Thinking begins at home

Posted in Thinking with tags , , on June 8, 2009 by shadowshide

Educators agree that there is an urgent need for our children to learn to think critically, which will enable them to succeed in life, more than any other capability.

A recent research paper (Critical thinking: are the ideals of OBE failing us or are we failing the ideals of OBE? by Kobus Lombard and Mary Grosser), while acknowledging the limitations of the study, concluded that critical thinking is not being adequately addressed in our schooling system.

One of the primary causes, identified by the researchers is that teachers themselves were not trained in critical thinking and were teaching new concepts using old methods. Potterton M. in “A curriculum that failed” states

“to a large extent teachers have adopted the new curriculum’s ideas through patterns of the past”.

Fortunately there are a number of initiatives in South Africa, which are addressing this shortcoming, and in the process, helping young people to deal sensibly with the real world, and in particular, to identify those that use the lack of critical thinking to peddle, inter alia, pseudo-science, pseudo medicine and crooked schemes.

An example is The Shuttleworth Foundation, which has a Critical Thinking Group, whose aim is to develop an approach for the teaching of critical thinking skills to educators, which will equip them with techniques that can in turn be imparted to learners. ( )

So what is critical thinking.

Critical thinking is purposeful and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do in response to observations, experience, verbal or written expressions, or arguments. (The Delphi Report” By Dr. Peter A. Facione).

Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends.

Critical thinking requires that people should develop a healthy skepticism towards everything they hear (or even see) before using it as a basis for any action be it investment, healthcare etc.

By skepticism, it is simply meant raising doubts against certain beliefs or types of beliefs because the evidence for the particular belief or type of belief is weak or lacking.

Unfortunately, most people start out with a major impediment to critical thinking in that many are taught, from an early age, to accept “perceived facts” without questioning the veracity of these “perceived facts”. In fact questioning is often seen as wrong and is discouraged by the threat of punishment or ostracism.

In my view, one of the biggest contributors to this is religion, which promotes (requires) faith as one of its central tenets. Clearly this would not apply in all circumstances, such as mine, where, while faith was an option, critical thinking and independent thinking were encouraged as well. In too many cases however, particularly with the rise in fundamentalism, this choice is not available in many homes.

Faith is defined as belief that is not based on proof, or alternatively believing without question, without thinking, without evidence.

It is therefore hardly surprising that given the tendency for people to believe without question, that the level of critical thinking skills in South Africa is so low. An unfortunate result is that unscrupulous people exploit this lack of critical thinking to deceive and trick people to parting with their money or into pursuing quackery in the hope of a cure that will never come.

So while teachers may not be teaching critical thinking skills as they should, due in some part to their own lack of critical thinking capacity or training, the teachers also face an additional hurdle in that their pupils may be more disposed towards a faith based approach rather than an approach that embodies critical thinking.

It would be far better for people to abandon this sometimes costly and tragic reliance on faith and instead turn to thinking.

There are many sites that can assist one on the path the critical thinking and, in particular, there are sites, books, articles and blogs that assist in debunking myths and falsehoods, which is one of the key aims of both scepticism and critical thinking.

The human mind should forever be sceptical and embrace critical thinking. This is the only path to useful knowledge.

Religion – My Driver

Posted in Science vs Religion with tags , , on June 3, 2009 by shadowshide

There seem to be all these people around telling woeful tales of how they have moved from religion to non-religion. Heart wrenching. But I cannot understand, save for a fear of ostracism from society or family, why this process is so painful. I mean really all they did was to start thinking, not hard if you think that every human has that capacity. Whether they use it or not is another matter. Belief just means you are too lazy to think for yourself.

This set me thinking about my own life and how I came to be where I am at the moment viz. thinker, skeptic, atheist (more accurately ignostic).

I was born into a methodist family (don’t appear to have had a choice here), but while mom and dad believed in all the god/jesus stuff, it was not something that they harped on day in and day out. Mom went to church regularly, but dad did not. It is difficult to remember everything that happened growing up (hell at my age remembering my own name can be challenging some mornings), but those that I do remember, I guess, must have had some influence.

I loved to read and listen to the radio. Read all the famous five, secret seven etc books very early on, but then Dad brought home a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica Yearbook, and showed me some of the entries. I was enthralled and hooked on reading the year book. I read it from cover to cover, did not understand everything but Dad tried to explain things and where he could not, tried to find the answers. Soon the book was finished and my folks decided to by the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica, which I still have to this day. I remember clearly how boring Sundays were. You could do nothing except go to church it seemed, so I read the encyclopaedia religiously.

Mom decided I should go to Sunday School and being an obedient son, off I went. They also had a book there, copies of which we had at home. So I started reading that and listening to what the minister said about the book.

I found the bible very disturbing. There seemed to be so much killing in it, and what really upset me was so many animals were being killed. I asked Dad about it, but he shrugged his shoulders and told me he had no answer to that one. The minister could not answer me either. In any event, I read the thing and tried to make sense of it, but was left quite mystified with much of it. The Encyclopaedia was more interesting and had things in it that were more real to me. Eventually, after receiving several certificates in Bible Knowledge, I asked Mom if it would be ok for me not to go to Sunday School. She was shocked but after discussion with Dad, they both decided that I would not have to go.

The other thing I will never forget was Dad’s workshop, a cluttered yet very organised place. Dad was a chemical analyst but was also interested in electronics and mathematics. We spent hours in that workshop and built several oscilloscopes and spent hours watching waves going across the screen in response to different things dad did with dials and knobs. We also built our own radio’s and used to pick up weird radio stations. I remember our neighbour turning his radio on so loud that we could not sleep sometimes. We sorted him out by building a device that interfered with his radio by making loud screeching noises whenever he turned the volume to loud. The other fascinating thing we did was work out why washing powder did make things brighter than bright and we even identified the chemical involved. I have retained this fascination with science ever since, though at different levels of intensity.

The other thing that fascinated me was watching my Dad spend hours working on mathematical formulas. I had no idea what he was doing but it was apparently calculus, tensors and the like. I obviously never got those genes from him.

For a long time religion was not really part of my life, as far as I can remember. In matric, I went to Christian Brothers College, (was not abused thankfully) and remember that we had one hour of religious instruction on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The very first lesson discussed the issue of the Sabbath. Well the class contained an Atheist (Howard), a Jewish sort of Atheist (Jeffrey) and myself. We took on the Brother around the issue of the Sabbath, and posed so many questions around the Sabbath, that after the first term, we were still debating this issue. From the second term onwards, the religious instruction classes were dropped from the curricula.

Towards the end of the year (and this was during the dark days of apartheid), we decided to organise Sunday soccer matches between lads from the township and ourselves. At the first match, we were about to start and the police arrived. We were advised that we were not allowed to play multi racial soccer games and moreover we were not allowed to play on Sundays, because the bible said so. A furious argument ensued and eventually we agreed not to play (the alternative was jail). But being young, rebellious and carefree as soon as the police left, we started to play. The police returned a while later and threatened us again. Same process, they leave we play, they return we argue and stop. I suspect they could not actually arrest us, because all they did was threaten us. Now this continued week after week until the police gave up. So my first brush with the dictates of religion and apartheid (also driven or justified by religion).

I became very political and antagonistic towards religion. I read up on the existing government and all over I saw the “stamp” of christianity. All the stories I had been told of how good christianity was did not accord with reality.

I read up on all the religions then, and the only one I had any time for was Buddhism, because this did not seem focussed on a god. But I could never become one because it seemed so boring to me. My understanding was that its central tenet was that one should not desire things. For a testoterone laden young boy, this did not fit well.

I moved on into sex, drugs and rock and roll, then into studying and career building and never gave religion much thought. I think I regarded myself as agnostic. I kept up my interest in science but it was fairly low key at this stage.

Then one day, a client I was working with started telling how good christianity was and how I should become one of the born again christians. We had numerous debates on this issue and I found myself ill prepared as I had slowed down my reading. So off I went to the library and started reading science (all fields) books at a furious rate. I had soon exhausted the library and so started buying the latest books myself. Armed with this knowledge, I soon realised that what religion was saying had nothing to do with reality and seemed downright stupid. I continued to have debates with my client/friend, but his mind was so closed and his only argument in the end was that I would have to experience it to understand it. This seemed like a cop out. What this did do was drive me towards a desire to gain more and more knowledge and understanding of the world, the universe and people.

Religion was not something I read up on as it was all based on a book that I thought was just a history book and had nothing to do with knowledge and reality.

Then along came another set of born again Christians. My relatives this time. And boy, were they fanatics. The Bible was the Word of God and everything in it was exactly accurate and true. This set me off on another round of frantic reading, but this time on books such as the freemasons, the messiah myth, the lost gospels, and various other books that focussed on the veracity of religions claims. I concluded as a result of this that not only was religion nonsense, but it was based on a set of absolute lies.

I decided not to bother with religion anymore and refused to participate in any activities that were in any way aligned to religion. I have been banned from my relatives’ houses from adopting this approach.

So to a large degree religion was certainly one of the key drivers in my life but the direction it drove me in was as far away from religion as possible. The mystery of life and the universe are far more interesting and fulfilling than religion can ever be.

I hope this blog resonates with some and gives hope to others that thinking and knowledge will release you from the straitjacket of the greatest evil, religion.

Hope Springs Eternal

Posted in Science vs Religion on May 31, 2009 by shadowshide

First blog. Short and Sweet.

Science, all forms, is progressing at an amazing rate. upgrades to Hubble, glowing monkeys, the missing link. More and more advances in our knowledge of ourselves, our past, the universe. When LHC gets going it will certainly confirm some insights and give new insights. Knowledge is being fast-tracked.

Opposing this, of course, is the apparent rise of fundamentalism in the world. Mitigating against this are some encouraging developments. Pew Research shows that in the US more and more people are crossing the divide away from religion and youth are leading the charge.

In the muslim countries, the youth (and woman) are actively seeking change away from the dogmatic adherence to the faith.

In both the US and the muslim countries, the youth are using the Internet and other new modes of communication far more than the older persons and more than their parents. And gaining knowledge and questioning the old ways as a result.

Allied to the above is the research that shows the youth are more influenced by their peers than by their parents.

Adopting a particular religion and the degree to which it is followed is primarily a parental influence.

So combining the avalanche of new information and knowledge that science is delivering, the waning of parental influence and the accessibility of information and knowledge that the youth have at the disposal gives me hope that religion is beginning to lose the battle for the hearts and minds of people. This gives me hope for the future

Hello world!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 31, 2009 by shadowshide

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!