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.
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.
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