Critical Thinking and Culture

Critical Thinking and Culture

Critical thinking skills, like toilet paper in a pandemic, are in short supply. I don't pretend to be the greatest thinker on the planet, but it doesn't take a genius to realize many cultural conclusions are not based on solid thinking or evidence, but upon repeated assertion and pressure to conform.

Without critical thinking skills, a person is in danger. Essentially, this is what your mother meant when she said, "If everyone jumps off a cliff, will you follow them?" Her concern was that you'd follow blindly, without thinking critically.

Jumping Off a Cliff?

How does this relate to our culture? Or to Christianity? Are we using critical thinking to discover what is true in these areas? Let's dip our toes into both pools. Today I'll ponder Culture. Next time, I'll dig into Christianity and Critical Thinking.

Culture and Critical Thinking

It is not an understatement to say we're easily persuaded. We think we're smart and well-researched – but in our information age, who has time to vet every source for truth or falsehood?

Below are two controversial areas in which our culture has abandoned a former truth for a new truth. We should ask, "How did we come to this new understanding of truth?" Is it based on solid facts or subjective feelings? In other words, are we employing critical thinking skills to arrive at truth? The fundamental starting point to determine truth begins with how we answer this question:

Is there an Authority outside of myself that defines what is true, or am I the Authority?

Our culture used to think that an external authority defined what is true. Today, we think truth is derived from within, based primarily on our feelings rather than facts and reason.

Examples of this Cultural Shift

1. Until recently, the American Psychiatric Association diagnosed every biological male who felt to be "a woman trapped in a man's body" to be experiencing a Gender Identity Disorder (GID, a mental disorder). GID has been replaced by Gender Dysphoria (in 2013). Words matter. We no longer consider transgenderism to be a mental disorder needing treatment, but a medical dysphoria of stress that needs acceptance, accommodation, normalization and celebration. To suggest a mental health treatment is to be labeled a bigot. Which raises several questions:

  • How do we evaluate doctors before the year 2000, who universally recognized transgenderism as a mental disorder? Were they all wrong? What has changed in the science of biology to support this new diagnosis? I've seen no evidence based on science or reason. But I see a new definition of transgenderism proclaimed everywhere by assertion. When an assertion is made over and over, people gradually come to accept it as common knowledge. (Note: "assertional truth" has consequences. One week ago, Amazon quietly purged Ryan Anderson's book, When Harry Became Sally, from its shelves for not conforming to the new transgender orthodoxy).

2. In 1970, doctors thought similarly about homosexuality. Sexuality (in general) was seen as an activity, not an identity (something a person does, rather than who a person is). Today, sexuality is seen as our identity. Is this new understanding based on science or is it truth-by-assertion?

  • For the past several decades, science promoted a so-called gay gene, which has strongly influenced our cultural attitude that LGBTQ people are "born this way." You might say the idea of a gay gene captured the public's imagination and served as a foundational apologetic for the LGBTQ movement (which then added legitimacy to a second apologetic: my inner feelings as truth). What is getting little attention today is that science is now admitting they oversold the gay gene narrative.  
  • In this article, The New Genomics of Sexuality Move Us Beyond 'Born This Way,' the author writes:
The abandonment of the singular gay gene thesis wasn’t nearly the most shocking feature of the study. After accounting for all of the SNPs that could be traced back to same-sex behaviour, Ganna and his team concluded that the genetic contribution was at most between 8 and 25 per cent. Even more notably, the researchers discerned the actual location of only five individual SNPs accounting for this variance – together, those SNPs could explain less than 1 percent of the variation in sexual behaviour. Ergo, the findings provided essentially no predictive power to genetically assess any one individual’s orientation. While some scant biological element might be at play, what this deep dive into the human genome ironically revealed is that social and cultural factors likely play the greatest role in shaping human sexuality.
  • Social and cultural factors (not genetic) square with Gallup's new poll which highlights the explosion of youth identifying as LGBTQ. Gallup cites that 2% of Baby Boomers identify as LGBTQ, while nearly 16% of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ. Why the stark difference if people are "born this way?"

I mean no disrespect for individuals experiencing these feelings (though any thoughts that challenge the current cultural narrative are quickly labeled hate speech). I'm merely trying to dig beneath why we accept these new "truths." Is our understanding based on evidence or repeated assertion? Do we believe things because we want them to be true, or because they actually are true? Has subjectivity been crowned King, and if so, why?

Most of all, are critical thinking skills in the ER, in critical condition?

(Next time, Part II of Critical Thinking applied to Christianity).