How to Think Critically XI: The Null Hypothesis

So, you may have heard that Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, has a new book on the same subject, called The Power. Personally, I’m bewildered. Her first book promised to tell you how to get everything you’ve ever wanted. What possible room could there be for a sequel?

You might also have heard of the famous athletes who are wearing this bracelet, which, according to its makers, uses “processed titanium and holograms” which are “designed to interact with your body’s natural energy”, improving balance, energy, recovery time and flexibility. Although the makers admit they haven’t done any scientific studies, they allegedly have favorable testimonials by major athletes from Alex Rodriguez to Shaquille O’Neil – and hey, what more do you need than that?

I wonder if any believers in these products ever tried putting them to even a simple test. For instance, the authors of The Secret claim that reality is controlled by human willpower, and that you can use this effect to get yourself wealth and riches, a dream job, a trophy spouse, a house on the beach, a fleet of luxury sports cars, etc., etc. To judge if this is true, why not try it on a much simpler and more unambiguous outcome? Why not, for example, flip a coin and will it to come up heads twenty times in a row, or roll a pair of dice and command them with your mind to turn up seven every time? If the claims of The Secret are true, this should be easy to accomplish.

Or take these magical “hologram bracelets” – why wouldn’t you try, for example, shooting a hundred baskets (or hitting a hundred pitches, or a hundred putts, etc.) with and then without the bracelet, and see if the outcomes are noticeably different? Although it wouldn’t be a double-blind experiment, it would still be better than no testing at all.

What these stories show is that humans don’t have an instinctive grasp of the null hypothesis: the basic assumption, which you should always make in the absence of specific evidence to the contrary, that the events you see are due to chance. The Secret (and its inexplicable sequel) teach you to wish for what you want and keep on wishing until something good happens – and then triumphantly concludes that your wishes control the functioning of the universe. And if you don’t get what you want, the author leaves herself a convenient escape hatch: you did get what you wished for, you just unintentionally wished for something different than what you thought you wanted. The belief is structured so that nothing can convince its devotees of the existence of chance, no matter how tenuous the connections they must draw.

Failure to employ the null hypothesis causes belief in all kinds of pseudoscience and magic. There’s another example from a non-Western culture, this one from Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained, a case study of the Zande people of Sudan by the British anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard. When a house in the village collapsed, the people promptly concluded that those who lived there must have had enemies who were powerful witches. Evans-Pritchard pointed out, in vain, that the house was infested with termites. As the Zande explained, they were perfectly aware that termites could weaken the structure of a house and cause it to collapse. What they wanted to know why was it collapsed at that particular moment, when some people were sitting under it and not others – and that fact, they could think of no other way to explain than by blaming it on witches who bore those people ill will [p.13].

And then there’s this classic story, from James Randi’s Flim-Flam!: Gerard Croiset, a Dutch “psychic”,

attended a parapsychology seminar and competed with an East German “psychic”. During the encounter, the German concentrated on withering a flower, while Croiset concentrated on saving it. The flower survived, and Croiset crowed victory, saying that his powers were stronger. [p.143]

If you start with your conclusion and go looking for correlations that can be interpreted to support it, you’ll almost always find one if you look long and hard enough. The world is full of coincidences, and the human brain is extremely good at finding connections, regardless of whether they exist in reality or not. To avoid falling into this error, it’s essential to begin with the hypothesis of random chance and no connection, and then definitively rule it out with a repeatable experiment.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Charles Newbury

    If critical thinking is so important then I wonder why it is not taught to our children? Could it be that it could be used as a weapon against the establishment?

  • Hendy

    What’s worse is that these new theories try to piggyback on any terms using the word “quantum” in order to convince the masses of the validity of their theory. Since there is a world of “potential realities” out there, all you’re doing is manifesting something that already exists, and simply bringing it into your reality. I wonder how many owners of The Secret still have the same life they did 5 or however many years ago when they bought it.

    Just this morning QKRS in MN had on one of the guys from that paranormal ghost show and he was dropping quantum physics and the law of the conservation of energy as to why ghosts are real… soo frustrating. The people interviewing him were unbelievably into it.

  • DSimon

    “Could it be that it could be used as a weapon against the establishment?”

    Incompetence is much more likely than malevolence. Or in other words: our children are not taught critical thinking in school probably because hardly anybody’s gotten around to convincing the people in charge of curriculum development that it’s important.

    I know some people have, because “critical thinking” is now a buzzphrase in education. However, in practice it mostly seems to mean “assign lots of essay assignments then grade them just like you used to”. :-

  • Douglas Kirk

    I’m going into education as a career, and I absolutely love the idea of mandatory critical thinking courses for our public school students. It’s something i want to fight for when I have a solid teaching position. Personally, I’d like to see two year long classes in 6th and 8th grade, and a semester course in high school all about thinking critically.

    The 6th grade one would be monsters, having students examine claims of bigfoot, yetis, loch ness, ghosts etc. and teaching them what common logical fallacies cause people to believe in those things. The 8th grade one would be pseudoscience like homeopathy, chiropracters, old snake oil peddlers etc. and the further instruction on logical fallacies and understaing statisics and also the difference between a reasonable conclusion and an irrational claim. The high school one would be more advanced and handle current events using the skills taught earlier; currently the classes would go over evolution and climate change for instance. The high school students would be required to support and defend their positions on them and their logical fallacies would be pointed out by the teacher and their peers.

    It just seems like something so essential that we’re neglecting entirely to teach our youth.

  • jane hay

    Douglas – the school board and the parents would NEVER allow such a curriculum addition. Believe me. Most of them would be so threatened by any modicum of critical thinking it would never fly.

  • Monty

    I came across those bracelets at a vendor booth a while back, and they were claiming that each bracelet contained something like 100 TB of holographic storage. When it was pointed out that that would cost several orders of magnitude more than the $40 they were asking, they couldn’t really come up with a good response.

  • Alex Weaver

    Maybe “The Power” is just the time differential of The Secret?

  • Alex Weaver

    If critical thinking is so important then I wonder why it is not taught to our children? Could it be that it could be used as a weapon against the establishment?

    It also tends to lead to rejection of religion, greater scrutiny of political candidates and of the policies and behavior of government and corporations, and a decrease in one’s inclination to buy overpriced crap one doesn’t need simply because it’s advertised. Proliferation of critical thinking might also affect criminal conviction rates and would definitely generate pressure to end the Holy War on Some Drugs. Not to mention killing climate change denialism in its tracks and laughing out of the room the corporate slimeballs who insist that it’s unfair and an undue burden that their corporations should have to pay to clean up the messes they create. And that’s just off the top of my head.

    There are a lot of vested interests in keeping people jumping, barking, and drooling.

  • Karen

    That’s a fantastic plan, Douglas. I applaud your energy and optimism and I wish you all success in carrying out your ideas once you get established in teaching. We need more teachers like you!

  • http://www.kurmujjin.com kurmujjin

    No reason why critical thinking can’t be taught in ANY course where the opportunity arises, thinking particularly of literature, history, geography and the like. And it SHOULD be taught at every teaching moment that arises. And taught this way it is less likely to be attacked by the superstitious.

    Apart from that, lest we throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water, there are a certain amount of useful information and exercises in these books. But the effects are attibuted to magic rather than subconscious mental conditioning, focus and filtering. The average person doesn’t perform these mental processes deliberately. They have experiences by default. We need to be teaching science of mind rather than mind magic.

  • Explorer

    Of course in order to have our children taught critical thinking, we would first need teachers who were able to do it themselves. I suspect that teachers are (at least almost) as susceptible to woolly thinking as the rest of the sheeple.

  • kennypo65

    Critical thinking leads to the questioning of authority, ALL authority. Principals, teachers and parents are authority figures. This will lead to chaos in the classroom and the home. No one will teach it in school for this reason. Too bad, if more people thought critically(or thought at all) the amount of bullshit in the world would be greatly reduced.

  • plublesnork

    These woo bracelets have been pretty big here in Australia of late, too. One of the skeptic podcasts I listen to has covered them in great detail. It turns out you can get your own custom ones made up in the same factory as the “official” ones for <$1 each. The Skeptic Bros have their "Placebo Band".

    The biggest retailer of them here in AU, Power Balance, in the last week or two, were awarded the CHOICE magazine shonky award for a truly shonky (dodgy, woo-filled, fraudulent) product.

    Video of the award announcement here: http://skepticzone.libsyn.com/power-balance-wins-a-choice-magazine-shonky-award

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    Critical thinking leading to children questioning the unfailing wisdom of their parents and other leaders? What a certainly unprecedented and unthinkable event!! Okay, enough sarcasm. I am really very concerned that we aren’t teaching kids like myself to think. I’m in high school. I have seen levels of stupid that defy belief. We NEED these skills or else, we would, like, become, like, worse, ya know? It doesn’t even have to be a class. We could have critical thinking units for our ordinary classes.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I’ve often wondered about that escape hatch of “you subconsciously wished for something else”. It’s as though they are arguing that inside your head there’s two competing minds, and the hidden one ALWAYS wins. The thing is, the subconscious concept kinda depends on a concept of brain matter actually mattering, rather than our bodies just being a convenient illusion we’ve made for ourselves. Why would people intentionally, originally, whenever that was, make a second voice that acts contrary to themselves? For fun? Also, why would that hidden voice always win? Does it “want” things “harder”? Heck, for that matter how do they even resolve the idea of billions of competing minds often at odds in their desires for the world? The simplest question to break it all down is, does “wishing” for a red light to turn green mean that everyone on the competing lane at the intersection get a red light? Would that be a glitch that road technicians would detect and want to figure out how it went wrong? More importantly, what if just one other person going towards the intersection on the other road was wishing for their light to be green? Do BOTH people get their wish? Wouldn’t that result in a collision, or at least a really cool and inexplicable scene of two cars passing through each other like ghosts?

    There’s also the little matter of essentially blaming the victims, saying “you secretly WANTED to have your hand chopped off for rebelling against a local tyrant” or “you secretly wanted to waste 20 years of your life in a go nowhere job”.

  • DSimon

    I’m really concerned about all this talk of “Well, of course the Powers That Be don’t want our children to learn critical thinking, because they prefer that the citizens all be sheeple.”

    Does anyone here actually think this is more plausible than the explanation of “Our children aren’t taught critical thinking because our school system kind of sucks and it’s also very large and hard to change”? Seriously, for all its numerous mistakes and flaws, our government is not actually being ran by Voldemort.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    During the encounter, the German concentrated on withering a flower, while Croiset concentrated on saving it.

    Of course, neither of them would have agreed to the following: one concentrates on shrinking the flower to half its size while the other concentrates on growing it to twice its size.

    the authors of The Secret claim that reality is controlled by human willpower, and that you can use this effect to get yourself wealth and riches, a dream job, a trophy spouse, a house on the beach, a fleet of luxury sports cars, etc., etc.

    And this is another example of what I see from believers of religion or astrology, what I call human egocentrism, that there is something so gosh darn special about we humans that the universe is in some way required to validate us. God has a plan for us. The time of our birth determines what kind of person we are and what happens to us. There are forces in the universe that we can tap into to bend reality to our favor.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com Spanish Inquisitor

    Seriously, for all its numerous mistakes and flaws, our government is not actually being ran by Voldemort.

    No, but, for the most part, it is run by well meaning Christians. Teaching “critical thinking” will be seen by many as a back-door attempt to teach atheism, as if such a thing can be “taught”. We all know that critical thinking leads one to question the woo, and that won’t be lost on the school boards and the parents who want to raise their children, even public school attending children, as good Christians.

    They have to fear that once that Pandora’s box is opened it will be very hard, indeed impossible, to shut.

  • DSimon

    Teaching “critical thinking” will be seen by many as a back-door attempt to teach atheism, as if such a thing can be “taught”.

    Yeah, that’s a good point.

    I’m still highly skeptical, though, of the notion expressed in prior comments that there would be an intentional effort to suppress critical thinking education because it might get people to stop buying certain products, or to start revolutions.

  • DSimon

    And this is another example of what I see from believers of religion or astrology, what I call human egocentrism, that there is something so gosh darn special about we humans that [...] [t]here are forces in the universe that we can tap into to bend reality to our favor.

    Oh, but there totally are! It’s just that it isn’t usually accomplished by willing really really hard for reality to change, but by carefully and methodically figuring the universe out.

  • HP

    I guess this is as good a time as any to announce the publication of my new spiritual self-help book, Monkeypaws: The Incredible Key to Financial Stability and Family Togetherness.

  • MS Quixote

    This has always been a good and welcome series, Ebon. Thanks. On this one, though I’m in general agreement, I would caution on the use of the word “chance” here. I get what you meant by it, but it seems to be employed as a placeholder for a causal agent at times, which it certainly is not. Chance cannot cause anything, for it is not anything, but a synonym of sorts for our inability to process large groups of contingent factors, some of which may even be unknown. Hence, the events we see are due to something, but never to chance.

    With regard to some of the commentary, there’s not much debate that some Christians fear critical thinking. However, I’d suggest cleansing your own closet first. The great majority of scholastic or formal denial of critical thinking principles-even that which ultimately shows up in the public schoolroom-generates from y’all’s side of the fence, for instance, Postmodernism. And atheism, though by no means a monolithic or codified thought structure, has throughout the ages been a harbor for critical thought denial.

    Though no doubt you may cite valid counter-examples, and certainly disagree with her conclusions in relation to critical thought and its utilization, the church has always embraced critical thought and logic, and has been in the forefront defending it against other religions and the non-religious. In that, then, we here can disgree on what the deliverances of critical thought are, but stand together in defending critical thought itself.

  • Steve Bowen

    the church has always embraced critical thought and logic,

    Hey Quixote!
    Theology and religious apologetics are impressive logical edifices I agree. It’s the foundations that are shaky.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    attended a parapsychology seminar and competed with an East German “psychic”. During the encounter, the German concentrated on withering a flower, while Croiset concentrated on saving it. The flower survived, and Croiset crowed victory, saying that his powers were stronger. [p.143]

    Sure, Croiset may have won that short term test, but I bet if the contest were lengthened to a full week, we’d really see some psychic action.

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    Quixote, I really would enjoy hearing some examples of Atheists shunning critical thinking. Usually, it is the religious that ignore logic in support of faith. Why do you think it is “a harbor of critical thought denial?” It is a mystery to me. Our entire belief system is based on a process of testing and observable truth. One can’t really get more critical thought than that. Atheists ask, “is it true?” Theists ask, ” why is it so? Is there some way to conform this to our presupposed worldview?” I suppose it is predictable of me, then, to say, “Prove it. Prove to me that Atheism is anemic to critical thinking.”

    Oh, and Libertarians for Senate 2010!

  • MS Quixote

    Hey J. James,

    Hope things find you well. There’s no need for me to justify the proposition “Atheism is anemic to critical thinking” because I don’t think it’s true. All I’ve said is that a vibrant subset of atheism rejects many critical thinking principles. They’re generally not the analytic types that frequent blogs such as Daylight Atheism; hence, the friendly reminder that your side of the fence requires a bit of clearing, just as mine admittedly does.

    Moreover, the majority of scholarly work set forth which rejects critical thinking clearly and demonstrably comes, or orginated, from within the skeptical or non-theist camp, even if it owes some of its thought to Kirkegaard. I gave you one example: Postmodernism. Much of what you hear coming out of the church these days derives directly from that source. For more, simply conduct a google search on continental philosophy, existentialism, and the like, or take a look at thinkers such as Richard Rorty or Jacques Derrida. There are more than can be counted of these thinkers who are skeptical of critical thought and the church, as well as the atheist throughout time who has simply thought that everything is meaningless.

    Nevertheless, I am pleased to learn that, after all, atheists do have a “belief system.” :)

    Hey Steve…how’s it goin’? God, or whoever, save the Queen! Yes, indeed, some of them are indeed shaky…

  • John Nernoff

    Evaluating the Byrne claim does not require *critical* thinking, just ordinary thinking. No deep analysis is needed. The claim is a big lie. Any person who is of average intelligence and who has be reasonably educated and lived a “normal” life knows the “Secret” is a scam. There is no need to say anything else. (The person must however have only passing familiarity with the selling of deeds to the Brooklyn Bridge.)

  • DSimon

    With regard to some of the commentary, there’s not much debate that some Christians fear critical thinking. However, I’d suggest cleansing your own closet first.

    MS Quixote, this whole “cleaning your own closet first” thing is just silly. Why should all atheists have to agree on something before any particular atheist criticizes any non-atheist about it? As you’ve pointed out, we’re not a monolithic block.

    More to the point, what makes you think that atheists don’t discuss critical thinking among themselves? Heck, you’ve must’ve seen it happen plenty of times right on this very site. It’s rather patronizing to advise us to do something we’re already doing.

    [A]theism [...] has throughout the ages been a harbor for critical thought denial.

    “Throughout the ages”? I call shenanigans. Atheism is a fairly recent phenomenon as philosophies go, much younger than most religions that are active today.

    Besides that, I don’t buy your example of postmodernism. In its most popular form, postmodernism is much more closely associated with deism or pantheism of the “Maybe everybody’s right simultaneously” flavor than with atheism.

    [...]the atheist throughout time who has simply thought that everything is meaningless.

    Again, “throughout time”? That’s a pretty strong claim for something that sounds pretty characteristically sourcable to Nietzsche, who was again relatively recent.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    DSimon,

    “Throughout the ages”? I call shenanigans. Atheism is a fairly recent phenomenon as philosophies go, much younger than most religions that are active today.

    Although MS’s statement might very well be shenanigans, atheism is not that recent. Some ancient Greeks were atheists as well as some ancient (IIRC) Indians. (Carvaka or something like that? Ebon wrote about it about a year ago or so.)

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    OMGF: Like Socrates. :p

    Anways, I gotta say, yeah, religious institutions? Not the best spawning ground of critical thinking or logic. You nail one bit of critical thinking to a church door, and suddenly the entire religion splits in two. You write up a tiny note about your critical thinking over 5 days, and again, your religion splits in two. Every bit of critical thinking seems to fracture the church further and further, from MLK to Kant and beyond. Atheism, on the other hand, being united in the fact we are not united, cannot grow weaker by segmentation as a church can, since we are by definition entirely camps of but a single person to begin with. That does not preclude us becoming stronger, however, unlike churches which must take the weakening with more logic along with the strengthening of the off piece of logic (rare as it may be) that doesn’t manage to split their entire religion into two more warring sects.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I’ve met plenty of irrational atheists; MSQ is right in pointing out that atheism doesn’t confer rationality. Of course, the idea that atheism has been a “harbor” (which is, after all, a place of refuge), is silly on its face, as is (as OMGF pointed out) the idea that atheists must move in lockstep on a view before we can mention it to anyone else.

  • DSimon

    AIUI Socrates is a “maybe”… we don’t know that much about the actual guy except through Plato, and what Plato says largely matches up with a guy who believed in Gods but not the official “state” Gods.

    But I’m nitpicking on a specific case; that’s a good point about ancient Greek and Indian atheists, I’d forgotten completely about them.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Hey Quixote,

    I don’t deny that there are plenty of woolly-headed atheists. That’s OK; this post series is aimed at them too. :) That said, I think the modern atheist movement – by which I mean an organized group of nonbelievers promoting atheism as an end in itself, as opposed to the broader category of people who happen to be atheists – is staunchly devoted to the support of critical thinking and reason.

    Though no doubt you may cite valid counter-examples, and certainly disagree with her conclusions in relation to critical thought and its utilization, the church has always embraced critical thought and logic, and has been in the forefront defending it against other religions and the non-religious.

    I wouldn’t go so far as that. Certainly the Christian church has had its share of famous theologians, like Aquinas or Descartes, who used formal logic as a method. But even the most rigorous application of logic won’t get you anywhere if you’re not willing to examine your starting assumptions. In that respect, I think the church has historically treated the existence of God, and all its myriad convoluted theologies, as propositions that must be believed by faith and may not be questioned – the opposite of what a true devotion to reason and critical thinking would demand.

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    What he said. : ) But really, there’s not much to criticize when it comes to Atheism in general. But religion has all sorts of wacky, insane, depressing and stupid things going on. Yet you treat the two as if they are equally bad, which they are not.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    there’s not much to criticize when it comes to Atheism in general

    Except the baby eating. We should really rethink that one.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    But they’re so tasty.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Damn, Steve. Don’t you like barbecue?

  • Steve Bowen

    The inaugural meeting of Baby Eaters Anonymous is now in session.

  • Steve Bowen

    But seriously. Quixote, as Ebon said so eloquently and I alluded to, logical argument is not critical thinking. If you start with a false premise you can still reach a logical but false conclusion which pretty much sums up theology for me.
    In the context of the post and in particular “the secret” there is a potential placebo effect here. In my youth the equivalent of Rhonda Byrne, was Louise Hay whose book You Can Heal Your Life was a must have on every new agers bookshelf. I read it (still have it) and regardless of the ridiculous premises the effect on people can be profound. Positive thinking does help, not because the universe complies, but because people approve of “positive” people and are more likely to employ/marry/have sex with/ recommend them over negative self pitying people.

  • http://journal.nearbennett.com Rick
    During the encounter, the German concentrated on withering a flower, while Croiset concentrated on saving it.

    Of course, neither of them would have agreed to the following: one concentrates on shrinking the flower to half its size while the other concentrates on growing it to twice its size.

    Or even do what sports teams do–switch ends of the field. Round 1: German withers, Croiset saves; Round 2: German saves, Croiset withers. Repeat until one of them has a two round advantage.

  • MS Quixote

    That said, I think the modern atheist movement … is staunchly devoted to the support of critical thinking and reason.

    I think I’ve been upfront on this site in my affirmation of this. I’ve even cited examples of premier atheist thinkers here who have displayed laudable intellectual honesty by following Reason down paths they’d rather not, and sided wth y’all at times against theists when critical thinking dictated so. I haven’t commented here regularly, so for those not acquainted with me, let’s put this part to rest.

    In that respect, I think the church has historically treated the existence of God, and all its myriad convoluted theologies, as propositions that must be believed by faith and may not be questioned – the opposite of what a true devotion to reason and critical thinking would demand.

    These don’t seem like fighting words to me, Ebon. There are certainly prominent and influential strands of fideism within the church as well as a general dislike or distrust for critical thinking, as well as science, etc. One of the reasons I don’t comment here regularly, besides the fact that I’m an outsider thought-wise, is that I spend a good deal of time countering these trends-cleansing my own closet you might say-within the church. And one of the reasons I enjoy the dialogue here is that at least when we disagree we disagree under the auspices of critical thinking. I share your frustration with other dialogues and I fear I’m more well exposed to it than y’all on a firsthand basis :)

    This, however, does not, and cannot, more specifically, erase what is a simple and evident historical fact: the church has always embraced critical thought. If we just take “The Secret” as a baseline, no single group criticized it, and the new age movement at large, more than the Christian church. I applaud you for doing so as well, and in that, I see us pulling on the same rope.

    Perhaps I’m a bit quarantined within my own tradition, Reformed Theology, which relies heavily on critical thinking. This tradition would include such thinkers as Alvin Plantinga. Try “Warrant and Proper Function” on for size. You may disagree with it, but in all fairness you shouldn’t finish it with the feeling that the church does not embrace critical thought. Good grief…if you read his “God and Other Minds” he’ll refute the classical arguments for the existence of God for you in a manner as least as forceful as any non-theist text I’ve read . Rather distanced from a refusal to confront assumptions, I’d say :)

    Which leaves us with assumptions. This part puzzles me, for while I concur that a great portion of the church takes things for granted precisely as you note (that part is agreed to, granted, and settled, as far as I’m concerned), assumptions in general represent a theist high ground philosophically. IOW, the null hypothesis does not remove all assumptions, for it is itself founded upon them, and though you’ll no doubt disagree–perhaps not–I’ve not encountered a suitable ground for these assumptions, given any sort of naturalism.

    At any rate, this is a top-notch site, and, as always, thanks for allowing me to both agree and also to present a respectful, but minority report. I’ll give you the last word…

    Steve,

    logical argument is not critical thinking

    True, logical argument may not be a sufficient condition for critical thinking, but it’s a necessary condition :)

    If you start with a false premise you can still reach a logical but false conclusion which pretty much sums up theology for me.

    No doubt it does, but you’re nowhere hear where you’d need to be on your side of the fence, simply attempting to establish a conclusion based on the null hypothesis. Wanna spend the rest of your life defending the correspondence theory of truth? And the interesting part, as I’ve alluded to above, is that, in the main, you would be arguing with theists, and Christians, against non-theists in this little critical thought exercise! :)

    Take care, my friend…

  • DSimon

    This, however, does not, and cannot, more specifically, erase what is a simple and evident historical fact: the church has always embraced critical thought.

    So far the evidence you’ve been presenting for this claim is specific instances of logic-using theologians. However, not all theologians rely on logic, and furthermore I’d argue that the vast majority of the day-to-day functioning and purpose of Christianity is not very logic-focused. Are most regular Christians all that concerned about whether their religious beliefs are logically self-consistent? Are most sermons designed around presenting a step-by-step rational argument?

    The null hypothesis does not remove all assumptions, for it is itself founded upon them, and though you’ll no doubt disagree–perhaps not–I’ve not encountered a suitable ground for these assumptions, given any sort of naturalism.

    Agreed that making zero assumptions isn’t an attainable goal, but the null hypothesis is just the hypothesis that makes the fewest assumptions. From a technical perspective, you can think of it as the hypothesis with the lowest Kolmogorov complexity. Naturalism is not required for the algorithm; you can figure out if things are naturalistic or not inductively.

    Wanna spend the rest of your life defending the correspondence theory of truth?

    No need. “Truth” or “reality” is just whatever determines the results of experiments. The notion doesn’t need any more metaphysical or philosophical baggage than that to be useful for induction.


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