The importance of critical thinking

I've been an atheist for a while now. After rejecting the Christian faith in my teens, I spent many years as a "theistic agnostic" – I believed that some kind of higher power probably existed, to explain things like morality, the complexity of life and the origin of the universe. As I studied the sciences and became more learned in philosophy, I realized that those things did not require supernatural explanations, and I became an atheist. But even though I'm still an atheist, I don't just read atheist or secular literature. Far from it. I regularly watch debates between theists and atheists, read articles by theists, and read books on the subject. This year, I've read The Language of God by Francis Collins, and The Reason for God by Tim Keller. I don't like to spend a lot of time reading that stuff; I prefer to read up on science literature rather than polemics for either side. I'd much rather read something like The Greatest Show on Earth than The God Delusion.

I do this because I have always recognized the immeasurable value of critical thinking. When I first read The Case For Christianity by C.S. Lewis, I could have done what most Christians do and closed the book satisfied that I could recite those arguments to myself and sleep a little better at night. But I wanted to know that my faith was built on stone, not sand. I asked myself, if I were to completely deconstruct this argument, how would I do it? I had the courage to separate myself from the powerful emotional attachment I had to my faith – it was, after all, central to my social life, my family life, and my personal identity – and demand answers to the most difficult questions. At the time, I firmly believed my faith would withstand critical scrutiny; it was only after a great deal of intensive study that I reluctantly accepted that this was not the case, and my beliefs were indeed riddled with a litany of logical flaws.

But to this day, I don't sit on my laurels. I'm pretty well versed in the philosophical argumentation for and against belief. I'm no scientist, but I do try to have at least a respectable understanding of fields of science that are interesting and relevant to me. But if all I did was read atheistic polemics, what would I really gain? Even now, it's important that I can fully understand my beliefs. I don't want to be complacent. I want to be challenged. Maybe that's partly why I write these blogs, and why I post links to atheistic videos on my Facebook page, where I have lots of Christian friends. I didn't become an atheist by being persuaded by emotionally charged rhetoric; I got here through rigorous and difficult self-examination. Anyone can study material they know will reinforce their own biases, but it takes a great deal of courage to continuously examine one's own beliefs with a measured, dispassionate sense of skepticism.

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