What Is “Critical Thinking”?

The creationists are known for insisting that “all sides” of the theory of evolution should be taught in science class. Their fuzziest reason for this is what they call “academic freedom,” which means freedom to teach their preferred view of things, even if it’s not accepted science.

Another often-mentioned reason is that teaching “both sides” will benefit students by training them in “critical thinking” — whatever that means. Sometimes the phrase they use is “critical analysis,” which seems to be the same thing, and we’ll use them interchangeably in this essay. They use those terms because they hope that what they’re promoting sounds like a good thing for children. But is it a good thing? That depends on what it is, not on how it sounds.

What’s it all about? The creationists never really define critical thinking — they just insist that it’s a worthy goal to pursue. It appears frequently in creationist legislative proposals, and it’s in the Academic Freedom Act (as “critical inquiry”) which is promoted by the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

We’ve been thinking about this (maybe not “critically”) and although we probably don’t have it all figured out yet, we’ll tell you what we’ve come up with so far. This started after we recently remarked that we are:

immediately skeptical when some group coins its own terms for concepts that are already well-understood. We have long known what “logical” thinking is, and what the scientific method is. Critical thinking is therefore a new thing in contrast to the already-existing terms, and that means it’s not what the existing terms describe.

After that it occurred to us that we’ve been mulling this over for quite some time. In this essay we’re going to revisit a few of our old posts, and all the bold font in all the following quotes was added by us.

More than three years ago we wrote The Meaning of “Critical Analysis” in Florida. That was about a statement by Alan I. Leshner, head of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which was posted at their website. This was at the height of a frenzy of creationist legislation that was working its way through the Florida legislature, but which eventually failed to pass. We quoted this from the AAAS article:

But critical analysis, as a slogan embraced by the intelligent design movement, turns the scientific method upside-down,” he said. “Proponents start with their conclusion — that evolution alone cannot explain the origins of humanity — and then construct an argument to undermine evolution. They do no formal experiments to test their hypothesis, and so they have no findings to publish in scientific journals. They produce no hard evidence. They discover nothing.”

Exactly. Critical analysis (or critical thinking) involves starting with the desired conclusion. That’s the opposite of the scientific method, which starts with observed facts and concludes with testable laws and explanatory theories supported by those facts. The scientific method uses inductive reasoning. We wrote about it once before: The Mind of a Creationist — Inductophobia.

What Leshner identifies as starting with the conclusion is advocated all the time at young-earth creationist websites. They’re forever telling us that we all use the same facts, but we start with different presuppositions (or different worldviews). An example of this can be seen here: AIG’s Logic: Prepare To Lose Your Mind, in which we quote Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of young-earth creationist wisdom, as saying:

The battle is not over evidence but over philosophical starting points: presuppositions.

Then there was Answers in Genesis and the Big Bang, in which we quoted AIG thusly:

When we look carefully at the beginning assumptions (presuppositions) of those who believe in the big bang and those who believe that God created the universe, we see that it all comes down to where you place your faith. We have the same facts to look at, but the starting assumptions are different. Because we start with different assumptions, we will arrive at different conclusions.

We see the same thing from the Discoveroids. In Discovery Institute: Human Evolution Is Infeasible we quoted them as saying:

Human ancestry is a highly contentious subject. The fossil record interpretations seem to be full of presuppositions, while the genetic studies seem to go back-and-forth between a fast human-chimp divergence and a slow one.

There are more examples if we substitute “worldview” for “presuppositions.” In Klinghoffer: The Imminent Collapse of Science, we quoted from a Discoveroid post that said this:

In our own day, doubts and apprehensions about materialism are barely suppressed, as the debate about Darwinian evolution illustrates. The rustling, nervous tension emanating from the Church of Science may foretell the coming retreat of materialist dogmatism and the resurgence of genuine science. Dominant paradigms and worldviews seem permanent. Yet they have a way of shifting — not overnight but with what is still, seen in retrospect, an amazing speed.

Which brings us to the Discoveroids’ wedge strategy. The full text can be read here: The Wedge Document. It says:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.


Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. … [T]he Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature.


The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy

Ignoring their hogwash about alleged “social consequences,” they’re talking about the scientific method. They don’t like it. The Wedge Document lists among their “Governing Goals”:

To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.

What they call “scientific materialism” (i.e. science) is the worldview, or presupposition, they oppose. They want science to begin with a different presupposition — one which assumes that everything is explained by supernatural phenomena. They want science to cease being science, and their code word for this is “critical thinking.”

So here’s where we end up. Critical thinking (or critical analysis) means starting with a desired conclusion (or worldview, or presupposition) and then criticizing (that’s the “critical” part) any unwanted conclusion that was obtained with another worldview — scientific materialism, inductive reasoning, logical thinking, or whatever term one might prefer. That’s the goal of the enemies of our civilization. Now you know what “critical thinking” is.

See also: Answers in Genesis Explains “Critical Thinking”.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “What Is “Critical Thinking”?

  1. Well said, and true.

    “Critical thinking” used by a creationist is nothing more than Newspeak for “Lying to children about science and the findings of science.”

  2. Another great post. But by now you know the part I don’t like – the “the” creationists thing. As you know, “the” creationists of the Scopes era wanted evolution banned, not “critically analyzed.” Even today, some creationists won’t settle for less than having their particular fairy tale taught along side evolution, even if it risks having it “critically analyzed” (or heaven forbid truly critically analyzed, as evolution is daily by evolutionary biologists).

    It’s the Discoveroid “creationists” who have “discovered” that it’s more efficient to promote fairy tales (all mutually contradictory versions) by not teaching them directl, and actually teaching evolution, followed by a string of misleading sound bites “designed” specifically to promote unreasonable doubt. They know that students will infer their own fairy tales – without noticing their fatal flaws, and possible contradictions with those inferred by other students in the same class.

  3. Frank J says:

    But by now you know the part I don’t like – the “the” creationists thing.

    And by now you know that although I’m well aware of their differences, I find it convenient to lump them all together. It makes the Discoveroids squirm, and that’s more fun than focusing on their trivial distinctions. Their followers don’t care much about the different flavors of creationism, and neither do I. It’s very nice that you care, and it’s fun when they bash each other, but this rarely happens. I don’t worry about it. Science must be preserved, and it doesn’t matter how many factions oppose it.

  4. Excellent essay, SC. I also agree that it doesn’t matter what they call themselves or what nuances they prefer — they are all “creationists”.

  5. “Critical thinking” in a creationist context is Newspeak for swallowing whole, like Jonah’s whale, ancient dogma and superstition – but undermining and attacking legitimate scientific analysis and its conclusions. In the long run it would mean the end of progress – in medicine, technology, discovery and truth. (I was going to add “culture”, but that, unfortunately, seems to be happening anyway.) That’s grossly simplified (in case any creationists are reading this), but there you have the gist of it, in appropriate children’s terms. Orwell, who foresaw it all, would be positively aghast.

  6. @SC & retiredsciguy:

    It’s not the “creationists” (anti-evolution activists) or their committed followers that I’m concerned about, but rather the millions – about half of the public if polls are any indication – who don’t necessaily buy “creationism” but don’t think it’s a bad word either. They tend to say things like “what’s the harm, let them believe” and “I hear the jury’s still out about evolution too.”

  7. aturingtest

    “2.The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself”
    “6.By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. ”
    The above from AIG’s Statement of Faith. Sorry, Hambone, but reality is still valid and quite real, in spite of any assertions of yours, or Scriptural interpretations you may make of Scripture interpreting itself. Hey, sorry- just applying a little “critical thinking” to YOUR ideas.
    “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”
    The above from the Discoveroids Wedge Strategy. “Science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” is not science. Period. It’s propaganda. They can call it whatever they want, and right now their sound-bite catch-phrase is “critical thinking”, which sounds cool and kind of sciency, but calling an apple a banana doesn’t make it taste like one.

  8. techreseller

    I think the Discoveroids, Creationists et al, are leaving a word out of their phrase. Try “critical of thinking” and then everything they makes sense. Just a simple common two letter word and fixed.