Learning to think rigorously for oneself is one of the most important intellectual duties in life. Critical thinking confers many benefits, including the ability to solve problems, to live independently, and to discover truth. Unfortunately, I am concerned that much of formal education today, especially in the social sciences, involves ever-increasing doses of indoctrination and sometimes even full-blown propaganda.1
I believe the way to successfully battle this growing ideological stronghold is to teach people to think critically for themselves. As a logic instructor I seldom, if ever, tell students what to think (what position to adopt as the conclusion of their argument). Instead, I attempt to help people learn how to think (to order their thinking according to principles of logic). Aristotle defined logic as “ordered thought”—that is, thinking and arguing in a manner consistent with the laws of logic and the rules of rational inference.
Studying logic and critical thinking is crucial for anyone preparing to pursue a genuine education because it empowers the learner to properly evaluate truth claims. Again, logic, of all academic disciplines, teaches a person how to think instead of what to think. It is similar to the saying of making people self-sufficient by teaching them how to fish rather than merely giving them a fish. The best education provides valuable tools for students to become sufficient and independent when facing questions and challenges.
I have been teaching college courses in logic and critical thinking for thirty-plus years. The textbook I use is Logic: The Essentials by Patrick J. Hurley. I used an earlier version of this book when I started studying logic as a college student back in the early 1980s, and I have since used Hurley's logic texts for most of my teaching career.
Patrick J. Hurley has served as a professor of philosophy at the Catholic institution San Diego University for many years and now holds the position of emeritus professor of philosophy. With doctoral degrees in both philosophy of science and law, Hurley has written a couple of textbooks on logic and critical thinking.
As its title conveys, Logic: The Essentials presents the basics of studying the discipline of logic and critical thinking. Divided into multiple parts, Hurley's text introduces the student-reader to informal, formal, and inductive logic. Informal logic involves basic principles in analyzing reasoning (arguments, definitions, fallacies). Formal logic reflects deductive reasoning that is characterized by deriving logically certain conclusions (categorical propositions and syllogisms). Inductive logic involves arguments that seek probably true conclusions (analogical, scientific, and legal reasoning).
What makes Hurley's textbook worth reading and studying, especially for students new to logic, is the great clarity in which he presents the ideas. Logic: The Essentials explains logical reasoning in an accessible, organized, and lucid manner. Moreover, the examples, especially in the section on informal fallacies, present real-life scenarios and are popular enough for the student to develop skills distinguishing good arguments from fallacious ones. While other textbooks may be more rigorous, Hurley's work is ideal for the student who is just beginning the study of logic and critical thinking. And while Hurley's text may sometimes reflect an element of his own thinking on controversial issues, overall his work is fair and evenhanded.
A unique feature of Hurley's textbook is what he has entitled “10 Eminent Logicians.” These are thinkers who have made great contributions to the development of logic. In one edition, six of the ten logicians were Christians or closely associated with theism.
In addition to all the qualities mentioned above, another advantage to using Hurley's text is that the paperback version is reasonably priced at a time when textbooks are extremely expensive. Readers can also check with their local library to see if the book is available to borrow (in print or digitally).
As seekers of truth, it behooves all of us to become critical, discerning thinkers. To discover the truth, all of us must be able to weigh arguments and reject faulty reasoning in favor of sound reasoning. Logic: The Essentials can be a big help in that critical process.
Reflections: Your Turn
Have you taken a class in logic and critical thinking or read a book on the topic? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
Along with Hurley's fine work, see my discussion on logic in my book A World of Difference(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), chapters three and four.
I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture.
As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding."
I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen."
As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims.
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Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin.
As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith.
Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe.
An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California.
Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association.
The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.