Faith ain’t Freethought

(This post is part of the weekly series Freethought Friday)

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

-Clifford’s credo

I enjoy studying the history and philosophy(ies) of Freethought but I will admit there are challenges in using the term. One of the reasons I chose the word “atheist” many years ago to describe my stance toward the epistemological was that most people I come across have a pretty good basic grasp of it (I know, there ARE people with wrong ideas about atheists, Oh I’m aware of that!). I chose to tell people I was an atheist because when I told them I was a Humanist or a Secular Humanist or a Freethinker I would then have to explain what I meant by that term.

Sooner or later I would say “atheist” so why not just cut to the chase?

One of the problems with the term Freethought is so many want to be Freethinkers or think that they already are. Freethought has been so tied up with a resistance to authority that many of us tend to forget that Freethought is more than anti-authoritarianism (although that is a part of it). Freethought is also the stance that our opinions, what we think, should be generated by reasoning from sensory data (empirical evidence).

A number of times that I’ve brought up Freethought to a believer (usually a Christian, because that’s who I tend to meet) they’ve proclaimed that they are a Freethinker. And they may very well be…IF…

If they toss out ecclesiastical authority and tradition and dogma as a means of knowing what is real. If they toss out received revelation as a source of knowledge. If they toss out reports of miracles and the supernatural. And if they toss out faith as a source of knowledge they might already be, or might be on their way to Freethought.

Why not faith? Why shouldn’t faith be a legit source of “what we can think is real?”

First let’s look at a definition or two of faith from popular sources of faith:

Paul of Tarsus says in his letter to the Hebrews in the Christian bible:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The Book of Mormon describes faith:

And now as I said concerning faith – faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

So faith is the “evidence of things not seen” and having faith is having hope for things which are not seen, but which ARE true(!).

Notice there is no mention of empirical, real world evidence here. There is no requirement for evidence in these definitions of faith, other than hope. These definitions declare that faith is evidence of things hoped for, the Mormon definition just declares by fiat that these things which are hoped for are true. Faith is evidence for a faith belief. The end.

A person can have faith in anything. The sky is not the limit to what can be believed through faith, there IS no limit. Anything a person can imagine and/or hope for can be zapped into “existence” via the awesome magic of faith. The human imagination is a wonderful and powerful thing that can come up with so much. But the fact that we can imagine, and we can hope, doesn’t make the things we imagine or the things we hope for really exist outside of ourselves.

And that’s where faith falls. We want and can want, we imagine and can imagine so much. We can imagine that those we love who are dead are really alive. We can imagine that there are loving beings out there who take care of us no matter what. We can imagine that we have outrageous cosmic powers and importance. We can imagine and hope and hope and imagine. But imagination and hope aren’t proof of anything but imagination and hope. In the end there is no evidence for the things not seen.

Homo Sapiens can convince itself of many things. We can believe honestly and sincerely and with all our heart. But whatever we can convince ourselves of, our faith doesn’t make it so.

Faith ain’t Freethought.


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