What is Freethought?
#13
(20-Aug-2014, 02:07 PM)ardhakamila Wrote: Unfortunately, I feel that "freethought" is a historical term that can't possibly describe the movement now.

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But of course Dawkins has to believe it. He has neither the background nor the time to evaluate cosmological claims! Freethought cannot be about evaluating every single idea that comes your way using reason.

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If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty epistemology, I don't think there's any justification for the "freethought" label.

I agree that being a freethinker does not mean that you have to evaluate every single claim that comes your way. That is not feasible for obvious reasons. I do not think that was ever possible even if you go back to simpler times. Every polymath would have had his/her limitations. But it does not mean that we do away with the term "freethought". Sort of like we do not get rid of the term "height" just because a person's height can not be accurately measured. (How tall are you? I am 175 cm. How sure are you that it is not 174.911638 cm...? I am not sure, as my scale only says that it must be between 174.9 cm and 175.0 cm. Since you can not be sure please do not go around telling people what your height is or that you even have height.")

Take these four people; Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Deepak Chopra and Sri Sri Ravishanker. Let us say that we are asked to put these people on a "freethought" axis. It is true the none of these people have evaluated every single claim they have encountered in their lives. But that does not really prevent us from putting two of these at one end and the other two at the other end. Seems the "freethought" label does carry some meaning after all.
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#14
What if you were to replace Sri Sri and Chopra with, say, Ken Ham (of Creationist Museum fame) and P.N. Oak (of Taj Mahal is Hindu fame).

Both Ken Ham and P.N. Oak use reason to evaluate claims and don't accept the authority of the establishment. Now, people like us realize that both Ham and Oak have deep flaws in their reasoning. But neither they nor their followers see it that way.
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#15
How Oak and Ham evaluate some of the claims will tell us whether they are freethinkers are not. Take the instance dinosaur and human coexisting. Based on what evidence does Ham accept this claim? I guess similar questions can be raised about Oak's freethinking credentials as well. This is not to say that these men can not use reason or logic. One can not go through a day with out solving complex problems of driving in traffic, attending business meetings, finding a place to eat, etc. It is just that these two people fail to use reason or respect evidence wrt to the claims we know them for.

BTW, Sri Sri. Chopra and their followers also think that they are freethinkers.

Everyone has a good/positive opinion of themselves. For instance a majority of people think that they better drivers than others. This can not possibly be true. But we do not conclude that peoples driving skills can not be ranked just because a majority thinks that they are better than the average driver.
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#16
Why don't we consider the instance of the Monty Hall problem, which is famous now. You have three boxes, behind one of which there is a car. You choose one. The host opens an empty box. Should you change? Yes.

When Marilyn vos Savant introduced this problem, so many American mathematicians got angry at her and said that the answer was no. Even Paul Erdos, the legendary number theorist and graph theorist, was not convinced until he saw a computer simulation.

Would you say these people are not freethinkers since their reasoning was faulty? Or would the rest of their work make up for it?

The point I'm trying to make is not that "freethinker" is a problematic concept-- that's just splitting hairs. I just don't see it as particularly useful. The world isn't divided into "freethinkers" and "non-freethinkers." It's divided into specialists who review the work of their peers. Too often, people who are no better than amateurs invoke the freethought labelto make conclusions. People like Ham and Oak.
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#17
And as for the historical use of the term, as noted above, it was an oppositional claim to the claim made by the Church that the Bible is the last word on any matter. That was a very specific concept.

So sure, we could continue to use "freethought" in that sense, but it wouldn't be that useful. Most people would be freethinkers then. Knowing that, modern freethinkers have expanded the definition to mean "one who uses reason, etc." In my view, it's still not a useful concept, for the reasons above.
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#18
The first post in this thread should have clarified all of your queries. I will still try to spell it out.

There is huge difference between the meaning of the word 'believe' as used in 'believe in god' vs 'I believe he is coming to visit us tonight'. English is like that (and I think most languages). The words can have different meanings based on their uses.

Whats the difference? The former is not open to evaluation, while the latter is. So when a mathematician says 'I believe Fermat Last Theorem has been already solved', its not a matter of 'faith'. Its matter of trust which can always be challenged.

ardhakamila Wrote:The world isn't divided into "freethinkers" and "non-freethinkers." It's divided into specialists who review the work of their peers

And this is the big confusion. Trusting somebody's work is not same as believing in somebody's work. Its rational to take judgements based on information at hand, and not based on 'absolute knowledge' whatever that might mean.

In summary, yes freethinkers is a very very important concept/category. And the world needs it.
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#19
I'm not hung up at the trust-belief distinction. In my first post on this thread, I wrote that trust is viable so long as you're sure that someone solved a problem using science, as opposed to, say, "revelation."

My issue is why people like Ham and Oak aren't called freethinkers, because they clearly use reason, though a faulty version of it. It's not enough to say that they presuppose their goal. I know plenty of creationists who, though misled, have reasoned their way into Christianity by reading Ham's arguments.

So at what point does a rational being stop being a "freethinker," and when does one start?
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#20
ardhakamila Wrote:When Marilyn vos Savant introduced this problem, so many American mathematicians got angry at her and said that the answer was no. Even Paul Erdos, the legendary number theorist and graph theorist, was not convinced until he saw a computer simulation.

So he did change his mind when he saw the simulation? Doesn't that convince you that he has a respect for evidence that is required of a freethinker? You see, conditional probability problems are difficult to do on the fly. It is easy to make a mistake. There are lots of problems (the book Thinking, Fast and Slow has several examples) that are easy to get wrong if you have very little time to solve it in. As a result people make all kinds of irrational decisions. Freethought or a scientific framework to seeking knowledge helps us to identify where we went wrong under such circumstances. It makes you be more cautious while evaluating similar problems in the future. None of this of course suggests that a Freethinker will never ever make a mistake again.

(21-Aug-2014, 08:27 PM)ardhakamila Wrote: My issue is why people like Ham and Oak aren't called freethinkers, because they clearly use reason, though a faulty version of it. It's not enough to say that they presuppose their goal. I know plenty of creationists who, though misled, have reasoned their way into Christianity by reading Ham's arguments.

I already told you that these people can reason. You have to reason to navigate the complexities of everyday life. I did ask you on what evidence does Ham believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted? The answer to that question will tell you whether or not he is a freethinker.

(21-Aug-2014, 08:27 PM)ardhakamila Wrote: So at what point does a rational being stop being a "freethinker," and when does one start?

Why do we care? When does day end and when does the night begin? Do freethinker make mistakes? Yes, they do. Do they then change their mind if presented with evidence that contradicts their world view? Yes, they do. Ken Ham does not though. That is one way to tell apart a freethinker from a non-freethinker.

I also believe that at this point you have stopped being a freethinker and have become a "vidhandavadhi". Just wasting peoples time seems to be your goal.
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#21
Quote:My issue is why people like Ham and Oak aren't called freethinkers, because they clearly use reason, though a faulty version of it.

Why is a butcher not called a surgeon? After all both use a knife.
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#22
(21-Aug-2014, 08:27 PM)ardhakamila Wrote: I know plenty of creationists who, though misled, have reasoned their way into Christianity by reading Ham's arguments.

So at what point does a rational being stop being a "freethinker," and when does one start?

Already answered in the first post. Quoting it from there
Quote:The word ‘Freethought’ refers to a set of philosophies that adopt science, reason and logic as tools for understanding the natural world, rejecting sources of authority and tradition, such as religion, that claim infallible truth and require blind allegiance. The Freethinker magazine was first published in England in 1881 and is still around as a website. Today, the word ‘Freethought’ is used as an umbrella term encompassing a number of ideas including skepticism, application of the scientific method (scientific naturalism), philosophical naturalism, atheism, rationalism, humanism etc

Points to note
1. Using reason obviously means, using right reason.
2. The various ideas listed above provide the answer to what constitutes as "right reason"

So one can't say "I am rational but I am a moral nihilist, why can't I be called a freethinker!" as freethinkers base their moral decisions on Secular Humanism [Some things, that might be right according to moral nihilists, are wrong for Secular Humanists]
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#23
This addendum is not about 'What is freethought?' but a quick response to snide questioning about whether what volunteers at Nirmukta are engaged can be considered freethought. A sense of what expectations from Nirmukta can be deemed reasonable and what a reader may hold it accountable for, can be found in the section Who We Are and What We Do. Individual readers, be they Indians or 'India-watchers' from elsewhere are obviously entitled to their opinion on what the priorities of social activism and advocacy in India must be, but it is unrealistic of them to expect that the priorities of, say, RTI, Kafila, Caravan, Nirmukta and Sulekha must be identical to the priorities they have chosen. These websites occupy different positions in the following spectra: non-profit to commercial, education to activism, volunteer-driven to cadre-based and non-partisan to community-spokespersonship. As would be obvious to any regular visitor to Nirmukta, the site in practice seems to have in preceding years had a more of a non-profit, educational, volunteer-driven, non-partisan character.

To be more genuinely educational and non-partisan requires a truly representative and diverse community of contributors for which efforts are continually underway. The few earlier contributors singled out for criticism in some of the posts in this thread, neither claimed personal spokespersonship or leadership of the cause, nor were part of any concerted effort to define the agenda nor are free from mutual differences, not least of which is generational. There maybe 'hedges' or 'guarding terms' in some things participants here say and what they say may not always be 'unqualified', but such hedging may in fact be an intellectually honest way of acknowledging that one's stances may change with information, and in some sense may even be a mark of civility as against overly partisan certitude. One thing that maybe said in the defence of the bloggers named is that whatever they wrote and whatever brickbats it may draw, they are taking full ownership of, without taking the refuge of anonymity or copping out saying it was only a team consensus or summary of the zeitgeist being expressed. One can understand that anonymity may sometimes be necessary for individuals subject to workplace surveillance and persecution or other hindrances on freedom of conscience, but no such allowance or charity seems due for individuals treating anonymity and pseudonyms as a cover for launching personal attacks and engaging in mischief they wouldn't had their identity been transparent to their interlocutors. Anonymous personal attacks are as bad as any other personal attacks.

That apart, the singling out of the blog contributors named above may well be treated as a teachable moment to reflect upon the work that still needs to be done towards greater diversity and on the efforts undertaken in this regard by team members. Something for volunteers to think about is whether greater diversity will require an approach that is subtractive ('take the microphone away' from longtime contributors from an earlier less diverse body of contributors, even if it results in stony silence for a while), additive('rotate the microphone' more often to those who haven't spoken earlier) or a practical dialogue-affirming combination of both, neither 'shutting up' anyone nor letting anyone 'hog the microphone'. A useful way to engage in such reflection is to revisit the below article, whose title itself is a message to disengaged commentators complaining that Nirmukta is 'not radical enough' or 'not raising enough money'.
So let us be
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#24
Despite ardhakamila's expert agenda trolling, there is something to be said about the usefulness of the term "freethinker".

People have compartmentalized beliefs and everyone has their weak spots in their reasoning. (Think Richard Dawkins and his tacit approval of sexism with "Dear Muslima" or Sam Harris's asinine idea of profiling). So strictly speaking, freethinker isn't an accurate label to use. Also, the label has an elitist tone it implying that people who are not freethinkers are shackled to something. In some matters, religious people do have better reasoned beliefs than freethinkers.

But the fact is there are ideal definitions and there are words which gain acceptance simply by how they are used in practice. If you search for the word "freethinker", except for the dictionary definitions, every other usage covers all or some of these - atheism, skepticism, humanism or even having a naturalistic worldview. There was another word that was coined a few years ago that had a similar elitist bent that freethinker has - The Brights. But that word didn't catch on. Freethinker did. So 'freethinker' now has certain accepted meaning and more importantly, the accepted meaning does not imply that a freethinker is perfect in anyway as the ideal definition would want. It's just become a label that denotes something. The debate about the usefulness of the word would have had validaity a few years ago. But at this point, it is a moot point.

PS: If no one posts any objection, I'll move the troll's posts, and some of the replies to them to another thread or I'm also inclined to just delete them.
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