Part of the growing-up process should include learning to think properly. We live in an age where children (and adults) are perpetually blasted with messages of so-called “truths” by way of television, the Internet, radio, music, and the written word. The secular world would have us believe that the pedagogues, the scientists, the Hollywood elite, and the allegedly scholarly media have practically every issue completely figured out and that they are consistently engaged in correct thinking. Yet, the fact is they often fail on both points. What follows are some suggestions for teaching your children (and yourself, if need be) to think in a manner that usually leads to good conclusions. These “rules” will work with a child of almost any age as long as he is able to think at some level (i.e., is not severely cognitively impaired).
- The first rule of good thinking should always be to filter everything through the Bible. It is remarkable how much stinkin’ thinkin’ can be identified by this simple rule. Colossians 2:8 commands the believer, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Just remember to search for God’s intended meaning from Scripture and not a twisted interpretation designed to support your own personal agenda. Praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit is very useful in this instance.
- Encourage your children to ask a lot of questions. This rule is particularly good to remember when you are tired and do not feel like answering your children’s incessant questions. Most children are naturally curious, and that character trait should not be quashed. If you do not know the answer to his question, tell him so and show him how he might look it up himself. Furthermore, demonstrate how you go about discerning the veracity of the resources upon which you rely in your quest for the answers to your queries.
- Ask your children a lot of questions. Naturally, a home school parent is likely to ask questions of his children often. However, there is a difference between asking a question to see if your child is listening (or has learned something) and asking a question to see if she can conceive a reasonable answer to a difficult (and perhaps unknowable) question. These types of questions often begin, “Why do you think. . . .” For example, “Why do you think Jesus is never recorded in the Bible as addressing His earthly mother as ‘Mother,’ or ‘Mom,’ or even, ‘Mary’? He always addressed her as ‘Woman.’” Most children (and many adults) would respond, “I don’t know” and would wait for the answer from the questioner. With children it is often a good strategy to press for some kind of response. The purpose is to see if they can come up with a reasonable answer. If they respond that it is because the moon is made out of cheese (smart-aleck response), simply smile and continue asking for a more reasonable answer. Do not expect fantastic results the first time you try it, but if you use this technique repeatedly, it is likely to yield a thoughtful child—especially when combined with the other rules listed in this article. Do not forget to eventually share your opinion of the answer and why you think it is so, but also affirm your thoughtful child’s response.
- Teach your children to listen and read critically. It is likely that one could find an article on the Internet to support just about any position. Children must be taught to look for an author’s assumptions behind his or her conclusions. Creative scholars are often very good at hiding their assumptions and sometimes use logical fallacies to support bad thinking. However, writers often inadvertently divulge their flawed thinking quite clearly. For example, in the university-level text Isotopes: Principles and Applications by Gunter Faure, the author states, “By the middle of the nineteenth century, geologists seemed to be secure in their conviction that the Earth was indeed very old. . . . .” (pp. 3-4). Notice the single word “seemed.” This word elucidates that the author is relying upon an assumption to make his presuppositional point that he thinks the earth is very old. Interestingly, this thing that “seemed” to be true mysteriously turns into a “fact” (without proof) for the remainder of the 897-page tome.
- Teach biblical logic. There are a lot of good books on logic, but they are not necessarily biblical. Also, many of these books teach mathematical methods to determine logical fallacies, which can be challenging for the person who does not easily embrace mathematical concepts. Nevertheless, there are some excellent books that teach simple, useful methods for evaluating claims without the use of math. When combined with Rule One (above), and with guidance from the Holy Spirit, you cannot go wrong. Isaiah 1:18 makes it clear that God endorses good reasoning: “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ saith the Lord.”
- Teach your children to consider the source. It is a logical fallacy to determine the truthfulness of a position by assuming that anything that comes from a bad source is wrong. Even a broken analog clock is correct twice a day. It is equally wrong to assume that because a trusted source is usually right, he or it must always be right. Nevertheless, it is a useful exercise to teach your children that some sources are usually wrong and others are generally correct. Also, it is best to teach that no man or woman is absolutely trustworthy as a source (only our tripartite God owns that distinction) because we are all fallen. You should not even trust your mother, father, pastor, seminary professor, or Sunday school teacher as an absolute source of truth. Everything should be filtered through the Bible (see Rule One). Many, many good, God-fearing men and women put much too much trust in these named parties—sometimes to their great embarrassment. It should likewise be easy to see that a secular individual is even more likely to be wrong in many aspects of his thinking. That is why it is usually easy for the discerning Christian to identify the abundance of propaganda and poor logic uttered by most news persons on television.
- Teach your older children to check the footnotes. Nonfiction often cites its source material by way of footnotes. It is a most useful exercise to get your children to acquire some of the books or magazines cited and to verify the accuracy of the author’s claims. Unfortunately, scholars often stretch truths to build their positions, even (way too often) in biblical reference books, in the sciences, in textbooks, and in technical papers. Teach your children to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and to search the Scriptures, verify facts, and check the facts behind the facts.
By following these seven simple rules, and with prayer, your children will grow to be mature and healthy skeptics of anything that does not proceed from God’s Word. Remember: Nothing trumps the Bible—not science, not humanistic philosophy, not number of degrees held, and certainly not one’s I.Q.