Today (October 12th, 2018) marks another strange holiday in a country that loves to invent new holidays. Today is National Freethought Day, and it is not to be confused with National Freethinkers Day, which is in January. (That seems a tad redundant. I guess we not only need a national day of prayer, but a national day of prayers too, but I digress.)
The website for national holidays describes the purpose of the holiday this way:
The purpose of this National Day is to encourage people to be free thinkers and to base opinions on facts, science, logic and reason.
To begin, what does it mean to be a “freethinker?”
“Freethinker” functions as the nickname for atheists and agnostics. Freethinkers is to atheism what protestant or evangelical is to Christianity. This then, is really a day celebrating atheism. I understand that nothing about “atheism” is in the definition, but as Orwell reminds us, all language is political, and usually these kinds of titles say one thing on the surface, but mean an entirely different thing in practice.
A good example of that is how often abortion is referred to as “women’s reproductive rights.” Abortion has nothing to do with reproduction, as reproduction has already occurred, and it has nothing to do with women’s rights since babies, not women, are being butchered. Nevertheless, when anyone sees the word, they know what it really means. As Orwell states,
“Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”
The same can be said for “freethinkers.” I doubt any person in any religion considers themselves outside this category. We all think we are freethinkers. From the Christian to the Muslim to the Atheist, we all think our beliefs are rational, reasonable, logical, and consistent with reality. The term is invisibly accusing certain people of being enslaved in their thoughts, and the jail-master is religion.
“Freethinkers” is not really a description of a method of thought, but instead a code-name for the non-religious.
When groups are afforded the right to self-identify, they typically pick titles with positive connotations. I think people who defend the legal right to murder unborn children are just that: murderers. At best I’ll speak of them as pro-abortion advocates. But that’s not how they self identify. They call themselves “pro-choice.” I guess that has a nicer ring to it than baby-killer. Our self-appointed titles are typically not what our enemies would select. Thus, Freethinking has a kind of inherently positive connotation, and so the non-religious gladly accept it.
The Orwellian nightmare is that even the religious would gladly accept it on the surface, so the devil is less in the details, but more in the implications.
One definition defines the noun form, a freethinker, this way:
a person who rejects accepted opinions, especially those concerning religious belief
Notice the emphasis on rejecting specifically religious opinions. Miriam Webster’s is even more to the point:
a person who thinks freely or independently: one who forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority
especially: one who rejects or is skeptical of religious dogma
Even in the technical definitions is the realization that in common vernacular this is a word describing the non-religious.
I appreciate the transparency of freethinker Dan Barker, who, in writing for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, defined the term this way:
“A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists. No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”
Consider that a statement of faith under the “what we believe” tab on their website. Barker goes on to admit that freethinkers presuppose there is no God,
“Freethinkers are naturalistic. Truth is the degree to which a statement corresponds with reality. Reality is limited to that which is directly perceivable through our natural senses or indirectly ascertained through the proper use of reason.”
I would like to observe this holiday the way the national calendar prescribes: “Think rationally and use #FreethoughtDay to post on social media.”
Allow us to think rationally about the rationality of freethinkers.
Every person is creedal; everyone adheres to and follows creeds. This is an important “not whether, but which” reality that even many Christians miss. Whenever you hear a Christian say anything related to “no creed but Christ,” or “I don’t follow creeds; I follow the Bible,” it would be encouraging to tell them how succinct and lovely that creed is, and suggest they might want to write it down and frame it somewhere.
“No creed but Christ” is a creedal statement. “Think rationally, apart from any authority or dogma or creed” is a creedal statement; that itself is dogma. Ironically, Freethinkers are in no way escaping the very thing the word was invented to help people escape. The heart of the system is religious in nature, as there is no non-religious expression to life. Thus, Dan Barker, when he says, “No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah” has actually created a foundational creed of the freethinking religion. He should print it out on nice legal paper and maybe have a covenant community of freethinkers sign it.
To simplify, we should think freely, using reason rather than dogma… says who? What book says that? On whose authority should I reject appealing to authority?
Get it? What is perceived as problem to be avoided turns out to be inescapable.
Related to this is the inevitable reality that ultimates are always circular in their validation process. Were I to apply the dogma of the freethinking cult, I would actually have to be presupposing its truth in order to escape contradiction.
What I mean by that is this: when we value something like “thinking rationally,” did we conclude that as being worthwhile through rational thought? Is it not a little bit suspicious that my rationality determined I ought to be rational?
If you answer “no” to that, would you find it a little too convenient if the Bible encouraged us to use the Bible for truth standards? If appealing to the Bible for determining whether or not the Bible is useful sounds problematic to you, I am curious as to why you so jovially appeal to your rationality when determining if rationality is useful.
Trying to escape that circle becomes problematic however, as you tumble off the cliff and fall onto the jagged rocks of self-contradiction. Notice how the national calendar day describes the practice of freethinking:
“The purpose of this National Day is to encourage people to be free thinkers and to base opinions on facts, science, logic and reason.”
This belief itself, if not circular, was arrived at by not applying these standards. Either we used logic and reasoning to determine the validity of using logic and reasoning, or we blindly assumed their validity, coming to the conclusion-that we ought to utilize science and reasoning-without utilizing science and reasoning.
What is perhaps the greatest fault of the freethinking movement is that the very foundations of the religion are stolen from Christ. The very things established as being the chief end of man do not come from within the framework itself.
Man must think rationally, not religiously? Fine. What is rationality? To even make such a claim presupposes a transcendent standard of rationality. The same goes for logic. How can one be logical unless immutable, transcendent laws of logic can be justified?
I have addressed this at length elsewhere, but in short, the point is this: logic, reason, and rationality presuppose God. If all that exists is the natural world, then laws of logic, reason, and rationality are natural, making them material and prone to evolution. Without God, there is no such thing as objective standards of reasoning. We simply have uncontrolled, chemical reactions in our randomly evolved brains. There is no objective standard of thought to compare those chemical reactions to in order to critique their logic or rationale.
And science is not off the hook. Science presupposes a host of issues about the natural world that freethinkers cannot account for. In other words, science cannot account for itself. God accounts for science. Without a God upholding the universe consistently by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), there is no reason to assume a scientific foundation like induction. Bertrand Russell knew this all too well saying,
“The problem we have to discuss is whether there is any reason for believing in what is called ‘the uniformity of nature’… Have we any reason, assuming that [the laws of nature] have always held in the past, to suppose that they will hold in the future?”
His opinion on the matter, especially given his overall beliefs about God, is refreshing,
“It must be conceded, to begin with, that the fact that two things have been found often together and never apart does not, by itself, suffice to prove demonstratively that they will be found together in the next case we examine. The most we can hope is that the oftener things are found together, the more probable becomes that they will be found together another time, and that, if they have been found together often enough, the probability will amount almost to certainty.”
Russell likewise realized that to even achieve a probable degree of certainty still requires presupposing the absolute truth of induction, which can never be known!
“The general principles of science, such as the belief in the reign of law, and the belief that every event must have a cause, are as completely dependent upon the inductive principle as are the beliefs of daily life. All such general principles are believed because mankind have found innumerable instances of their truth and no instances of their falsehood. But this affords no evidence for their truth in the future, unless the inductive principle is assumed.”
Induction is assumed, presupposed, and never known, and is used then to validate itself to a degree of probability. Given that, how probable is it?
One of the most important aspects of science requires leaps of faith and circularity, unless you ground them where they belong: in the Lord Jesus Christ.
All this can be summarized in the expression that all the requirements of intelligibility, the pillars of freethinking, cannot be justified themselves without appealing to the transcendent Creator of the universe. Therefore, freethinking cannot happen unless one submits to Jesus Christ as the Creator God of all things. You must presuppose what freethinking attempts to disprove.
Every Thought Captive
We have found ourselves, in the course of this blog, returning to the Vantillian “not whether, but which.” You see, we are all enslaved thinkers. According to Scripture, no one thinks freely; no one is free in their thoughts. We are all in fact, enslaved; every thought is a slave.
Paul presents to us our dichotomy in Romans 6:17-23,
“[T]hanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We have two options, and both require slavery. We are either slaves to sin, and always seek to please our master (even with our thoughts), or we are slaves to Christ, seeking to please our Master (even with our thoughts). The idea that any person out there is neutral, thinking freely, objectively, and without bias, is the lie that comes from a mind enslaved to sin. We are all slaves.
We either serve Christ in our thoughts, or sin in our thoughts, but there is always a taskmaster within each of us. Notice the way Paul describes the duty of apologetics in 2 Corinthians 10:5,
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”
Our goal is to free slaves by enslaving them. Our aim is not to turn skeptics into neutralists. Our chief end in apologetics is to take every thought captive to Christ. We do not want our thoughts to be free, we want them to be enslaved to Christ. For the alternative is not autonomous freedom, but sinful disobedience.
Freethinkers are not freethinkers at all. They are actually sinful-thinkers. But as was said earlier, that doesn’t have as nice of a ring to it…