Disagreer, Or Critical Thinker?

It seems clear that some see themselves as "defenders of the faith," and although there is certainly nothing wrong with defending the faith (Jude 3), one needs to watch out for the self-styled defenders of the faith, whether it's the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, or whether it's the many other faiths that compete for one's allegiance. There is ample evidence that most self-styled defenders of the faith have a tendency to throw critical reasoning to the wind. In doing so, they demonstrate themselves to be "disagreers" rather than "critical thinkers." What do I mean by this? Well, a disagreer lacks some of the essential qualities that a critical reasoner has worked hard to cultivate. For example, a disagreer looks at individual statements and judges these solely against the background of his own beliefs. In contrast, a critical thinker reads/listens to everything in order to ascertain the argumentative structure, looking at some statements as justification for believing others. Rather than judging another's main thesis in isolation and evaluating it on the basis of one's prior beliefs alone, a critical thinker is open to having his beliefs changed, and this is true even when he disagrees initially with what is being said. In other words, the critical thinker acknowledges he might be persuaded by the content of what is being said to believe it. Critical reasoning, then, involves looking at reasons on which a point of view is based and judging whether these reasons are strong enough to justify accepting this point of view.

If I did not think this to be a legitimate and worthy endeavor, I would have never created the re:thinking website. I have had many discussions with people with whom I disagree. As long as I have reason to believe my opponets are endeavoring to be critical thinkers and not just disagreers, I do my part to keep the discussions going. However, if a person indicates they are unwilling to change, no matter what the evidence may be, then there is no longer a meaningful dialogue. In fact, integrity demands that we not only think of ourselves as willing to change, if the vidence demands it, but that we believe this is the attitude of our opponet, as well. I believe civil discourse demands this disposition. Some netizens, it seems clear, do not understand these critical differences. As mere disagreers, these see any discussion as a means of "winning," and when they think they can no longer win a disagreement, they turn their attention elsewhere. This demonstrates that these folks have absolutely no faith in the critical reasoning process, and this is demonstrated by the words of one who disagreed with me, when he said, "How could we argue with such conviction if we were actually prepared to abandon those convictions?" In other words, an opponet like this doesn't even believe in the process. With him, it is a mere contest, not an opportunity to improve his set of beliefs. How sad!

I've too frequently run into this "I'm not going to change your mind and you're not going to change my mind" attitude in personal discussions, on the radio, on my two-hour, live, call-in T.V. program, and here on my website. Frankly, it always blows my mind when I hear it because it always comes from people who have already invested considerable time and effort in order to disagree with me. Why would someone invest time and effort into an argument in which he did not expect to change the other person's thinking or else have their own thinking changed? I just don't get it. I am not offended by my opponent trying to change my thinking. In fact, I expect it, and would be disappointed if those who disagree with me weren't trying to convert me to their way of thinking. In contrast, when I come to understand that my opponent isn't trying to change me, then I'm convinced I'm wasting my time. One such opponent said, "No matter how convicted we are about the correctness of our own conclusions, no means exist by which to compel anyone to adopt those convictions." Yes, certainly, but rightly rejecting coercion does not mean critical reasoning must be abandoned as no longer compelling to reasonable men and women. Ladies and gentlemen, when you get right down to it, critical thinking is all we have, and when we are willing to throw this away, the postmodernists have won the battle for the mind.

Critical thinking makes us all very uncomfortable. Therefore, it is far too easy to choose the position that is most comfortable or the most self-serving, rather than the one that is the most reasonable. Contrary to what some think, preachers are not the only ones who occupy this self-serving comfort zone. In truth, the tendency affects us all, and to override it, we must work very hard at developing our critical thinking. So, when we learn through a process of critical thinking that we were mistaken about something, we must be willing to admit that until then our understanding had been defective. But, and here's the rub, this is a difficult thing for most of us to do. We don't want to change our beliefs or learn from someone else, as we have something invested in already being right. However, continuing in this attitude will hold us at the level of mere disagreement. Frankly, this is where some folks seem most comfortable; but not me. I believe critical thinking, if I learn to do it well, will permit me to engage in replacing, when necessary, less adequate beliefs with more productive ones. As I've already said, I believe this process is most beneficial when I engage in it well. This means that the critical thinker is like an athlete effectively engaged in the activities of his sport, while the disagreer is like a body builder, taking pride in the static features of his body, and not in how his body actually performs.

So, if you have come to this website with the object of "winning" by making your opponents look and sound bad, rather than the winning of new understanding by careful consideration of points made, then you will be sorely disappointed with what you encounter here. I make no apologies for any such disappointment.

Some think the solution is that we all just love one another, which certainly isn't wrong, in and of itself. In fact, God commands it. However, I'm sure that most of the participants in the dialogues found on this website believe themselves to have been operating under this principle. However, it is sobering to recognize that no one but God has the corner on love, and it really is impertinent of anyone to think otherwise. In order to disregard disagreements, some make a "unity in diversity" plea, which argues all roads lead to heaven. However, such seems to be nothing more than a complete sell-out to the idea of objective truth. It is for this reason that I reject most unity in diversity pleas.

In conclusion, we learn from the Bible that the apostle Paul "reasoned" with those with whom he disagreed, "explaining" and "demonstrating" the necessary things as he "persuaded" them (Acts 17:2). Should we not follow the same pattern?

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