I have just been reading a textbook explanation of critical thinking, which describes two primary skills:
- Looking for alternative explanations for findings and events
- 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.