The Quest for Truth and the Need for Critical Thinking

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Cultural paradigms are generally characterized by a distinct lack of critical thinking.  This can be clearly seen in every trendy social cause that draws massive amounts of public outrage and seems to change weekly.  A severe lack of critical thinking is also extremely prevalent in most religious, political, and scientific schools of thought.

Here’s the definition of “paradigm” from dictionary.com:

“a framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology that are commonly accepted by members of a… group”

Here’s a simple definition of critical thinking:  requiring evidence before accepting a claim as true.  The key word is evidence.  A position held without evidence is simply blind faith, which is nothing more than wishful thinking.

Here are two questions to ask that are useful in identifying paradigms that may be lacking in critical thought:

  1. Is it based on evidence?
  2. Is it characterized by a lack of balance?
  3. Is there a concerted effort to crush dissent?

If any of these questions are answered affirmatively, then the paradigm is probably characterized by emotional fervor rather than reason.  Emotion is a critical part of the human experience, but it is a poor basis for determining truth.

The quest for truth should be the highest aim of philosophy, theology, or physical science.  Anything less is a personal agenda and will lead to error.

If your sociological, political, or religious view refuses to take into account other opinions or courses of action because they belong to the other political party or denomination, then you are probably guilty of accepting an ideological position without considering all the evidence.  For instance, if you mandate that the earth is hundreds of millions of years old because to believe otherwise requires a creator, then you are guilty of a lack of critical thinking.  If you accept that the earth is young simply because “the Bible says so,” then you, too, are guilty of a lack of critical thinking.

Here are four principles of Truth:

  1. Truth stands on its own.
  2. Truth needs no defense.
  3. Truth is unified and coherent.
  4. Truth is non-contradictory.

Do many religious beliefs run contrary to scientific evidence?  Yes, they do.  Do many people hold scientific beliefs without an evidentiary basis simply because they are useful in countering religious tenets?  They certainly do.

There is no disconnect between theological truth and scientific truth.  If there is a creator, the scientific evidence will bear that out.  If scientific evidence indicates something to be true but you reject it outright because it runs contrary to your view of what the Bible espouses, then you are being disingenuous and illogical.

The English word “science” comes from the Latin word “scientia” which means, “to know.”  It is simply the quest for knowledge.  The term science has historically been applied to the physical realm but recently has been applied to the mental and spiritual realms as well.

A belief is an opinion which we hold to be true.  Our beliefs are strongly influenced by our life experience which shapes our biases.  Everyone is biased in some manner; and while biases have their utility, they must be acknowledged and accounted for when seeking the truth.  Beliefs may or may not have an evidentiary basis.

Here’s a very simple example of an evidence-based belief:  I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.  Why?  Because there is historical evidence that the sun has risen every day since the beginning of recorded history, and there is scientific evidence that indicates that the earth rotates on its axis.  Although a multitude of theories may be concocted to the contrary (a massive asteroid may be hurtling through space at thousands of miles per hour and will smash the earth into oblivion tonight with no warning), there is no evidence that anything will prevent the sun from rising tomorrow.  I choose to live my life in accordance with that belief because it is reasonable to do so.

If you don’t have an evidentiary basis for a dearly held belief, that’s fine.  You’re welcome to believe as you wish, but don’t be offended when others don’t agree with you; and please, don’t try to convince others to share your belief.

Ironically, in my experience, those who have the weakest evidentiary basis for their beliefs are the most fanatical about converting others to their view.

Question everything.  Follow the evidence.  If you are truly searching for the truth, then you have nothing to fear from dissenting opinions.  You have no need to be a crusader for your cause and to convert as many people to your view as you can.  You simply embark on a life-long quest for the truth and help others learn as you have opportunity.

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One thought on “The Quest for Truth and the Need for Critical Thinking

  1. Pingback: The Obsessive Need for Thought Control | The Wild Frontier

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