Why Critical Thinking is Good, and this Post is Bad

I saw this post on Facebook. Please read it before continuing.

Finished? Good. Now, at first reading this post might seem reasonable, but it is not. It is an attack on critical thinking. I do not know who the author is, but they appear to have attempted to craft a criticism of the practice of critical thinking that the reader might accept. However, the author does not appear to hold the reader in very high regard to begin with. It is there in the very first sentence, couched in a rather derogatory fashion.

The first assumption is that everyone reading the post is an average citizen. The second assumption is that an average citizen cannot be an expert. The truth is that anyone can acquire an expertise in almost anything. The real point is though, that becoming an expert in one or two fields does not mean that you are no longer average in other areas. The majority of us are only average, but there is nothing wrong with that.

The reveal is in the second sentence and it concerns what the author seems to see as people’s unwillingness to accept without question their opinion as an expert. This is the real subject matter at the heart of this piece. The author does not like the idea of their expertise being evaluated by the application of critical thinking, reduced to being just the opinion of an Average Joe. They want you to accept the word of an expert without question.

And that is a really dangerous thing.

Experts are not always right. Experts have contributed to some of the worst disasters to befall humanity. Experts had a hand in building the Titanic, in the creation of the drug thalidomide, in the formation of the false science of eugenics, to which the expert naturalist Charles Darwin provided intellectual support. They have also contributed to some of the wonders of our age, but they are not infallible.

Critical thinking is the means by which propositions are examined and evaluated through questioning, and even challenging, accepted knowledge. This accepted knowledge often resides with experts, of course. Contrary to popular belief, many experts, be they scientists, academics, technicians, or practitioners, do not necessarily agree on things even within the same fields. If they did, we probably would not have any innovation. It is because expert views can be contrary that we need to judge the information that they present critically and not just accept it at face value.

Of course, the real target of this post is, to borrow a euphemism used by the author, the graduate of Google University. The Average Joe. The person who has an interest in, but perhaps lacks the knowledge of, a certain field or subject, nevertheless they wish to express an opinion for whatever reason. Good for them, I say. Google is not a university; it is a gateway to a massive repository of knowledge. We may not like the way some people use the knowledge that they find through Google, and their interpretation might even be totally wrong, but there is no discussion where everyone agrees about everything. As William Blake said, ‘Without contraries is no progression’. Teaching people how to think critically is far more important than attempting to shut them up and get them to just accept the opinion of an expert without question. Only the people who want to keep others ignorant do the latter and they are not genuinely smart people.

6 thoughts on “Why Critical Thinking is Good, and this Post is Bad

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