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Freethinking Coming to Stellenbosch

August 3rd, 2007 · Posted by Who Knows? · 30 Comments

Hyperbolically described by some as the “Bible Belt of South Africa”, the university town of Stellenbosch has more than 30 churches. At least two of these (one of which is arguably the most “popular” church) are pentecostal, often proudly embracing the label “fundamentalist”, with significant anti-science teachings. In a country where Christianity is assumed, where church and state were hand-in-pocket for a long time, where religion is still taught in public schools, and challenging people’s beliefs is often frowned upon, another player is preparing to run out on the field. With a small meeting last Friday, the ball was set in motion for the establishment of a freethinking society, that will hopefully play the noble and much needed role of defending science and critical thinking. May pseudo-science, superstitions and young earth creationism no longer go unchallenged in this town…

The group looks likely to become an affiliate of the Campus Freethought Alliance. Take a look at the CFA Affiliate Group Organizing Guide. What I really like about the CFA’s position, are little details like these: “The CFA respects the personal freedom and affirms the right and responsibility of persons to give meaning and shape to their own lives.”

Below are some highlights from the guide. All of it is “© 2001 Campus Freethought Alliance”, I assume duplicating it here constitutes “fair use”?

The CFA Minimum Statement:

The Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA) includes campus groups and individuals that promote rational thinking, defend and cultivate an individual’s right to unbelief, and enhance the presence of freethought, skepticism, science, and secular humanism on campuses worldwide. The CFA respects the personal freedom and affirms the right and responsibility of persons to give meaning and shape to their own lives. The CFA is an inclusive union that does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

The CFA List of Purposes:

  • To encourage freedom from superstition, irrationalism, and dogma.
  • To further the acceptance and application of science, reason, and critical thinking in all areas of human endeavor.
  • To challenge misrepresentations of non-religious convictions and lifestyles.
  • To create a campus community for freethinkers and skeptics.
  • To cultivate in ourselves — and others — a sense of responsibility to, and compassion for, humanity.
  • To counter all forms of religious political extremism.
  • To defend religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
  • To defend individual freedoms and civil liberties for all persons, regardless of race, sex, gender, class, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability.
  • To unite freethinkers, skeptics, and humanists and consolidate campus resources to these ends.

What is freethought?

The concept of “freethought” must be distinguished from the concept of “free thought.” Free thought is critical reflection that does not depend on appeals to tradition, authority, or dogmatically held positions. Many reflective people are free thinkers in this sense, including many religious believers. Freethought, however, is a historical tradition of thought and discourse that traces primarily back to the Enlightenment and combines free thought with doubt or disbelief regarding supernatural views, particularly traditional religions.

CFA Goals

In fulfillment of its purposes, the CFA pursues various goals:

  • Advancing the public understanding and appreciation of science
  • Exposing pseudoscience
  • Upholding the separation of church and state in public education
  • Investigating claims of the paranormal
  • Safeguarding the freedom of expression and opposing censorship
  • Defending academic freedom
  • Challenging academic fads and orthodoxy
  • Debating the philosophy of science, skepticism, and theism
  • Stimulating meaningful dialogue among religious and nonreligious students
  • Exploring secular and humanist ethics
  • Fighting racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and heterosexism
  • Constructing positive social networks for those who dissent and question

The Campus Freethought Alliance believes that these goals can often be best pursued by asking some fundamental questions: What are the effects of superstition and dogma on educational environments and on society in general? How can the ideals of freedom of thought and expression be realized in schools and colleges? How can students promote science, critical thinking, and humanistic values in our societies? How can we work to effect positive change in our societies and deal with pressing problems without recourse to a transcendent realm? Can we lead good and fulfilled lives without the belief in the supernatural?

Categories: Religion and Science
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30 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Zach // Aug 3, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    About 6 years late if you ask me… still better late than never, keep us posted on its progress!

  • 2 Pienk Zuit // Aug 3, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Where do I sign up?

  • 3 Hugo // Aug 3, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    Zach, will keep you posted. (BTW, some years back, there was a(n informal) skeptic’s society/group, SkeptUS(?)…)

    Pienk Zuit: For the moment, most of the organising takes place via Facebook (the “Freethinking Maties” group). Right now there is a bunch of work that needs to be done to get the society started (and registered), e.g. it needs a constitution and the like. “Formal” official membership is thus not possible right now.

  • 4 Gericke // Aug 9, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Oh man, there are so many fundamental problems with this it is almost unbelievable…no pun intended.

    A life is not worth living if you subscribe to constant doubt. It is good to ask a question for the purpose of seeking an answer. It is never good to ask a question for the purpose of simply proving your ability to do so.

    By the way, at least half of the goals of the CFA contradicts the very tradition they claim to build on, due to the assumptions it is based on.

    G.

  • 5 Hugo // Aug 9, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Really? Care to explain?

    I just took a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freethought – I found that rather interesting. Didn’t find any contradictions, though. (Of course, taking a quick glance at Wikipedia is far from an in-depth study…)

    Hey, I’d derive great pleasure at considering it a good thing to be labelled a “pansy”. <grin>. (Much like the labels “nerd” and “geek” are considered in a more positive light these days? By some, of course. Not everyone…)

  • 6 Hugo // Aug 9, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    And of course, the Talk page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Freethought … one ought to always at least glance at a Talk page… hmm…

    Anyway, the point being, I am very interested in perceived problems, so I’m hoping you will provide some more details about the “many fundamental problems”, contradictions, and what you believe the assumptions are. (And if you have any other helpful suggestions?)

  • 7 Gericke // Aug 11, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    For the benefit of the rest of your readership, my original reply:

    Eerstens, freethinking is ‘n tradisie van rasionaliteit. Interessant hoe wikipedia die wortels terugtrek na alles wat totaal irrasioneel sou geag word vandag, maar ja, dit vir eers ter syde. Dit is vir my baie interessant dat die CFA ‘n lang lys liberaal-humanistiese doelwitte het sonder om die liberale basis te bevraagteken.

    Die twee is teenstrydig…die liberale etos vervat ‘n selfvernietigende toestand naamlik dat dit ekslusief is. Vryheid binne die liberale dogma (en ja, dit is wat dit is, freethinkers sal cringe as hulle dit agterkom) is slegs vir almal wat glo in die liberale definisie van vryheid (wat tussen hakies nog nooit finaal gedefinieër is nie). Dit is dus op ‘n logiese fallacy gebou.

    Buitendien, hoe kan mens vry wees as jy totaal afhanklik is van bewyse? Nie net is dit ‘n paradoksaal nie, dit is uiters beperk. “Seeing is believing” maak jou wêreldjie so groot soos jou basis van kennis waarvoor jy self uitdruklike bewyse het. Foeitog.

    Laastens, die sogenaamde rasionele denke en die wetenskaplike proses is vol groot gate. Ons almal begin met ‘n stel aannames waarvan ‘n groot gedeelte blote aanvaarding is van dinge…dinge wat ons GLO. ‘n Mens kan nie bestaan sonder om iets te glo nie, en dit is so dat die minderheid van wat ons glo werklike bewyse het, of selfs logies is.

    Freethinkers is maar bietjie arrogant as hulle dink dat hulle oor genoeg kennis beskik om alles te verklaar wat hulle glo. Alles wat ‘n mens weet is immers subjektiewe interpretasie. Geen mens het die vermoë om totaal objektief te redeneer oor enige saak nie.

    Nee wat Hugo, ek is bevrees die mannetjies beïndruk my nie. Dit is slegs mense wat in vrees van die onbekende leef wat gedurig die lig aansoek in hulle wêreldjies. Ek wil jou aanmoedig om die onbekende aan te pak met lewenslus en die wete dat die heelal ‘n veel ryker plek is as die bietjie wiskunde en taal van ‘n freethinker se rekenaar. Believing is seeing then becoming…

  • 8 Hugo // Aug 11, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    *sigh*. I’m afraid I still don’t see what you’re objecting to. Each of the points on the list of purposes makes sense to me. You seem to have a fundamental aversion to the whole idea… I don’t understand that.

    Could you point out a specific thing you have a problem with, rather than what seems to me somewhat vague blanket statements? (My apologies that that is how I experience your comment.) What is it that bothers or offends you? (Are you unhappy that some people do not share your beliefs?)

    Or never mind. *another sigh*

  • 9 Hugo // Aug 12, 2007 at 12:20 am

    BTW, another detail: another suggestion for potential “affiliation” was the “Secular Students Alliance” at http://www.secularstudents.org/ … I have not looked at that in as much detail as the CFA document. I do feel more comfortable with CFA though, and hope the group goes for that. I just get a slightly more antagonistic impression from the SSA. (And as everyone should realise, this kind of thing has to deal much more with impressions than with facts…)

  • 10 Steve // Aug 13, 2007 at 11:36 am

    I want to challenge some of Gericke’s claims. Respionses would be appreciated:

    1.” A life is not worth living if you subscribe to constant doubt.” – Why not? And who says life should be worth living, in any case?

    2. “It is good to ask a question for the purpose of seeking an answer. It is never good to ask a question for the purpose of simply proving your ability to do so.” – This is based on your opinion of what is and isn’t good, surely?

    3. “Buitendien, hoe kan mens vry wees as jy totaal afhanklik is van bewyse?” – I raise the possibility of being free while being dependent. I suggest that many Christians espouse exactly that in their claim of being free while simultaneously being dependent on God.

    4. “Ons almal begin met ‘n stel aannames waarvan ‘n groot gedeelte blote aanvaarding is van dinge…dinge wat ons GLO.” – I disagree. They are assumptions, not statements of faith. Various assumptions lead to different scientific theories. But various assumptions are indeed investigated. Hence the variety of structures which we encounter in mathematics.

    5. “‘n Mens kan nie bestaan sonder om iets te glo nie, en dit is so dat die minderheid van wat ons glo werklike bewyse het, of selfs logies is.” – One can exist without believing anything, but I agree it would be a rather pathetic existence. I also think that in practice nearly everybody does believe something. But some are willing to consider the possibility that what they believe does not correspond to reality (whatever that is), i.e. that it is not true. If we don’t discuss our assumptions, we are unlikely to make progress in this terrain.

  • 11 Gericke // Aug 13, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Steve,
    Would you agree that the value of something is the combination of its usefulness (how it solves a problem or fulfill a need) as well as its constructiveness (its effect on the process it is involved in)?

    To put the definition into action: an apple solves the problem of hunger and it builds the human body. It therefore is both useful and constructive.

    A MacDonald’s burger solves the problem of hunger, but we all know that it isn’t healthy. Therefore it is useful, but destructive.

    Agreed?

  • 12 Steve // Aug 13, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    I think that value is subjective. Some people find something less valuable because it is destructive. Whether that is an inherent factor which reduces value is debatable.

    So for a healthy, hungry person, an apple and a macdonald’s burger may have the same value, but perhaps not for an unhealthy person aware of the relevant health effects. On the other hand, I like the taste of a MacDonald’s burger more than that of an apple, so despite being unhealthy and aware of the health effects, I still find a MacDonald’s burger more valuable than a sack of apples.

    So, I don’t really agree, no.

  • 13 Gericke // Aug 13, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    There is a difference between ascribed value (the subjective value you refer to) and intrinsic value. Intrinsic value is derived from the effect of something on the system it is a part of.

    Whether you as Steve find a sack of apples less valuable is a testament too good advertising and peer pressure. Humans make value judgements that rarely reflect the intrinsic value of their choice.

    So, if the system is the human body, then an apple has higher value than a MacDonalds burger. The first builds the system and helps it function optimally and the latter clogs the arteries, degrades the digestive system and generally poisons the body. Apples have a higher intrinsic value.

    Do you still disagree?

  • 14 Steve // Aug 14, 2007 at 8:30 am

    I’m not convinced that there is such a thing as intrinsic value. If one disregards the subjective, there’s no reason to prefer a healthy well-functioning body to an ailing, ill one, is there?

    To an extent, your concept of intrinsic value reminds me of Plato’s cave allegory: our ascribed value is only a shadow of some ideal intrinsic value. But is that necessarily the case?

  • 15 Gericke // Aug 14, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Curious line you pull between Plato and what I am saying, and to a degree it can work. Wait until we start talking about actuality, reality and truth…then this will become even more pertinent.

    Firstly, I suggest you get acquainted with systems theory if you haven’t done so, because this is my point of departure. When I look at something like the human body, I see it as a system with inputs, processes, outputs, balancing factors, an origin and a destination.

    Within the context of this point of view, intrinsic value is quite simply part of the nature of a system, whether that system has a will of its own or not. Intrinsic value is still subjective to the system though, don’t let the word “intrinsic” make you believe that it is objective.

    1.” A life is not worth living if you subscribe to constant doubt.” – Why not? And who says life should be worth living, in any case?

    My assumption is that the system of life has a purpose. You may not see it or believe that it is necessary, but (once again intrinsically) as a system with an active process it is going somewhere. As a human system that “somewhere” has a value. It may be negative (I don’t want to live a life worth living) or positive (I want to live life fully). You won’t get away from the fact that human beings put a value to the destination of their lives.

    As far as “living” is concerned we have a choice in all things – those that keep the process going and increase our strength, or those that deplete our energy and bring about death.

    Doubt relates to fear (the belief [and note, there is rarely good evidence for this belief] that we don’t have adequate resources to fulfill a need or solve a problem), and fear depletes our energy without giving something back.

    As such I arrive at the point that constant doubt brings no value. It doesn’t solve any problems, if any, the need it fulfills creates an entropic system that eats itself up and frankly it never brings positive growth. Only when we accept the answers we get can we experience growth.

    You ask whether a live should be worth living. If not, you are already dead. It isn’t a matter of should or shouldn’t, it is a simple matter of systemic death.

    2. “It is good to ask a question for the purpose of seeking an answer. It is never good to ask a question for the purpose of simply proving your ability to do so.” – This is based on your opinion of what is and isn’t good, surely?

    This is based on my definition of value. Anybody who has a will of their own are most welcome to live a life asking a bunch of questions simply to prove that they are able to do so. It is an exercise that only strengthens doubt and as such leads to the systemic death I described above.

    And if you want evidence, try asking questions all the time and see how long you last :) i.e. Is this food edible? Do I have proof that this food is edible? Is it really food? Can I drink this water? Is the test I used to ensure the water is safe reliable? Does the inventor of this test really exist? Can I trust the science this test is based on? You will soon die of thirst and hunger. The system requires you to accept certain things in order to act.

    This brings me to the conclusion that all actions are indeed somehow done in faith.

    3. “Buitendien, hoe kan mens vry wees as jy totaal afhanklik is van bewyse?” – I raise the possibility of being free while being dependent. I suggest that many Christians espouse exactly that in their claim of being free while simultaneously being dependent on God.

    Here too I need to clarify a definition of freedom. As you pointed out, it has little to do with the fact of dependency – we all are dependent on something or somebody. That is human nature.

    My emphasis here is not the fact of dependency, it is the object of dependency. Freedom, from my point of view, is to accept that variety always exists. When one does complex problem solving, this is the first place to start – a problem is a limitation of possibilities – either you have a single option (a crisis) or two options (a dilemma). Three or more options breaks the deadlock.

    When saying that one MUST ALWAYS have evidence for the things one believes is a false crisis. Why should one always have evidence? And how do you know the evidence is in fact correct? Here too I refer back to the conclusion that all actions require faith. If we wait for evidence (which is in itself subjective) we will never act, and only a dead body doesn’t act.

    Point in case: Can you prove to your mother that I exist as an individual human being? Not convincingly no…yet you respond to my questions and interact with me as if I do. I may as well be an intelligent robot or your own alter ego. She may believe you based on the evidence you present, but if she were to follow the way of freethinkers, then your evidence will not be worth anything. and even if she does get to meet me, how will your father know I exist without meeting me? An arduous and nonsensical life, wouldn’t you say?

    4. “Ons almal begin met ‘n stel aannames waarvan ‘n groot gedeelte blote aanvaarding is van dinge…dinge wat ons GLO.” – I disagree. They are assumptions, not statements of faith. Various assumptions lead to different scientific theories. But various assumptions are indeed investigated. Hence the variety of structures which we encounter in mathematics.

    All assumptions begin with a statement of faith. The whole of science starts with faith in mathematics, but there is no way to prove that mathematics is indeed correct. The correctness of mathematics is an assumption.

    Quite simply we say 1 + 1 = 2. But I can think of a case where 1 (sperm) + 1 (egg) = 1 (human being), 1 (dad) + 1 (mom) = 3 (including the baby), 1 (sperm) + 1 (egg) = 32 000 000 000 (roughly the amount of cells in a mature human body) and so forth. Yet scientists generally state their faith in this awkward language to prove things.

    These statements of faith, whether they come from a Christian, Buddhist or scientist can be called strong assumptions, simply because no one can truly prove or disprove its existence or validity. The assumptions find strength in the fact that we need to accept them before we can go forward.

    5. “‘n Mens kan nie bestaan sonder om iets te glo nie, en dit is so dat die minderheid van wat ons glo werklike bewyse het, of selfs logies is.” – One can exist without believing anything, but I agree it would be a rather pathetic existence. I also think that in practice nearly everybody does believe something. But some are willing to consider the possibility that what they believe does not correspond to reality (whatever that is), i.e. that it is not true. If we don’t discuss our assumptions, we are unlikely to make progress in this terrain.

    No person on earth is without some form of belief, if we don’t believe in something, then we are quite simply not human. Except the dead ones maybe, but then again, I doubt whether one could call a dead body a person. But I digress.

    Due to our ability to make value judgments, along with the problem that we cannot possibly gather all relevant information for all our decisions, forces us to act on assumptions, of which a percentage are strong assumptions or beliefs. You will be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

  • 16 Steve // Aug 15, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Gericke:

    Don’t expect an answer immediately – you’ve said quite a lot, and I’ll need some time to ponder what you said, and formulate a response. Hopefully later this week.

  • 17 Steve // Aug 15, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Edited by Hugo: this paragraph and blockquote formatting added. Those are my only edits though. Hopefully I made no mistakes…

    I’ve tried to respond point by point to the issues that come
    up in your response. If I left something out, it’s usually
    because either (a) I agree with it, or (b) it’s clarifying a
    point you made, and I feel I have read and processed the
    clarification, and just left the original point.

    “When I look at something like the human body, I see it as a
    system with inputs, processes, outputs, balancing factors,
    an origin and a destination.”

    OK, but one can also see it as a cog in a greater machine,
    such as a community, or an ecosystem. And in some
    ecosystems, the death of one organism can be “good” for the
    stability of the whole.

    “Within the context of this point of view, intrinsic value is
    quite simply part of the nature of a system, whether that
    system has a will of its own or not. Intrinsic value is
    still subjective to the system though, don’t let the word
    ‘intrinsic’ make you believe that it is objective.”

    I can go with this in a sense – but then my point stands
    that whether an apple or burger is better for the system
    depends on what effects you view as being beneficial to the
    system. If that is subjective, you can’t necessarily tell
    me an apple is better than a McD burger.

    1.” A life is not worth living if you subscribe to constant
    doubt.” – Why not? And who says life should be worth living,
    in any case?

    “My assumption is that the system of life has a purpose. You
    may not see it or believe that it is necessary, but (once
    again intrinsically) as a system with an active process it
    is going somewhere. As a human system that “somewhere” has a
    value. [...] You won’t get away from the fact that human beings put a value to the
    destination of their lives.”

    I can accept this.

    “As far as “living” is concerned we have a choice in all
    things – those that keep the process going and increase our
    strength, or those that deplete our energy and bring about
    death.”

    Some other options/desires results for the system: trying to maintain stability of the
    system, rather than increasing strength/energy; termination
    of the system (isn’t this what people who commit suicide are
    effectively valuing).

    “Doubt relates to fear (the belief [and note, there is rarely
    good evidence for this belief] that we don?t have adequate
    resources to fulfill a need or solve a problem), and fear
    depletes our energy without giving something back.

    As such I arrive at the point that constant doubt brings no
    value. It doesn?t solve any problems, if any, the need it
    fulfills creates an entropic system that eats itself up and
    frankly it never brings positive growth. Only when we accept
    the answers we get can we experience growth.”

    I find the last part of the first paragraph here unfounded. For
    example, is it not feasible to say that without experiencing
    success in the face of fear, your courage and
    self-confidence may not have the same opportunity to grow.
    Thus, while fear may be temporarily draining, it can have a
    positive effect on the system. Also, fear can be a warning
    that you really do not have adequate resources to meet a
    challenge – fleeing/hiding from that T Rex may be a good
    idea.

    So we disagree on that. In addition, explaining how you
    think doubt relates to fear would be valuable to me.

    “You ask whether a live should be worth living. If not, you
    are already dead. It isn?t a matter of should or shouldn?t,
    it is a simple matter of systemic death.”

    Agreed. But the question is if the system isn’t really dead
    in any case. If everything is, for example random chance,
    and no one is interested in us, and life is meaningless
    (which I find a potentially valid world view), then the
    system could perhaps be seen as dead already.

    2. “It is good to ask a question for the purpose of seeking
    an answer. It is never good to ask a question for the
    purpose of simply proving your ability to do so.” – This is
    based on your opinion of what is and isn’t good, surely?

    “This is based on my definition of value. Anybody who has a
    will of their own are most welcome to live a life asking a
    bunch of questions simply to prove that they are able to do
    so. It is an exercise that only strengthens doubt and as
    such leads to the systemic death I described above.”

    On the contrary, I believe that considering such questions
    leads to an understanding of the assumptions one is making
    by taking the actions you do. Questioning those assumptions
    may lead to further insight.

    “The system requires you
    to accept certain things in order to act.”

    I agree with this.

    This brings me to the conclusion that all actions are indeed
    somehow done in faith.

    And with this.

    But is inaction “done” in faith?

    3. “Buitendien, hoe kan mens vry wees as jy totaal afhanklik
    is van bewyse?? – I raise the possibility of being free
    while being dependent. I suggest that many Christians
    espouse exactly that in their claim of being free while
    simultaneously being dependent on God.”

    I accept your argument on this point. However, it raises
    another question: why is it important to be free at all.
    Perhaps someone’s human system doesn’t value freedom.

    4. ?Ons almal begin met ?n stel aannames waarvan ?n
    groot gedeelte blote aanvaarding is van dinge?dinge
    wat ons GLO.? – I disagree. They are assumptions,
    not statements of faith. Various assumptions lead to
    different scientific theories. But various
    assumptions are indeed investigated. Hence the
    variety of structures which we encounter in
    mathematics.

    “All assumptions begin with a statement of faith. The
    whole of science starts with faith in mathematics,
    but there is no way to prove that mathematics is
    indeed correct. The correctness of mathematics is an
    assumption.

    Quite simply we say 1 + 1 = 2. But I can think of a
    case where 1 (sperm) + 1 (egg) = 1 (human being), 1
    (dad) + 1 (mom) = 3 (including the baby), 1 (sperm)
    + 1 (egg) = 32 000 000 000 (roughly the amount of
    cells in a mature human body) and so forth. Yet
    scientists generally state their faith in this
    awkward language to prove things.”

    We only say 1+1=2 for common usage of 1, 2, + and =. In
    Boolean logic, for example, we can have 1+1=1. Mathematics
    is a bunch of models which are applied in science because
    the assumptions of the model tend to match what is
    “observed” in “reality”. But scientists admit that their
    theories are only as good as the assumptions.

    I agree with you that in the foundations of maths, there are
    axioms, which are “assumed” for development of a specific
    branch of maths, and that assumptions are inherently made in
    the process of even writing those axioms down. The inherent
    assumptions I’ll be willing to call strong assumptions, as
    you describe them.

    My point here is that even those inherent assumptions can
    generally be formulated and examined, and we can attempt to
    ponder the nature of a world where the assumption did not
    hold, and the relationship of that nature to what we see
    around us.

    But, we assume them, and live by those assumptions, but we
    are not bound to accepting them as true. A pragmatic
    approach. If you call this kind of assuming “believing”, we
    are arguing about semantics on this point. In that case,
    we’ve gained some information on which meanings each of us
    attaches to certain words, and we can leave this point
    behind.

    5. ” ‘n Mens kan nie bestaan sonder om iets te glo
    nie, en dit is so dat die minderheid van wat ons glo
    werklike bewyse het, of selfs logies is.” – One can
    exist without believing anything, but I agree it
    would be a rather pathetic existence. I also think
    that in practice nearly everybody does believe
    something. But some are willing to consider the
    possibility that what they believe does not
    correspond to reality (whatever that is), i.e. that
    it is not true. If we don?t discuss our assumptions,
    we are unlikely to make progress in this terrain.”

    This answer of mine tried to show that there is a
    substantial difference to whether one treats “beliefs” as
    assumptions or inviolate concepts.

    “No person on earth is without some form of belief,
    if we don?t believe in something, then we are quite
    simply not human. Except the dead ones maybe,
    but then again, I doubt whether one could call a
    dead body a person. But I digress.”

    I agree with this if you replace “believe” with “assume”.

    “Due to our ability to make value judgments,
    along with the problem that we cannot possibly
    gather all relevant information for all our
    decisions, forces us to act on assumptions, of
    which a percentage are strong assumptions or
    beliefs. You will be hard pressed to convince me
    otherwise.”

    I don’t disagree with you on this.

    In essence, it seems our major difference in opinion is that
    I think questioning the validity of one’s assumptions/strong
    assumptions can be enlightening and insightful, and can lead
    to development and growth. On the other hand, you seem to me to subscribe
    to the idea that questioning one’s strong assumptions is a
    form of doubt, which leads to fear, which is in turn energy-depleting,
    and serves no valuable purpose to the human system. As a
    result, it holds one back from the progress of the human
    system.

    Following my interpretation of your view, everyone should
    just accept all of their strong
    assumptions, regardless of their logical consistency, or the
    existence/lack thereof of evidence for them.

    An interesting thought here is the effect of telescopes and
    astronomy on understanding of the sun and moon. A strong
    assumption of earlier times may have been that the sun and
    moon were gods. But later evidence has convinced many that
    this is not the case. This happened because people
    reconsidered their strong assumptions in light of evidence.
    Would you regard this as progress for the human system?

  • 18 Steve // Aug 15, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Gericke: I got impatient and did the answer straightaway in the end.

    Hugo: This is why blogs suck for discussing philosophy (religiion etc too). Quoting people and keeping things in context etc is really tricky. We should put discussions like this on a (my?) wiki, where we can easily indent and sign stuff.

  • 19 Hugo // Aug 15, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    Steve: I littered your comment with <blockquote>…</blockquote> – I hope I have identified all the sections correctly. I am rather disappointed in WordPress’ lack of easy mark-up. Of course, there is probably a plugin that I could install to help out in that regard.

    I am much enjoying this discussion, and I think it is good that I keep my ideas and thoughts out of the fray. Steve, don’t let it interfere too much with your PhD… Maybe you should pop in every second day, rather than every day, as it is likely that once you have read a response, you’ll be either writing your response immediately, or thinking about it until you do. (That’s what would happen with me, if I took part in this kind of discussion.)

    Furthermore, you are welcome to move this to your wiki. I am hoping it stays here though, I like it here. “Hey, great discussion happening on my blog! Wheee!” Y’know, that selfish thing… <grin>

    I do dream of the day I write my own CMS. It’s just one of those things…

    Cool, this page is still less than 50kB. Plain text, no graphics, gotta love it.

    Hmm, testing nested blockquotes…

    Nested?

    Nope, nesting does not work. Pity…

  • 20 Gericke // Aug 15, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Man, wiki or forum – either way it will be easier on the eye-brain coordination. C’mon Hugo – get Joomla! ;)

    Yes Steve, i can see you became impatient. I am thoroughly enjoying the discussion – it is definitely shaking the rust off of my philosophy.

    Yes, the death of an individual within the greater system of society can be a good thing. This is after all the nature of creation – things die and life wins out. That wasn’t the point though. The point was that within the human system we always attach value to where we are going with our lives and as such cannot escape purpose (wherever that purpose may lead us).

    Your point is a good one though – In the system of philosophical debate you will see the same effect. Those arguments that are not useful and constructive eventually die out or lead to closed arguments. this is in summary my problem with freethought.

    Something I do want to clarify, which seems missing in this discussion is that I am positioning myself against the primary assumption of freethought as clarified by the following statement (from the wikipedia article):

    [quote]‘A line from “Clifford’s Credo” by the 19th Century British mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford perhaps best describes the premise of freethought: “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Since many laws, doctrines, and popular beliefs are based on dogmas, freethinkers’ opinions are often at odds with commonly-established views.’[/qoute]

    Questioning strong assumptions is a good and healthy thing, but then we need to ask questions in order to seek answers. Once again – asking questions simply for the sake of asking them is useless and can be very destructive.

    From the quote above we see two problems. Firstly, our friend William states that evidence is ALWAYS a MUST…which implies that we should ALWAYS question. But as I have shown earlier, what he should have said is “satisfactory evidence” which would be more accurate. This will state the subjective nature of proof as well as our limits to when we will accept the underlying assumptions.

    Secondly, and slightly ironically, the fact that he states the MUST and the ALWAYS makes that very statement dogmatic and defeats itself.

    So in summary on this particular point – questions are good if they are asked in order to find answers. That is their purpose. Applied for any other purpose they kill the system.

    On strong assumptions I see we also need some clarification. I can’t really agree that ancient assumptions regarding the godly status of the sun and the moon were in fact ever strong assumptions. As you point out, as physical phenomenon they can be investigated.

    God, value, love, hate – all those wonderfully abstract nouns, are either based on strong assumptions, or are strong assumptions in themselves. Properly defined then, a strong assumption is in fact something that can never be proven or disproven. It inherently requires acceptance or rejection.

    The issue is that one gets to a point in your questioning where you don’t have the ability to prove or disprove the assumption, and then you need to accept or reject it. Acceptance of a strong assumption as being true then becomes belief. Faith is a set of beliefs.

    Now for the real kicker, and this is important to understand more of my frame of reference – I make a strong distinction between actuality, reality and truth (and consistently apply it in all discussion throughout).

    Immanuel Kant said that we can never be objective. There is my point of view on an object, your point of view on an object and even if we combined those points of view, it can never describe the object completely. But that being said, the object in fact exists.

    Einstein said the same thing is a different way – everything is relative.

    My point of view is based on this –
    Things exist as they are. Things are actual. As such they are part of actuality.

    People experience things in a limited way, place a value to it and sit with a subjective picture in the mind. This is their reality (subjective interpretation of actuality).

    Truth from my point of view is something different though. Truth is when a person’s choices (their reality?) align with the basic character of life. First characteristic of truth is that there is variety. As I mentioned earlier, without variety you end up with either a dilemma or a crisis, which leads to homeostasis or entropic death. So in truth, variety always exists.

    Secondly is the matter of usefulness and constructiveness. If we pick something out of the variety we have, we need to be sure that it solves a problem and brings abut positive growth. When we look at nature we call that adaptation (overcoming problems) and survival (positive growth as result of adaption).

    The final characteristic of truth for me lies in its effect, namely that it brings abundance. Cockroaches are a good example.

    So truth isn’t a fact (facts belong to the realm of reality), it is a condition of alignment with the characteristics of life.

    Using these things I look at freethinking as it has been defined. And then I look at critical philosophy (which we are practicing right now) and ask myself – which one of the two aligns the best with the nature of life? Not freethought.

  • 21 Gericke // Aug 15, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    I went off on a tangent and left half the question unanswered. It won’t be a long diatribe though:

    //I find the last part of the first paragraph here unfounded. For
    example, is it not feasible to say that without experiencing
    success in the face of fear, your courage and
    self-confidence may not have the same opportunity to grow.
    Thus, while fear may be temporarily draining, it can have a
    positive effect on the system. Also, fear can be a warning
    that you really do not have adequate resources to meet a
    challenge – fleeing/hiding from that T Rex may be a good
    idea.

    So we disagree on that. In addition, explaining how you
    think doubt relates to fear would be valuable to me.//

    On fear – there is a difference between the emotion and the belief. Being scared of TRex doesn’t mean you necessarily fear it. You still have the ability to run away, and you know you can. Fear would be to believe that you can do nothing to escape the monster and this leads to death. A crisis always does. It is not fear that has a positive effect either, it is your choice in truth (and in spite of the fear) that frees you up.

    Doubt, as per this context, is to mistrust the information that you have. Doubt in itself can be good and healthy – sometimes we need more information. Constant doubt however relates to the belief that all information should be distrusted. Borrowing from psychology, this is regarded as a control mechanism – a way of making choices that provides you with “complete” control.

    The fear the underlies constant doubt is the conviction that a lack of evidence leads to lost control. Yet, as you pointed out, a system gives feedback that is often outside of our control. The only thing we have control over in that case is our response to the event.

    For me this is what maturity is – when one has realised your ability to choose a response to the events in your life, regardless of your level of control over it.

    //I accept your argument on this point. However, it raises
    another question: why is it important to be free at all.
    Perhaps someone’s human system doesn’t value freedom.//

    Importance is a value. As I said, people can value freedom if they choose to, or they can value being bound. The result will show whether it is the truth or not.

    What I want to make clear here is that, as human beings we cannot get away from putting a value on our purpose, not regarding freedom as important automatically implies that being bound is regarded as the more desirable. To either way there will be a choice, based on a valuation of the consequences.

    When I made the original statement, I made it in the hope that I am writing to a set of people that value freedom. There is very little use in having discussions with cynical people that prefer fear, doubt and pointless lives. As such I tend to spend more time talking to those who agrees that life is indeed worth living.

    As such I bring it back to my original point: if you want to grow as a group, then freethought as a premise may in fact hurt the group rather than build is.

  • 22 Dave // Aug 15, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Ignoring the deep replies above and focussing on the first comment. This is 30 years too late. Stellenbosch now has the likes of SHOFAR (yikes), along with some very vocal groups who would gladly take us back to 900AD. Free thinkers need more than internal debate, they need to provide an anchor for others to embrace being a free thinker. This is a natural forum to provide the anchor, the platform and the safety net.

  • 23 HK // Aug 16, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    [ moderator: A somewhat tasteless "ME TOO!" comment hidden/removed. Did not contribute anything to the discussion, and the author didn't give his real email address (why not?) ]

  • 24 Zach // Aug 19, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Hey Dave, don’t you mean 900 CE? :)

  • 25 Steve // Aug 20, 2007 at 9:49 am

    Hmm. Gericke, it looks like most of our disagreements now stem from semantics (and the fact that I didn’t read up on freethought before I started writing).

    That is, my definition of “reality” corresponds to what you call “actuality”, while I call your “reality” “subjective reality”. I agree that no-one can get a full view of what something “actually” is, (which is why people have so many different views and arguments about God – interesting stuff on this is by Brian McLaren of the emerging church – I think the book’s name was “Finding Faith”, first coupla chapters).

    To me truth is about correspondence of reality with actuality, in your framework. Your systems theory approach uses a different meaning, so we’re talking past each other there.

    In addition, I don’t share your concept of fear. But if one separates it as you do, then I see your point.

    All in all, the discussion has been enlightening. I agree with you that freethought as you quoted it there, a kind of dogmatic extreme skepticism, is not a consistent position. I automatically assumed freethought to be a kind of critical philosophy group.

    Re: the sun and moon argument, we still haven’t “proved” that the sun and moon are _not_ gods. However, people’s understanding of how the world works make them less likely to attribute godliness to them, since their intuition tells them that the godliness of these “heavenly bodies” is less likely. So I feel they were strong assumptions that were challenged. Also note that at the time the beliefs were originally held, it was probably not considered possible to investigate the sun and moon as physical phenomena (depending on what one means by that phrase).

    Re: asking questions needs to be to find answers: I agree that it is desirable to have a purpose when asking questions. Whether that purpose has to be to find answers is debatable. One can ask questions so that others might find understanding, such as realizing an inconsistent world-view. One can ask questions to get a better understanding of one’s assumptions. If one calls these results “answers”, although they are not definitive answers to the original question, I’d agree with you on this.

    The issue is that one gets to a point in your questioning where you don’t have the ability to prove or disprove the assumption, and then you need to accept or reject it. Acceptance of a strong assumption as being true then becomes belief. Faith is a set of beliefs.

    Or you can choose to live by one interpretation, while not mentally committing to it really being the case (a la Pascal’s wager, although I disagree with the religious side of his argument). I may consider the assumption that I live in a Matrix kind of world. If I feel I can not prove this one way or another, I may decide to live as if I am not in the Matrix, but open to the possibility that someone may convince me otherwise at some time in the future. Thus I base my life on an assumption which I do not necessarily “believe”. I think it may well be possible to structure one’s entire life on such assumptions without belief. If you want to call those assumptions belief, then once again, we agree.

    …not regarding freedom as important automatically implies that being bound is regarded as the more desirable.

    Or: that we don’t know which is more desirable; or that we are ambivalent to whether we are bound or free; or that the relative “value” of freedom or boundedness is context-dependent.

    Lots to chat about, but in the end, yes, I agree that freethinking as defined above is self-defeating, but that critical philosophy is cool. (Even if I had known what freethinking was, I may still have challenged your statements, though, because our differing frameworks make us interpret your original statements differently.)

    If you want further answers on specific points, please let me know ;)

  • 26 Hugo // Aug 20, 2007 at 10:51 am

    ’A line from “Clifford’s Credo” by the 19th Century British mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford perhaps best describes the premise of freethought: “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Since many laws, doctrines, and popular beliefs are based on dogmas, freethinkers’ opinions are often at odds with commonly-established views.’

    I don’t think many people in the society-to-be would take this extreme view (“it is always wrong”) of freethinking. I still think “freethinking” is a good and useful label – do you think I am wrong? (A sincere question…) Do you think it would be better to not use “freethinking” in the society’s name? (Other suggestions? Would “secular students society” be better, for example? I don’t like that as much.) (Not that I’ll have any opportunity to influence the naming, necessarily, but I can always mail a suggestion…?)

  • 27 Steve // Aug 21, 2007 at 8:16 am

    How about an “open-minded society”?

  • 28 Skietstilstand « Die Pienk Zuit // Aug 21, 2007 at 8:25 am

    [...] 21, 2007 Skietstilstand Posted by Pienk Zuit under Uncategorized  Soos Carien en Hugo kan ek myself soms net nie keer om met mense aan die stry te raak oor wat hulle glo nie.  Ek raak [...]

  • 29 Johan Swarts // Aug 22, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    ok maar regtig…where do i sign up?

  • 30 Hugo // Aug 22, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    For now, you can join this Facebook group:

    http://sun.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2260098899

    I don’t know how the “task force” that is working on getting the ball rolling, is doing. I can follow up on that and maybe lend a hand in October, I hope.

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