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Got Assumptions? See Through the Ideas That Control You

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Consider this: some people find math to be easy while others would rather crawl through mud in a rainstorm to avoid even the thought of square roots, a hypotenuse, or whether an angle is sine, cosine, or tangent. 

This simple pondering can apply to almost anything.  Why do some children hate cauliflower while others love it?  How can some people adore classical music while others loathe it?  Or how about this one … have you ever wondered why some people find a relationship with Christ while others abandon Him? 

Author David Richardson has spent his entire adult life trying to figure out why the latter happens.  What he has found out may surprise you.  Richardson says we all make assumptions in life, and they control us, yet most of us haven’t noticed these assumptions, let alone understand their power over us.

In his debut book Transparent: How to See Through the Powerful Assumptions That Control You, Richardson wants to help people to see through the assumptions being made in the things they encounter daily in what they read, watch and hear. 

I recently sat down with Richardson to discuss why it is so easy for people to make assumptions about faith, whether God wired us to make assumptions in the first place, and finding ways to teach our children a basic framework to discern right from wrong.

For the sake of our discussion what led you to write Transparent: How to See Through the Powerful Assumptions That Control You?

The inspiration comes from 20 years of working with college and university professors.  That has been my ministry and calling.  You know, when you are working in that world apologetics is just kind of a way of life.  One of the things I ran up against very quickly in my ministry working with professors is that I met lots of Christians in major universities who loved God and loved the Bible. But the funny thing is when they go into the classroom and they teach the subject that they are a leader in or an expert at, they teach the course the same class the same way that the atheists would teach it.  There is really not a qualitative difference between what a Christian professor does and what a non-Christian professor does in a major state university.  They teach the same course the same way.

Why is that?

Well, it’s because they don’t understand how God contributes to knowledge in their field.  They understand a relationship with Christ and how He is meaningful to their personal lives, devotional life, church life, marriage and family, that kind of thing, but how does He relate to the thing that they are a leader and expert at?  I get blank stares, funny looks, and questions like, ‘What does God have to do with a chemical equation?  It’s not that I’m not interested but I’m not sure what you are asking me.“ So, short of expecting them to get a post-graduate degree in the philosophy of religion … which they are never going to do … they just do the same thing that everybody else does, they only thing they have ever known because they were trained that way in graduate school. 

Also, there is a certain amount of fear because the university is not a friendly place to Christians by any stretch.  So, wondering if they do anything that will rock the boat what will happen to me.  There is certainly that.  I’ve had lots of conversations like that over the years.  You see the examples from time to time of a professor who did stick his head up out of the foxhole and get smacked back down into it.  You hear stories like that and I know some of those professors personally because I work with them. 

Why is it so easy for people to make assumptions about faith?  For better or for worse, I have assumptions about Islam, Mormonism, even Catholicism.  I know that I should take the time to educate myself but people just seem content to believe what they want to believe. 

That in a nutshell is what an assumption is.   We all make assumptions.  It’s not a question if you do it.  It’s a question of how you do it and whether your assumptions are true.  So, if I went and asked you what are your basic assumptions you probably couldn’t tell me.  Most people can’t.  And likewise, they couldn’t tell what the basic assumptions are when they are having a conversation with somebody.  Or, when they are reading an article wondering where the assumptions of the author are coming from.  Or, the person who is producing the television show or the talk radio program or the professor in the classroom.  At the bottom of assumptions, the very basic core assumption we all make; there are only three of them.  And all of us make one of them.  That is the belief of what we think is real.  What just is.  What is the totality of everything that is?  And that is always a faith commitment.  Every last one of us makes one.  It’s not a question of being a person of faith.  It’s a question of which faith are you of? In fact, an atheist is a person of faith at the level of their assumptions.  They believe, for instance, that all there is, is the natural material world.  To them, that is all that exists.  But they have little or no proof.  So, what do you do?  You make an assumption on faith.

You want to help people come to faith, or strengthen their faith, by thinking things through, using the brains God gave us. What is it about making assumptions?  Is this the way God wired us?

At some level, we have to make assumptions.  Assumptions operate sort of like an auto-pilot in our head.  An auto-pilot in an airplane is so that the basic functions of the airplane are automated so the pilot can be busy doing something else.  Assumptions operate the same way.  If we are thinking about the very basic things of our thought and belief system all the time we couldn’t concentrate on the other things we really want to do.  It’s easier to do that.  You just switch on the auto-pilot and off you go.  The problem is most of us don’t examine the settings on the auto-pilot to see if we got the right one.  So, it’s really not a question of what you assume but how you do it and whether they are true.  How do you figure out whether an assumption is true?  That’s the bigger question.

With that in mind, you have developed something you call the Critical Assumptions Test. What is that and how do we use it?

The Critical Assumptions Test is the tool I use to figure out what assumptions are in the first place.  When you are trying to talk about people’s assumptions it’s important to note that assumptions are things we don’t talk about.  Very few people have even written on the topic.  So, I wasn’t just trying to find out what assumptions are in general but what are the specific assumptions that people tend to make.  Second, how do I figure out what they are?  It took me a couple of years of grinding on this, asking people a variety of different questions.  I came across a certain flow of logic that unpacks assumptions.  What’s the basic assumption a person makes?  That’s a core assumption.  Then, there are other questions you ask from that.  For instance, a core assumption is a declaration of what we think is real.  Before we have a conversation we have to agree this is what is here to talk about.  Is it just something physical or is it something non-physical?  Or, are there two things we can talk about – a creation and a creator?  Then, when you take that starting point, that’s the basis from which we all reason, and begin to unpack it.  If that is what’s here then the next thing you would ask is where did it come from?  We see things going in motion so how does it work?  What’s the grand organizing thing that makes the world go?  If it came from somewhere, maybe it’s going somewhere.  Where is it going?  That is the fourth question.  We as human beings are a part of this larger picture so what is a human being in the first place?  How do we get knowledge?  What is good?  What is humanity’s basic problem?  Those eight questions comprise the Critical Assumptions Test. 

What is the purpose of conducting this test?

The assumptions behind the things that we read, the things we watch on television or at the movies, or the things we hear, we are subjected to messages all day.  We are bombarded by thousands of messages.  We are usually not certain whether to accept it or not.  Is it true?  Is it false?  For most people these are pretty complex issues and they are not that well versed and studied in them.  So, how does an average person figure this out?  Well, if you can understand the assumptions underneath the message it becomes crystal clear really fast.  That’s the point of the test. 

As an author, what is one thing that you want people to take away from the experience of reading Transparent: How to See Through the Powerful Assumptions That Control You?

If you’re a leader this will enable you to find God and engage with Him in your area of expertise and leadership.  As a Christian adult who is a leader or wanting to become a leader this book will allow them to bring God into their public life.  Not just their private life, their public life.  But the other side of what I am wanting to do besides cleaning up the toxic waste dump of ideas in the culture is that I am also wanting to provide a preventative for families, parents, students, and churches.  There is this persistent phenomenon in Christian churches that has been going on decades.  Nobody wants to talk about it because nobody knows what to do.  Within four, five, six years of high school graduation anywhere from 65 to 75 percent of those kids are going to walk away from their faith and very few come back.  Nobody knows what to do about it.  I know why it happens.  I know when it happens.  And believe it or not it’s not the university who is doing it.  We are actually doing it to our own kids.  This is happening because we don’t understand that we are actually teaching two different sets of assumptions to our kids simultaneously beginning at about age of five.  It doesn’t matter whether you go to a Christian school or a public school.  You will learn the same set of assumptions. I want to change that. We need to teach our kids a basic framework so that when they are reading a basic textbook in school or they are having a conversation with their friends or they are watching a TV show or a movie, to be able to discern right and wrong.  True from false in those messages.  My hope is that when our kids go off to school or a major university they can develop this basic skill to discern messages and figure it out for themselves.  That is my hope and why I wrote Transparent.

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