Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Christian Critical Thinking | Ravi Zacharias

Here is an interview found in one of the most recent issues of Just Thinking:

"Do not be children in your thinking."
1 Corinthians 13:20.

Danielle DuRant: It’s great to be with you, Ravi, to talk about critical thinking and engaging an audience. Would you begin by defining critical thinking for us?

Ravi Zacharias: Let me put it in the simplest words I can... I think critical thinking has two components to it. The main component is when you’re analyzing any propositional statement or system of thought, you are engaged with critical thinking whether you like it or not. So the only question is, are you doing it well? Are you doing it in a way that is befitting the subject or are you doing it unjustly? The second aspect of it is the ethical implications of whatever it is you have processed.

So I like to think of critical thinking as an analytical process of evaluating the truth component of the statement or thought you are processing. That has to be done. If you are looking at a worldview, any assertion, or any challenge to your own worldview, you have to evaluate it on the basis of truth, the coherence of what is being claimed, and then the implications of what this means for your personal life. So first there is an analytical component to it—the truth component, the synthesizing component. And second, at the end of it there must be an application or an imperative component to it. We must think critically especially in defending our worldview or in challenging a counter perspective. So critical analysis of worldviews is what critical thinking is all about.

DD: Many vocations involve critical thinking, whether you are a surgeon, a lawyer, a teacher. Why is it so important for the Christian particularly to engage in critical thinking and to develop critical thinking skills?

RZ: The Christian still for some reason is charged illegitimately with being the only one who is exclusive. I have said it many times before: all worldviews claim exclusivity, but somehow it is popular to hit the Christian as the only one that lays claim to this. Yes, we do lay claim to the fact that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There is an exclusive claim made by Jesus in the pages of the Scriptures. But exclusivity is also claimed in the pantheistic worldviews and in all of the monotheistic worldviews. So for the Christian, it should be done gently, it should be done efficiently, effectively, and with respect when you are talking to anybody. 

I’ve just come back from parts of the world where I had to be so careful in what I said and how I said it because ninety percent of the audience sitting in front of me was not sympathetic towards my belief. I was engaged in a critical analysis of my own worldview and then showed why it was tenable and coherent. So for the Christian today, and especially for our young, it is important to instruct them not only on how to defend what we believe but also how to do it with gentleness and respect. As Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15-16, to do that with gentleness and respect to always be able to give a reason for the hope that is within you. It is imperative upon us to do it justifiably and to do it respectfully.

DD: What about the Christian who says, “I really don’t need to learn this skill; I just need to study the Bible.”

RZ: I wish that person were right because I would love to be that way too! Interestingly, many Muslims actually live like that. I have talked to one of the leading muftis, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and he said, “I just have to tell you what the Quran says and that’s what I believe.” Well, what happens in a world of pluralistic options? What happens to the world of reason? What happens to legitimizing the process, not just the end conclusion you’ve come to? Is that what it is all about? “I’m not going to listen to any other argument; I’m just going to believe what I claim to believe.” Can you do that in a court of law? “I’m not going to defend what I’m saying; I’m just telling you I didn’t do it.” It doesn’t work.

We do believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but we come through a process of legitimizing that claim. We just didn’t make that claim; we tell you why we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and the Bible itself lays claim to this methodology. For example, in the Gospel of John, when the Holy Spirit comes, Jesus said that the Spirit would bring conviction of truth, righteousness, and things to come. Peter says this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel. So while he’s harking to Scripture, he’s harking back also to an empirical way of justifying it: this is a fulfillment of prophecy which was spoken of hundreds of years ago. There is a rational process, existential relevance, and a methodology we must adhere to. In a world full of challenges, you have to come to something outside of the text that you are defending rather than saying this is the text I believe.

DD: If I recall correctly, I believe it was Schaeffer who popularized the statement “all truth is God’s truth.”

RZ: Yes, he did. And I think it was often misused by people who didn’t understand what he was saying. What Schaeffer was actually saying is that if something is true, it would also be true in what God has said of reality and the nature of life, destiny, origin, meaning, and so on. So if it is true, it is not just “secularly true;” it is also true in the theological realm. It was interesting what Mahatma Gandhi said: “Truth is God and God is truth.” Now Gandhi was depersonalizing it in a way and making an abstraction out of it, but the fact of the matter is there is no contradiction in God. There is nothing that causes God to disintegrate within Himself; so I would say that Gandhi abstracted what Schaeffer then personalized.

DD:What about people such as the new atheists who accuse Christians of being irrational and lacking critical thinking skills? After all, we believe in a Jesus who walked on water and was born of the Virgin Mary. That seems fairly irrational to the average skeptic.

RZ: You know, I find the atheist very clever in what they do. For example, why do they discount miracles? According to David Hume, because the natural law functions routinely—so why do you look
for miracles, an oddity in the midst of natural law? So they did away with the miraculous because they were going with what was normative and what was routine. But then when it came to ethics, they very cleverly switched the terms. If you started talking about an absolute, which was normative, they would interject an exception like, “What happens if you walk into your home and your family member is being assaulted? Are you telling me you will not fight or take a baseball bat or something?” Very fascinating. When it came to natural law in the realm of the sun and the planets,they did not allow for the exceptions. But when it came to ethics, it was the exception that debunked the absolute.

So what do those two reactions have in common? They both want to get rid of God—because if you bring in the miraculous in natural law, you have to accommodate the presence of God. If you take the normative and the absolute in ethics, you have to invoke upon the very person of God. So it is more the atheist that is anti-reason and anti-rational, but the accusation that is made against the Christian is leveraged to their advantage now.

But what about the origin of the universe? Is it repeatable? No.They themselves say this could never happen again. What about the contingencies that it took? Thirty some contingencies the exactitude demanded. The very fact that you and I are here is the process of what even atheists would sometimes say is so awesome that it is tantamount to being something like a miracle. Some of the  scientists have used that very word. So what I say to them is, you have already accepted that which is not repeatable. You have already accepted that which is so rare. You have already accepted the fact that when you come to a singularity, you are actually seeing the laws of physics do not apply to all of those origins. Do we really think that the consummation of love between and a man and a woman and the birth of a child is just something that is explainable so naturalistically? Rather than seeing the miracle of birth and the wonder of it, we think just by describing it that we have debunked the notion of the miracle.

So when we talk about walking on water and the miraculous, we are talking about a theistic framework. When you are able to defend the existence of God, you also talk about the intervention of God in history and the intervention of God in the process of a natural law.  To me, the very fact of natural law is a miraculous expression of God to sustain life. You remember when we had the two astronauts visiting us here at the office. They talked about looking through the windows of space as they were orbiting the earth and seeing something so unique about this planet and its particularity. I think we live with the miraculous every day.

Now the atheist is unfortunately partially correct when he or she attacks the Christian faith and we make no proper defense of it. So I think the defense of the existence of God, the defense of the very person of Jesus Christ, and the defense of the miraculous can be done and ought to be done. I would ask the atheist how is it that they defend moral reasoning in an amoral universe that by non-moral origins has arrived at this kind of thinking and this kind of argument. I think they have a lot more to explain than the Christian does.

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More Ravi Zacharias:

The Gentle Goldsmith



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