Early this year , in a course in cross-cultural psychology at the University of Central Florida, some Christian students bore witness to their faith in a way to which the professor objected. I doubt that their expressions were mature and winsome, but I also doubt that I would have reacted in the way the professor did in a subsequent email to students:

Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).

Here is what, for want of a better term, I’ll label his presupposition:
Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.” One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.

Here’s my question: when he defines the critical thinker as he does, is he doing anything more than pounding his chest and proclaiming that his view is valid? Is there evidence for the view that only evidence (presumably of a certain sort, i.e., “empirical” or measurable evidence) matters? Or does that view itself rest on a foundation other than the evidence it claims as the only valid foundation of a view?

I don’t expect a professor of psychology at a state university to be fully conversant in the rich literature—both contemporary and historical—on faith and learning. I just expect him to be a model of the humility that he rightly demands of his students and that he be slower to level charges of bigotry.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg

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