Critical Thinking applied to faith

I have just been reading a textbook explanation of critical thinking, which describes two primary skills:

  1. Looking for alternative explanations for findings and events
  2. Looking for contrary evidence

A great video for understanding how this applies to faith is this debate between Sam Harris, author of End of Faith, and Hugh Hewitt, a radio host.  Harris represents the rational view, and Hewitt the irrational view.  I say this because it is Harris who applies the above two skills consistently in his reasoning, whereas Hewitt consistently points back to the Bible as the source of truth that, he believes, cannot be denied.  Unfortunately this debate is too short for Harris to question this irrational belief, however in defending his views he appears as the one who has thought long and hard through the issues raised.

The faith position leaves no room for alternative explanations.  The Bible is the revealed Word of God.  There is no contrary evidence for anything it presents, as it carries the authority of the Creator of the universe.  What it says is absolutely final.  Such a position as this leaves no room for critical thinking, and Harris is quite right to consider this ideology to be dangerous.  One thing that really stands out to me in this debate, and which seems to be common in religious circles, is Hewitt’s comment about being a ‘law professor’.  In other words, because he is an academician of high standing, he can legitimize his irrational views.  The appeal to authority is all too common (and goes back to the ancient Greeks), and fortunately good scientists actually apply the rules of critical thinking to bring creditability to their theories, being quite willing to be wrong.

Again, we come back to the notion of Beyond Black and White, that complex issues can rarely be reduced to right and wrong polarities, and as such must be carefully weighted and argued.


6 responses to “Critical Thinking applied to faith

  • Karla

    All truth claims exclude what is contrary to it, even atheism. If there is no god, and no supernatural, then any and all religions who have any form of supernaturalism are deemed wrong. Leaving only one right path, atheism, the path away from anything supernatural.

    On the other hand, Christianity shows that there is truth in a variety of worldviews, but it is incomplete or distorted. Instead of invalidating every other worldview, it validates that desire for God or the divine or spiritual found in about every worldview. It was because of the shadows of Christianity found all throughout various cultures mythology that all pointed to something greater being revealed that brought C.S. Lewis to see the validity of Christianity. Have you read any Chesterton or Lewis or Schaeffer? Moreover, the Bible says that what we know on earth is only partial. We know in part. So even as Christians we don’t have the full absolute answers. We only have part. But we have enough that points to something outside itself, Scripture points to someone greater than a book. It is a tool that points to Christ.

    Scientists cannot prove the basic foundations that allow them to do science. Reason cannot be proven, that’s taken as a given on faith. Knowing that what we observe corresponds to what is is, is also just accepted, but not proven. We all use faith no matter what worldview we maintain. That doesn’t mean that one cannot be reasonable than another or that our faith isn’t based on our reason. But even our reason is based on faith that we can trust our reason. Think about it.

  • Gary

    Hi Karla, thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. On those comments I find a few things disturbing. The first is that you have seemed to complicate something beyond what I intended in what I wrote. You did not address my one key concern: the authority of the Bible. I do not care what Lewis et. al. have to say about this, I am interested in what you have to say. There is no need to bring in external references on this simple question. Either the Bible is or isn’t written by God. How can you arrive at a logical conclusion to this question? Only by faith, a leap in the dark.

  • Karla

    I made a response post to your comment a few days ago, but I don’t see it here. Did it get lost in cyberspace or is it still awaiting approval? I can rewrite it if need be.

  • Karla

    I guess since that one posted that the other one must have been lost to cyberspace.

    The authority of the Bible: Yes I believe it has the authority of being God’s inspired Word not written directly by His hand like the 10 Commandments, but through those writers He inspired to write it. I think this is evidenced by its remarkable consistency, accuracy, truth, supported by history, archeology, science, etc. I am no expert, but I can point to many experts that have studied the validity of the Bible some who were not Christians when they underwent their investigation.

    Faith is not a leap in the dark, but a jump from a rather sturdy foundation into the light. We all use faith. It takes us from the foundation of evidence to the conclusion on a variety of important matters. Yes of course, some misuse it and take a leap into the dark from a starting place of no foundation of evidence, but I don’t think that was ever a proper use of faith. Sometimes faith helps us see what is really there and when we use faith we see more than we could in our skepticism.

  • Gary

    Karla, I’d say your original message did get lost! On the issue of faith, there really is not sufficient evidence to support any supernatural claim of the Bible. If there were, I can assure you that it would be garnering a great deal more credibility than it has. Everything from devils to original sin are reflected back on humanity to try to explain why people don’t like it, but that’s far reaching; why isn’t it just admitted that it is an ancient document that cannot be empirically verified? If you believe on the basis of experience rather than evidence, I don’t really have a problem with that. Proofs, on the other hand, need to be substantially verified, and we really cannot verify anything supernatural. That’s why I call it a leap in the dark, because a supernatural realm cannot be experienced with any of our natural senses.

  • Karla

    I believe both on experience and evidence which supports my faith in Jesus. You say we cannot verify anything supernatural. What do you mean by this? I saw my mother-in-law’s arm grow out an inch and a half. It had been short for over 30 years due to an accident where she had to have her wrist removed. She also has wrist movement where the doctor said there could be none for there is no wrist. Arms don’t just grow out. But when my husband asked Jesus to grow it, it grew. I saw it. I would say that was something supernatural that can be verified. One there were eye witnesses who saw it. Two there are others who knew it to be short and now sees that it is not. I suppose if she could find the doctor who operated on her 30 years ago, if he were still in practice, one could compare the x-rays he took to the current length of her arm. So what exactly do you mean by the supernatural being unverifiable?

    Also, check out for info on current archeological research on significant places and artifacts of the Bible. Or refer to Josh McDowell’s book The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict for massive research on the authenticity of the Bible. Or check out Garry Habbermas as an expert on the evidence for the Resurrection of Christ. Or check out Ravi Zacharias who has excellent philosophical material on the validity of Christianity. I could name so many others.

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