What is Freethought?

The following is an excerpt from the Freethought Resource Guide giving a few definitions of terms related to the freethought perspective. For more definitions of terms including deism, logic, materialism, monotheism, naturalism, pantheism, polytheism, rationalism, science, secularism, skepticism, and Unitarian Universalism check out the book!

Agnosticism – Without knowledge of the validity of a specific claim.

Strictly speaking, agnosticism has more to do with the truth value of knowledge in general, rather than any specific claims about deities, although metaphysical claims are included within the purview of its critique. Popularly, agnosticism is an answer to the specific question: “does God exist?” If your answer is “I don’t know” you are an agnostic. This is different from, but not unrelated to, the question “do you believe in God?” which is answered with either a yes (theism) or no (atheism).

Agnosticism is compatible with both atheism and theism. For instance, one can be an 1) agnostic atheist: one who does not know whether or not a specific god or gods exist and does not believe said deity or deities exist, or an 2) agnostic theist: one who does not claim to know whether or not a specific god or gods exist, but believes that said deity or deities do. Note that one cannot only be an agnostic. This lies in the distinction between knowledge and belief. An individual either claims to know (gnostic) or not to know (agnostic) and claims to believe (theist) or not believe (atheist). Agnosticism is, therefore, not an alternative stance to theism or atheism because it is a response to a question of knowledge, rather than belief.

*Click here for a video of Penn Jillette explaining the difference between atheism and agnosticism.

Variant with regard to theistic claims:

Ignosticism – The view that a coherent definition of a particular god or gods must be presented before the question of the existence of such entities can be meaningfully discussed.

Antitheism – Opposition to belief in and/or the organized religion around a particular god or gods.

This position can take several common nonmutually exclusive forms: 1) opposition to theism based simply on the perspective that its various god claims are unfounded, therefore, probably false (“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” [Clifford, 1999, p. 48]), 2) opposition to the purported morality and/or conduct of a particular god or gods as described in religious texts, 3) opposition to one or more organized religions due to its negative effect on the morality and behavior of theists under the sway of particular beliefs, faith, adherence to dogma, and/or subservience to religious authority figures (similar to antireligion). Christopher Hitchens summarizes these views in Letters to a Young Contrarian (2005):

I am not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. (p. 55)

Note that in all three cases it is possible to be an agnostic, atheist, or theist depending on the specific theistic claim(s) being made. For instance, a theist might object on one or more of these grounds with regard to one or more variant theistic propositions (e.g. a Hindu who is anti-Christian). Also, one can be an atheist, thinking that theism has not met its burden of proof (form 1), while still extolling the virtues of belief in god or gods (form 3).

Atheism – The absence of belief in a particular god or gods.

First, it is important to understand that a stance of atheism is contingent upon types of theism. There are innumerable definitions of gods and atheism applies to each individually. For instance, to most Christians, Hindus are atheists because they do not believe in the god of The Bible. The reverse may also be true. One either believes in a specific theistic conception or one does not. Where the usual usage of the term atheism applies is to those individuals who do not believe in any conception of god or gods which have been offered to them. It may also be contended that thus-far proposed concepts of god are very often contradictory and/or incoherent, and, therefore, meaningless. In this case,

Atheism may be defined as the view that ‘God exists’ is a false statement. But there is also a broader sense in which an atheist is someone who rejects belief in God, not necessarily because such belief is judged to be false. It may be rejected because it is incoherent or meaningless, because it is too vague to be of any explanatory value, or because, as LaPlace put it in his famous exchange with Napoleon, there is no need for this ‘hypothesis.’ Atheism in this broader sense remains distinct from agnosticism, which advocates suspense of judgment. It is surely possible to justify atheism in this broader sense without having to ‘examine every object in boundless space and eternal time.’ (Edwards, 2009)

Also, there are religions which are ostensibly atheistic such as Buddhism. Furthermore, Sam Harris (2008) states that:

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, ‘atheism’ is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.’ We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs. An atheist is simply a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87 percent of the population) claiming to ‘never doubt the existence of God’ should be obliged to present evidence for his existence— and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. An atheist is a person who believes that the murder of a single little girl— once in a million years— casts doubt upon the idea of a benevolent God [‘the problem of evil’]. (pp. 51-52)

Two most common types:

Agnostic Atheism – Without knowledge of, and the absence of belief in, the existence of a particular god or gods. The position that belief in God or gods is not justified because the evidence does not support such claims.

Similar to: negative, weak, soft, or empirical atheism

Gnostic Atheism – With knowledge of the non-existence or impossibility of a particular god or gods and also the absence of belief in God or gods. The position that “It is justified not to believe in God or gods” because the evidence disproves such claims (Cooke, 2006, p. 50).

Similar to: positive, strong, hard, or strict atheism

*A short video explaining atheism.

Freethought – A philosophical viewpoint which holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason rather than on tradition, faith, dogmas, or authority. Freethought may be said to encompass a full spectrum of nonauthoritarian and rational life-stances. These include atheism, humanism, skepticism, secularism, and agnosticism.

According to philosopher Bertrand Russell (1944):

What makes a freethinker is not his beliefs but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought he finds a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.

Furthermore, freethinkers

want to stand upon [their] own feet and look fair and square at the world—its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in Church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all therest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of sel-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create. (1957, p. 26)

*A brief introductory video on critical thinking.

Humanism – A rational perspective and “progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment, aspiring to the greater good of humanity;” in essence, Humanism is the belief “in life before death” and “being good without God” (Epstein, 2009, pp. xiii-xiv, emphasis in original). “Humanism is the creed of those who believe that in the circle of enwrapping mystery, men’s fates are in their own hands— a faith that for modern man is becoming the only possible faith” (John Galsworthy as cited in Lamont, 1988, p. 71).

References

Clifford, W. (1999). The ethics of belief & other essays. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Cooke, B. (2006). Dictionary of atheism, skepticism, & humanism. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Edwards, P. (2009). God & the philosophers. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Epstein, G. (2009). Good without God. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Harris, S. (2008). Letter to a Christian nation. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Hitchens, C. (2005). Letters to a young contrarian. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Lamont, C. (1988). The philosophy of humanism. New York, NY: Continuum    Publishing Co.

Russell, B. (1944). The value of free thought: How to become a truth-seeker & break the chains of mental slavery. Girard, KS: Haldeman-Julius Publications.

Russell, B. (1957). Why I am not a Christian & other essays & related subjects (P. Edwards, Ed.). London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin.

9 Responses to What is Freethought?

  1. Templar Knight says:

    It saddens me truly :
    but am proud for one to accomplish ones start of a legacy in what he or she believes disbelieves in

  2. I am very happy to read this. This is the type of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that is at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best doc.

    • Thank you. I thought the same things. There is alot of information out there and most of it is incorrect, misleading, or not very informed.

    • Amine says:

      But for the use of Steve’s name in this post, I believe it could have been wreittn by me! I agree with every single word!!!The other night at dinner I mentioned to some of Mary’s family how I thought it was funny that those of us who don’t believe in some omnipresent, all powerful being have a name, yet those of us who don’t believe in the tooth fairy, or Santa Claus, don’t. It *does* make it harder, I have to say, when you lose someone you love. You can’t console yourself with ah, but she’s better off now; she’s in heaven . Still, she (my mom) didn’t believe either.Sometimes, I have to shake my head in wonder at the people who say they do believe. It boggles my mind.

  3. Yes, it can be frustrating to be viewed in negative lights. Yet, we must continue to share our voices in the public and private spheres. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Thanks Andrea. I’ll try to keep the blog regularlly updated. I’m just getting started so we’ll see! ;-)

    • Auth says:

      I don’t know after reading up about both these are the dnienitiofs I’ve come toStrong Atheist- Belief that there is NO GodWeak Atheist- Lack of belief that there is no God. or Not enough evidence to prove that a God does exist.Agnostic Deist Believe that there is not a God, but can’t prove it, or that there is not enough evidence (yet) to prove that a God does not existAgnostic- Not sure if there is or not a God. They neither doubt or deny the existence of God. (They are somewhat intermittent on the issue.)Does this sound accurate?

  5. NaVi says:

    You are pretty much coercrt on the colloquial usage. That is how most people tend to use it in normal conversation, but it is not the coercrt usage. The term agnostic’ can be used to describe any truth claim or claim on knowledge; it is not specific to religion. It means that the claim is unknown and unknowable. One can be both agnostic and atheist; as most atheists are.An agnostic atheist does not actively believe there is a god but maintains that it is an untestable hypothesis.This is apposed to a gnostic atheist, which believes there is no god and he can prove it.By the proper definition, most individuals who claim to agnostic are indeed atheistic, as they simply lack active belief in a god. That is all atheist means, nothing more. Most people use agnostic’ as if saying that atheists KNOW there isn’t god, or they simply do not want the stigma that comes with the label of atheist.

  6. Omar says:

    >Atheists, you do realize Atheism is a reoigilus belief?It isn’t.>Atheism is a belief there is no God, not a lack of belief.Correct. But this is not a reoigilus belief. Religion is any belief that some sort of deity is real. Atheism therefore does not fall under that category. Rather, it is specifically the antithesis to religion. It is, by definition, the denial of that which religion, by definition, asserts.>since you can’t know for sure that there isn’t a God, being Agnostic is more intellectually honest.By the same logic’, since you can’t know for sure that the Eiffel Tower is real, you should be agnostic about the Eiffel Tower.Kinda silly, right?

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