Freethought - Beliefs Derived from Reason

Freethinkers Use Reason, Science, and Logic to Derive Beliefs

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Freethought is defined as the process of making decisions and arriving at beliefs without relying solely on tradition, dogma, or the opinions of authorities. Freethought thus means using science, logic, empiricism, and reason in belief formation, especially in the context of religion.

This is why freethought is closely associated with skepticism and critical atheism, but the definition of freethought can be applied to other areas as well like politics, consumer choices, the paranormal, etc.

Are Freethinkers Atheists?

The definition of freethought means that most freethinkers are also atheists, but atheism is not required. It is possible to be an atheist without also being a freethinker or to be a freethinker without also being an atheist.

This is because the definition of freethought is focused on the means by which a person arrives at conclusion and atheism is the conclusion itself. However much some atheists wish to create a necessary link between atheism and freethought or skepticism, the fact remains that they are logically and empirically separate.

The origin of the term freethought comes from Anthony Collins (1676 - 1729) who was opposed to organized religion and explained it in his book, "The Discourse of Free Thinking." He was not an atheist. Instead, he challenged the authority of the clergy and doctrine and championed coming to your own conclusions about God based on reason. In his time, most freethinkers were theists. Today, freethinking is more likely to be associated with being an atheist.

Atheists who derive their belief from authority are not freethinkers. For example, you may be an atheist because your parents were atheists or you read a book about atheism. If you never examined the basis of being an atheist, you are deriving your beliefs from authorities rather than arriving at them through reason, logic, and science.

Freethought Examples

If you are a political freethinker, you don't simply follow the platform of a political party. You study issues and apply political, economic, sociological, and scientific data to arrive at your positions. A freethinker might then help shape the platform of the political party that best matches their positions. They might decide to remain an independent voter because their positions on issues do not match those of a major political party.

A freethinking consumer would decide what to buy based on researching the features of the product rather than relying on a brand name, advertising, or popularity of the product. If you are a freethinking consumer, you might read the reviews posted by experts and users but you wouldn't make your decision solely on their authority.

If you are a freethinker, when you are confronted with an extraordinary claim, such as the existence of Bigfoot, you look at the evidence provided. You might get excited about the possibility based on a television documentary. But you explore the evidence in depth and arrive at your belief in whether Bigfoot exists based on the strength of the evidence. A freethinker may be more likely to change their position or belief when strong evidence is presented, either supporting or invalidating their belief.