Thinking Skills in God's Image
by Ron Tagliapietra
God is a God of order and reason (I Cor. 14:33, 40; Ps. 92:5). He created man to reflect these attributes, as well as others, by creating man in His own image with a capacity to reason. While God reasons perfectly (and knows all the facts upon which His reasons are based), man's reason is restricted by limited knowledge and sin. Nevertheless, as we develop reasoning skills, we grow more Christlike.
Some think that faith and reason are contrary to one another, but the Bible shows that this is not so. Paul habitually reasoned from the Scriptures in order to persuade people to be saved (Acts 17:2-3, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9) and Jesus argued with the Sadducees in Matthew 22, rebuking them for not having reasoned to correct conclusions from Scripture. Faith requires trust but does not require surrendering intellect. Likewise, reason founded on Scripture does not mock faith. Verses that caution believers about false reasoning and false science do not tell us to reject all reasoning and science. We must "prove all things" against Scripture and "hold fast that which is good."
Logic is a study of the principles of reasoning, just as grammar is the study of the principles of language. A study of reasoning skills can (with the help of the Holy Spirit) develop appreciation for truth (in evaluating claims) as well as humility (admitting our limitations), patience (sympathy with the speaker's intended meaning), discernment (of both false advertising and false doctrine), boldness (confidence in witness), calmness (not relying on voice level in debate), and love (confronting issues and not slandering persons). Studying logic also requires diligence and develops a disciplined, orderly mind. God promises satisfaction and leadership to those with these qualities (Prov. 12:24; 13:4; 21:5).
Students often ask "What is this good for?" when studying anything hard, such as grammar or math. While they may never need to diagram a sentence or use the quadratic formula later in life, the analytical skills thus developed will remain throughout life. Both activities require the use of analytical thinking skills, while at the same time providing background knowledge in a technology- and communication-based culture. Athletes recognize the need for general exercise drills as well as rehearsing plays in more restricted settings than the game itself. Why do students not recognize the value of developing thinking skills in the microcosm of a subject to prepare for the greater world of work and life?
A small child may complain about having to learn to read--an older child's complaints about learning are just as unbecoming. Indeed, a person can survive without reading or reasoning, but this lack will limit his usefulness, reflect on his education, and limit his understanding of Scripture, which is one of the Holy Spirit's means of conforming him to Christ's image. Just as grammar provides a tool for discussing and improving language skills and as mathematics provides a tool for discussing and improving skills with abstract relations (especially numerical and spatial), so logic provides the terminology for discussing and improving reasoning skills. Such an important tool should not be neglected--even though it is no easier than the others.
Since logic is so important, why do so many schools and standards neglect it? For hundreds of years they did not. From the Middle Ages, logic was one of the three major topics of study required of every student. This trio of courses was called the trivium: logic, rhetoric, and grammar. Requiring these courses stressed the foundational importance of thinking, speaking, and writing for all other pursuits. You should notice also that speech was called rhetoric, emphasizing persuasive speech, which requires good logic. The other division of topics that developed in the Middle Ages is known as the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Notice how these subjects build upon and further develop logic and communication skills.
So what happened? Why are these topics so neglected today? Modern educators accepted humanism and the philosophy of John Dewey, making the child's interests more important than his mental discipline. This is not surprising since humanists deny absolutes and so have only human whims to judge which skills are important and to determine truth. Some have attacked the teaching of grammar, but fortunately, few Christians have given in to this trend. Grammatical terms help us analyze our writing, identify mistakes, and label confusing constructions, and so to improve. Likewise, logical terms help us analyze our thinking and arguments, identify mistakes and weak points, and so to improve. Unfortunately, most Christians have dropped the ball in logic. In fact, some educators have begun to remove the last holdout of logic in the curriculum by seeking to de-emphasize or eliminate proofs from geometry courses. (Some of you remember when two years of geometry were required--one year of plane geometry and one year of solid geometry; as a result of Dewey's influence it has been reduced to one year, and now even that one year is under attack.)
America has become a society characterized by its love of entertainment more than its love of discipline. We want to know how to play an instrument now, without having to practice. We want to learn a subject by playing games instead of by struggling with homework. When we go through that kind of an educational system, our thinking shows it. Our reasons are shallow--no deeper than the effort we expend. "Practical" studies abound. People learn which buttons to press on a computer, for example, but within twenty-five years all such keystrokes will be obsolete. There is a place for such "practical" studies, but the more useful skills are the studies and principles which will enable students to evaluate claims for truth or falsity and to understand both present and future technology.
What can you do to help your child develop biblically based thinking skills so that he is not ensnared by this entertainment-oriented society? How can you protect children from developing some humanistic ideas? There are a number of things you can do. First, have children find out what the Bible says about reasoning. Then have them learn principles of reasoning. With this basis, they will be able to evaluate the reasoning of others and to practice reasoning themselves with guidance. Let's look at these points in more detail.
First, the student must read and study the Bible. The Bible is the starting point for any area of study. Have your children memorize Bible verses or study Bible passages that stress biblically based thinking skills. Verses such as Acts 17:2 and Colossians 2:8 stress the importance of reasoning and defending truth. Jesus set the example of using sound reasoning (see Matt. 22) and the apostles followed this example (see II Peter 3).
Second, the student must learn principles of reasoning. Just as the teaching of writing without grammar hinders communication about writing, so the teaching of persuasive speech or essays (without logic) hinders communication about arguing a point. Students should study purposes and methods of definition to know how to appropriately define key terms; and they should study truth and validity to know how to evaluate statements. Studying types of inductive and deductive arguments helps the student know how to organize evidence; learning criteria for evaluating theories is essential in comparing claims of competing views; and knowing common fallacy types helps students identify and avoid mistakes in reasoning. Is it surprising that our thinking is shallow when we have sacrificed all this?
The world is recognizing the need for thinking skills, and people talk a lot about thinking skills, but they refuse to teach logic. They want to develop the skill by practice without terminology tools, just as they try to develop reading and writing skills by practice without grammar. The lack of foundations reduces the number of courses in the short run, but adds to the length of the program overall. Blunt tools take longer to use (Eccles. 10:10). There are several ways to sharpen these tools. A good first step is to teach geometry from a text that covers matters such as truth tables, deductive argument types, proofs, and deductive fallacies. A second step would then be to obtain good books on logic, which will supplement and build on the foundations begun in geometry class. Teach the foundational principles of reasoning before expecting students to apply them. The student will find it easier to practice principles clearly presented than to discover the principles by trial and error as he suffers poor grades on essays.
Third, the student must evaluate the reasoning of others. The Bible commands us to discern the spirits and to prove all things. You can help him apply the Bible and good reasoning by having him write either rebuttals to newspaper editorials or essays refuting false philosophies. As the student classifies the mistakes in reasoning on the part of the writer he is evaluating, he sees the importance of using logic correctly himself. Point out weak arguments in your child's work and show him how to improve them (or better, have him critique his own work and improve it). A number of paragraph or page assignments on this line (frequent practice) is likely to help more than a single large term paper. Don't de-emphasize the importance of content in the details of proper format. Taking off for spelling alone can never develop the student's ability to defend a thesis with b arguments. Encourage students to choose biblically based theses and to argue based on biblical principles. If a Christian is to stand alone after his formal academic training, he had better have thought through issues biblically and defended them.
Fourth, the student must practice reasoning with guidance. This assumes that he has learned some principles of reasoning as discussed earlier because no student can apply principles that he has not learned. However, knowing principles alone is not sufficient. To help along this line, assign biblical evaluations of truly controversial subjects. Have your child set out his position and support his arguments carefully with biblical support. This is much harder than critiquing and finding faults in other arguments. It is harder to formulate a good argument on your own than to evaluate the arguments of others. Each child will need guidance as he attempts his first arguments. Point out errors and weak points, and have him rewrite the essay to improve it.
Grades can also be used for guidance here. An essay with no main point should not pass--it is unsatisfactory ("D" or "F"), but even an essay with an improperly supported main point should not earn better than a "C." If the main argument is weak, or if several lines of evidence each display mistakes in reasoning, do not assign an "A" to the essay. To be called superior ("A"), all the reasoning must be sound. Of course, proofs in geometry and word problems in algebra also require students to apply reasoning skills and construct arguments.
As you have your child apply reasoning in every subject, not only will he see its value, but more importantly he will begin to follow our Lord's own example of good reasoning. May such study and practice enable each student to "be ready always to give an answer" of his hope in Christ.