Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Is Critical Thinking?

We all use the term "critical thinking to describe one of the primary goals of education. What do we mean by "critical thinking"?

As usual, it takes a philosopher to sort out the various meanings and arrive at a reasonable definition. (Philosophers are experts at critical thinking, although they often use it when it's not necessary.) Read what John Wilkins has to say at: What is critical thinking. Contrast his critical thinking about the subject with that illustrated in the Wikipedia article on Critical Thinking.

Here's his bottom line but you really need to see his examples of what is not critical thinking.
Critical thinking is the application of careful analysis and rational reconstruction to arguments, so that the correctness of the reasoning and the truth of the premises can be evaluated and the support for the conclusion determined.

Rational thinking is the assent of the reasoner to any conclusion that is both correctly reasoned and founded on known to be true, or likely to be true, premises.

In short, a critical and rational thinker is one who accepts the conclusions of good arguments.
I agree with John and this is what Chris DiCarlo and I teach in our course. But, you should read the comments on John's blog.

Once you've mastered the basic rules of logic, most arguments should be about whether the premises are likely to be true.


  1. This may be a difference in word order, but I would first of all say that critical thinking is concerned with the truth of the premises. Then, the arguments should be evaluated in the framework set by the largest number of true premises possible. Finally the formulation of the conclusion must be as consistent as possible with all other true premises and the other valid propositions found to be based on them. To put it another way, true propositions have to be logically consistent but they have to be stated in a way that is semantically meaningful in the real world.

    I rather suspect that philosophers instead by and large conceive premises as propositions, instead of seeing propositions as true conclusions. It seems that philosophy is committed to logical validity rather than truth.

    Also, the notion that true premises determine the framework for evaluating propositions seems to rule out philosophy's commitment to introspection. Other people's experience is an inescapable part of evaluating the truth of a premise.

    Lastly, the notion that propositions have to be placed in a framework of valid generalizations about experience in practice first requires dumping mathematicized logic for words, in order to communicate. Worse, in a real world context, propositions can turn out to be self-deceptions or ideological.

    I think rational thinking should be characterized as taking into account all the evidence as part of an ongoing communal effort to understand the order of the universe. (This means that rational thinking first of holds that experience has indicated the premise that the universe is intelligible is a valid generalization. Which, experience also shows us, means it is a material universe.)

    Insofar as it aims to achieve personal goals, rationality offers arguments to other people. Insofar as it aims to achieve communal goals, it derives those goals from a generalization of the values expressed by the community in its daily life.

    It will often be rational to assume that "I" simply have failed to figure out the rhetorical trickery when someone appears to have offered supported premises and consistent reasoning.

    The two examples of irrational thinking Prof. Wilkins chooses are I think good examples of how I think his notions of critical and rational thinking just don't work. He refutes by pointing out the confusion between nuclear power per se and bad engineering, a logical objection. In the real world, I'm not sure you can draw such a neat distinction. He also asserts the cost/benefit analysis of confirmed deaths "by" fossil fuels vs. deaths caused by nuclear power shows nuclear power to be superior. Since the death toll from nuclear power will be determined by what happens to the long half-life radioactives (which as of this moment we have no good way to dispose of,) this is an untrue premise!

    As for the notion that "religion poisons everything" is an irrational proposition, this depends upon a definition of rational thinking that allows someone to reject materialism as a true premise. I submit this is not rational.

  2. Critical thinking is a clumsy phrase that means simply being careful about conclusions being made.
    People try or imagine their conclusions are made upon better reflection of facts and reasoning etc.and so say they think in a critical way. Critical of careless thinking.

    I guess its also a criticism that people often or greatly draw conclusions without careful study.

    It does mean presumptions are involved and this can derail critical thinking.
    The rational thinking thing includes "...likely tro be true..."
    This is why christianity is rational and conclusions from it are worthy to challenge claims about origins.
    Yes what is likely to be true is in the eye of the beholder.
    Rational thinking is limited as a investigative tool therefore.

  3. Acceptable premisses are social constructs. Good arguments employ premisses acceptable to experts. Unfortunately in most people's minds "expert" is a social construct.

  4. @Robert Byers

    "this is why Christianity is rational"

    what a presumptiuous and naive statement. How about asking someone outside your faith if they agree with you. Oh look, what a coincidence. I've just found a Muslim. An ex one actually. Me. Lets ask me that question. Excuse me me, is Christianity rational? Sorry Robert, me can't answer. Cos me is rolling on the floor with laughter.

    1. You misunderstood the point here, um(can't read your name) .
      I'm saying that Christian presumptions behind origin conclusions or opinions is, at entry level, as rational as anything else.
      It seems rational and so is.
      Just a little point and no reflection on islam.

    2. So you would agree that Muslim presumptions are as rational as Christian presumptions ?

  5. For those trapped in narrower social contexts the outside is often invisible.

  6. Critical Thinking is what the Texas Republican Party does NOT want taught in their state. It might interfere with students' "fixed beliefs" and undermine parental authority. You can't make this stuff up.

    1. I'm very sure republicans believe in freedom of thinking.
      Its evolutionism that censors in the american schools.
      Critical thinking is not a friend to evolution or settled beliefs about evolution that are taught to the kids.

      If everyone's fixed beliefs are open to question then lets start with the unique case of evolution as taught in science class.!!!
      Unfix away!

    2. Well then can, in classes on mythology, anthropology, comparative religions, basket weaving and navel gazing.

      But not in science classes.

    3. Hey, I thought that Mr. Atheistoclast had been given the heave ho on this blog.

  7. After all, we always hear evolutionists ranting on about how creationism is a socio-cultural phenomenon. That means it is worth studying.

    As a sociocultural phenomenon? Why not? Together with other such phenomenona -- pyramidology, alien abductions and the Elvis-faked-his-death theory. But why in a biology class?

    1. Your just wrong.
      Creationism , for many, is tied to the great historic Christian religion(s).
      its a historic conviction and still powerfully held by hugh numbers of North Americans.
      Yes in biology class where origins of biological life are discussed. Namely evolution etc.
      Evolution is saying Genesis is wrong so rebuttal is fair play.
      Censorship is unintelligent, Un North American, unneeded and weird.
      The wrong side always mantles itself with censorship.
      Freedom of thought and study and teaching is the future.
      I predict it.,

    2. Creationism , for many, is tied to the great historic Christian religion(s).

      So what? Does it make it a valid theory?

      its a historic conviction and still powerfully held by hugh numbers of North Americans.

      I couldn't care less: (1) scientific questions are not resolved by popular vote; (2) I am not North American.

      Yes in biology class where origins of biological life are discussed. Namely evolution etc.
      Evolution is saying Genesis is wrong so rebuttal is fair play.

      No. In science classes, students are supposed to learn science, not religion.

      Censorship is unintelligent, Un North American, unneeded and weird.

      Creationism is banned from science classes for the same reason as pyramidology and alien abductions. It is not science, so its place is somewhere else.

    3. Your wrong again.
      These other subjects are not banned by claims to law. they are rejected by the people as not worthy.
      You make my case.
      the people accept creationism, or respect it because they respect their neighbours , and it has won its rightful place for explanation of origins.

      It does touch on the great Christian(s) religion and touching on these things is not like other things.
      Somebody is saying your faith is wrong and proven wrong by facts.
      No where else are these things said in mutually held institutions.
      We were here first.

      Anyways its about the freedom to teach and seek out the truth. Its abount not allowing some boss to tell you be quiet and things are settled.
      On important matters of human heritage and relationships DOWN WITH CENSORSHIP.
      It will fall in our time in North America.
      We are the great fount of ideas and actions on behalf of truth and freedom.
      Creationism simply must move these issues out of their obscurity, relative to the population, and bring into the light the injustice and illegality of state control on conclusions and speech/thought.

    4. We are the great fount of ideas and actions on behalf of truth and freedom.

      So? You find this state of affairs boring and would like to become a fount of bullshit for a change?

    5. @Piotr Gasiorowski,

      Evolution is under attack in American schools. Under such circumstances it is absolutely imperative that science teachers address the main criticisms of evolution even if those myths are based on religion. The truth of evolution and the falsity of Young Earth Creationism should both be taught in science classes because that's what science does: it discovers truth and debunks superstition.

      If you don't directly address the false statements of creationists then you are not going to change anyone's mind. There's lots of pedagogical evidence that tells us that just presenting one side of a controversy, even if it's the truth, will not eliminate misconceptions and misunderstandings.

      But here's the problem. In America there's supposed to be a strict separation of church and state. This means that you can't criticize religious views in the classroom. The situation seems hopeless as long as science teachers can't talk about criticisms of evolution because it's against the law.

    6. @LM: I wonder if they really should be dignified by addressing them explicitly in class as if there were a scientific controversy to be resolved. Of course I'm aware of the aggressive character of American creationism, which may justify the active debunking of pseudoscience.

      Here in Poland I often debate our relatively unorganised creationists on various discussion boards, but there's no place for creationism or ID in schools. The only attempt to date to subvert our educational system (by a creationist politician and a notorious idiot in the usual sense of the word) took place several years ago and failed pathetically:


      I suppose we should regard ourselves lucky.

  8. > Once you've mastered the basic rules of logic, most arguments should be about whether the premises are likely to be true.

    We are not Logical Positivists, I hope! The rosy view of Liebnitz ("Let us calculate" when there is a dispute) went by the boards some years ago.

    The problem with most important questions is that they are matters of good judgment, matters of perception and induction, not of deduction.

  9. Evolution says EVERY form of creationism is wrong, and backs the claim with evidence. Should everyone have the right to a rebuttal? What evidence would they show? Should the Geocentrists be able to rebut the Copernican heliocentric theory?

    1. Well I rebuttal your statement here.
      NO evolution ain't got evidence. creationism does.
      Again creationism is , for many, founded on the great historic and popular Christian faith(s).
      Its NOT like these other things on lists of things that are wrong.
      Censoring it , by their own reasoning, is saying CHristianity is wrong in doctrines.
      censoring creationism is a absurd rejection of legitimate disagreement.
      Surely it confirms any society who ever rejected other ideas, faiths, etc.

    2. You really don't want to learn, after all these years of reading Panda's Thumb, do you Robert, after all these years of reading and being shown where to find the evidence, your stubbornness would be comical if not so sad. The world is a great place and a terrible place at the same time, and understanding how it works is rewarding. Sticking to your denialist claims is limiting, but if you think it will help you get to the point where you can someday play chess with Jesus while the heathen burn, you are missing out on the world around you.

      Christianity, by the way, is wrong in its doctrines.

    3. @Mike Haubrich

      Robert made an honest error here, he thinks the subject of this thread is Wishful Thinking (not Critical Thinking).
      Mr Byers knows not-a-thing about the living world, and he's extremely consistent - posts have no actual content, whatsoever. Remarkable (it can't be easy to _never_ include a single reference to any science at all). In addition to displaying ignorance; his writings show he is very pleased to know so little and regards it as a sign of 'virtue' - in an ideal world, we should all copy this attitude (he thinks).
      As YEC, he is completely unable to explain away all the dating methods used by Science but again, this is probably something he takes a positive pride in. I share your amazement, Mike.
      As an example, I wonder what Robert has to say about
      'dendro' (in the shape of ancient Oak trees):


      Of course, to be able to make a meaningful response to this science, Robert would need to call upon some critical thinking skills. I could be wasting my time entirely.....

    4. As an example, I wonder what Robert has to say about
      'dendro' (in the shape of ancient Oak trees)

      It's simple. God created adult trees with growth rings and even dead tree trunks with growth rings in order to... mmm... in order to set a pattern for young trees to follow. Those primordial ring-width sequences are correlated because... because... uhhh... because God loveth correlations and hateth randomness.

    5. You grasp for your ideas based on dating methods that by definition can not be verified.
      Please other dating methods don't cout.
      Only actually years counts. A problem.
      There is no reason to see modern rates as past rates even if tru.
      It's just a line of reasoning but not scientific evidence.
      your saying WE see no reason for a difference and thats the end of scientific investigation.
      In the great universe there are lots of options for everything before something is known.

      In a healthy world tree rings could multiply quickly in a year.
      Etc. but don't pin yours hopes on minor details.

    6. In a healthy world tree rings could multiply quickly in a year.

      You are kidding. You know what causes tree rings, don't you?

      This 'mid-season' cycle would also need to correlate with C14, varve, ice-core and other data. There are about 100,000 cycles clearly detectable in Greenland ice. What cyclic process do you think could generate alternations at the rate of about 166 a year to keep the Biblical chronology afloat? Day/night? No. It's almost as if someone wanted scientists to think the earth was old ... but it has to be young, or your tub sinks. There is no limit to the amount of wriggling you people will do to keep that ship afloat, no matter how irrational.

    7. @Robert Byers:

      I think I grasp what you are (mostly) saying. It goes like this .....
      If serious study leads to facts you like, then that constitutes evidence; you are content. 'Good science' has been carried out.
      If, on the other hand, the outcome of research produces facts which you don't like, then these facts must be wrong. No need to discuss it (or try to get to the bottom of what it means).
      You have realised, Robert, that the discussion is about Critical Thinking and not Wishful Thinking, Robert?

      I suspect you didn't read much of the link I gave - you overlooked the part about Japanese Diatoms ('Varves'); you ignored the subject of Carbon (and many other elements and their various isotopes); or, even the section discussing ice cores:
      - that is really, really beautiful science IMO.

      I put it to you straight: facts you don't like, you sneer at. (To a true scientist all facts are of interest and demand an explanation that 'works'). What are your explanation(s) of _all_ this data? If you don't supply one, Robert, you reveal to me one of 2 things: 1. Your skills of Critical Thinking have been erased (you must have had _some_ at one time, all children of a young age do, in my experience) or, perhaps 2. You conceive of a Deity who has maliciously set out to mislead humanity by leaving false-data to be uncovered in multiple areas of science {I have not even explored the cosmology that shows that, if YEC were true, we should not even be able to see most of the Milky Way because the light has not had time to travel to us from most of its stars; other galaxies ought to be completely invisible to us, too}.

      Which of the above is the case?

      This is my last posting on this issue.

      I will just add: To bring children up, and educate them in such a way that they never see any of the material about the age of the Earth / of the Universe; to me qualifies as a form of child-abuse.

    8. I'm not sneering at anything.
      conclusions in nature must be back up by evidence.
      creationists take on conclusions claiming to have evidence in certain subjects touching on origin matters.
      If its about evidence then demonstrate this evidence for any point and silence criticism.
      Evolutionary biology has failed to do this and creationism is rising today simply because of greater means of reaching larger audiences.
      though still a problem.
      We can prove evolution has not been proved!
      God and GEnesis are as good a start as anything still.
      Work to be done but old time evolution is coming to a end whether from YEC attrition or ID scholarship.

  10. No form of creationism explains biology. Fixed.

  11. Allan Miller
    Not irrational but rather about competent investigation and imagination to to ignite a spark of thought.
    There is no evidence these ice layers were laid by yearly accumulation.
    They just presume that because that happens today.
    Yet all that is found is layers.
    I believe the layers in the ice are from freezing rain episodes and unrelated to years. One could have such a episode every day.
    I hypothesis these rain episodes came from a great disturbance in the northern climate due to volcanoes exploding everywhere in north and south america.
    No reason to see these layers from unobserved yearly layers.
    If so prove it!

    this is just a example about the subject here.

    1. Robert. You believe that the ice layers are daily freezing rain? What the hell use is that to anybody? Have you any evidence that it rained every day in the past, and that this gives the same pattern as demonstrably seasonal snow layering today? Complete with isotope variation and concordance with independent dating methods? You prove it! While you're at it, grow some trees that produce multiple tree rings per year and see if they can be distinguished from annual rings by a dendrochronologist.

      Then there are these volcanoes you just made up. Volcanoes produce ash which is trapped in ice layers. The layers in which historically recorded volcanoes are found are overlain by the expected number of seasonal, annual layers. Why are these layers seasonal but the lower ones not? Where are the layers corresponding to your 'volcanoes exploding everywhere'? And where is the Noachian Flood recorded in all this?

      You propose lots of tree rings in every annual cycle. Lots of cyclic ice events in every year. Lots of cyclic varve events in every year. Radioactive isotopes don't decay at a constant rate. Light doesn't travel at constant speed ... it all begins to look a bit desperate. All to preserve that stupid Biblical chronology: a begat b begat c begat d. Because of course a written record of begetting is an utterly inerrant timekeeper, isn't it? 4004 BC, ten o'clock in the morning.

    2. Guys, stop feeding the troll. This guy isn't interested in arguments.

      It's certainly valuable to expose the nonsense of creationism/ID by showing why it is wrong so that people reading this comments and with no real scientific background can judge for themselves, but the level of retardness that Byers show is so high that if a scientific laymen can't spot it then there's no argumentation that will.

    3. But ... I just got this big bag of troll-food! Now what am I gonna do with it? :0)

    4. But ... I just got this big bag of troll-food! Now what am I gonna do with it? :0)

      Sprinkle it with a potent trollicide?

  12. Allan Miller
    it was an example and a good one.
    There are just layers.
    There is no reason to presume the layers come from the events that happen now.
    A nuclear type winter from volcanic action could produce rain episodes which in the air or upon landing would quickly over weeks or months produce layers of ice.
    Later it would just be season episodes.
    It has just never been imagined that there was such a climate problem.
    The volcanic thing is the origin of much fossilization of biology above the k-t line and the change in sea levels.

    Again your tree thing demands constant rate.
    Thats just a line of reasoning however reasonable.
    Its not scientific evidence and ages based on these rates are not scientific.
    There is no reason tree rings or decay of carbon etc need be constant.
    A healthier world back then could produce greater growth and so more rings in a year.
    The present rates probably are just a last act of a original vigour or reactions from a better world then today.

    1. Robert,

      If a 'healthy world' produces tree rings at a faster rate than the present one, it would be easy to prove. Simply grow a tree in a 'healthy' environment and count the rings. Don't you think someone might have noticed this effect, if it were real?

      The 'tree thing' coincides with the 'rain/snow thing' and the 'volcano thing' and the 'varve thing' and the 'radioactive isotope thing' - whatever mechanism you make up to protect your YEC for one measure would have to coincide with the others. Your 'healthy' world would have to be full of volcanoes causing it to piss down a huge quantity of freezing rain every afternoon in Greenland without disturbing the previous layers, while temperate regions bask in some abstruse 'ring-inducing' balmy weather, all the while radio-isotopes decaying at a rate that would fry living things to a crisp ...

      I don't mean to be rude, but YEC is one of the most moronic positions one could possibly hold in the present age.

    2. The healthy world back then is unrelated to our present world. Why not?
      In fact the bible teaches men lived hundreds of years even after the flood.
      Likewise biology.

      Freezing rain is not rain as Canadian weather proves. One could make layer after layer and this is what happened. No evidence for mere seasonal layering.
      Just a line of reasoning.

      Yes the north could be devastated by the volcanic outpourings, seen everywhere in North and south america by the way, Yet the South preserved.
      This created the "ice age" or rather freezing rain age and after that it melted quick.

    3. Please stop responding to Robert Byers. He's just baiting you all. Nobody, not. even a YEC, could be that stupid!

    4. They changed subjects and I only responded.
      I know it's unwelcome to get off the thread but if people ask me or say stuff I reply.
      I am NOT baiting anyone or understand what baiting ios.
      I study these things and believe and am confident in my conclusions.
      nothing stupid about it.
      Even if wrong it would be within the spectrum of investigation and hypothesis brought to observations on nature.

      I don't see why people can't Respond to me if its within the common rules of the thread.
      Dating concepts matter to creationists and we have replys to them.
      We think we are right.
      Thats the anatomy of contention.

    5. Please stop responding to Robert Byers. He's just baiting you all. Nobody, not. even a YEC, could be that stupid!

      Awwww! I was going to ask if the extra tree-rings were radiation burns. Meh.

      I don't think he's baiting, - it's me! But worryingly, he represents a view advanced by at least 40% of Americans (not picking on Americans; just a handy statistic).

    6. Unlike John Wilkins, I think religion does poison everything. It teaches that there are unevidenced things such as souls, heaven, god, etc and that faith is better than critical thinking. If that is not poisoning everything that we humans do and how we approach decisions, then what is?