atheism

Letter to a free thinker.

Dear Free Thinker,

What does it mean to think freely?

Does it mean I must be an atheist?

You tell me there is no evidence for the existence of God.

You say that there is more evidence for unicorns than the object of my worship.

You tell me that I’m an atheist too.

Why do you say “we’re all atheists” when I believe in God?

You tell me “That’s just your interpretation”; “You’re wrong”; “I’m right.”

I reject science, according to you. I don’t know how to open my eyes. I’m blind, foolish, and stubborn.

You say that I’m delusional, and that my belief is a disease.

I have a final question:

Am I allowed to think freely…

Or is it just you?

Sincerely,

J.W. Wartick

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Letter to a free thinker.

  1. Hey JW,
    All this talk of unicorns has brought a memory of mine to the surface that I thought I’d share, if that’s alright.

    When I was pretty young (not sure how old exactly, but definitely a kid) I read ‘The Last Unicorn.’ The story centers on a unicorn who’s discovered she’s the last of her kind, the rest having been hunted to extinction. At one point, she’s turned into a human girl, and one thing I’ve always remembered very clearly is how upset she was about this. She was the most enviably beautiful girl, but she was inconsolably pained, and thought herself ugly and tainted beyond hope because ‘how could something which is dying the moment its born ever be beautiful.’ I remember being very upset for a long time at this, and even more so with the knowledge that unicorns didn’t actually exist. I thought the world was sorely lacking and insufficient without them. The unicorns depicted in that story were of a purity I hadn’t really imagined before. Immortal, pure, and untouched by any of the grisly marks or scars that dot the landscape of the rest of us. Being a child, I even entertained the idea for a time that, being the magical creatures they were, the unicorns were still in hiding in remote forests around the globe, caring on their legacy of perfection and remaining lofty and untouched by humanity’s pestilent reach. I couldn’t quite accept a world left wanting for such purity.

    I never felt quite that way about any of the Christian lore, but I’m sure it’s an almost identical feeling. I’m sure, in fact, that you will suspect that this was me trying to fill a God shaped hole in my heart with other things. But knowing that feeling, and knowing that Christians probably feel that way about Jesus, I can well imagine the distress that the suggestion of atheism might cause, and the determination and even desperation with which one would hold to the faith. I do not mean this pejoratively – I was seriously distressed as a child about the prospect of what worth a world without that pristine creature could possibly hold. And honestly I don’t remember what got me over it. It wasn’t a matter of philosophical reasoning about the ontology of meaning or purpose. It was just a gradual acclimation, allowing my intuitions to shift themselves into focus. I suppose I’ve transferred a lot of that sense of awe and majesty toward an appreciation of the natural world. Its unimaginable magnitude, vibrancy, variety, wondrousness, as well as its purity of purpose – it doesn’t dirty itself with our squabbles and existential angst. It is pure existence, pure truth, pure reality, and continues on in as pure a manner as it has since the dawn of time, carrying us along for as much of the journey as we can handle. Part of the reason I’m warm to ideas about the multi-verse and so forth is that the suggestion that we have already glimpsed the back wall of existence seems childishly overconfident next to the hugeness of the universe. Basking in this natural majesty doesn’t satisfy in quite the same way as the unicorn – you can’t talk to it, can’t touch its mane or look it in the eye, can’t behold its entirety in a glance, but it has at least one thing the unicorn didn’t have, and couldn’t have.

    So when you dismiss unicorns and Norse gods as pejorative emotional appeals with no connection whatever, keep in mind that these ideas are not mere products of casual rumor and idle concoction in the way you suggest – they have meant things to people in the same way your God means something to you. I understand if you feel the Christian God has evidence these other ideas don’t, but many of us disagree about this evidence, and don’t actually recognize the Christian God as particularly more worthy. You are indeed free to think and believe as you wish. But of course, part of free thought is the freedom to challenge.

    Posted by JWW | June 27, 2011, 3:31 PM
  2. Atheists I have talked to are quite upfront about what “freethinker” means to them — religion shackles the free exercise of thought by bounding what one is “allowed” to think. “Freethinkers” in my experience believe that by rejecting this assumed confinement they are “freeing” themselves (and others). So it is clear that “free” is not used in its sense which means “able to choose and/or act however one wishes”; it is used in its sense which means “loosed, unbound, unchained”. To be fair, both are valid definitions of the word.

    Obviously, however, this begs the question. It’s very similar to (without starting another topic of discussion) how “pro-life” and “pro-choice” operate: they define the parameters of the issue in such a way that anyone who does not claim the honorific is rhetorically left out in the cold without a single argument being delivered, accepted, or rejected. There is no sense in attempting to avoid emotional appeals — first, we all use them; second, the issues themselves are emotional; third, an emotional appeal does not of itself entail an error of logic. I also see no hope in trying to point the finger at who employs them more (either quantitatively or qualitatively). It’s bad form, it’s uncharitable, and I suspect we would find the historical facts to be unkind.

    So my answer would be simple: yes, my thought is bound and confined. Reality tends to do that to one’s beliefs about it, and I think I have sufficient warrant to think that my beliefs represent reality. Of course those beliefs have been nonrationally shaped — perhaps by a sense of the numinous (as JWW mentioned), perhaps by obligations to parents, perhaps by fear of loss of meaning, etc. etc. Similarly, atheists’ beliefs have been nonrationally shaped — perhaps by an aversion to being told what to do, perhaps by poor religious models, perhaps by a love for certain pleasures, etc. etc. Let’s just agree that we are all deep down engaging in wish-fulfillment, abandon the notion that this singularly discredits either side’s reasoning, and focus on the actual reasoning.

    Posted by Spencer | June 28, 2011, 10:01 AM
  3. Dear JW Wartick,

    Here are my replies to your questions:

    What does it mean to think freely?
    It means to be able to think without any prejudicial dogma clouding one’s thoughts.

    Does it mean I must be an atheist?
    No–it does not require atheism.

    You tell me there is no evidence for the existence of God.
    There is as much evidence for god as there is for unicorns–but we have already discussed this issue.

    You say that there is more evidence for unicorns than the object of my worship.
    No–I said there is as much evidence for unicorns as there is for your god.

    You tell me that I’m an atheist too.
    No–you believe in a god, so I would not call you an atheist.

    Why do you say “we’re all atheists” when I believe in God?
    We are born atheists–“blank slates”–but some are indoctrinated and brainwashed at an early age into believing magical and invisible creatures are real.

    You tell me “That’s just your interpretation”; “You’re wrong”; “I’m right.”
    No–I would never say that. All I ask is that theists provide evidence to back their claims of knowing a god exists.

    I reject science, according to you. I don’t know how to open my eyes. I’m blind, foolish, and stubborn.
    No–just by you being on the computer means you do not reject science.

    You say that I’m delusional, and that my belief is a disease.
    No, I do not think you are delusional. I do think that the mind and indoctrination techniques however, are very powerful and difficult to overcome.

    I have a final question:
    Am I allowed to think freely…
    Of course you are. We all are. It is just that because of the influence in their lives, that some have difficulty in doing so.

    Or is it just you?
    No, it is not just me. I am open to evidence of any god–not just yours. Are you?

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 28, 2011, 5:52 PM
  4. I am interested in JWW’s post about the unicorn and other peoples’ experiences involving the search for something pure, immortal, and truly good. It would seem his own idea – that he has transferred the qualities of pure existence, pure truth, and pure reality to the physical world whereas others may ascribe them to God or to unicorns – makes scientism merely JWW’s escape. Basically, in the same way that God fulfils Christians, that unicorns fulfill unicornists, in this same way science fulfills atheists. Of course now the unicorn argument applies to athiests as well, because they can no more prove that the physical world is the object of this pure existence, truth, and reality any more than unicornists can unicorns.

    Posted by Aperson | July 9, 2011, 12:22 AM
  5. Free thought does not mean unfettered by reason, evidence, or the limitations of reality. Defined in this manner, belief in any and all mystical illusions would be a prime example of free thought. No, it means free of the dogma, tradition, and authority that is taken as a jump-off point to other thought. This is why the charges that you reject science, are blind, foolish, or delusional can be coherently leveled from a position of free thought. I don’t think those are very nice things to say(perhaps not even true in your case), but on an intellectual level, they are valid criticisms (and can, I might add, be leveled even against so-called ‘free-thinkers’ when they are not acting like free-thinkers).

    More importantly, to ‘think freely’ does not entail atheism in any logical sense. In fact, the best part about free thought is that it could very well lead to acceptance of one or another theistic beliefs. The question is: does the evidence of this world lead a free thinker to theism? From what I can tell, it does not, but I’m here: change my mind.

    You are, of course, allowed to think freely, that’s a silly question. The real question is whether you are thinking freely when you adhere to the dogma of Christianity, when you submit to ecclesiastical authority for your position on social and political issues, when you value tradition over reason. The answer to that question would be no.

    The door to free thought is swung wide, there’s tea in the kettle and biscuits on the counter, but you will need to wipe your feet before you come through.

    Proverbs is full of great advice with regards knowledge, but more often than not the knowledge there referenced is either knowledge OF god, or knowledge FROM god. This is why the term ‘free thought’ is necessary: if you are to take the proper advice, you must free your thought process of this incessant appeal to authority and seek knowledge of this world, for it’s own sake.

    2 Corinthians is a glaring example of Christianity’s uneasy relationship with free thought. All thought is to be brought in line with the holy spirit, and any dissent from this line is to court heresy. Moreover, if this god of yours is such a champion of knowledge, why does he “veil the minds of unbelievers”? There is much condemnation of the Koran over just such a passage, yet it is repeated a number of times in chapters 3 and 4 of the above referenced book.

    You are an atheist with reference to every other god of every other tradition. This charge was not invented by atheists, the original use of the term came from Christians, aimed at rival sects within the faith. Many people, atheists included, confuse strong atheism with atheism in general. Atheism is simply a position on a theistic claim: false (or unsupported in any meaningful way). This is why you can be an agnostic atheist, like Matt Dillahunty, and why Victor Stenger can prove that one definition of god does not exist. There may very well be a god ‘out there’, and I, for one, am open to the evidence. However, the claims of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and the various polytheists of all ages have not sufficiently provided support for their particular claims enough to budge me from the negative.

    I am an atheist because your claims to the supernatural are unsupported, or false. I am a free thinker because I need rely upon no established dogma or tradition to fashion my worldview, and I make no fallacious appeals to authority in justifying same.

    Lee.

    Posted by Lee | July 19, 2011, 10:34 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Response to “Letter to a Freethinker” from an Atheist | Donald Morton's Blog - June 28, 2011

  2. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 7/25 « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - July 25, 2011

  3. Pingback: Are Freethinkers Really Free? | Well Spent Journey - August 20, 2012

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