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Can Theists Really Think?

Clipped by Nathan Jacobson

Jeffrey Jay Lowder, founder of the Internet Infidels, offers a welcome clarification of the term ‘feethinker,’ in his article, “Is ‘Freethinker’ Synonymous with ‘Nontheist?‘” He ultimately agrees with Bertrand Russell that what defines a freethinker is not the content of his beliefs, but because “after careful thought, he finds a balance of evidence in their favor.” In principle, then, Lowder concedes that a theist could be a freethinker. His unremarkable conclusion is noteworthy because it demurs from the pervasive opinion of many skeptics that the defining characteristic of religious people is their unthinking credulity. Consider, by way of contrast, the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s ‘nontract’ (sic), “What Is A Freethinker?” Still, Lowder rejects the possibility that an Evangelical Christian could be a freethinker. Considering Lowder’s familiarity with the recent flowering of excellent Christian scholarship, especially in philosophy, his denial of Christian “free thinking” is, in the end, a bit puzzling.

(July 2, 2008) I’ve just fixed the link to the “What is a Freethinker?” nontract, and I can’t resist the temptation to comment on it. In the section, “How Do Freethinkers Know What is True?”, it says:

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.

In other words, Freethinkers are bound by a worldview, the belief that all of reality is matter and energy. The article goes on to articulate the crucial role of reason in truth seeking, again assuming from the outset a number of debatable epistemological assumptions. But what is so amusing is the juxtaposition here of the elevation of reason and a blatant logical fallacy, namely circular reasoning or begging the question. Will it be at all surprising if these “freethinkers” consistently come to Naturalistic conclusions when they have assumed it from the start? How “free” is a “thinker” if she cannot follow the evidence wherever it leads, but rather is constrained to arrive at a predetermined conclusion?