I will practice good judgment by asking questions and thinking for myself.
We must observe, report, experiment, and analyse the information around us to understand what is reliable knowledge and what is not. Thinking critically allows us to reason our way to good judgments and effective solutions to the problems we face, instead of making assumptions or misrepresenting opinion as fact. It’s important to raise clear questions—like who, what, when, where, why, and how—to gather information and evaluate answers. Critical thinkers learn how to process, share and challenge ideas, and consider the consequences. This process forms the basis of the scientific method.
One of the fundamental skills in critical thinking is the ability to separate statements of fact from statements of opinion.
A Statement of Fact is a piece of information about the world. A statement of fact can be proven to be right or wrong by looking at the evidence. The following are both statements of fact:
Uganda is home to the largest number of Mountain Gorillas in the World. (This is a factual statement which is sometimes true and sometimes false. At the moment half the world’s Mountain Gorillas are thought to live in Uganda. Because gorillas move across borders, there are sometimes more in the Congo or Rwanda. The point is we can settle whether this statement of fact is True or False this year by getting evidence from counting them!)
A Statement of Opinion is an expression of a person’s belief. There are two sorts of opinions:
- Opinions about Facts. When people express an opinion about what is factually correct, the opinion can be proven to be right or wrong by checking it against “reliable” evidence. Note the use of the very important word reliable. We have a problem in the world when some people spread fake facts because they want to mislead people into believing a particular point of view. When people quote facts, you need to ask: “Where did you get that information?” “Did it come from a trusted source? A trusted source might be an article written by an expert in the field.
- Opinions about Values. Some types of disagreements cannot easily be settled by facts, because they are based on people’s deeply held beliefs or values.
TWO VIEWS ON POVERTY
Person 1 “We should all do our best to help those poorer and less fortunate than ourselves”. This is based on the belief that a good society is one that takes responsibility for helping its neediest members.
Person 2 “The poor would not be poor if they worked harder. It is up to the poor to help themselves.” This is based on the belief that we each determine our own destiny by how hard we work.
The two opinions above are based on their different beliefs or values. It is not obvious how you could settle the disagreement between those two people by obtaining more evidence. One person believes in a society where each person cares for their neighbour. The other person believes that we should each take personal responsibility for our own lives.
Activity 1 – Fact or Opinion
Which of the following are:
Statements of Fact (Do you think it is true or false? How could you make sure?)
Statements of Opinion (Is it an opinion based on Fact or one based on Values?)
1. The largest primate is the Mountain Gorilla
2. The tallest animal is the Giraffe.
3. Sweet potatoes contain more Vitamin C than cassava.
4. Irish potatoes are a good food.
5. Maize is a better crop than millet.
6. Insects and spiders are invertebrates.
7. Finding a snake in my bedroom would be a frightening experience.
8. An adult human’s skeleton has 206 bones.
9. Ostriches are unable to fly, but they can run very fast.
10. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to exist.
11. Colds are caused by different kinds of viruses.
12. There are thirty days in April.
13. It’s a bad idea to talk to people about politics and religion.
14. Babies should be born in hospitals rather than at home.
15. Nelson Mandela was a Humanist
16. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
Activity 2 – Classroom Debate
Organise a classroom debate on the motion:
This house believes that: “The poor would not be poor if they worked harder. It is up to the poor to help themselves.”
In preparing the debate consider both Humanist values and what evidence might cause people to change their minds. Remember to apply critical thinking. Critical thinking is an important part of determining the validity of an argument. Is the argument based on facts or opinions?
Don’t take assumptions for granted. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted.
Try to think things through for yourself.