A Critical Defense of Critical Thinking

This post is a follow-up to my "Preaching to the Converted" post.

While I get very mad when people promote anti-intellectualism, make really bad arguments, give cover to the extremist religious people, and say phrases like "everything happens for a reason" using a post-hoc ridiculous rationalization for any given event to generate false hope, but what's been annoying me recently is the flurry from atheists, theists, and everyone else in between objecting to what I'm promoting: critical thinking.

People tell me that philosophy and promoting intellectual values is a waste of time for various reasons, but I'm going to defend what I do because if I can't, my work truly is pointless...and that's not the case.

Many people have the false belief that people won't listen to arguments because they already have their minds "made up," but a problem with this belief is that many people will and can change. Some people, when they face facts, decide not to rationalize anymore and accept reality. Former evangelical ministers, for example, have "transformed" into atheists who publish books, give speeches at conventions, and host atheist television shows. Some people, of course, are deluded beyond belief and hold on to their notions of a less than ten thousand universe and the conversations might be pointless, but this isn't the case with all discussions by any means.

At a young age, especially while attending college, students learn new information and should face a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance in their classes because ideas presented will undoubtedly conflict with their beliefs. Outside of college, people interact with others on the internet and hear opinions that they don't agree with. Although some people may isolate themselves, it's very difficult to do so on the internet because people from all sorts of perspectives congregate and share ideas.

Many people often hold beliefs merely because of tradition are simply haven't critically examined the issues or read arguments from both sides. This is easily evidenced by theists who fail to follow the great advice (besides the setting the Lord in your heart part, whatever that exactly means) of 1 Peter 3:15 and present horrible arguments like Pascal's Wager, make appeals to ignorance, and make other ridiculous claims. I could probably defend Christianity better than 75% (let's just throw a number out there) of the Christians at my school. Unfortunately, religious beliefs are often bound to the individual and make up who they are. People mistakingly believe that they have experienced divine intervention they've had what they interpret to be extraordinary situations, use personal anecdotal stories to justify their beliefs, and find intentional agency to bolster their irrational ideas.

Regardless of the surmountable challenges that face skeptics, people change...and the skeptics among us can put the wheels of critical thinking in motion.

I would imagine that any given society would be much better off if it values rationality, critical thinking, evidence-based decision making, intellectualism, and philosophy. Critical thinking and the associated motions leads to advances in technology, science, medicine, and societal health among many other things. A more rational society is always a better society. How can we ever possibly say something like "There is too much rationality in society?" There simply isn't enough rationality when 41% of the American population believes in ESP, 42% believe in devil possession, 32% believe in ghosts, 24% believe that aliens have visited the earth, 21% believe that people can talk to the dead and get responses (100% can talk to the dead, of course), about 50% are creationists, and 25% believe in astrology [statistics from p.6 of this book].

Can we possibly make an argument that belief in such things is making this world a better place to live in? Wouldn't we all be better off if people applied skepticism to all claims and had a passion for searching for the truth so that they can arrive at a position in which they proportion their beliefs to the evidence? We'd be better off if we hold as many justified beliefs as possible and have our beliefs reflect reality. As you certainly know, beliefs inform actions and actions can harm others, as I've previously discussed.

Discussing important issues in an open forum where criticism is welcome and people are open with their ideas is great for making sure that our arguments are accurate. Constructive criticism ought to lead to our positions being more justified. If we're able to deal with and counter objections while holding true to the maxim that the truth is more important than what we "want to believe." I want to be as correct as possible with all of my stances and delight in the opportunity for being "proved wrong." I'll be wrong today and be right tomorrow.

Critical thinking skills provide us with a needed armor that defends us against being conned, swindled, or taken for a ride by others who want to take advantage of us and exploit us. Arguments and advertisements are everywhere ranging from politics to the supermarket. People want to take your money and persuade you to waste it on overpriced bullshit bottled water, for example. Politicians want your vote. People want you to buy expensive shoes. Colleges want to lure you in and take your money... If we're able to critically examine what we're faced with, we'll be much better off.

It greatly saddens me when people who hold many of the positions I hold and have the "toolset" for critical thinking object to my work and feel that it's a total insignificant waste of time. This is more annoying that Pascal's Wager by far because there is tremendous wasted potential. Imagine an unattended baby is drowning in a lake. You see the baby drowning, you have the ability to save the baby, and you won't be harmed by doing so. Your clothes might get wet or you'll just have to jump in naked, but this really shouldn't matter because your actions would save a life. Perhaps you don't want to be famous when you save this baby, so you can simply be anonymous...

I don't expect everyone to host a blog, spend a tremendous amount of time debating people, linking on Facebook, or anything else, but anyone can contribute by encouraging people to think about issues, providing your own point of view, and encouraging others to voice their feelings. We critical thinkers have the ability to influence others and make this world a better place and all that it costs is a bit of time and effort.

Even if other people don't or won't change their minds, your ideas can provide inspiration for others, bolster others' arguments, and possibly force people to moderate extremist/absolutist unwarranted stances. There's also the chance for people to change their minds in the future. In the case of my blog and other sites focused on critical thinking, people have resources if they want to utilize them in the future.

Promotion of critical thinking is not a waste of time at all.