Philadelphia Atheists Meetup Message Board Philosophy and Critical Thinking › Are we really thinking freely?

Are we really thinking freely?

A former member
Post #: 1
A group of enthusiasts, me included, met last Sunday for lunch at the Desi Village Restaurant to view Richard Dawkins’ talked-about documentary “The Root of All Evil.” Organized by the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia (FSGP), the gathering enjoyed a sense of agreement from the start. Upon arrival, a prominent picture of Dawkins showed on the screen and remained there for everyone to see until the documentary was played. Newly appointed Assistant at the FSGP Deepak Doraiswamy introduced the documentary by sharing his skeptical views on religion and his experience with the great Dawkins, whom he had the chance to meet a couple of weeks before.

I do not want to go into much detail; perhaps only lay the basis for what seems to me could be a religion in an embryonic state. Here’s what I see: a group of people gather, with unquestionable faith on the principle that joins them together (atheism), bowing to the mortal who is showing the way (messiah Dawkins), and owing absolute respect to that which transcends human nature (God Science). We in that group, unhappy with the postulates of the existing Gods from different religions, have proclaimed our own and now have turned our quest into defending and spreading our doctrine, for our soul has already been sold. Can we honestly call this religion-like behavior "freethinking"?

Fundamentalism is clearly blind, the consequences of which are truly devastating, as the Dawkins’ documentary prominently showed. But it is also blind to counter it with further fundamentalism of a different nature. I do not pretend to undermine the dire consequences of the stubborn following of principles on the grounds of tradition or antiquity. But I do feel close attention should be placed on that which we advocate, for it is easy to criticize while overlooking the consequences of our own actions.

Freethinking should be a right to all human beings. Imposing a doctrine does not respect that right, even if such doctrine is to question all others. Freethinking stems from the inner being, from the authentic curiosity of human nature, from the delight in experiencing the world ourselves, and not through the lens of others.

Dawkins raises interesting points regarding the perils of fundamentalism and social conditioning. Religion is indeed a source of conflict, for it detaches the human being from herself, forces her to see herself as an object and creates havoc with her identity to nature.

But the exercise is imperiled with the proclamation of science as the only true approach to objective truth. This only replaces one absolutism with another.

The proper approach for science is to explain nature, not to condemn it. Science is not to impart judgment on nature. Human beings are part of nature, and to the extent that we remain so, science ought to attempt an explanation rather than a judgment. Such judgment only reflects the deep alienation we are suffering from our true place in the world.

A proper question for science would be: What is it in human nature that religion seems to cater to? How can the scientist explain behavior on scientific grounds? Religion is not a root; it is a consequence, for humans preceded it. Human tendency to religious beliefs must answer to some condition of which clearly science knows nothing or very little about. To what extent are we (in that group advocating science) falling prey of this unexplained condition? The FSGP website states “Most freethinkers are humanists, basing morality on human needs, not imagined ‘cosmic absolutes.’” What is this human need that so finds relief on religious doctrine? The proper attitude is to acknowledge the lack of understanding and embark a quest to explain the source; perhaps science will some day succeed in explaining human behavior through mathematical modeling. Until then, developing awareness of our own steps is of crucial significance to avoid the trap that so few have eluded.
George
george05
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 68
Here?s what I see: a group of people gather, with unquestionable faith on the principle that joins them together (atheism)
I'm sure there are very, very few atheists and freethinkers who have an "unquestionable faith" in atheism. It seems innapropriate to characterize a gathering of people in this way.
bowing to the mortal who is showing the way (messiah Dawkins)
I did not attend, but you claim attendees were "bowing" to Mr. Dawkins? In what way?

Respecting a person's opinion does not make them a "messiah".
and owing absolute respect to that which transcends human nature (God Science).
You may wish to redefine science as some type of god, but once again I don't think it is appropriate to characterize other's beliefs and attitudes in such a way.
We in that group, unhappy with the postulates of the existing Gods from different religions, have proclaimed our own and now have turned our quest into defending and spreading our doctrine, for our soul has already been sold.
I'm not clear what you mean by saying that the soul has been sold. As a metaphor I'd need to know how one determines whether someone has "sold their soul".
Can we honestly call this religion-like behavior "freethinking"?
Freethought does not necessarily exclude religious behavior, although it would exclude unquestioning religious attitudes.

Some useful definitions of freethought:

Wikipedia :
Freethought is a philosophical doctrine that holds that beliefs should be formed on scientific facts and inquiry and not be comprised by authority, tradition or any other dogmatic belief system that restricts logical reasoning. The cognitive application of freethought is known as freethinking, and practitioners of freethought are known as freethinkers.
atheism.about.com:
­ ?one that forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority; especially one who doubts or denies religious dogma.? What this means is that to be a freethinker, a person has to be willing to consider any idea and any possibility. The standard for deciding the truth-value of claims is not tradition, dogma, or authorities ? instead, it must be reason and logic.

A former member
Post #: 2
First, I would like to thank you, George, for replying. Dialogue is a core of freethinking.
Second, I would like to say that I did not mean disrespect to anyone. I question our behavior because I assume that, as freethinkers, we must always be ready to let go of our ideas without feeling vulnerable. For one thing, I myself have deep tendencies to favor scientific research. (I have studied pure mathematics).

Respecting a person's opinion does not make them a "messiah"
There is a difference between respecting someone?s opinion and swallowing their opinion whole. I did not hear one single comment that places Dakwins? theory in perspective, or that evaluates its domain of validity. Nor were my efforts in this regard well received. I heard the audience laugh at biased questions Dawkins? used to lead answers. There was obvious communion to believe Dawkins? next idea even before it was spoken.

Freethought does not necessarily exclude religious behavior, although it would exclude unquestioning religious attitudes.

The above is a religious attitude that should not go unquestioned.

I'm not clear what you mean by saying that the soul has been sold.

I mean we have swallowed the concept of science and now feel afraid too place it under scrutiny. It means we now impart the scientific mode of thought as though it were truth itself. Can?t we think about the limitations of science without being regarded as religious people?

The concept of science also carries assumptions. It cannot claim pure objectivity. Unless we can allow ourselves to place science on trial, science will remain an absolute for us.

I would like to invite the freethinkers in this group to join me in my effort to remove myself from absolutism, whatever shape it may take. The dynamism of life can only be fully understood and experienced when we master the uncertainty of the world, not by force, but by humility. The appeal to force is evidence of fear. I believe we can fully live our lives, make progress (scientific and otherwise), without placing human dignity at stake in the name of our fears.

Pablo
Janice R.
janicerael
Clayton, NJ
Post #: 49
Not all atheists are freethinkers, and not all freethinkers are atheists. Unless you can read minds, you can not know what everyone's opinion on Dawkins is, or why they went to see the show that the FSGP hosted, so it is unfair to characterize their presence at an FSGP event as "worship" of Dawkins.

The FSGP has its own discussion forum, if you visit FSGP.org you will see the info on the main page, with instructions on joining. You can then ask your questions to actual FSGP members and supporters.
A former member
Post #: 3
Hi, Janice. Thanks for your reply. I have been out of the country the past month, and so have not been able to follow this chat.

I would like to reiterate that I do not mean disrespect to anyone. I believe that as freethinkers we should set the example of questioning our own behavior. My original posting is an invitation to look at ourselves critically.

Of course I do not know why each one of us came to see the show. Looking at ourselves is a personal exercise we should all do. We cannot simply convince ourselves of a doctrine and move on claiming to have adopted a free-thinking attitude. Furthermore, for a free thinker, ideas and theories MUST ALWAYS remain vulnerable. If we feel threatened ourselves when our ideas are challenged, we are not thinking freely; we are conditioned.

If we expect religious groups to take courage and critically look at their own paradigm, we should honor the argument by doing the same with ourselves. Anything else is an imposition of our frame of thought, not very different from what we condemn in them.

Pablo.
George
george05
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 76
I did not hear one single comment that places Dakwins? theory in perspective, or that evaluates its domain of validity. Nor were my efforts in this regard well received.
What question(s) did you ask that you feel garnered a negative response?
A former member
Post #: 4
Hi George... once again I apologize for the delayed response. But I do think this conversation can be inspiring.

What question(s) did you ask that you feel garnered a negative response?

1- The first thing I suggested was that science and freethinking are not the same thing.

2- The second thing I suggested was that science is not the only alternative to religion.

3- The third thing I suggested was that free-thinking may include religion.

4- Regarding the documentary I suggested that the term "evidence," so widely used in the film, has a subjective character.

I welcome comments regarding these four suggestions based on the merit they may hold.

cheers,

Pablo
George
george05
Philadelphia, PA
Post #: 81
1- The first thing I suggested was that science and freethinking are not the same thing.
This is true. Science is a part of freethought.
2- The second thing I suggested was that science is not the only alternative to religion.
This is true.
3- The third thing I suggested was that free-thinking may include religion.
I suppose this is true, depending on what you mean by the inclusion of religion. Religious people can be freethinkers.
4- Regarding the documentary I suggested that the term "evidence," so widely used in the film, has a subjective character.
I'm not sure what this means, and I haven't seen the film. Are you saying that the evidence given did not appear credible? Did you give any specific examples?
A former member
Post #: 1


1- The first thing I suggested was that science and freethinking are not the same thing.

2- The second thing I suggested was that science is not the only alternative to religion.

3- The third thing I suggested was that free-thinking may include religion.

4- Regarding the documentary I suggested that the term "evidence," so widely used in the film, has a subjective character.

I welcome comments regarding these four suggestions based on the merit they may hold.

cheers,

Pablo

Greetings Pablo,

Sorry, but I joined this "Meet-up" solely because I happened to stumble across this posting while doing a web search on Bill Wisdom. I am an Atheist, an Idealist and a Poly-Solipsist.
Yeah, Poly-Solipsism may sound like an oxymoron, but that is only because most people do not really know what Solipsism really means.
I have no intention of physically attending any meet-up, but I do enjoy intelligent discussions such as this one.

1- The first thing I suggested was that science and freethinking are not the same thing.

cck: From my perceptive I see Science as another fundamentalist belief. Though they would seem to reside on opposite ends of the Reality spectrum, there is very little difference between Religious Fundamentalism and Scientific Fundamentalism. Both stubbornly adhere to their respective illusions and will not even consider any other alternative.

2- The second thing I suggested was that science is not the only alternative to religion.

cck: I bet that made you very popular! ;o)
I'm afraid many equate Scientific Positivism, and Scientific Skepticism with Atheism as if they are all one and the same thing just because most of the former claim to be the latter.
The debate is not really between Science and Religion, the debate has always been between Realism and Idealism. Science and Religious Fundamentalism are just corruptions of the underlying philosophies and the latest contenders.
Idealism is the alternative to both.

3- The third thing I suggested was that free-thinking may include religion.

cck: Depends on the religion. The Cathers once attempted to be free-thinking and were all but exterminated by the Church.

4- Regarding the documentary I suggested that the term "evidence," so widely used in the film, has a subjective character.

cck: I have not seen the documentary so I cannot comment on it.


Chuck
A former member
Post #: 5
3- The third thing I suggested was that free-thinking may include religion.
I suppose this is true, depending on what you mean by the inclusion of religion. Religious people can be freethinkers.
4- Regarding the documentary I suggested that the term "evidence," so widely used in the film, has a subjective character.
I'm not sure what this means, and I haven't seen the film. Are you saying that the evidence given did not appear credible? Did you give any specific examples?





Hi again,

The term 'religion' is not very easy to define, though we all have a sense of what it is. A definite way, however, in which free-thinking may include religion is for a free thinker to acknowledge the existence of a higher order, one beyond the grasp of his own understanding.

Regarding the term 'evidence', I would like to point out that, though it was widely used in the documentary as the basis of scientific thought, is not entirely bias-free, regardless of the particular example. Nothing is labeled 'evidence' in nature. Part of crafting a scientific theory involves choosing the facts that we wish to pay attention to and disregarding those that do not fit into our thought. This biased selection permeates evidence with subjectivity (the wish and purpose of the scientist).

Secondly, scientific theory is given a time frame to evolve and become something meaningful, which basically means that a sufficiently large proportion of the scientific community accepts it as valid, so that our accepting of a theory is mainly democratic, not objective. The so-called objective evidence is undermined in this exercise.

Thirdly, all theories face evidence against, though we do not know if a specific theory is simply not rich enough to explain these counter cases. There comes a point, however, where scientific theory may face enough opposing facts (evidence against) that it is sacrificed for a new model. There is no objective procedure to decide when this should occur. The accepting of the failure of a theory is therefore highly subjective to the extent that it depends on human judgment. Likewise, our loyal sticking to a theory despite counter facts includes our appeal to the aesthetic beauty of the theory (based on its simplicity, richness or otherwise), and in that, we exercise personal conviction in defending scientific theory.

To a great extent, the scientist develops a personal intuition for the theory that seems to offer promise, and therefore seems worthy of further effort. This too permeates the so-called evidence with personal taste.

But the scientist is bound, for he can never disregard his intuition, or drop a theory at the first counter fact he faces; no theory would ever evolve. Likewise, he cannot consider ALL evidence to make a case.

Science must therefore keep from claiming truth over other disciplines, including the various religions.
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