Picture this: you’re sitting in a classroom, scrolling social media, or watching TV when you encounter an argument you’ve never heard before against a teaching from Scripture, like the six-day creation.1 Biblically, you know the argument can’t be true. Yet it sounds so . . . persuasive! What do you do?
As a Christian student taking evolutionary2 classes, I experienced situations like this regularly. But I found that a few practical, accessible tools can help Christian students—or any Christian!—think through new faith-challenging messages and arrive at a biblical, logical response themselves. Having personally tested these tools during four years of secular university, I’ve seen how useful they are. They all come down to three rules of critical thinking:
So, what are those “7 Checks of Critical Thinking” for breaking down any message? Let’s take a look.
God’s Word is our authority for truth, because God is the only One who has always been there, who knows everything, who cannot lie, and who reveals the big picture of reality through the Bible. That’s why God’s Word is the only sure foundation for our thinking in everything. So, when we hear any new message, the first question to ask is, “How does this message compare with Scripture?”
Of course, before we can answer that, we need a deep familiarity with what the Bible says. This reality highlights the importance of spiritual foundations—personally knowing God and His Word, which Christian students I’ve met worldwide said was so important for keeping their faith at university.
Sometimes, as you compare a message against Scripture, you realize it doesn’t challenge a non-negotiable doctrine of Scripture, like the existence of Adam.4 Instead, it addresses a negotiable side-issue, like the question of how many Magi visited Jesus. A few questions can help you discern whether a message opposes a non-negotiable doctrine:
Another important question to ask is where is this information coming from? What is the source’s credibility? Are they an expert in a relevant field?5 What’s their worldview starting point—God’s Word or man’s word? Could they have other motives for sharing this message? How was the information collected? Is it being reported accurately?
The next step is to clarify the definitions used for any keywords in the message. Many words carry multiple meanings or mean different things to different people. So, when I heard certain words like person, science, or evolution, I always found it helpful to think about how that word was being used, and whether its meaning subtly switched during the course of the message. If you do notice a word’s meaning switch, you’ve detected a logical fallacy called equivocation.
Now, it’s time to sort out fact from propaganda, which tries to persuade by appealing to something besides logic—like emotions, aesthetics, or the human desire for acceptance. To catch propaganda, ask “Why does this message sound true? Is it trying to persuade based on logic, or on something else? Is that “something else” relevant to the message’s truth?”
With propaganda out of the way, you should be left with just the facts—and their interpretations. The facts are the parts of the message we can observe in the present using the scientific method. But other parts of the message may be interpretations of those facts based on assumptions about the past, which we can’t directly observe.6 So, to separate fact from interpretations, I always found it helpful to ask, “What are the assumptions behind this message, and what’s another way to explain the same observations from a biblical perspective?”
At this point, you will have already caught many potential fallacies in a message. But there could still be other flawed logic lurking behind the facts. So, now’s the time to do a final check for other forms of faulty reasoning, including circular reasoning, straw man arguments, or formal fallacies. Ask, “Are there any other errors in reasoning that should make me think twice before believing this message?”
There’s a lot more to say about each of these checks, but this summary presents an overview of the critical thinking framework which helped me during university—and which can help any Christian navigate secular classrooms or culture. For more on how to think critically about any faith-challenging message, stay tuned for future blog articles and CT (Critical Thinking) Scan videos, coming soon to a screen near you!