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Are deists really "freethinkers?" 
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Post Are deists really "freethinkers?"
Naturally, the way we answer this question depends on how we define both "deist" and "freethinker."

Let's assume, for this discussion thread, a deist is one who believes in a deity, but not a personal God. They believe in some sort of creator, but not in the value of prayer or any world religion. They suppose a God got the ball rolling, and then allowed the laws of physics to carry the ball along.

A freethinker is one that thinks freely or independently of dogma. They don't accept blind faith or authority and question everything. Reason is a freethinker's only valid cognitive tool.

Don't like my definitions? Then you define the terms and then answer the question.


Results (total votes = 11):
Yes 8 / 72.7%  
No 1 / 9.1%  
Other 2 / 18.2%  





Mon Aug 01, 2005 10:36 pm
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Post Re: Are deists really "freethinkers?"
Historically, Deism is a movement that attempts to derive the existence of God from reason alone, as with Thomas Paine in "The Age of Reason". I think it's best to stick with that definition in order to avoid confusion.

I've said so elsewhere, but I think the Deistic movement ultimately consigns itself to absurdity. But then, I'd also voice skepticism about the concept of "Freethinking" -- at least as I understand that term.

Are Deists really Freethinkers? In as much as as we assume that Freethinkers are really Freethinkers, I don't see why not.




Tue Aug 02, 2005 12:37 pm
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Post Re: Are deists really "freethinkers?"
A deist isn't a freethinker in MY opinion, because I cannot fathom how reason could lead anyone to a belief in a deity.

Quote:
I've said so elsewhere, but I think the Deistic movement ultimately consigns itself to absurdity.
How so? Because of what I just said above?

Quote:
But then, I'd also voice skepticism about the concept of "Freethinking" -- at least as I understand that term.
Skepticism about the concept of freethinking? Tell us more please.

Dictionary.com defines a freethinker as:

One who has rejected authority and dogma, especially in religious thinking, in favor of rational inquiry and speculation.

How can you be skeptical about thinking for oneself? A freethinker is someone who thinks for him or herself. They don't accept what mommy and daddy told them about the origins of the universe. They ask questions and think deeply. Reason is their tool for learning about the world.

So you're skeptical about using reason? Explain yourself but PLEASE do NOT use reason within your explanation. We don't want a circular nightmare on our hands. How is reason not the best tool for figuring out how things work?

Chris





Wed Aug 03, 2005 2:51 pm
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Post Re: Are deists really "freethinkers?"
Chris OConnor: A deist isn't a freethinker in MY opinion, because I cannot fathom how reason could lead anyone to a belief in a deity.

I suspect that it can't -- at least, not on its own. Depending on what premises you begin with, it may become necessary to posit a deity in order to uphold the entirity of your reasoning. We see that sort of operation take place all the time, in all sorts of contexts. Sometimes the posited notion is something other than deity, value-oriented concepts like liberty or brotherhood. Even Reason itself, as posited by the Enlightenment, is an assertion more than a discovery, an ideal more than an artifact found in nature.

Me: I've said so elsewhere, but I think the Deistic movement ultimately consigns itself to absurdity.
Chris: How so? Because of what I just said above?

I believe I spelled this out in the "Age of Reason" thread, so for a fuller explanation, go there. The gist is that Desitic conclusion of a supernatural deity is not, as Paine and others have claimed, founded on pure reason alone, and could not be. It must be founded on premises that are ultimately arational. For example, Paine argues that the observation of Nature rationally leads to the belief in a divine Creator (making Paine a forerunner of the modern Intelligent Design debate -- I wonder why they haven't made use of Paine to any but a limited extent). But that cosomological argument must be premised on the implicit assertion that something in the character of Nature implies something outside itself, an idea founded not on rational argument but on experience and sentiment.

At a certain point, you (as a hypothetical deist) have to ask what is more central to the philosophy -- belief in God, or the methodology of Reason. If it is belief in God, then you are, within the context of your own philosophy, justified in weakening the constraints of pure reason here and there. If the methodology of Reason, and the obligation to believe only in what may be demonstrated by reason, is more central then you consign yourself to whatever fate or range of fates is set down for the purely rational person. I'd say it leads to a reductio ad absurdum, as I've argued elsewhere.

How can you be skeptical about thinking for oneself? A freethinker is someone who thinks for him or herself.

I don't know that it's possible to really think without some form of authority -- language, for instance, is a pervasive authority, and we may ask ourselves how broadly our thoughts are permitted to range without the raw material provided by language. Freethinkers are also constrained, as are all people, to the historical development of the concepts which they manipulate -- that's one of the lines of research I've recently taken up for myself: the development of the Enlightenment notion of Reason in contrast to the classical notion of reason, and the effect those developments have had on society. Much the same may be said for a great number of the ideas that secular society takes for granted, as though the language referred to something that were indisputably observable in nature: freedom, order, peace, humanity, equality. These are all concepts with a history rooted in authority, and I think that the idea that you can simply liberate those terms from their roots without killing the plant, so to speak, is a bit naive.

I would even go so far as to say that much of what passes for "freethinking" these days is actually better described as thinking in opposition, as though it were thinking from reason alone to repudiate the credo of a given institution and set yourself against it. In that way, you may observe some people trumpeting their own liberation from authority, when actually their beliefs are defined in an inverse, but still contingent, relationship to the very authority they've repudiated.

I should add that these are not complaints or criticisms that I'm making against anyone here. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who takes upon themselves the task of examining what they might otherwise take for granted. But I think there's some reason for caution when dealing with any sort of label, whether applied or adopted, that makes claims as radical and far-reaching as "freethinker". I hope you'll take these comments in that spirit.

So you're skeptical about using reason?

As a matter of fact, I am. Or, to qualify, I am skeptical about blind faith in the power of reason. Nor am I entirely convinced that we can continue to treat the idea of reason as something simple and self-evident. If we are going to assert reason as the modus operandi of our society as a whole, then we need to be more explicit about what we mean by the term, how broadly it can be applied, what we must reject in order to work from reason alone. The Enlightenment was, on the whole, entirely too optimistic about Reason to treat it skeptically, and their conclusions were, in some part, influenced by political and cultural agendas.

How is reason not the best tool for figuring out how things work?

For the most part, it is. And if all you ever ask of learning is an understanding of the mechanical operation of a given thing, the reason is just about all you'll need. But knowing "how things work" is only one kind of knowledge among many.




Wed Aug 03, 2005 4:06 pm
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Post Re: Are deists really "freethinkers?"
On page four of Jacoby's book is the following:
Quote:
American freethought derived much of its power from an inclusiveness that encompassed many forms of rationalist belief. Often understood as a phenomenon running the gamut from the truly antireligious-those who regarded all religion as a form of superstition and wished to reduce its influence in every aspect of society-to those who adhered to a private, unconventional faith revering some form of God or Providence but at odds with orthodox religious authority. American freethinkers have included deists, who, like many of the founding fathers, believed in a "watchmaker God" who set the universe in motion but subsequently took no active role in the affairs of men; agnostics; and unabashed atheists. What the many types of freethinkers shared, regardless of their views on the existence or nonexistence of a divinity, was a rationalist approach to fundamental questions of earthly existence-a conviction that the affairs of human beings should be governed not by faith in the supernatural but by a reliance on reason and evidence adduced from the natural world.
Deists are freethinkers. They do not accept the established explanations of theocracy, they make up their own. Chris, you saying "A deist isn't a freethinker in MY opinion, because I cannot fathom how reason could lead anyone to a belief in a deity," is like one scientist saying another scientist couldn't possibly be using reason because his results are different. Do you think that the scientist who think light is a particle don't use reason, or the ones who think it's a wave are void of reason? (Oh dear, they haven't come to a consensus on that yet, have they? It just might destroy my point if they have.)




Tue Aug 09, 2005 3:43 am
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Post Re: Are deists really "freethinkers?"
Deism is not my view, but I say yes. Deists are freethinkers.

Freethinker (noun): one that forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority; especially : one who doubts or denies religious dogma" - Merriam Webster dictionary

The deist belief in god is a matter of perception, not indoctrination.

Deists believe in God as revealed by nature and reason. This requires a perception of the universe as having order and the belief that this is indicative of a conscious designer. The philosophy itself makes no assumptions about God; it only states that God exists. There is no dogma.




Sun Aug 14, 2005 1:13 am
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Post Re: Are deists really "freethinkers?"
Quote:
The Enlightenment was, on the whole, entirely too optimistic about Reason to treat it skeptically, and their conclusions were, in some part, influenced by political and cultural agendas.


Mmmm..... I'm not too sure I agree on that. I do agree that they were very optimistic about reason, however, I don't know that they were too optimistic. I think that Jacoby shows that the Enlightenment sometimes gets a bad name because it takes the heat for the anarchy of the French Revolution. However, the socialists I know also say that there has never been a government true to the ideals of socialism and it is therefore unfair to jugde the idea because it has been implemented poorly in the past. The American revolution was one based on the ideas of the Enlightenment and we don't say the American Revolution was a bad idea.




Thu Sep 01, 2005 12:33 am
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Post Re: Are deists really "freethinkers?"
Well, at the risk of raising the ire of some of the BookTalk regulars who are tired of this issue, I'll just justify my previous statement that the Enlightenment emphasis on pure reason -- the notion that all problems could be solved by the application of reason alone -- was misguided. Part of the justification for this Enlightenment dogma is a redefinition of reason along lines that are no longer entirely applicable, and which were not made applicable until the Renaissance and beyond. But on the whole, the Enlightenment emphasis on Reason was related to the ascendency of Equality as a political agenda -- Reason allowed the middle classes to assert their right to participate in various forms of authority (political, religious, cultural) by asserting that authority was exercised by virtue of Reason, which was a faculty possessed by all men (some Enlightenment figures still found room to maintain that women were naturally less reasonable than men). This socio-political agenda behind the elevation of Reason to a cultural ideal had an impact on the way in which Reason was conceived, and the needs of Equality demanded, among other things, that any element of reason that still allowed for incommensurability had to be obscured. These are all ideas that I'm tracing in my reading, but so far I've found little that contradicts that basic historical outline. The Enlightenment view of Reason was created by an age of discourse -- to accept it at face value is to accept along with it any number of implications which the modern era might wisely do without.




Thu Sep 01, 2005 12:54 pm
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Post Re: Are deists really "freethinkers?"
Quote:
A deist isn't a freethinker in MY opinion, because I cannot fathom how reason could lead anyone to a belief in a deity.
If God appeared to you, and convinced you he was real, it would be reasonable to accept the evidence of your senses, true? Even if counter to your previous philosophical stance on the issue?

I mean, a number of my coworkers, especially the conservative military vets, are finding a lack of satisfaction in Bush's performance. They couldn't even have considered such an outlook two years ago.

Anyway, 'reason' is the processing of evidence. If there is evidence you would accept as proof that there is a deity, somewhere, even a hands-off, closed door, disinterested deity, then it would be more honest to announce that you are a deist than to maintain your philosophical stance, nu?
Even if that evidence you accept is subjective? That you can't use to convince anyone else of your stance?

And if you find evidence apart from the dogmas or subjective evidence of others, why wouldn't you be a freethinker? Even if no longer an out and out atheist?






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Tue Oct 18, 2005 10:49 am
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