Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Freethought Delusion

I always snicker when someone describes themselves as a “freethinker.” As the old saying goes, “If you have to say that you are, then you probably aren’t.” Of course what they mean by freethinking is that they are free from the beliefs, traditions, and dogma of religion. They are guided by logic and science.

Of course this is a bunch of silliness. These self described freethinkers have just traded in one set of beliefs for another set of beliefs and one collection of doctrine for a different collection of doctrine. They are not free because they are must adhere to a legalistic dogma or will be branded as heretics by those who hold to the “true” faith.

One reason I think freethought is a delusion is because very little, if any, original thought takes place. Think about the heaps of material a person has to read and study to get all sides of an issue. The task of wading through all this information is enormous, let alone the actual hard work of developing theories and testing those theories. Most of these self described freethinking pundits are nothing more than devoted followers of their new faith than being actual freethinkers. It seems to me that our worldview depends more on the faith we have in the source of the information we receive rather than actually thinking about that information.

A second reason for believing freethought is a delusion is that all of us are influenced by different things in our lives. Circumstances, people, education, and politics are just some of the influences which give us the worldview that we carry with us. What may seem to be a logic argument to us may not be logical to the person next door. Now apply this principle across the scope of history. How a 1st century Jew discovered and related truth would be very different than how a college professor in 21st century United States handles truth. A freethinker isn’t anymore free from these influences than anyone else in the world.

A third reason I believe that freethought is a delusion is limited in its focus. A freethinker is a person who believes that modern western thinking is the pinnacle of thinking. But mindsets and thinking changes like everyone else. The postmodern person doesn’t put as much value in science and logic as they do on experience and emotionalism (the current global-warming scare has less to do with science as it does on an emotionalism reaction to mass media propaganda). To say that science and logic are the best ways to discover truth over things like experience, tradition, and revelation is both arrogant and limiting. A freethinker is just a person who claims, like anybody else, that his/her way to the truth is the best way.

One of the reason I love Christianity is because the Bible teaches that each one of us has the freedom to choose what we will believe. God will never force us to believe in Him or to accept as true what He has given to us. If a person chooses to be a freethinker God has allowed him/her to make that choose and it is not my responsibility to change their minds. My responsibility is to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom, as discovered in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and hope that the truth will take root in their lives.


David said...

Perhaps you have made a point, in that many who are labeled "freethinkers" have come to conclusions that have been reached by people willing to challenge accepted "truths" since ancient Greece. Does this make their thoughts wrong? I don't know any freethinkers who think that they invented the great questions of Epicurus or Carneades, but these questions are profound and are worthy of extensive examination.

There is no official "dogma" for freethinkers. There is a broad spectrum of disbelief, from the Deism of Thomas Jefferson to the atheism of Richard Dawkins. There are many forums where nonbelievers discuss their thoughts on the nature of reality, morality, and many other topics. One characteristic that I find in many freethinkers is the capacity to accept intellectual criticism and to change their opinions when presented with good evidence and/or arguments.

I don't snicker when having discussions with religious individuals. I respect the sincerity of their faith, even if I don't share it. The world is getting to be a pretty crowded place. If we all want to get along together, we need to accept people for who they are. This does not mean that all perspectives are equally valid, but if people are careful to avoid trampling on the rights of groups with whom they have philosophical disagreements we can all live together satisfactorily.

I don't think that my beliefs are all absolutely correct. It is true that I may be wrong about some significant issues. But I am an honest seeker of truth, and I always try to listen to new and different opinions. Sorry to use up so much space on your "ponderings" page. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

You say tht you are "On a relentless quest to become the person God created me to be."

As the old saying goes, “If you have to say that you are, then you probably aren’t.”

Don't talk about what you don't understand.

Paul said...

David, thanks for the comment. I was just trying my hand at writing about things I normally wouldn't write about. So I was trying something new, expanding my horizons a little.

Anonymous, I was just trying to have a little fun. The reality is that often we are, or at least trying to be, the people we describe ourselves as being. I have no doubt the most people who describe themselves as freethinkers are exactly that (as far as the definition goes).

David said...

Paul, this sort of dialog is one of the most important facets of the internet age. In decades past this sort of interaction was quite rare.

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