The Christian in Critical Thought: A Reflective Essay on Browne and Keeley and Belief Perseverance

In the final chapter of Asking the Right Questions, Browne and Keeley (B&K) mention several road-blocks to critical thinking. Among others, they discuss how belief perseverance limits the ability of a person to pursue critical thinking. Belief perseverance is the “tendency for personal beliefs to persevere” despite evidence to the contrary (171). These beliefs are dearly held convictions and biases which a person has absorbed into his personality. Most people continue to hold personal beliefs, not because they do not want to improve, but they have overestimated their own competence. In order to overcome this obstacle, B&K recommend that a person acknowledge that “judgments are tentative or contextual.” Further, they add: “we can never permit ourselves to be so sure of anything that we stop searching for an improved version” (172). In the end, being able to release oneself from long held beliefs is a highly valuable skill that should be prized, and anybody that holds to beliefs despite overwhelming evidence is “intellectually dishonest.”

This ideal of critical thinking has been used to criticize Christians who are not willing to release those dearly held convictions. Christians hold certain truths as fundamental to understanding the universe. For example, there is a supernatural God. And this God has supernaturally revealed himself to humankind through the person Jesus. And Christians are not willing to release these foundational beliefs. Therefore, because they do not meet this ideal, they are classified as irrational and intellectually dishonest.

However, everyone has fundamental presuppositions to which he grounds his reasoning. For example, B&K assume that the human mind can make sound judgments apart from biases, emotion, and beliefs. For Christians, we assume that there is a God who revealed himself through Jesus. While these presuppositions can be supported by evidence, they still are presuppositions at the heart. And since everyone has presuppositions, the Christian can engage in critical thinking as does the most passionate skeptic.

As Christians, it is our duty to engage in critical thinking, especially to analyze our traditions—theological systems which synthesize Biblical data. As finite humans, we only understand a portion of the truth of God’s Word, drawing conclusions which are partial or erroneous. Further, we are ever hampered by the fear of men, wanting to fit our conclusions in our philosophical climate rather than God’s truth.

Therefore, we must check ourselves with all the available data to refine our traditions so that they accurately reflect what God has said. We need to make full use of historical, systematic, and Biblical theologies. We need to engage critical scholarship, even though many do not believe the Word of God. We need to use geology, anthropology, and other sciences to refine our understanding of God’s Word.

But most of all, we need to pursue a relationship with the Creator of truth. He is the one who will illuminate our minds. While God works through supernatural means, He more often uses natural means, such as the sciences and critical thinking to help our understanding. And so, for the Christian, critical thinking is a tool to build our faith. As we rely on Him to help us, we can explore His truth, growing closer to Him as our Father and Friend.

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