handy rules of inference. Think of these as shortcuts when trying to find out if someone’s statements make sense. A list of common fallacies follows, and a short summary of everything in this primer.

Common Properties and Identities (Rules of Inference)

Proving an argument valid or invalid by truth tables becomes very tedious. In the case of more than two statements, for example:

 

P

Q

R

P ∧Q ∧ R

T

T

T

T

T

T

F

F

T

F

T

F

T

F

F

F

F

T

T

F

F

T

F

F

F

F

T

F

F

F

F

F

 

To get all the possible combinations of truth values reflected in the table, we need eight rows. To generalize, we need 2n rows, where n is the number of statements. Of course, we all have lives outside of debating people on the internet, so making these god-fangled tables is not high on anyone’s priority.

Thankfully, logicians who have no life have compiled a list of argument forms which are valid, and these rules of inference(in impressive-sounding Latin!) will now be available to you so you can con your way into someone’s pants by pretending to be a lawyer.

Any argument which can be reduced to these forms must then also be valid.
_________________________________________

Modus Ponens

P→Q
P
∴ Q.

Modus ponendo ponens, translated from Latin to Yoda-speak is, “the way that affirms by affirming”. If P is true, then Q is true. P, therefore Q. It is the subject of the above series of truth tables.

Don’t panic because of that weird-looking triangular dot formation sign there. It’s only a mathematical shorthand for “therefore”. It’s a convenient way to separate premises from the conclusion.
_________________________________________

Modus Tollens

P→Q
~Q
∴~P.

Modus tollendo tollens, again in Yoda-speak is, “the way that denies by denying”. If P, then Q. Not Q, therefore not P. There are two ways to prove that this is valid. One is to use truth tables, and the other is to derive it from modus ponens. If you’re lazy, then just take it on faith. =P

Example: If Alice has friends, she will get invited to the party. She isn’t invited to the party, so Alice must not have any friends.

_________________________________________

Syllogism

P→Q
Q→R
∴P→R.

The syllogism can be spotted everywhere: from your arguments with stubborn kids, to seedy detective novels. It is, after all, the most common form that human reasoning takes.

Example: If he was clobbered to death, the wrench was used to kill him. If the wrench was used to kill him, then the butler killed him. Therefore, if he was clobbered to death, the butler did it.

_________________________________________

Reductio ad Absurdum(aka proof by contradiction, lit. “reduction to the absurd”)

P→Q
P→~Q
∴~P.

The general case of a proof by contradiction. If a statement implies another statement and the opposite of it, then the negation of that statement must be true. This is a staple of debates, and the best way to poke holes in your opponent’s argument.

In real life(Ha! Who are we kidding? On online forums…), P usually takes the form of many premises added together(this means P1∧P2∧P3∧… ), where the number of premises render the absurdity of conclusions obscure.

Example: If there is an invisible pink unicorn, then it must be invisible. If there is an invisible pink unicorn, it must also be pink, and therefore, visible. Therefore, there is no such thing as an invisible pink unicorn.

_________________________________________

This is an incomplete list. For a better one, check out the references at the end of this text.

List of common fallacies
Your face is a common fallacy!

Formal fallacies vs. informal fallacies

A formal fallacy is a mistake in an argument’s form, that is, someone who makes them has obviously skimmed to this part of the primer, missing out on the incredibly detailed and sensual description of lesbian sex between the definitions of the logical conjunction and the logical disjunction.

All formal fallacies stem from invalid arguments, and are actually special cases of non sequitur(Latin for “it does not follow”. Example: rabbits are awesome therefore I am having lunch right now ).

An informal fallacy, however, is usually committed because of false premises or hidden assumptions which are required for the argument to function. That is, it has something to do with an argument’s content.

Since by now you will have the proper tools to perceive formal fallacies, most of the elements of this list will contain informal fallacies. I will also list only a small portion of these fallacies, as easy-to-understand lists are readily available around the net.

Ad Hominem (literally, “to the person”)

Ad hominem attacks neither the form or the premise of the argument, but the person who is making that argument. Note that ad hominem is always a fallacy, but there is a form of attacking the premises which looks very similar to ad hominem- saying, for example, that a person has a vested interest in lying about a premise means that you put a premise in doubt, and not the person.

Example:

A:”What you said about evolution isn’t true because you are a pervert.”

B:”I guess if I say you exist, that’s also not true, then?”

Ad Hominem Tu Quoque (well so is your face)

Could be translated in spirit to “oh yeah? No, you!”, this is asserting that a person’s conclusion is false because it contradicts his actions or a previous statement. Of course, when a person says both Q and ~Q, that probably means that he’s an idiot or a lying shit-faced hypocrite, but unfortunately, it doesn’t say anything about the truth of his current statement.

Example:

A: “Capitalism is evil!!!”

B: “But, you wear branded clothing, and eat at upscale restaurants.”

A: “Well your face is an upscale restaurant.”

_________________________________________
Appeal to Authority (Argumentum ad Verecundiam)

Asserting that something is true because an expert(or someone pretending to be one) said it. This fallacy is akin to a double-edged sword, and it depends on whether the person is a valid authority in that exact subject he is being quoted in.

Example:

A:”Isaac Newton believed in ghosts and occult stuff, so they must be true.”

B:”What.”

_________________________________________
Appeal to Ignorance (Argumentum ad Ignorantiam)

Asserting that since something cannot be proven false, it is therefore true. One of the most rage-inducing fallacies to ever exist.

Example:

A:”You cannot prove that I do not have an invisible dragon in my garage on planet Jupiter. Therefore, it exists.”

B:”My dragon-slaying girlfriend went to Jupiter and made its skin into a trendy purse. So there.”

_________________________________________
Argumentum Verbosium(the argument full of words. I kid not.)

It involves raining down obscure jargon and multiple, often conflicting assertions with the intent to confuse opponents into submission.

Example: Really? Go check the ff page.

_________________________________________
Equivocation

An argument, usually in the form of a syllogism(did you read that part?), where a word with several different meanings is used with a different meaning for each implication. The usual victims of this treatment are abstract words like love, god, nature, etc.

Example:

A:” Being stuck in traffic makes people mad. Mad people get sent to the mental hospital. Being stuck in traffic gets people sent to the mental hospital.”

B:”I don’t even.”

_________________________________________
Appeal to Consequence (Argumentum ad Consequentiam)

Taking a claim to be true because otherwise you will be depressed/the world will end/you will never be loved/etc. A special form of appeal to emotion.

Example:

A: “Being aware that women are still being oppressed in many parts of the world will make me depressed, so I’ll just believe that gender equality has been achieved so I can sleep better at night.”

B:”Good for you.”

_________________________________________

For the impossibly intellectually lazy: a TL;DR
Or for the awesome people who took the time to read, a summary

  • Logic is not a system of all-encompassing laws. It is a formalization of the reasoning that we use every day, kind of like high-level common sense.
  • To simplify things, we construct statements that are either true or false. In the real world, this value depends on many factors, such as semantics and perspective.
  • Even with this simplified system, we can still construct valid arguments and figure out if other people’s arguments are valid or not.
  • The only way for an argument to be invalid is if there’s a possible way that the conclusion is false when you hold all the premises true.
  • A valid argument does not mean the conclusion is true, that depends on the premises. Similarly, an invalid argument does not say anything about the truth of a conclusion.
  • The most important logical symbol is the implication(→), which means “therefore”. It is the usual connector of everyday reasoning.
  • For an argument to be right, it has to be sound- that is, it has to both have true premises and be valid.
  • The most common argument takes the form of a syllogism, which connects statements by implication. (P→Q→R, therefore P→R)
  • Truth tables provide a definitive(but tasking) way of finding out whether the argument is valid. Rules of inference are more efficient, but error-prone. You are prone to error, I mean. Not the rules.
  • Formal fallacies have to do with form, informal fallacies concern everything else.

Protips:

  • There are generally two ways to attack an argument, one is questioning validity, and the second is by questioning the premises.
  • To see if an argument is invalid, try to see a scenario where the conclusion is not true but the premises are. This needs wit and imagination.
  • Premises, especially complicated ones, usually can also be dissected and rendered into premises supporting a conclusion. Similarly, arguments which reduce to a tautology can be used as premises.

The Reference List
And suggested readings

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An Awesome Logic Primer (Part 1)


Scope of the Primer
AKA the part with a subtle disclaimer about this not compensating for an actual course in logic

The purpose of this two-part primer is to introduce you, the reader, into the wonderfully complicated and interesting world of logic, the language which every internet intellectual claims to know so much about. Now, taunting others with the words “learn2logic, n00b” and “that’s a fallacy, you moron” will not only be their area of discourse, but also yours!

The basic elements of the part of logic that is discussed here are propositions. In logic, propositions are statements that can take two and only two truth values, true or false. You might say that this doesn’t look like most of the stuff we say in real life, but as this is meant to be an introduction to more complicated stuff which handle natural language [search term for the curious: argumentation theory], it is better to learn the basics and the terminology of logic first.

We also hope to tackle logical quantifiers [first-order logic] in a part 3, as it proves to be quite a handful, and understanding it requires the basic concepts introduced here.

Deductive arguments
The opposite of constructive criticism

As mentioned earlier, a simple proposition is either true or false; it cannot be neither, nor can it be both. A deductive argument is a way of proving that a certain proposition, called the conclusion, follows necessarily from a given set of propositions which are called the premises.

For the sake of argument, we assume the premises to be totally true, forever. That is, given that we accept the premises to be true, then the conclusion must necessarily be true. Another way of viewing this is that if all the premises are true, then there is no way for the conclusion to be false.

To use a common example:

P1: Men are mortal.

P2: Socrates is a man.

C: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Propositions P1 and P2 are the premises. Here, the premises are that men are mortal, and Socrates is a man. If we accept these to be true, then Socrates must be mortal.

When it is impossible for the conclusion to be false when the premises are true, then the whole argument is said to be valid. There is a way to test this, which will be explained later on.

Validity vs. Truth

…and Truth vs. Truthiness

A valid argument does not automatically mean that the conclusion is true, as an invalid argument also does not mean that the conclusion is false.

There is a connection between validity and truth though: An argument whose conclusion turns out to be false when the premises are true must always be invalid. That is how we define invalid arguments.

Consider our earlier example, with revised premises:

P1: Men are dinosaurs.
P2: Socrates is a man.
C: Therefore, Socrates is a dinosaur.

Even if we can agree that Socrates is a man (P2), we know that men aren’t dinosaurs (P1). In other words, in a universe where the premises are true, we can conclude that Socrates is a dinosaur, but as we know, this is not that universe.

However, the argument is still a valid one because if we accept P1 and P2 to be true, then C must be true.

An example of an invalid argument with a true conclusion is:

P1: Men are dinosaurs.
P2: Socrates is a dinosaur.
C: Therefore, Socrates is a man.

Why is this invalid? Because it doesn’t say anywhere that all dinosaurs are men. Therefore, it doesn’t mean that just because Socrates is a dino, he’s a man.

Soundness

…which is totally different from sounding; no, don’t Google that.

Soundness is the property to which every argument aspires to. An argument is sound if and only if it is valid, and all its premises are true. Basically, if your argument is sound, then you are right. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back.

The structure of logic:

P1: Oogwars are Tarlarks.
P2: A Mugwarp is an Oogwar.
C: A Mugwarp is a Tarlark.

Notice that the above argument has the exact same form as the one concluding that Socrates is a dinosaur, only that this one consists of terms which could only be gibberish. Since it has the exact same form, it must follow that this argument is valid, given that the premises are true.

Logic isn’t about finding out whether something is true or false, but in finding out whether an argument is valid or invalid. Thus, we are mainly concerned about the form of an argument. Even if I replace the term “Socrates” with “your face”, the argument would still be valid. Arguments by themselves don’t need to even be connected to each other!  We will see this later in the examples.

How do we do this? How do we know that a conclusion logically follows from the premises?

From the above definition of a deductive argument, we say that a conclusion follows from the premises if, and only if the conclusion is true whenever the premises are true. Therefore, you only need to find out if there is a way that the conclusion is false even when the premises are true.

But this is kind of difficult, isn’t it? Aren’t we using the argument to prove the truth of the conclusion in the first place?

Well, the most common way of proving an argument to be invalid is to use one’s IMAGINATION to think of a situation where the opposite of the conclusion is true, but all the premises are also true. In an above example, can Socrates be immortal even if he’s a man and all men are mortal? There is a formal statement of this, which comes up in the examples from discourse.

Logical Operators

…as opposed to smooth ones.

Logical operators are symbols which we use to define relationships between statements. Naively, we are familiar with them in everyday usage, but their definitions in logic are a tad more formal.

The material implication [If…then, therefore]

Symbol: →, as in P → Q.

True if and only if whenever P is true, Q is true. The basic logical symbol. Note that when P is false, Q can take on any value and the implication is still true.

P: Wheatley is smart.
Q: I’m a potato.

P→Q: If Wheatley is smart, then I’m a potato.

P→Q: Wheatley is smart, therefore I am a potato.

_______________________________________

The material equivalence [If and only if]
Symbol: ↔, as in P  ↔ Q.

A material implication that goes both ways. Also known to all math lovers(snicker) as the equals sign. This means that whenever P is true, Q is true, and whenever P is false, Q is false, and vice versa.

P: I am a creationist.
Q: I fail science forever.

P ↔ Q: Obviously.

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The negation [NOT operator]

Symbol: ~, as in ~P.

It negates the statement. When P is true, ~P is false, when P is false, ~P is true.

P: I eat leaves.

~P: I do not eat leaves.

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The logical conjunction [AND operator]

Symbol: ∧, as in P ∧ Q.
Connects two statements together. True if and only if both statements are true.

P: I love music.
Q: I love books.

P ∧Q: I love music and books.

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The logical disjunction [OR operator]

Symbol: ∨, as in P ∨Q.

Connects two statements together. False if and only if both statements are false. Note here that this is different from the common usage of ‘or’ in language, where you cannot choose both choices. This usage is known as the exclusive disjunction, or XOR.

P: I can talk to you in English.

Q: I can talk to you in Russian.

P ∨Q: I can talk to you in English or in Russian.

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The tautology [T, or 1 in binary]

Symbol: T

A statement that is always true. Note that this and the contradiction aren’t operators, they are pre-defined statements.

The contradiction [F, or 0 in binary]

Symbol: F

A statement that is always false.

Got all that? Take a deep breath for a moment, or step out and get a snack. Shit is about to get real.

Truth Tables

You can’t handle the truth!

A truth table is a chart listing all possible combinations of truth values of a statement or statements. For example, the truth table of the NOT operator:


P ~P
T F
F T

It’s like a shortcut to saying that when P is true, ~P is false, and when P is false, ~P is true.

Now, the truth table of the AND operator:

P

Q

P ∧ Q

T

T

T

T

F

F

F

T

F

F

F

F

Is a clearer way of saying that the new statement made by connecting P and Q with an AND is only true when P and Q are both true.

This is a more interesting truth table, the one for material implication:

P

Q

P→Q

T

T

T

T

F

F

F

T

T

F

F

T

What does this mean? We can restate what the truth table is showing us by saying that the only way that the implication is false is if Q is false while P is true. Sound familiar? When we take P to be all the statements in the premise combined, and Q to be the conclusion, we can see that this is exactly how we determine if a conclusion is valid or invalid!

Time to put the truth table to good use. Let’s find out if this argument is valid or invalid. Consider this example:

P→Q: If I am breathing, then I must be alive.
P: I am breathing.
Q: Therefore, I am alive.

First, the truth table for P→Q:

P

Q

P→Q

T

T

T

T

F

F

F

T

T

F

F

T

Then, the truth table for P ∧ (P→Q):

P

P→Q

P ∧(P→Q)

T

T

T

T

F

F

F

T

F

F

T

F

At last, the truth table for [P ∧ (P→Q)] → Q, to see if the premises, when all together, imply the conclusion:

P ∧ (P→Q)

Q

[P ∧ (P→Q)] → Q

T

T

T

F

F

T

F

T

T

F

F

T

Tada! Look at that beautiful, beautiful last column with T’s on every row. 😀

The above is an example of the rule of inference known as modus ponens. A useful exercise for you would be to construct truth tables for every one of the logical operators above, to get a feel for them.

Well, that’s it for part 1! I recommend taking a short break before going on to part 2, and of course, trying out some exercises.

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The Christian Freethinker


I mentioned in one of my comments that a “Christian freethinker” is an oxymoron, or loosely a “contradiction in terms”. I realize I should not have made such sweeping statement that might antagonize some liberal or progressive Christians. I am sorry.

Wikipedia defines freethought as “a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any dogma.” A freethinker is therefore someone who practices freethought.

On the other hand, a Christian, in the broadest sense, is one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ. By this definition, Christianity seems to be incompatible with freethought because the former relies on the “divinely-inspired” authority of religious doctrines to learn about the supposed teachings of Jesus while the latter repudiates such doctrines due to hearsay and circular reasoning, hence my use of the term ‘oxymoron’ to describe “Christian freethinker”.

But upon deeper reflection, I am beginning to believe that there are actually many Christian freethinkers (note the lack of quotes this time) out there. In fact, I used to be one. But it has a lot to do with the timing. Freethought holds that beliefs should be based on reason instead of authority, but most Christians had already acquired their sacred beliefs long before they were capable of rational thought, and so while they would now think critically when presented with new issues or claims, I guess they simply didn’t get the chance to evaluate the quality of the cognitive process by which they originally formed their religious beliefs way back in childhood.

In my personal experience, it was relatively late in life when I encountered cogent arguments against the tenets of my faith. For a long time I merely skirted the Problem of Evil, taking comfort in the belief that God has a purpose for everything, a grand plan that is just beyond our human understanding. My faith was even strengthened after reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time because it somehow seemed to imply the necessity of a Creator, offering “scientific support” for my belief. (I felt uneasy at the part where Hawking suggested how the four-dimensional space-time could be finite but with no boundaries – like the two-dimensional surface of the earth – so the universe could have no beginning nor end but simply be, negating the need for a creator. I was later relieved when he said that such wave-function scenario could only happen in imaginary time, and in real time in which we exist, there will always be boundaries.)

At this point, was I what you would call a freethinker? A lot of people would probably say no because I wasn’t a critical thinker. According to The Critical Thinking Community, critical thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” And based on that definition, I surely was not a critical thinker.

But critical thinking is not the same as freethinking. While freethought values science, reason and logic, critical thinking is more concerned with how scientific is the evidence, how rational is the argument, and how logical is the conclusion:

It is believed by some philosophers (notably A.C. Grayling) that a good rationale must be independent of emotions, personal feelings or any kind of instincts. Any process of evaluation or analysis, that may be called rational, is expected to be highly objective, logical and “mechanical”. If these minimum requirements are not satisfied i.e. if a person has been, even slightly, influenced by personal emotions, feelings, instincts or culturally specific, moral codes and norms, then the analysis may be termed irrational, due to the injection of subjective bias.

It is quite evident from modern cognitive science and neuroscience, studying the role of emotion in mental function (including topics ranging from flashes of scientific insight to making future plans), that no human has ever satisfied this criterion, except perhaps a person with no effective feelings, for example an individual with a massively damaged Amygdala.

Freethought is the general process; critical thinking is the quality control. As such, I personally believe that it is actually possible for a Christian to be a freethinker as long as he honestly tries to be rational, regardless of the quality of his rationality.

But once he is presented with a compelling argument against the basis of his faith, he will have to choose between Christianity and freethought. He will either have to remain blind and stubborn – or start reexamining his beliefs. And in my case, it was this image that changed everything:

Once I realized that this “Word of God” is actually just hearsay and might as well be stories concocted by fallible humans with their own personal interests in mind, it was almost immediately that I stopped considering myself a Christian.

To the Christian freethinkers (again, note the lack of quotes), I know it isn’t easy to question one’s faith especially if one believes that questioning will jeopardize one’s immortal soul. But ask yourselves, who are you questioning -God, or just the self-proclaimed human messengers? Once you realize it’s the latter, I bet you wouldn’t think twice about applying critical thinking to every belief you hold sacred. And then you could honestly say that you are, as you always have been, a freethinker, regardless of your beliefs.

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