Orientation - Critical Thinking
NationsUniversity, where the pursuit of truth is a premium value.
NationsUniversity, where the pursuit of truth is a premium value.
Welcome to Nations University, where the pursuit of truth is a premium value. Individual opinions are important, but they do not necessarily establish truth. Everyone may aim at truth, but none of us may find it totally. Individual biases sometime hinder the search. The lack of information may also cause one to make a wrong decision. It is not the purpose of the principals of Nations University to force a conclusion on any student, but they do expect students to approach their education with an open mind and to pursue truth wherever it may lead. Therefore, a means to that end is critical thinking. (Mac Lynn, co-founder of Nations University)
Critical thinking is the careful analysis, interpretation and evaluation of information, based on evidence, free of bias and fallacies (mistakes in thinking) and taking into account different perspectives and the importance of context.
Bias is a tendency to view or interpret the world according to a belief that is unreasoned or unsupported by evidence and thereby misrepresents the facts. Bias is often evident in explanations of human behavior, e.g., in attributing motives to others in an attempt to explain their actions. Whatever the circumstances, bias causes people to ignore certain truths and place too great an emphasis on others, thus distorting reality. Usually, bias is the result of an entrenched belief which leads to the dismissal of other points of view.
Example of bias: William believes capitalism is a corrosive influence on society, and that any corporate action ultimately harms people. As a result, a new “green initiative” implemented by a large multi-national corporation is dismissed as “just another attempt to exploit the environmental movement for the sake of profit.” Such a claim may be true, but it is not obviously true and the conclusion is drawn from an unreasoned belief rather than evidence.
Are biased points of view always wrong? No. But if they are right, it is not because of the person’s reasoning. For example, a person may rightly claim that the world is round (instead of flat), but they may claim this because people have arched feet (yeah, you will need to ponder that one).
Perspective is the point of view we take on an issue, the angle from which facts are considered. Perspective is different from bias in that a perspective can be evidence-based, reliable, and informative, even if it doesn’t tell the whole story. It does not deny alternative points of view or claim to be the entire picture. Multiple perspectives are necessary to get a global grasp of an issue.
Example of perspective: A news article in the business section of a major paper covers the same corporation’s green initiative, pointing out that leaked memos from a recent shareholder meeting are focused on potential profits associated with branding the company’s products as “environmentally responsible.” The memos are reinforced by interviews with several mid-level managers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, who affirm that the impact of going green on profit margins has been one of the drivers of the decision to rebrand. The story notes that other corporations doing the same thing have increased profit margins and tapped into a new and lucrative market and that this move will be good for the company.
Does this perspective tell the whole story? No. Does it show that William is right? No. The story provides one perspective on corporate motives, but another story in same paper might very well expose the positive impact of the company’s new green initiative on the consumer – how the initiative is a “win-win” for the company and consumers. There is no contradiction here. A business story can provide a perspective from the point of view of the share-holder, and an environmental or consumer protection perspective can be taken without any of the stories being incorrect – or biased.
Are all perspectives legitimate? No. Those that are based on a thorough investigation of the issue, a careful review of the evidence, and a thoughtful, well-reasoned interpretation are more convincing than those that are based on guesswork, shoddy reasoning, or bias.
Aren’t people entitled to their own interpretations of reality? No. People are entitled to their own opinions but, as Daniel Moynihan famously quipped, they are not entitled to their own facts. Where reality is open to different interpretations, people are entitled to have a go at making sense of it, but they must do so using evidence, good thinking, and careful consideration of other points of view.
Factual claims have varying degrees of certainty. Knowing what to accept as true really depends on how well-supported the claim is, how reasonable it is given other things we know, and who says it (is the source biased? Is it giving just one perspective? Is the source reliable and in a position to know?).
Nothing occurs in a vacuum. Everything happens in the context of everything else that is happening simultaneously and that has happened. Awareness of this context gives a bigger (though never complete, since we can’t know everything) understanding of a situation and lack of knowledge of this context can lead to a complete misunderstanding.
Fallacies are mistakes in thinking. For example, some Christians argue that the Bible is true because it says that it is. That is a fallacy called “arguing in a circle.” Some Christians think everything said in the Bible should be taken literally and that you have to accept the whole thing as true or reject it all as false. This is the fallacy of the “false either/or” where you treat two choices as the only ones, when in fact there are other possible choices.
For example, a Christian could consider some statements in the Bible as metaphorical, rather than literal, such as Jesus “sitting at the right hand of God.” If our “eye offends us” should we really “pluck it out?” A metaphor can be true on a spiritual level without being literally factual.
Another common fallacy found in religious circles is the “appeal to tradition” which occurs when you think that because something has been done in the past, it must always be done and must never be questioned. Some traditions are worth continuing, but if a practice (such as animal sacrifice, or stoning adulterers) is no longer appropriate, it should be stopped. Religions can and should grow to meet the needs of their adherents and they can do so while keeping what is essential. For example, in the Christian scriptures Jesus teaches that the two most important things are to love God and our fellow human beings. This is the essence of the Christian path. Taking the scriptures literally or metaphorically, allowing female ministers or singing a cappella, differ from church to church
Evidence is that which supports a claim (an assertion that something is true). What counts as evidence depends on what kind of claim is being made. For example, there are empirical claims about the physical world that can be verified or refuted through observation and experiment. There are legal, moral, historical, political and literary claims and each of these require different kinds of evidence.
There are also religious claims and Bruce Fraser, Ph.D., has this to say about the evidence necessary to support such assertions.
…it is probably best… to recognize the intensely personal nature of religious assertions in many contexts and insulate them from the critical adjudication befitting other assertions. So, if we recognize that each person is entitled to follow his or her conscience and settle the question of god’s existence (or non-existence) for himself or herself, then the remainder contains only those religious assertions that can be evaluated in much the same way as literary claims—through textual analysis and interpretation.
Historians, for example, view religious texts along these lines. They consider religious texts and the commentary regarding such texts to be primary sources, which need to be considered within the time and place in which they were written. Their concern is not to determine the truth or validity of a particular religion but to explain what people have believed in various times and places, the way that such views have influenced and been influenced by events, and how and why those beliefs have changed over time. In short, there is a clear separation of the scholarly study of religion and one’s faith. This separation is reinforced by those who hold that questions about the existence of a god or gods is beyond evidential scrutiny.
While the existence of God may be “beyond evidential scrutiny” the text of the Bible is not.
As Mac Lynn writes,
“The success of the NU program has been in insisting that the student move past historical interpretations and opinions to consider the biblical text within its native setting. The student is taught to exegete and make application based on the original meaning held in the mind of the author.”
Even if one starts with the assumption that the authors of the Old and New Testaments actually said everything they are reputed to have said (a huge leap of faith in itself, according to many Biblical Scholars) how can we know the “original meaning held in the mind of the author”?
Unless we are mind readers, we cannot be 100 percent sure of what someone meant two centuries ago. However, by avoiding mistakes in our thinking process (fallacies) and taking into account bias, perspective and context – we can improve our chances of getting it right.
Given the difficulty and ambiguity of many statements in the scriptures, an attitude of humility, rather than certainty, is appropriate.”
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