Learning critical thinking as a medical student helped develop my Christian faith

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Critical thinking I learned as a medical student is also a historically vital part of developing Christian faith. In the Jewish and Christian tradition critical thinking can bolster faith formation and transformation. The developing relationship between man and God told in Scripture just like in medical science depended on critical thinking in understanding and accepting God’s message.

One of the strongest memories I have as a medical student at Harvard is when I was just beginning the third year. This is the time when students begin to apply the basic sciences learned in the first two to real clinical situations. We were in the radiology reading room of the Peter Bent Brigham hospital looking at chest x-rays with the professor. After I gave my impression of what it showed he asked me a question that I would repeat to my own students and residents 40 years later. He asked “What is your level of confidence in your diagnosis?.

This was real life. From now on our “judgment” on diagnosis and treatment would have real consequences of life, death, or disability in the outcome. We had to learn how to come to competent decision. Although the term “critical thinking” was not in wide use this was exactly what we were taught.

Harvard is famous for using the “loop method” of teaching which involves students learning by lecture, reading, and other presentations then discussing it in groups explaining their understanding to each other and then presenting their understanding back to the professor. This is also the method I used to teach neurosurgery and neuroscience at Mekelle University.

Today I am a part of a men’s group at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida where we often read books or other literature about faith, discuss it among ourselves, and pray for understanding as well as application of God’s message.

In the very first book of the Old Testament which was written between the 4th and 6th century BCE, Job questions why God has allowed so much misfortune to fall on him. He queries his friends, his conscience, is tempted by Satan but, finally he listens to his innate sense that is a God shaped by his experience.

Job follows a process which mimics what we call critical thinking today. He determines the question to be asked, researches the problem while considering the sources, he recognizes there may be bias among those offering an “answer”, and finally comes to a solution that there is a loving ultimately benevolent God.

In the Bible, God’s interactions with prophets and biblical heroes often involved moments of hesitation, reluctance, or initial refusal. Biblical prophets including Moses, Jonah, Gideon, Jeremiah, Elijah, and Paul were skeptical to follow God’s commands. God was patient with their initial refusal and provided allowance of a delay during which a process of transformation occurred by the their response to God’s engagement by dialogue or challenge.

And then finally of course there is one of my favorite parts of Jesus’s ministry found in all four books of the Gospel. Jesus often questions the Apostles giving them answers they at first do not understand. He clarifies their understanding of basic principles by frequently testing their understanding and then discussing it with them preparing for the day they will spreading his message.

Ultimately Jesus has surrendered his powers to that of a mortal and spending his last night alone in the garden of Gethsemane. He knows he is going to be crucified the next day because it is necessary according to God’s plan. Yet he reviews the problem, the sin of man, the alternative which is to send an army of angels, but considers the source of the best solution, the all knowing God the Father, and decides he will carry out God’s will.

Jesus the night before his crucifixion considers his options before finally yielding his mortal body to God's will
Jesus considers his fate and dismisses any other options the night before his crucifixion

There are those that fear critical thinking about faith is blasphemy. This is not the case. God in his wisdom created us with brains to evaluate our option. He created us with free will so that we will voluntarily come to appreciate his grace and follow the path he has laid out for us. Free will and critical thinking are inseparable entities in God’s creation.

Professor Tony Magana https://myfindinggrace.com

Dr. Tony Magana is Professor Emeritus in Neurosurgery who spent many years doing international teaching and research including 10 years in Ethiopia. Over the past 15 years he concomitantly intensified his Christian faith through study and worship through the Episcopal Church. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Attended Texas A&M University, Harvard Medical School, and trained at the University of Miami. Additionally he took the University of South Education for Ministry as well as attending the Southeast Florida Episcopal Diocesan School for Christian Studies.
Professor Tony Magana, a seasoned neurosurgeon, has not only dedicated his life to medical practice but also embarked on a profound spiritual journey. Over the past 15 years, he has deepened his Christian faith through study and worship within the Episcopal Church. His experiences span international teaching, research, and a decade of service in Ethiopia
Dr. Tony Magana’s writings blend faith, compassion, and wisdom, inviting readers to explore the intersection of spirituality and the human experience. His journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking deeper connections with faith and humanity.

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