1.14 The Principle of Freethought

Back to 1.13 The Scientific Confidence Principle

1.14.1 Due to such a high degree of credulity in our society, this section of essays has been heavy on negating a variety of common misconceptions. Therefore, it is fitting that I conclude this section by focusing on an aspect of humanist epistemology that is equally as important, and that is freethought. Although nearly everyone thinks of themselves as a free thinker (two words), freethought and freethinking (one word) refer to a specific tradition.

1.14.2 One of the foundational principles of freethought is that no assertion should be off limits to evaluation, based on the evidence. This includes long-held national ideologies, popular folklore, historic claims, commercial product performance, public policy, scientific theories, and even religious beliefs. There is tremendous social pressure to conform and questioning of cherished beliefs can often lead to hostile reactions. Of course, such evaluations should be done with taste and concern for the feelings of decent people who may hold such beliefs. The goal should be enlightenment, securing respect for the rights of freethinkers, and especially to help keep people from being taken advantage of. The goal should never be to ridicule, hurt, or offend for its own sake.

1.14.3 Of course, the flip side to this principle is another, which states that we must allow any and all of our beliefs to be questioned and examined. We should not allow ourselves to confuse our self worth, our intelligence, or our egos with our current beliefs. Furthermore, we cannot be offended or aggressive when our own assertions are questioned. The fact that we may be mistaken means that we must expect the same rigid examination of our beliefs that we offer others. This is the only way to create an environment of freethought, where everyone and anyone with noble intentions can feel free to honestly debate and question anything, without fear of being censored, persecuted, having their character assaulted, or any other sort of negative reaction.

1.14.4 In addition, it is essential to the freethought spirit that we keep an open mind at all times. As mentioned earlier, it is possible that all sorts of things may be true, which we currently discredit due to lack of evidence. This means that, as people make various claims, we should be on the lookout for new arguments we have never considered, and new pieces of evidence not yet properly evaluated.

1.14.5 If claimants refuse to listen to plain logic, do not provide evidence, or rely on trickery or offensive gestures to win arguments, we can certainly choose not to waist our time. But a reasonable person making a claim, even one that seems to be extraordinary, may in fact turn out to have extraordinary evidence, in which case we would be missing a great opportunity to learn if we did not give that person a fair hearing.

1.14.6 In general, freethought boils down to an aversion to dogma - including an aversion to turning our own currently held beliefs into dogma. For example: ideally, if UFO’s, magic, or gods were ever able to be proven with the methods described in this section, then these beliefs would be included into the humanist worldview without contradiction. This is because positive skepticism is not defined as a set of positions, but a method of forming positions. It is only happenstance that skepticism is currently associated with a nonbelief in gods, UFO’s, and psychic powers.

Continue to 2.0 Ethics