Critical Thinking: How to Discriminate
We believe that Critical Thinking is a mental toolbox containing a number of thinking tools. We intend to teach our children how to use all those tools. One of those tools is the ability to discriminate; specifically meaning the ability to discriminate between a fact, an opinion, an assumption, or an inference.
Being able to discriminate between a statement of fact, an opinion, an assumption, or an inference is an important tool in the critical thinking toolbox. It involves knowing what can be proven directly, what is a legitimate implication derived based on proven facts, what is an intellectual construct in order to form a proposition, or what is fair to conclude as a result of facts.
Human beings typically interweave statements of fact, inferences they derive from the facts, assumptions based on personal bias or widely accepted cultural belief, and statements of their own opinion into a seamless narrative. Critical thinkers discriminate between these types of communication.
FACT: reports information that can be directly observed, or verified, or checked for accuracy.
INFERENCE: a logical conclusion or a legitimate implication based on factual information.
ASSUMPTION: something taken for granted; a supposition that may or may not be accurate based on personal bias (prejudice), popular belief (axiom), or a combination of these
OPINION: expresses an evaluation based on a personal judgment or belief which may or may not be verifiable.
A quiz might look something like this:
Place an F, I, A, or O in the blank.
_F_ A fossilized partial dinosaur skeleton was found buried in the dirt
_I_ Based on the size of the present bones, we can estimate the missing bones were proportional in size
_A_ The dinosaur died where it was found buried in the dirt
_A_ The remains are millions of years old
_O_ The dinosaur bore many offspring when it was alive
_O_ The dinosaur offspring where of different species than this dinosaur
The ability to discriminate between facts and inference and assumptions and opinions leads to a much more clear understanding of the truth. When one reaches conclusions based largely on facts and inferences, those conclusions are much more often valid, salient, and cogent than conclusions based largely on fallible assumption and opinion.
As Christians, we are directed to be “sober” minded, meaning serious minded, and just. (Titus 1:8). Discriminating between facts and someone’s interpretations of the facts and an outright unfounded opinion certainly will aid in meeting this requirement.
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