Many people consider “freethinker” to be a euphemism for “non-theist”. In particular, the Campus Freethought Alliance, as well as Maties Freethinking, defines “freethinking” as “free thought combined with doubt or disbelief in the supernatural”. (My paraphrase.) I suppose “naturalist” would also be a useful label.
The society is meant to be a place where atheists can vent some of their frustration, without being responded to with Bible quotes, Christianese and dogma. At the same time, it is also a society where science is promoted and discussed.
On Hypocrisy, Anti-theism and Education
Yes, scientists are “almost certain”, and scientists “believe” this or that theory. This is very true. And good scientists are aware of it, and humble about the limitations of science. That is what makes the scientific method so powerful: the humility to challenge every theory and test it thoroughly.
Johan knows this. I believe what he is responding to, is the kind of approach he sees too many “atheists” take. Or the approach I see, rather. In this country, the label “atheist” refers to a particular niche population. All too often, those representing the “atheist” label have a habit of brutally attacking belief not based on evidence. (Or it looks that way, at least.) Much the same as those representing “Christianity” to the atheists: the most vocal and outspoken groups.
I suspect the hypocrisy that bothers Johan, or rather, that bothers me, lies in that. You cannot ridicule the “religious people” for rejecting evolution when they don’t know anything about it. You can, however, teach them about it. Hence the question: is this going to be a society for another exclusive group thinking they’re better than everyone else, or a society that honestly and humbly, and with the necessary understanding, seek to promote scientific understanding?
While it is his blog, reflecting his opinions, not a piece of impartial journalism (the same goes for my blog, my past is also littered with melodrama and strong rants), I still think his summary of the evening isn’t fair.
He observed a group that was watching a film. There was no real interaction after the film, there was no opportunity to see how the audience really felt about the film. In many cases, the laughter could also have been about realising the silliness or uncomfortableness of some of the statements/jokes. I think jumping to the conclusion that the laughter is the same as the laughter in creationism seminars*, is a rather hasty and uninformed judgement call. Or maybe Johan is just better at interpreting an “atmosphere” and the nature of people’s laughter? He was sitting one row further back, and was probably observing the audience in greater detail than I was.
On the Movie, Education, and Questions
The movie wasn’t exactly advertised as “let’s prove evolution to the evolution deniers”. I don’t think the event was intended as an educational event. (Was it?) I suspect the majority of the audience already accepted evolution, and was there for the social gathering, and to learn a little bit more about Darwin. (An uninformed suspicion, sure.) Yes, it was preaching to the choir. It was entertainment.
What I’m more curious about, would be the “massive number of unlogical statements” he saw in the documentary. (I’m not denying they’re there, I just wonder if he has something interesting we can discuss.) I’m curious about having some nice discussions about any questions anyone might have.
Which is the big problem really: watch a video, ridicule some religious people, chase everyone out because of time pressure: not good PR, unless your purpose is to feel better about yourselves at the expense of others. I’m sure there will be an opportunity for some informal discussion at the next event, at least.
To Johan du Bois, Chairperson
I know you say you’re a do-er, not a thinker, but your society is called a Freethinking society. I hope you can eventually learn to refrain from ridiculing people that differ from you. That is not conducive to thinking, it is not conducive to teaching. I know you’re not interested, you’re gatvol, but give the other Freethinkers a chance. Thanks.
Johan, earlier you mentioned maybe we should just start our own society and be done with it. (A humanism society, for example.) Do you think there is a place on campus for yet another society? What would its purpose be? (For those that are interested, there is currently a Stellenbosch Humanists Facebook group. Let me know if you don’t like my group description.)
*Yes, I also wonder about and re-evaluate laughter in creationism seminars. Might it be that the audience are aware of how lame or incorrect the jokes are, and are laughing out of politeness? Or is this pure wishful thinking? I still believe it’s the latter.