June 23, 2013

New Freethinkers

Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds represents one among many new approaches being tried alongside contemporary and more popular freethinker groups. This new direction derives from and has its precursors in the humanistic thinking of John Dewey, Paul Kurtz, Isaiah Berlin, and many others. Owl & Ibis, as a learning endeavor, is interested in and respectful of all civilizations, societies, cultural traditions, and belief systems but professes to none. It holds in high esteem secular-scientific thinking yet is committed to pluralism and tolerance regarding all other modes of thought. At the same time, it will critically assess and when necessary vigorously challenge the beliefs and values of persons and groups that advocate and carry out harm* against persons, peoples, and Humankind as a whole. This includes challenging efforts to place religious beliefs in the curricula of public-funded science classrooms, and in legislation drafted by otherwise secular governments. Both actions, when successful, are regarded as harmful to Humankind. 

Many freethinkers often become zealous about their views regarding science and atheism, and descend into "scientism" and religion- and believer-bashing. When this occurs freethinker understandings of science’s methods become dogmatic and science’s provisional knowledge becomes misconstrued as absolute. Such a freethinker worldview becomes similar to that of the very religious fundamentalists they most abhor such that both defend their respective beliefs as absolute truth and their methods for arriving at them as superior to all others.

Accompanying such secular-scientific zealotry is a staunch intolerance among its adherents for all views that run counter to their own. Not only are contrary views not tolerated, persons who hold such views are often shunned and demonized. Religious believers in a deity, for example, are viewed as following an illogical, unreasonable, and factually wrong worldview and belief system. Contrarian persons who hold such views are consequently regarded to be stupid, of low intelligence, and a threat to human progress.

When freethinking takes this approach toward opposing views and those who hold them it is no longer free. It has become exclusively bound to its own methods and understandings to the exclusion of all others.  It has become an intolerant, sanctimonious way of thinking - one that often refuses to engage opposing ideas in the marketplace of ideas and global forums because such ideas and those who hold them are unworthy. Such bounded freethinking prefers ostracism, confrontation, and sometimes, regrettably, as one freethinker put it, a wish for the “eradication” of such contrary persons and their thinking.

Those who hold contrarian ideas are too often seen by dogmatic freethinkers as opponents who cannot be educated or won over through argumentation. Rather, they must be aggressively engaged and defeated in all human spheres of discourse - education, governance, public media, and others. To justify their approach, many freethinking secular-scientific thinking atheists, for example, mount the argument that the religious, and religious fundamentalists in particular, are so entrenched in their views and committed to the global hegemony of their beliefs that they cannot be engaged in argumentation or educated. They therefore must be confronted aggressively by almost any means necessary to blunt if not silence the expression and influence of their views.

Staunch scientific-secular freethinkers may consider Owl & Ibis’s approach to be liberal, naïve, and full of “woo” claptrap.  That engagement, dialog, compromise with believers is a futile waste of time. Don't let the "woo" in the Owl & Ibis Facebook write-up mislead you into thinking it is anti-science and pro-religion. It is there to make the group unique/special, and for solemnity. Symbolism, ritual, reverence, and mysticism have always been and shall forever remain a part of humanness. A brave new Spockian world bereft of subjectivism, likely and hopefully, does not await us.  Regarding the areas from which O&I Pangean Chair presentation topics are drawn, most are self-explanatory. The "sacred" involves presenting a topic having to do with this very important aspect of human life, defined broadly, from the standpoint of what it means in the human context. That is, what meaning and implications it has for the identity/psychology of the individual and for his/her society, and for Humankind as a whole. Owl & Ibis is not the forum for religious apologetics and proselytizing.

Two-thirds of Humankind believes in a deity or deities. Owl & Ibis is tolerant of a wide range of worldviews and belief systems. Pluralism and inclusion are regarded to be the best way forward in Humankind’s efforts to forge a global morality and civilization, and act responsibly as stewards of Earth. Sixty-seven percent of the world’s people cannot be ignored, demonized, or ideologically bludgeoned into capitulation by secular-scientific thinkers. Efforts can, however, be made to engage believers in dialog and thereby understand and accommodate much of their views to a significant degree. Part of this dialog must also include efforts to objectively educate believers regarding the scientific-secular worldview and its advantages and disadvantages for addressing the pressing needs of Humankind and Earth. Whether or not such a dialog will succeed is not known. Current efforts by freethinkers to aggressively engage and defeat believers show few signs of ultimately being successful. In contrast, engagement and dialog are likely to be more successful at building a viable and sustainable future.

All will eventually be well and this age of certainty, determinism, and absolutism - among the believers AND secular-scientific thinkers, and among the left AND right - will pass into another age. Hopefully, it will be an age of tolerance and pluralism where we must work much harder at finding common ground and ways forward among all Humankind. A new age is needed where we forsake the easier work of expressing certainty, outrage, and intolerance. We will need many more pliant, discerning, and pluralistic minds to express themselves than are currently doing so to usher in a new age that will have a viable and sustainable global morality and civilization at its core. The current age of zero-sum certainty and bombast is divisive, inclined toward conflict, and intellectually sterile. Humankind can and will do better, if we don't self-destruct along the way.

* - “Harm” as described by Michael Shermer, Sam Harris, and others.

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