Truth -- it is a thing of incredible and countless value. Yet we are given many various presentations, representations, misrepresentations, distortions, and abstractions of this institution of knowledge. From cultures to nations, science to myth, all across the globe from East to West, from the educated to the ignorant, everyone seemingly tries to have a monopoly on truth. Censorship is the tool of the tyrannical mind, ameliorating dissent of opinion and destroying liberty of conscience. Nations are filled with fear, people with hopelessness, and individuals are slaughtered. The ground that is stained with the blood of the heretic is the home of a triumphant beast -- a monstrous ignoramus. It has been a long-held doctrine by these indignant men that what is different is evil, what is obscure is malicious. They believe, that is to say, that the true of intellect has room enough for one branch, one leaf, and one that branch only one leaf. Their dark heart allows them the vain effort of smothering the creature of purity, the child of intellect -- to destroy individuality and liberty. To quote Robert Green Ingersoll...
History has been plagued with the tyrants who believed they were capable of controlling the main stream of thought. They would not allow changes in current. Through censorship and torture, they were capable of forcing opinions on men and disallowing them from examining all the claims. Truth was held under the thumb of brutality and minds remained in shackles of bigotry and superstition. To those who seek truth, there are many paths to take. As I said, we are presented with numerous possibilities of truth. Some assert their religion over all other religions; some assert their empire over all other empires, as goes with culture, philosophy, science, morality, among other issues. Those who try to carve their own path of truth may often find themselves falling to the same hypocritical fallacies that hindered their ancestors -- the same dogmatic errors that caused themselves to break away from conventional wisdom. Nonetheless, history goes on. Wars will be waged, humans will be oppressed, individuals will be enslaved, religions will be propagated, and the whole of ignorance shall remain unchanged. There will be those who look for truth, as I have stated, but rarely will they change history unless they are -- as I shall describe -- Freethinkers. A Freethinker is a person whose thought is not constrained by the faulty arguments or reasoning for cultural, political, religious, ethical, or philosophical beliefs. To a Freethinker, the method is a thousand times more important than the conclusion, the reasons examined more than the deduction. If the history of civilization is changed at all, it is because of a Freethinker. If the history of civilization remains the same, a monotonous drone of repetition, of wars, of political strife, of oppression -- of all the things that make up "civilized humanity," -- then these people are not Freethinkers. Freethought is thought unconstrained.
As I have stated before, we are given many ideas of exactly what truth is. Many religions are guilty of claiming to have a monopoly on truth -- and this monopoly is more often enforced with the sword than with arguments. To quote Thomas Paine, "Those who preach this doctrine of loving their enemies, are in general the greatest persecutors, and they act consistently by so doing; for the doctrine is hypocritical, and it is natural that hypocrisy should act the reverse of what it preaches." [The Age Of Reason, by Thomas Paine, Part II, Chapter III.] We are born into this world and opinions are forced on to us. It is quite likely that if a person's parent was a Christian, they will also be a Christian. It is quite likely that if a person's parent was a Muslim, they will also be a Muslim. This is not restricted to religion, though. A person born in a particular culture will likewise believe in the customs of that culture. This includes in areas of ethics, values, beliefs, religions, and creeds. If Genocide is accepted by a culture, many of those born in that culture will accept it. If Abortion is accepted by a culture, many of those born in that culture will accept it. To quote Herodotus...
The fact is that we are often brainwashed by our surroundings, by our environment. And many of us are unaware of this fact. The first principle of Freethought is this: Doubt -- to be able to doubt the truth of the statements given to us as truth by culture and religion. To quote Bertrand Russell, "Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false." [Unpopular Essays, by Bertrand Russell, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1950), page 149.] I can point to countless examples of how lack of doubt has led to chaos and ignorance. Religions hold the best example. Their followers rarely doubt their doctrines for a moment yet there are thousands of religions all across the world. They all claim to be the sole holder of truth. In fact, they all claim that every other religion is false. Many of the followers, however, cannot claim to have been a member of that religion through investigation and examination. There many be a few who genuinely believe that they follow a certain creed due to evidence and logic, but often times such believes are credulous and the evidence relied upon is exaggerated. The reason why religions are believed largely is due to people being born from parents of a certain religion. The Europeans and Americans, being a large percent Christian, will have Christian children, whereas the Asians, being a large percent Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist, will have children of said religion. To quote Edward Gibbon, "Religion is a mere question of geography." [What Great Men Think of Religion, by Ira D. Cardiff (Christopher Publishing House, 1945; reprint New York, Arno Press, 1972.)]
"Philosophy is doubt." -- Michel de Montaigne [Essays, Michel de Montaigne, 1580.]. Even beyond religion, culture appears to be the same. We are given culture from our community and our family, from being raised up. Although it is true that there may be shifts in society, evolution of creed and values, this is due to Freethinkers. One hundred years ago, Birth Control and Abortion were forbidden topics, and even to write about them -- even in personal letters -- was punishable by law. However, today abortion is not forbidden to speak of, and there are even clinics that give away free contraceptives. The reason why society has changed so radically in such a considerably small amount of time can be attributed to the development and progression of Freethought. Society is a machine and the gears are all turning in the same direction. The gear that turns in the opposite way, the gear that is not restricted to the same beliefs as the others, this gear -- this person -- is a Freethinker. Consider Nazi Germany, though. The Freethinkers in that society were rare. There was an underground outcry against the brutality rendered by the National Socialists. Dissent of opinion was punishable by death, whereas our current society often punishes it with abuse or ostracism. Take a long, hard glance at the mechanics of the Nazi Germany society and government. They did not foster Freethought. It was their deeply held ambition to instill in their people a patriotic, pious, nationalistic sentiment. It was the mindset that their government was the right one, that it needed defense against the Jews, and that those who are not for it are against it. Take a long, hard look, and you will see the absence of Freethought: Slavethought!
"The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cock-sure while the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell [Be Reasonable: Selected Quotations for Inquiring Minds, by Laird Wilcox and John George, eds., (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1994).] If the Nazis are not enough of an example, consider the White Christian missionaries, who brought destruction and disorder to the lands that they visited. It was their frameset that they were perfectly right and without the slightest chance of being wrong. What, though, is the true difference between a scientist who has researched his claims and a White Christian missionary? The difference is clear: since the scientist has nothing to fear from doubt because his claims have evidence, he fosters doubt, whereas the White Christian missionary answers doubt with flame and torch. If an individual can answer arguments, can present evidence for their claims, and can prove their position -- to every inquiry and to every argument -- then they are the ones who understand the essential of doubt. Those who ignore arguments, refuse to answer questions, and demand belief without proof -- faith and not reason -- these are the people who fail to understand the absolute necessity of doubt. The first principle of Freethought is Doubt. One must be able to understand that their arguments must be backed with evidence and inquiries must be answered. To push aside those who disagree with you is simply ignorance on an unleveled height. Further, still, doubt can never be feared. If it is, then it is simply a sign of the failure of the claim to reach expectations of evidence and logic. A true scientist and a true Freethinker will never fear doubt, but encourage it -- as new ways of thinking, new ways of solving problems and dilemmas of politics, ethics, and culture, are what Freethought is all about.
Of doubt, it is a wonderful thing, ushering in new ideas and allowing us to dispel old ones. Yet, once we have doubt -- once we understand that nothing is too traditional or too new to question -- then we need a judge to decide what is true and false, between what is credible and credulous. There is nothing so persevering in this area as Reason. This institution, Reason, can be defined as thus: basing the validity of a claim on evidence, on its own self-consistency, and consistency within the realm of other considered facts. To the first attribute of Reason, evidence, it can be further explained as reasons that we may be led to believe that something is correct or truthful. To the second attribute of Reason, self-consistency, it can be further explained as something that does not contradict itself. For example, a blue, red car cannot exist, as something cannot be two colors at once. It may be stripped, with one stripe being red and the other blue, or it may be mixed with one color being red or one being blue, but it cannot be wholly blue and red at the same time. To the third attribute of Reason, consistency within the realm of other considered facts, it can be further explained as one fact not contradicting another. If we understand that the world goes around the Sun as a fact, and conversely understand that the Sun goes around the world as a fact, one must be incorrect, as both propositions cannot be correct at the same time.
Through Reason, we can differentiate false claims between correct claims. It will allow us to understand what ideology is incorrect and what ideology is correct. However, there are some ideologies that reject Reason on principle. They argue that, for some reason or another, to use Reason when understanding the Universe is blasphemous; that Faith, and nothing else, is to be our (blind) guide when considering what is right and what is wrong. To accept ignorance as doctrine and stupidity as mindset is the cowardice of intellectual growth. Those who cannot accept something on Reason because it is accepting something on Reason -- those who would choose the curiosity and intelligence growth of the graveyard -- are traitors to the ethic of science, fools of fools. To quote Ethan Allen...
One imperative nature of Reason is that the conclusion is less important than the evidence. A scientist is a scientist because of his methodology, just as a Freethinker is a Freethinker because of how he arrives at his conclusion. A person may be led to believe that atoms or germs do not exist, or other many other conclusions that we know today to be false, and they can still be just as much a scientist or a Freethinker. It is imperative that one bases their claims on evidence and on reasoning, and they though do so solely on such foundations. An example of evidence leading to a conclusion would be witnesses of a crime, a murder weapon, fingerprints of the suspect on the murder weapon, and evidence placing the suspect at the scene of the crime. This would be evidence leading to the conclusion that the suspect had committed the crime. However, evidence is more important than the conclusion. If individuals, prosecutors, judges, jury members, and others all become so convinced that someone committed a crime, without much of a look over the evidence, then they are Slavethinkers and ignoramuses. Later in this case, though, it could later be proven that there was a mismatch on the finger prints on the murder weapon, that the weapon they found was not used to kill the victim, and that the witnesses later assert that they were unsure they saw the suspect. If people were so engrossed with the conclusion previously attained, that the suspect did kill the victim, then they would have no need or desire to look over the evidence. They would be quick to render a verdict of guilty.
Some may find this scenario difficult to believe, however. I can point to many real world cases of individuals putting more importance on the conclusion than the evidences. Many religious individuals are more set on accepting any evidence than confirms their religion, thus we have the plethora of (often contradictory and absolutely ridiculous) arguments coming from Ontological Arguments, Cosmological Arguments, Teleological Arguments, Beneficial Arguments, Faith Arguments, among others. In my essay "Those Krazy Kreationists 5: Jesus-Is-Lord," I criticized a Christian's writing. In one of their writings that had encouraged Christians to evangelize and convert, they had said, "Your attitude has to be 'I don't care what you say, I believe in the Lord!'" In my essay "Examining An Argument 3: Debate On Nutrition," I talked to someone concerning whether protein drinks were necessary to keep healthy. I brought scientific evidence from many different articles and different books, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture and popular magazines. His responses were hardly scientific, one of them being, "Next thing you'll be telling me is that a banana is actually a cow's penis and water is actually a cow's sperm." One of his final statements, prior to ending the debate, was "You haven't convinced me at all." Anton Szander LaVey, for another example, condemned using real magic when trying to prove that magic is real. To quote him...
I had criticized Anton LaVey's Satanism before in my critique, "A Critique of Satanism," (V. 2). To LaVey, the conclusion that magic was real was the emphasis of his statements. However, the method to prove that magic was real was entirely irrelevant. If, by using mirrors, wires, and other devices to prove that magic was real, if this method was sufficient in doing so, then he advised its usage. If accepting a person's word that magic is real is good enough evidence to an audience, then certainly, LaVey would rely upon it. The conclusion I am reaching is that people often become obsessed with the conclusion, that they are quick to throw the reasons aside. In fact, some of the reasons that bring people to their conclusions are credulous to begin with. Taoism, for example, is based on nature and its wondrous beauty. Although it may be true that the cathedral of nature offers splendor aplenty, to make it into a religion is unbelievably dogmatic. It is to assert, "This is so magnificent and emotionally overwhelming, there must be some higher force guiding it." Thus, we have religions made over heroes, over the unseen, over men, and now over nature. The reason leading to justification of Taoism is that it is Nature, or that it is natural, which is certainly no credible reason at all. It, rather, relies on sensory justification (the beauty of nature). However, to the point, people become more obsessed with conclusions than with reasons. They quickly become ignorant and indignant of anything contrary to their conclusion. So, even if their conclusion is based on some evidence, the progress of science, knowledge, and Freethought is limited, restricted, because they would be unwilling to examine other systems of thought.
To do away with a conclusion is not what I am advocating at all. I am simply advocating that a conclusion should entirely be based on evidence. This idea must be incorporated wholly. If, for example, we have mounting evidence that someone murdered their friend for their money, it may certainly be true. However, if we later discover that none of the friend's money was taken, then the conclusion -- "A person murdered their friend for their money," -- would be inaccurate. The conclusion must be wholly molded by evidence. A proper conclusion would be, "A person murdered their friend."
There is more to Reason, though, than just creating conclusions based on evidence. Reason also includes questioning the evidences brought forth for other theories. One of the methods of doing this is applying evidences of one cause to another. For example, if someone says that the reason it is acceptable to enslave another human is because they are superior, then we can apply this evidence to another cause. According to this reasoning, it would also be acceptable for men to rape women, because they are more muscular or "superior." It would be acceptable for the strongest man on the Earth to force all the other men to do everything he wants them to do on the grounds of superiority. Or someone may state that their god is the only god because scripture from some religious resource denotes as such. However, Hindu scripture speaks of the Hindu gods and Islamic scripture speaks of the Islamic god. If we follow the reasoning that scripture can prove one god over another, then we will have thousands of religions all proving themselves correct simply because they have scripture to back them up. Such would be a break in the foundation of Reason: that a fact cannot contradict already proven facts. In this case, numerous Monotheistic religions would be proven. The nature of Monotheism is that there is one god. If the Monotheism of different religions is proven, then we have many, solitary gods existing, which would be impossible.
"Homosexuality is immoral because it is unnatural." If someone made this statement, what could we deduct about their reasoning? Well, we would understand from their reasoning that anything that is unnatural is immoral. Therefore, if the alphabet and language were unnatural, then they would be immoral to use. If housing were unnatural, then it would also be immoral to build a house or live in a house. Someone may argue, "It is acceptable to kill animals so we can eat their meat, because we have teeth designed to consume flesh." The reasoning from this argument is that anything that is designed to do something may do just that. A gun, for example, is designed to shoot and kill, and therefore murder is acceptable. If a tool were devised to assist in rape, then it would also be acceptable. Of course, this is all based on the reasoning utilized in the argument that it is acceptable to kill animals because we have teeth designed to consume flesh. Another person may state that it is right to love your enemies because the Bible says so. The reasoning behind this argument assumes that everything the Bible says is correct. One could argue then that, "Slavery is acceptable, because Ephesians 6:5 in the Bible allows it." When we examine claims and the reasoning behind them, we should apply the reasoning to other scenarios and see if the person making the claim agrees. If they do not, then their claim is false, because the reasoning is false. If they do agree with it, then perhaps they are truly consistent with what they believe, or more investigation may be needed. (Or, as my next section shall deduce, a principle must be met.)
Then, the argument may come back to me, "What if we use the wrong methods, but attain the right conclusion?" I would be largely inquisitive of such a claim, that unreasonable methods were used to reach a reasonable conclusion. An example of this would be someone saying, "My thumb is green, therefore the world is round." Can we possibly learn that the world is round by one's thumb being green? I seriously doubt that such is possible. Of course, to those of us who believe that the world is round, what can we say to such a statement? Can we support it? If we have any ounce of scientific integrity in us, then we cannot. To support an evidence that leads to your conclusion, simply because it leads to your conclusion, is ignorance and fanaticism. As I have said before, people are far too concerned with conclusions and give rarely any weight to evidence unless it supports their conclusions. However, we must oppose faulty reasoning that supports our conclusion just as we must oppose faulty reasoning that supports contrary conclusions. If someone said, "The smartest scientists on the planet are Atheists, therefore I am an Atheist," or if someone said, "The smartest theologians on the planet are Christians, therefore I am a Christian," I could support neither statement. Both use the same faulty reasoning: that what others believe can be used as evidence for a conclusion.
There are numerous false arguments presented by individuals to try and prove their claims. Many false arguments are labeled specifically, some with Latin words. Here are some of those arguments...
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." -- Carl Sagan [The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan, page 213, published by Ballantine Books.] This is an important observation to note while trying to think clearly. Just because we do not have proof of something, it does not mean that such a thing is impossible. For example, there is no proof of invisible goblins yet they could certainly possibly exist. The same goes for other possibilities. The fact that they lack evidence does not mean they cannot exist. Another good example would be god. There is no proof of such an entity yet that does not mean that such a being could not possibly exist. So, from a Freethinker's point of view, how are we to view these theories that could possibly be true yet have not assisting evidence? Since there is no possibility of really furthering the truth of such a theory, without discovering evidence, such claims have to be left at that: possible yet without evidence.
The first principle of Reason is Doubt. When there is an open field to question everything that has been practiced, then truth will be reached. There are some who oppose doubt ideologically, but such individuals who cannot question, who cannot be defiant to the evils of society -- their status speaks for itself: when it comes to the ethic of open mindedness, they are cowards. They are thousands of miles away from Freethought. The second principle of Reason is to value the reasons more than the conclusions. People often become too emotional wrapped in conclusions so that they often ignore evidence, even the evidence that opposes their claims strongly. As well, even though a false evidence can support a correct conclusion, or appear to support a correct conclusion, we should not support such statements. For some to say, "My favorite television show is Married With Children, therefore, the president's taxation law is unconstitutional," is using a false evidence to support a (possibly, in this case) correct claim.
Through Freethought, we are capable of differentiating truthful claims from fallacious claims. We are capable of understanding the very nature of this institution called truth. Through our own faculties of understanding and comprehension, as well as questioning and doubt, we are allowed the ability of seeing things for what they are, for understanding without bias and without bigotry. Freethinkers, as I have said, are the individuals who have changed the course that society takes. We are the individuals who have our focus aimed on truth. To this end, although I may not speak for the others, I work to be as affectionate and reasonable as possible. While some admire the beauty of the tree of knowledge, the Freethinker is the gardener. Like a bright star in a dark sky, the Freethinkers are the leaders of radical and new movements, all moving towards a more humane and rational goal. Yet unlike bright stars in a dark sky, Freethinkers do not have to be small in number. The concepts of Freethought are certainly not limited to a strict few. Sadly, they have rarely been incorporated. People throughout history have all too often been too interested in profit or power to allow science to flourish. This is true science, true Freethought. When a king holds his people under his thumb without giving them the air of knowledge to breath, without giving them the spirit of heart to unite, Freethought is rare. Without Freethought, it is only a fact that civilization deteriorates and life becomes harsh. The Dark Ages can confirm this, as dissent of opinion was punished with the most severe of blows and persecution was practiced by the aristocracy and the clergy. Yet, Freethought will flourish where there is a spark of brightness in the mind of an inquiring individual, where there is a keen interest in truth to the open eyes of a person, where someone values compassion and science above the vices of contemporary society.