Thinking


When we hear something that fits with what we already believe, we are apt to adopt it without much reflection or critical thinking. Instead, we should be asking ourselves what the opposition might say regarding the information. We should subject our beliefs to critique – critiquing them as though we want to prove them false. This will help us to see how solid the evidence actually is and avoid confirmation bias.

We’re living in a time when people tend to isolate themselves intellectually. Not only do they not take it upon themselves to search out viewpoints that differ from their own, but they actually shun people who do not agree with them. We see this all the time on social media. You post something that person X does not agree with. Rather than reading what you have to say and starting a dialogue regarding your differences in hopes of helping each other discover the truth, person X ignores the post, or worse yet, unfriends you.

This sort of behavior is consistent with our cancel culture, but frankly, it is childish and foolish. I use these words advisedly, not as a smear. This is childish because only children plug their ears when they don’t want to hear what you have to say, not sensible adults, and thus when adults engage in this kind of behavior they are literally acting childish. This is foolish because this sort of behavior makes it impossible for one to grow intellectually. Everyone has false beliefs. The only way to discover which of our beliefs are false and correct those beliefs is to be open to listening to alternative viewpoints. If we ignore alternative viewpoints and shun those who hold to them, we stunt this process, guaranteeing that we will not grow in our knowledge of truth and wisdom.

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Personal experience is valuable and powerful, but it is of little value for determining the truth or what reality is like for other people. Personal experience is anecdotal in nature. We may know what we experienced, but how could we know that others have experienced the same? Even if we found three people who shared our experience, at best, we could conclude that four people have experienced what we have. We can’t simply extrapolate from our experience that everyone else has the same experience/perspective as we do. We can’t just assume that our experience is representative of other people’s experiences.

To know how widespread and representative our experience/perspective is, we need more than anecdotal data – we need hard data. Polling and statistics serve this purpose. They seek to determine how common certain experiences and perspectives are in the general population. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt that my experience was common, only to find out from polling data that it isn’t; or how many times I have believed some X to be uncommon in society, only to find out that it was quite common (or vice-versa).

We should not place our personal experience above the facts when determining the truth. Personal experience is a factor, but it’s just one factor. If my personal experience leads me to believe that X is true, but the data shows that X is not true, then I need to correct my perception. My experience is still my experience, but I need to recognize that my experience is not necessarily the norm and should not be used to color my perception of reality. Perceptions should be based on facts, not anecdotal experiences.

P.S. As a public service announcement, for the sake of all mankind, please don’t use the phrase “lived experience.” Adding “lived” before “experience” adds no additional meaningful. It’s like saying “sufficient enough.” Every experience is a lived experience because the dead do not have experiences. ‘Nuf said.

All of us would like to have certainty regarding knowledge, and yet, certainty is rarely afforded to us. Most of what we believe to be true, we believe on the basis of probabilities. Unfortunately, many people, being too desirous of certainty, are led in one of two bad directions: skepticism, dogmatism.

An inordinate desire for certainty leads some down the skeptics’ road, always doubting everything and never willing to make a knowledge claim that falls short of certainty (or something very close). For others, their desire for certainty leads them down the road of dogmatism, closed-mindedness, and intellectual dishonesty. In their quest for certainty, they are unwilling to entertain any ideas that would call their current beliefs into question. They respond vehemently against anyone who holds to a view contrary to their own. They argue, not to discover truth, but to defend their dogmatic certainty.

While the desire for certainty is understandable, we cannot allow it to lead us in either of these directions. We must be willing to take a position based on the evidence we have, while recognizing that we could be mistaken. We also need to be willing to consider other evidence and other points of view, and be willing to change our opinions if the evidence warrants it. In many cases, we should be less dogmatic, acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of our view. For example, I hold to Premillennialism, but I’m not anywhere near certain that it’s true. As a percentage, I’m only ~65% convinced that it is true. That’s enough for me to claim it as my view, but not enough for me to be dogmatic about it. While I would love to have certainty regarding all of my beliefs, certainty is rarely afforded to us. In light of that, we need to do our best to form our opinions based on the evidence available to us, but always be open to revising our opinions if the evidence warrants it.

Here’s a question to ponder: How many of the positions that you subscribe to today related to theology, economics, politics, etc., do you subscribe to because you researched the competing perspectives, weighed the merits and demerits of each, and then adopted the best position? If you are a typical human being, chances are that the number is very small. Most of the positions we subscribe to we simply inherit from our family or community, unquestioned. When we do question those positions, we often seek out evidence to shore up what we already believe rather than seeking evidence both for and against our position.  Given this proclivity of human nature, and given the multiplicity of positions, there’s a high probability that we are mistaken in a number of positions we subscribe to.  After all, it would be highly unlikely that one just happened to be born into a family/community who just so happened to subscribe to all of the right positions in theology, politics, economics, and the like.

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dogmaticIf you can’t point to at least one verse/fact that runs contrary to your doctrinal position that makes you at least a little bit uncomfortable, or if you can’t cite at least one good argument against your position you might just be a bit too dogmatic and probably haven’t read widely enough. While I think we can be confident in what we believe, very few matters of intellectual dispute are so cut and dry that there aren’t decent arguments for contrary positions. If you are not aware of those other arguments, and if you are not made at least a bit uncomfortable by any of them, this should be a sign that your confidence in your doctrinal position might be a bit premature.

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Apathy-I-dont-careOne of the most frustrating experiences is trying to talk to someone about God that is apathetic concerning His existence.  They are not interested in your arguments or your experience.  They are not interested in the topic, or claim it has no relevance to their life.  How do you advance the conversation when confronted with a game-stopping attitude like apathy?  I don’t think there is any one tactic for stirring someone out of their apathy (it will differ from person to person), but here are some probing questions that may help: (more…)

jesus-is-truthPostmodern Christians who dismiss the veracity of propositional truth like to cite John 14:26 where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  “Jesus is the truth,” they say, “not doctrinal statements.  Jesus is the only truth that matters.”

This way of interpreting Jesus’ statement presumes that Jesus is saying He is identical to the truth, such that to speak of the truth is to speak of Jesus.  Linguists call this the “is of identity.”  An example of this use of “is” would be the statement, “Barack Obama is the president of the United States.”  There is an identity relationship between the man Barack Obama and the office of the president of the United States.  Clearly that’s not the kind of “is” Jesus is referring to.  When Jesus says he is the truth, he is not making an identity statement such that “Jesus = the truth,” otherwise, “to say that ‘2+2=4’ is true is to say that ‘2+2=4’ is Jesus. In other words, Jesus is claiming to be a mathematical statement.”[1]

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Materialists will tell you they don’t believe anything other than the material world exists, but seem oblivious to the fact that propositions – such as the proposition that only the material world exists – are not material.  That means materialism is falsified the moment you think about it. Pun intended.

God of GapsI’ve noticed that many nonbelievers (and even believers) misunderstand what constitutes a “God of the gaps” argument.  They tend to think one is guilty of a God of the gaps argument if they offer God as an explanation for some X rather than some natural phenomenon.  The problem with this definition is that it presumes the only valid explanation is a naturalistic explanation.  God is ruled out as a valid explanation for anything a priori, so anyone who offers God as an explanation for X is thought to do so merely because they are ignorant of the proper naturalistic explanation.  This begs the question in favor of naturalism and against theism.  One could only conclude that every effect has a naturalistic explanation, and that God is not a valid explanation, if one has first demonstrated that God does not exist.  So long as it is even possible that God exists, then it is possible that God may be the cause of X, and thus explain X.

What makes an argument a God of the gaps type of argument is when God is invoked to explain X simply because we do not know what else can explain X.  In other words, God is used to plug a gap in our knowledge of naturalistic explanations: “I don’t know how to explain X, so God must have done X.”  This is not at all the same as arguing that God is the best explanation of X, based on what we know regarding X and the explanatory options available to us.  Here, God is being invoked to explain what we know, not what we don’t know.

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overheadIf what’s being taught in church goes over your head, it’s either the fault of the speaker or our own. If the speaker is not communicating complicated concepts in ways that are understandable to the uninitiated, then shame on him. But if he has done his due diligence to make it as understandable as possible, but we give up on the message simply because it is unfamiliar to us, then shame on us.

The solution to the problem of things going over our head may not be for the messenger to dumb down the message, but for us to do our due diligence to raise our heads higher. Let’s raise the bar intellectually. Discipleship requires that we move on from milk to solid meat. We cannot rehearse our spiritual ABCs year after year and think we’ll ever grown in the Lord. We need to challenge ourselves theologically and intellectually to become better disciples of Jesus. So raise your heads high, and so far as it is within your power, do not let another message go over your head.

Like spilled milk, it only takes a few seconds to spew utter nonsense from one’s mouth. Clean up, however, takes much more time.

In a sound bite culture like ours, most people don’t have the patience or interest to listen to the evidence and follow the logic of a rebuttal, and thus nonsense passes for common sense.

Most discussions of religion entail foregone conclusions in search of anything resembling justification.  The goal of the participants is not to discover truth, but to leave the conversation with the same beliefs they came with.  We can do better.  Our beliefs should be properly justified – not just asserted based on what we would like to be true – and our desire for truth must outweigh our desire to be right.

“I don’t think. I know.”  We’ve all heard this, and most of us have probably uttered this phrase ourselves a time or two.  But when you think about it (no pun intended), this phrase represents a misuse of language.  It sets up a contrast between thinking and knowing, wherein “thinking” denotes uncertainty and “knowing” denotes certainty.  While this may reflect a popular connotation of these words, denotatively speaking, neither has anything to do with certainty.

“Think” is a description of what the mind does.  It describes the mind’s activity.  Knowledge is “justified, true belief.”  Certainty is not part of the definition, and thus certainty is not required for knowledge.  To know something only requires that we have adequate justification.

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think more feel lessToo many people in our day think with their feelings.  “Feeling-speak” is so pervasive in our culture that the vast majority of us talk about what we think in terms of what we feel.  For example, one might say “I feel that Christianity is true” rather than “I think Christianity is true.”  Feelings are wholly subjective and have no truth value – they cannot be true or false.  They just describe our psychological dispositions.  Thoughts, however, do have truth value.  They purport to describe reality, and the description is either true or false.

Since our ideas and beliefs have truth value, let’s be intentional about speaking in terms of what we think rather than what we feel.

Arrogance is not descriptive of what you believe, or even the confidence with which you believe it, but rather how you believe it.  Arrogance is an attitude one has about their beliefs; an unwarranted display of superiority over others who do not think as you do.  It is a feature of one’s character and behavior, not one’s beliefs.

Apologetics DefenseSome Christians think that if we appeal to reason and evidences to demonstrate that the Bible is truly God’s Word, then we are elevating reason and evidence to a place of authority over God’s Word.  I think this conclusion is misguided for several reasons.  First, I don’t think it is legitimate to consider reason an “authority.”  Reason is merely a tool for assessing reality.  It is basic to all human thought.  Indeed, one cannot even understand God’s revelation apart from reasoning.  It would be a mistake, then, to pit reason against revelation as if they are two competing authorities.  As Greg Koukl has argued, using reason to assess whether or not the Bible is God’s revelation to man no more puts reason above the Bible than using grammar to understand God’s revelation puts grammar above the Bible.

Secondly, this confuses the order of being (ontology) with the order of knowing (epistemology). While the Bible is first in terms of authority, it is not first in terms of the order of knowing. Knowledge of the divine origin and revelatory status of the Bible is not innate. We must acquire this knowledge.  Knowledge of a proposition requires three elements: (1) belief that the proposition is true; (2) justification for the belief that the proposition is true; (3) the proposition must actually be true.  Put another way, knowledge is justified true belief.  Given the fact that knowledge requires justification, it cannot be wrong to require justification for believing the Bible is God’s Word.  We could not know the Bible is God’s Word apart from such justification.  As Kelly Clark has pointed out, reason is not autonomous as the standard of truth, but it is the best tool for discovering the truth. 

A proper use of reason is not an exercise of subjecting God’s Word to a higher authority, but an examination of the Bible to determine if it is truly what it claims to be.  We use our God-given reason to discover the truth that the Bible is a product of divine revelation.

Michael Patton has a nice article detailing 12 ways we can prepare children for times of doubt in their Christian life.

Burden of ProofIn philosophy, a burden of proof refers to one’s epistemic duty to provide reasons in support his assertion/claim/position.  While listening to a debate recently, I noticed that one of the participants spoke of a “burden of justification” rather than “burden of proof.”  I thought this terminological shift was helpful since when most people hear the word “proof” they think “certainty.”  Clearly, no one has the burden to demonstrate their position with apodictic certainty.  “Justification,” on the other hand, makes it clear that one only has a burden to back up their claims with good reasons.  I am going to be intentional about adopting this terminology in the future.

New Scientist has a short video discussing the proper understanding of reality.  It’s a 2:30 philosophical mess!  It’s almost as bad as their video on how the universe came from nothing, but I won’t go there.

They present two definitions of reality.  Their first definition is that “reality is everything that would still be here if there was no one around to experience it.”  But they find this view problematic because “as far as we know, we humans actually do exist, and a lot of the things that we can all agree are real, like language, or war, or consciousness, wouldn’t exist without us.”  What?

This objection is irrelevant.  Yes, humans exist, but how does that count against this definition of reality?  The definition doesn’t assume or require that people do not exist.  It merely holds that some X is real if and only if X would still obtain in the absence of a mind to think about it.  While it goes without saying that those things germane to humans would not exist if humans did not exist, what does that have to do with everything else non-human?  The question is whether anything else would exist if we didn’t exist, not whether things unique to humans would exist if humans did not exist.

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