From: MGriffo@aol.com

While this person was in Scientology and not a Bible-based group, I thought
that he/she had a lot of good things to say about critical thinking.  As we
learned, faith does not equal the disabling of critical thinking.

Critical thinking- some thoughts by an ex -scientologist on
alt.religion.scientology
Critical reading and thinking skills are often mentioned on this
newsgroup, and I've said before how I believe that a lack of these same
skills is what enabled me to fall for Scientology's recruitment effort, its
"hard sell" of its own weird brand of spirituality or "technology", but I
don't think I've ever defined what I mean by these skills exactly, so I
thought I'd take the 30 minutes to rattle off a short essay on the topic
expressing some of what I'm talking about when I use this phrase. Questions,
comments and additions welcome: (what did I miss?)
***
In the modern world there is a great deal of nonsense about.
Pseudoscience abounds in myriad different forms, and there is an endless
supply of con-games and schemes to entrap the unwary. Still, not everyone
falls for the various schemes to defraud us of money or convince us of
untruth. What specific skills can you arm yourself with to become more
skeptical? How can you become more critical and
harder to fool?  In general, you need a specific skill set to distinguish
fact from
unsubstantiated claim, whether the claims come in written or verbal form on
any media, or even in person from a sales pitch or a cultic recruiter.
First of all, you need to give yourself time to cover the material in
question. Critical reading is a slow and careful process, and you must take
the time to analyze the material in detail to determine its status.
Therefore, don't allow yourself to be rushed.  If the pitch is in person, ask
for materials to read later. If you are tired, make it another day. Nothing
is so urgent that it cannot wait another day, so don't allow yourself to be
pressured. Cooling off periods are allowed after a heated sales pitch and
subsequent careless purchasing decision in many countries, but make your own
cooling off period before you sign anything or commit to anything or hand out
any money. Give yourself time to think; if there is a tag-team sales pitch
going on, walk away and say you will give it some thought and get back to
them on it, and take your leave of the situation to consider it in a less
pressured environment. Refuse to
listen to arguments about how you need to commit immediately and completely,
and that any hesitation is a bad sign or that going with your first impulse
is the way to go. If the sales pitch is in a written format, make sure you
are well rested before you tackle it, and that nothing else is on your mind
at the moment.
The next technique you may apply to promote understanding and to
detect the verity of a subject is to think about the topic carefully, not to
just sit and absorb it. For example, if you are reading something new, put it
down for a minute and ponder what is written. Ask yourself questions about
the topic; what was the author's intent in writing it? Can it be
independently verified?  What is the author's background? Who disagrees with
the author, and what are their arguments? These questions may lead you to
examine other sources of information, and it generally a good idea to see
both sides of an issue before making a decision about it. If a vacuum-cleaner
salesperson is in your house and giving you a good pitch about their product
and you feel you want to buy the machine, you might want to check out an
issue of Consumer Reports about the machine first before making up your mind
rather than impulse buying after hearing only one side. If you are reading a
book, you could
preview it first and then stop to think about it and ask yourself questions
or make predictions about the contents. What do you know about this subject?
What is your gut feeling about it? What do you think about it? Making notes
about the subject may help you to reflect upon it and get you thinking more
about it rather than
merely taking it in, unquestioned. Reading to evaluate a source is a more
time-consuming task than pleasure reading of a novel, for example; but its
purpose is different and more serious, and there may be consequences in the
form of lost money or wasted life to not taking your time with it now. Take
the time to make notes, pause and think, reflect, question, make predictions,
summarize and evaluate.
Keep an eye on yourself and your progress with the subject. Ask
yourself if you understand what you are reading, and, if you don't, tackle it
from another angle. Does what you are reading fit with your predictions and
expectations? Does it seem generally reasonable? If what you are reading does
not fit in with what you already know, tread carefully, as this may be an
area of deception or error. Does what you are covering make sense? If not,
can you discover why that is? Is it too technical, does it appear illogical
or irrational? Find out why you cannot make sense of a subject, if possible.
The problem may well lie with the subject itself; understanding nonsense is
oxymoronic. The fault may lie with the writer or with the subject matter
itself, but if you have determined that the problem lies in your own
inability to comprehend, then find other material on this same topic by
another writer at a more elementary level. The responsibility for
communication lies as much with the writer or speaker as with the intended
audience; you are responsible for your half of the equation.
After you have finished reading the material, give yourself time to
ponder its implications. This is the time to read over your notes if you made
any and fit the new information into your present store of knowledge - if the
information is deemed to be of acceptable quality and verity. Now would be a
good time to check other sources; never trust simply one person about any
subject. Do the other sources by different authors agree with the first one?
If so, are they independent sources, or are they linked in some manner with
the first source of information? For example, if the president of Dow
Chemical says that a certain pesticide is safe and effective, and the other
sources you find agree, make certain they are not employees of Dow or working
under a Dow Chemical grant! Independent verification is vital to ensure that
you are dealing with legitimate documentation. It is also important at this
time to reflect on the purpose and motivations of the source of the new and
possibly questionable information. Don't take things at face value; dig into
the topic and into the writer or speaker to find out why they are saying what
they are saying. It is a given that ad copy, for example, is unreliable as
the authors are hired to sell a
product and are tainted thereby - be careful anywhere there is a monetary
interest. This extends to your own money; be particularly careful if your
money is on the line, as people are untrustworthy when money is involved. It
is reasonable to reject out of hand anything someone tells you if they are to
profit by the telling; salespeople are an example of this, but it extends
into religions, for example, where salvation is a function of recruitment
abilities or where your time and effort are desired as much as your money.
Deception is often used in these circumstances as there is a direct
profit, monetary or spiritual, to be made from you. Ask yourself what the
person is going to get out of you if you believe them.
Fraud takes place the moment money leaves your hands in all
confidence games, so pay particular attention to that moment in time. A good
policy if you have any doubts at all is to refuse to hand over your money -
no matter what.
Realize that not everything you read will be true, no matter how fine
the prose or scholarly the source. Where deliberate deception is not an
issue, there is still room for errors to seep into the material due to
unchecked facts, inadequate or outdated science, deception on the part of
others who informed the writer or speaker commercialization of the academic
community, and many other reasons. It is important to pick through what you
read; material is seldom of such provenance and quality that all of it is
useful to you. What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? In general
and normal reading, there should be a great deal you disagree with, if you
are of a skeptical bent. Much of the material you will come across is not
true or only half truth. Ask yourself if what you are reading is trustworthy
and if you agree or disagree with the author as they make each and every
claim.
One skill you must develop is the ability to distinguish facts from
claims. Facts are statements that can be readily checked, as in an
encyclopedia or other reference work. If you read that Betsy Ross designed
the American Flag, for example, it should not be hard to either verify or
refute this statement in many reference works. You can certainly question
facts; they are statements that are amenable to challenging their accuracy.
Question facts when the writer may have something to gain from their use. If
Scientology, for example, states that they have 8,000,000 members and uses
this fact to gain credibility and recognition, it may well be a claim that
needs looking into and independent verification from another source, such as
a census or checked against other numbers from the organization such as
numbers of churches and members at each.
An opinion or a claim is a statement open to interpretation and
judgment. Claims are not necessarily open to the kind of checking that facts
are. For example, a speaker might say that a liberal government is bad for
the economy. This is an unsupported claim, not a fact. It lacks verification
through the means of, for
example, looking at the economies of various nations over time and comparing
economic output with governmental liberality, which in itself needs to be
defined. Opinions may be well supported or poorly supported, and you may
agree or disagree with them to varying degrees. One method of finding out
more about opinions and
seeing if you may like to agree or disagree with them is to ask the person
expressing the idea why they hold such an opinion, or, if reading material
with such claims in it, ask yourself why the writer holds this opinion. In
the example above, the speaker might say they hold this opinion because their
daddy told them so, and
you might then wish to discard the opinion as worthless and completely
unsupported.
Opinions are often based on unstated assumptions about values or
definitions, and it may be fruitful to dig out what the author's assumptions
are that form the framework for their thinking on a subject. In the example
above, one of the assumptions may be something along the lines of "daddy is
always right" or based on the idea that liberalism is inherently bad in and
of itself, and that no ethical person would be a liberal. This would be a
value assumption, that is, a belief about the way things should be or what
morality is, or a definitional assumption defining liberality to be a certain
thing or a certain way that it may or may not be in reality. Read closely to
see if you can spot the author's assumptions underlying their arguments. If
an author states that detergent A is better at cleaning than detergent B
because A is better at removing stains, the author is using a definitional
assumption that cleaning implies stain removal. But what if another author
were to point out that detergent B is better at whitening, and therefore a
better detergent? They are using a different definition for cleaning; they
are more concerned with whitening than stain removal. Read to find these
assumptions underneath the writing and then determine whether you agree with
them or not before making up your mind about the subject.
In conclusion, there is probably a large list of other techniques and
skills of critical reading in the area of logical fallacies of many types -
scientific reasoning, claims and proofs, and so forth - but a good grounding
in the skills mentioned above would make people better consumers of both
spiritual and commercial goods. Learn how to read closely and carefully, to
pose questions, make predictions, to think about what you are being exposed
to, to take notes, always compare what you have read or heard with other
sources, monitor your progress with a topic, evaluate the source for
motivation and credibility of assumptions, and distinguish fact from mere
opinion.
It will take more time to read and listen in this manner, but the
result will be a savings in time wasted going down the wrong paths in life
and a savings of money in avoiding making poor decisions - and who among us
has not made a hasty purchase or a rash decision that was later regretted
based upon a less than truly critical evaluation of the evidence at hand?

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