Freethinking isn’t achieved by Leaving Religion 

Rauser freethinker quote
I thought that this recent quote from Randal Rauser deserved to be highlighted in a meme. Click through to read the blog post that it comes from.

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  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    You don’t become a freethinker by leaving the church. You leave the church because you become a freethinker.

    • James F. McGrath

      In some cases that does indeed happen, at least in conservative churches which seek to restrict how people think and so set themselves and their members up for that to happen. But no one should think it plausible to insist that so many great minds in the natural sciences, literature, and other domains are failing to think freely simply because they participate in a religious tradition.

    • jh

      If the religious person compartmentalizes their beliefs from their profession, they can be just as intellectually rigorous and “free thinking” as a nonbeliever. Therefore, the scientist who studies geology may believe in “the great flood” but doesn’t apply that belief and assumptions when he or she is practicing science.

      • James F. McGrath

        But for most religious people, those kind of odd anti-science stances about geology or biology are things they reject and so there is no need to compartmentalize. Francis Collins did not need to compartmentalize when he headed up the Human Genome Project, and Kenneth Miller did not need to compartmentalize when he wrote a very widely-used biology textbook.

        • Nick G

          In fact, Collins specifically fails to compartmentalize when he should. For example, he claims, without any valid argument, that evolutionary theory cannot account for human altruism and morality. (The main flaw in his argument, although not the only one, is that he appears to think that any moral behaviour which would decrease evoutionary fitness is unaccountable. Yet maladaptive behaviour of many kinds is common, because natural selection is not all-powerful and has no foresight.)

          Collins also claims that God planned the evolutionary process:

          But I have no difficulty putting that together with what I believe as a Christian because I believe that God had a plan to create creatures with whom he could have fellowship, in whom he could inspire [the] moral law, in whom he could infuse the soul, and who he would give free will as a gift for us to make decisions about our own behavior, a gift which we oftentimes utilize to do the wrong thing.

          I believe God used the mechanism of evolution to achieve that goal. And while that may seem to us who are limited by this axis of time as a very long, drawn-out process, it wasn’t long and drawn-out to God. And it wasn’t random to God.

          [He] had the plan all along of how that would turn out. There was no ambiguity about that.

          There is simply no evidence whatsoever for any planning in the evolutionary process. On the contrary, the emergence of human beings or anything like them looks highly contingent. The emergence of eukaryotic cells appears to be a one-off fluke symbiosis, our genome is filled with junk, our bodies (including our brains) have serious flaws as a result of our evolutionary history – and did God aim the asteroid that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs so our mammalian ancestors could diversify? If so, that seems rather unsporting. Conversely, has he been fending off even larger asteroids, and nearby supernovae, that could have extinguished all life on earth? If God planned the whole thing, why make it look so contingent? That would be as much an “enormous and superfluous lie”* as Philip Gosse’s Omphalos hypothesis – that God made the world look old, although it’s really young.

          *The description is Charles Kingsley’s.

    • arcseconds

      If you’re given the “either the six-day creation is true or Christianity is completely false throughout” and you’re eventually convinced of an old Earth and macroevolution, and you take the other disjunct, then sure, you’ve exihibited some degree of critical thinking and freedom from your original dogma.

      But that doesn’t mean that you’re great at critical thinking.

    • Matt Woodling


    • David Evans

      Not always. There are people who have left the Catholic church because they became Marxists, while remaining as dogmatic in their new belief as they were in the old.

      • Neko

        “There are people”

        Who are these people, for instance?

  • John MacDonald

    Religious studies are just as much evidence based as any other discipline. All the texts are coded and numbered verse by verse, and interpreters cite specific evidences for their interpretations.

    • James F. McGrath

      I assume that you are being sarcastic, since numbering verses does not make a humanities discipline evidence-based. But following the principles of reasoning and interpretation that are accepted across the disciplinary approach adopted, whether it be anthropological, literary, historical, or something else – does mean the approach is evidence-based.

      • John MacDonald

        I wasn’t being Sarcastic. Scripture is meticulously analyzed in Religious Studies.

        • LastManOnEarth


          • John MacDonald

            At accredited public universities, the “scholarliness” of the instructor is independent of his or her faith identification (or lack thereof). In the same way, in a Philosophy department, an instructor can be an expert in Plato without being a Platonist.

    • Matt Woodling

      “Religious studies” most often (but not always) starts with the assumption that the most cherished and basic views held by the religions are true. There are also religious studies scholars who are atheists.

      • James F. McGrath

        Are you thinking perhaps of *theology*? Religious studies most certainly does NOT start with the assumption you suggest.

        • Matt Woodling

          I think maybe I don’t understand the two terms as you understand them. And since I’ve spent little time in religious study or theology (and was not interested in either), I’ll defer to your understanding for now. So, what’s the difference, briefly?

          • James F. McGrath

            Religious studies is the academic field of the study of religion as a human phenomenon, using the standard tools of inquiry used in the secular academy, and not from an insider’s religious perspective.

      • John MacDonald

        I don’t think you understand historical inquiry. Historians try to establish what “probably” happened in the past. An historian would never claim a miracle “probably happened,” because a miracle is the “most improbable” thing that could happen, by definition. Only an apologist would fallaciously try to establish the historicity of a miracle, because sound historical reasoning rules out the “miraculous explanation” a priori. Take this example: The pre Pauline Corinthian Creed claims something like the idea that the risen Jesus appeared to Cephas and the Twelve three days after Jesus died. This creed is very early and so the story may not be the result of legendary embellishment. So what happened? (a) Maybe the disciples were hallucinating out of grief. (b) Maybe Cephas and the twelve were inventing stories of the risen Jesus in hopes of lending divine clout to, and carrying on, Jesus’ ethical mandate of loving your neighbor and your enemy – an ethical cause they may have been willing to die for (like Socrates). Whatever the case, any reasonable secular explanation is historically preferable to a miraculous one. In his debate with William Lane Craig, Bart Ehrman points out that even if we don’t accept the mundane explanation, it is still more probable than the miraculous explanation. In fact, in the case of an apparent miracle, even if we don’t know of any Aliens having cloaked ships and transporters that are doing “apparent” miracles on our planet (like in Star Trek: The Next Generation – Devil’s Due), this naturalistic explanation is still a more reasonable explanation than a secular historian claiming a miracle happened:

        • John MacDonald

          Imagine a historian of antiquity trying to establish the historicity of one of the miracles of Apollonius of Tyana! They would be laughed out of the Academy. Only with Christian apologists do we see the rules of historical inquiry thrown out the window in trying to establish the historicity of a miracle story about Jesus.

        • John MacDonald

          And regarding (b), Carrier also agrees that the disciples could have perpetrated a hoax in lying that Jesus had been resurrected. In a recent blog post Carrier writes:

          “Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.”

          – see Carrier’s full post at:

  • Beau Quilter

    According to William Lane Craig, thinking isn’t free, and it belongs to Christianity:

    “The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Spirit’s witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology. Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith”

    • James F. McGrath

      And that is problematic. But simply rejecting and leaving that kind of religion will not make you a freethinker, in and of itself.

      • Beau Quilter

        Agreed. I wonder what freethinker claimed that it would?

        • James F. McGrath

          Or to put it another way, is anyone who claimed that it would really a freethinker?

          • Beau Quilter

            Hard to say. I’ve never met someone who claimed that leaving religion in and of itself made them a freethinker.

          • arcseconds

            The point presumably is not that they actually think this, but rather this is all that actually happened. They aren’t actually terribly judicious thinkers as they haven’t acquired the habits and skills of critical thought, but they think they are because they saw through an obvious charade once eventually.

          • Beau Quilter

            Who are “they”? You’ve described the injudicious speakers from all walks of life and all social, political, religious spectrums.

            I just don’t think that people who claim to be freethinkers are necessarily more guilty of this than anybody else.

          • arcseconds

            ‘They’ are people who describe themselves as free-thinkers and yet don’t exhibit good critical thinking skills. I never use the term myself, but it generally sems to me to be used as a synonym for atheist/sceptic/naturalist but Rauser and the people who use it of themselves seem to think being a free thinker entails thinking critically, so they are claiming something for themselves that they don’t actually possess.

            Such people definitely exist. We have recently had an interminable argument from The Thinker (note the name!) who thinks it’s reasonable to suppose that there would have been tax records preserved had Jesus existed, on the basis of nothing more than from his armchair he thinks there ought to be, and from the fact that Paul uses a verb for ‘born’ that he doesn’t normally use it is reasonable to conclude he actually meant ‘manufactured in the heavens’, not ‘born’.

            I’m not sure why it matters to what extent people claiming to be free thinkers fail to be critical thinkers. What would follow from it being the case that it’s actually a very reliable claim, and anyone saying “I’m a free thinker” was 99% likely to be someone with good critical thinking skills? Surely that wouldn’t mean we can’t ever mention the 1% who don’t have good critical thinking skills, and say they need to do more than just claim to be a free thinker, particularly if we’ve just run into one.

          • Beau Quilter

            I agree that people can be lousy practitioners of values that they claim to espouse. I just don’t find that problem any more endemic in “freethinkers” than in any other group.

          • arcseconds

            is anyone actually saying this is the case?

          • Beau Quilter

            Why do you ask?

          • arcseconds

            Well, you’ve just pointed this out twice in a fairly short conversation, so it seems to me as though you think the point needs to be stressed. The most obvious reason for wanting to stress a point is that you think someone thinks otherwise, or at least is neglecting this point in some way. But maybe you have some other reason for wanting to stress it?

          • Joseph Shaw

            You just spent 3 paragraphs pointing out that freethinkers who don’t think critically “exist”.

            Is anyone actually saying that’s not the case?

          • arcseconds

            No, I spent one paragraph explaining who “they” were, in direct response to Beau’s question, and one paragraph saying I didn’t think the proportion of non-critical free thinkers matters, in response to Beau saying that they’re no worse than anyone else.

            I spent one paragraph pointing out that they exist, most of which was describing a particularly bad example that Beau probably knows about as he follows this blog fairly carefully. The point here was that we, as well as Rauser, actually encounter these people fairly often, so talking about them seems perfectly reasonable, no matter what proportion of the total free thinker population they actually represent.

          • Joseph Shaw

            Then you missed Beau’s point. Criticizing individuals is one thing; criticizing them based on the label with which they associate is another.

          • arcseconds

            He’s not criticising them just because they’ve taken a label. He’s criticising them because they’ve taken the label, they don’t behave particularly rationally themselves, and they assume other people are irrational.

          • Joseph Shaw

            He’s got a problem with the branding itself.

          • Beau Quilter

            Well, the point was certainly neglected.

            And there is a little more to my point than that we’re not all good practitioners of values we espouse. Randal Rauser places the blame on “branding” in his post, which is why he picks on “freethinkers” in that quotation. I don’t agree with Rauser that “branding” yourself with a value you espouse is as exclusionary as he purports.

            If all he did was “mention the 1% who don’t have good critical thinking skills”, I wouldn’t be making the point.

          • arcseconds

            Do you think it’s always necessary to explicitly point out that those whom you’re criticising may not be worse than anyone else? Don’t we normally just table the criticism? If you think McGrath has got something wrong and correct it, that doesn’t imply that you think McGrath gets things wrong more than others, does it?

            In any case, Rauser has not neglected the point that other people have similar problems, as he explicitly compares atheists to evangelicals.

          • Beau Quilter

            Yes, I do think it’s an important point to make when the criticism is based on a label used by a much larger group than those you are criticizing.

            And I would make the same point about Evangelicals.

            Rauser suggests that branding an in-group with reason, brands any out-group with irrationality; but I don’t believe the use of “reason” as a label is to create in-groups and implications about out-groups.

            By the same token, when evangelicals put “Truth” on a T-shirt, I don’t assume they’re calling everyone else “liars”.

          • arcseconds

            But he doesn’t just say it’s branding yourself with ‘reason’ that does this. What he actually says is:

            when you brand the in-group as “Reason” and align the out-group (e.g. the “religious”) with irrationality, you undermine the ability of your in-group to develop the very skills of critical thinking necessary for the exercise of reason.

            So he’s explicitly saying they do both, not that one follows from the other. There’s no reason he couldn’t agree that a group could brand itself with a value but not claim that others don’t have it, but the atheists he is talking about aren’t one of these cases. (It’s not hard to find examples of atheist groups that explicitly claim religion is irrational, either. )

            And he doesn’t say that’s its purpose, but rather that that’s its effect.

            I would also suggest that it’s normal for people to believe their own branding, and to fall short of it and not realise.

          • Beau Quilter

            On the contrary, after describing the behavior of some individuals that he felt marginalized him by labeling him (and I agree that such behavior is wrong) …

            … he states quite clearly:

            “The important point to recognize here is that this kind of behavior is spurred on by the rhetoric of branding one’s own community with “Reason”.

          • arcseconds

            in that very same paragraph he says:

            Likewise, atheist communities become more susceptible to indoctrination in relation to the extent to which they uncritically adopt the rhetoric of reason to marginalize out-group members.

            You are taking one sentence out of context of what he says a handful of paragraphs earlier, and two sentences later. It’s pretty clear that he thinks the atheist community has a tendency to do both, and there’s nothing that really suggests that he thinks one necessarily follows from the other.

          • Beau Quilter

            Nope, there is nothing in your added quote to negate the fact that he thinks that the marginalization of outgroups:

            “is spurred on by the rhetoric of branding one’s own community with “Reason”.”

            The “evidence” he begins the article with is simple evidence of “branding”, such as the naming of the “Reason Rally”.

            Quite contrary to what you’re insisting, there are no exceptions being made for those who “brand” without marginalizing. It’s clear from the article that Rauser sees branding as something that spurs on marginalization.

            Certainly no little qualifiers, “now, it’s fine to brand your organization with “reason”, atheists, so long as you don’t use such branding to marginialize other groups.”

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Also, isn’t The Thinker, the commenter who claims that no human has any creative choice, that everything is determined?

            If everything is determined, then of course, no one is “free” and no one thinks. Determinists claim that we are all “puppets.”

            In my fairly long life, I’ve met people who were somewhat free in their thinking,
            but they didn’t fit into any one ideology or worldview. They were questioners, who didn’t stop asking, but they weren’t total skeptics either.

          • arcseconds

            Determinism is a philosophically respectable position, so I don’t think the mere holding of that position means that someone is wanting intellectually in some obvious way.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            No, that’s not what I meant. Rather that if everyone is incapable of deciding, thinking, and acting because they are determined, then, of course, one thinks he is a “freethinker” because it has been determined, and one who thinks, he isn’t determined, actually is determined to think he isn’t determined.

            Leaving a church, joining a church, etc. is all determined by cosmic strings, Allah, God, fate, etc.

            And a person who appears to be a fundamentalist, is only one because it was also determined.

            Determinism may or may not be true, but if it is, then it is an endless loop.

            No matter what view you hold, it has been determined. Thus leaving a church, joining a church, etc. has all been determined.

            And there is nothing “free” about it.

            If one is brilliant, it has been determined; while if one is stupid, it has been determined, too.

            Sam Harris, a determinist, said this most descriptively in his podcast, Tumors All the Way Down.” He stated that every human is like the Texas murderer who was forced by a brain tumor to kill.

            Get it–for all humans, it’s “tumors all the way down,”
            We all have, analogically, a deterministic tumor which makes us do or say whatever we say.

            So a kind man who helps an old lady across the street is similar to the Texas man who killed people–both of their actions were determined. They were “puppets.”

            Calvinists use this line, too. You are capable of no decision. If you decide to harm others or to join a church, it was determined (only in there case by God).

            So if you aren’t a “good thinker,” don’t feel bad. That was determined;-)

            Oh, wait, we don’t even get to decide that either…

          • arcseconds

            I don’t think ‘free thinker’ means a metaphysically free thinker, implying a liberatrian view of the freedom of the will. It could just be descriptive: thinking (relatively) free from dogma and authority.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            But if one is determined, then he/she can’t think “(relatively) free from dogma and authority.”

            That’s the irony.

          • arcseconds

            Sure they can. One person has open-minded parents and gets a sound education that exposes them to a lot of different ideas and grows up in an environment where having divergent beliefs is not punished, but actually encouraged. If you like, let’s say they’re kind of a new ager with a lot of kooky beliefs that they hold because they feel good. Another grows up in an authoritarian environment where a single dogma is taught and rigid adherence is expected, and deviation is punished, and they internalize the values and become doctrinaire themselves.

            The first has their beliefs determined by the beliefs they come across in their environment or that they think up themselves, and their subjective feelings about them, the second has them determined by a particular dogma and authority figures promoting that dogma.

            They are both equally determined, but one is determined by authority and dogma and the other not.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            On the contrary, if they are “determined,” they can’t do anything, can’t think. “Puppets” can only have their strings pulled.

            It is true that depending on how parents treated their kids will affect them to an extent, BUT in determinism, how they treated kids was not chosen by them but was already determined….back….back…back

            The “open-minded parents” didn’t get to choose to be “open-minded,” and the “authoritarian” parents didn’t get to choose to be authoritarian. It was forced upon them by determinism rolling backward in and endless spiral.

            This hopeless unfree and unthinking view is so contrary to education. We teachers viewed each student has having the ability to choose among various possibilities,
            despite his past,
            to learn, to change, to create.

            In determinism, every single human can’t change but only go down the track assigned to him/her by the cosmos, fate, Allah, Jehovah, etc..

            As biologist Jerry Coyne so infamously, said, one can’t even choose what to have for “lunch.” And Anthony Cashmore, claimed, determinism means one has no more choice than a “bowl of sugar.”

            In contrast, the brilliant psychologist Eric Berne called the idea that one can’t choose to change
            “wooden brain”–(“puppet” and emphasized that it isn’t true.

            If I have been determined by the past to “authority and dogma,” I don’t get to choose differently. I get the worst end of the stick.

            If I have been determined by the past to “not” to be stuck with authority and dogma,” at least I get the better end of the deterministic stick,
            BUT it’s not me getting to decide. Remember, according to Harris, it’s “tumors all the way down.” According to him, we all have a deterministic tumor.

            If everything is determined, of course, I realize that you didn’t have a choice in writing what you wrote, and I don’t have a choice in disagreeing.

            But there is no hope for billions who got the worst end of the stick.

            After being harassed by determinists endlessly since I was 17 in 1963 until about 10 years ago,
            I finally came up the realization I could point out that if I think determinism is correct, then it was determined that be my view.”=_)

            And no one is “free” and no one can “think,” it’s all determined by the past.

            As Harris points out in his “Tumors” podcast (or maybe it is in his interview with Jerry Coyne? I forget–forgetting was determined;-)
            even if
            the cosmos and time happens a “trillion” times again and again, nothing different can be happen to humans,
            we must repeat the same wrong choices.

            Since a fairly large number of thinkers–Augustinians, Calvinists, Greek fatalists, many modern atheists, Muslims, etc–
            claim that determinism is true,
            maybe it is,
            but I am going to go with the maybe not, and hope that the neural plasticity of the human brain allows creativity, alternative choice, and advancement and change.

            Determinism is the complete opposite of “freethinking.”

          • Nick G

            Whether metaphysical determinism is true or not, people make choices, and at least sometimes make them on the basis of rational deliberation. It’s simply not the case that the latter fact depends on determinism being false. Nor is it clear we would be any “freer” if determinism is false – why is a random choice any freer than a determined one? And if you want to claim our choices are neither determined nor random, you’re going to have to produce a coherent account of an alternative – which no-one has ever done.

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Those thinkers, including some neuroscientists, who think that humans can make creative alternative choices don’t think their ability to create, change, alter, revise, etc.
            comes from “random choice” but from the limited options available to them as conscious, aware, thinking primates. For instance, growing up in Nebraska in the 1950’s, it was highly unlikely that I would become a Hindu, but not impossible.
            But I did have a wide range of possibilities to choose from.

            In the mental institution, where I worked, we assumed that even mentally ill youth had a real choice (that they weren’t determined, weren’t “puppets.”)
            It’s true that they had far less options than I did growing up fairly normal in a stable family which emphasized education. But, unless their brain was hopelessly damaged, there was the possibility
            that their consciousness could weigh the few options that they did have, could make choices that would take them away from their past.

            In determinism, (at least all of the determinists that I’ve read in the last 55 years including the famous ones at university)
            NO peopl get to “make choices.”

            Heck, Harris even claims that our “I” is an illusion!

            Of course, no determinist can live moment by moment as a determinist. After determinists such as Harris claim we are “puppets,” they then turn around and tell us what to do:-)
            Harris even thanked his wife:-)

            To be a conscious active primate, one does appear to “make choices,” even if one really is only a puppet.

            However the appearance of “making choices” is entirely different from actually having alternative possible choices to choose from.

            Jerry Coyne even claims that murderers and rapists “aren’t morally responsible”!

            On the contrary, if determinism is false, then every conscious, aware, sometimes rational human has the ability to weigh options and then act. And he/she is “responsible” for his choices.

            If he/she doesn’t let the past limit him, doesn’t think he has no choice, then the neural plasticity of his/her brain allows him to make creative choices for the future.

            He/she is “free” in a limited sense to “think” if he chooses to do so.

            Of course, way too many humans instead, stay put where ever the past put them.

            But they weren’t determined to that place.

          • Nick G

            You’re just doing your usual schtick of repeating your views at greater length without actually providing any argument for them. Nothing you say goes any way towards showing that determinism is incompatible with people making real choices.

            But, unless their brain was hopelessly damaged, there was the possibility that their consciousness could weigh the few options that they did have, could make choices that would take them away from their past.

            Of course they can do that, but that fact has no relevance whatever to the issue of metaphysical determinism. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that consciousness is in any way independent of physical processes (which are, at bottom, either deterministic or random), nor any coherent account of how it could be, and still affect the physical world, but even setting that aside, how would it make such a decision, if that decision is to be neither determined by prior conditions – including, of course, the range of possibilities that the person is capable of considering, given their past experience – nor random?

            In determinism, (at least all of the determinists that I’ve read in the last 55 years including the famous ones at university)
            NO peopl get to “make choices.”

            Then your reading has been extremely limited, since most determinists are not fatalists, which is the view you appear to be describing (Coyne is not worth taking seriously outside his area of expertise, Harris is not worth taking seriously at all). I suggest you read Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves. Or just have a glance at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on compatibilism..

          • Daniel Wilcox

            Daniel Dennett! I’ve read 4 books by him. A brilliant thinker! His book on Darwinian evolution, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, is very powerful and well reasoned. Even though I have read a lot of science books, that one stands out as by far the most deep and lucidly written. Either that one or Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale is the very top one.

            Back to the focus of McGrath’s article, I will say that I think Daniel Dennett in most of his books does seem to be a “freethinker”:-)

            Dennett’s view of whether humans have creative choice, however is still a little unclear to me. I know he isn’t a hard determinist such as Sam Harris, have read their go-around disagreements (

            As I recall, Dennett seemed open to creative choice in The Mind’s Eye. That was another brilliant one.

            Do you have an opinion whether I ought to read Freedom Evolves (I don’t remember whether or not I already have and don’t have it here on my science shelves)
            OR his brand new one From Bacteria to Bach and Back?

            As for hard determinism, it is “fatalism” as far as choice and consequences go. There is no choice, and no responsibility, etc.

            When hard determinists declare that all humans are “puppets,” “wet robots,” “a bag of chemicals” etc., and that no human has any more choice than a “bowl of sugar,”
            I get the hint.

            However, I haven’t made up my mind yet about “soft determinism”-compatibilism.

            I’ve read Stanford’s and many other articles on compatibilism, and long books by compatibilists.

            Based on everything I’ve read (including all the way back to American Intellectual History at Cal State Long Beach),
            I haven’t yet come to the conclusion whether
            compatibilism is only a semantic redefinition of terms,
            or whether
            it allows us conscious, aware, reasoning human primates the ability to make creative choices among various alternatives.

            For instance, the squiggles on my computer and my fingers are obviously made up of atoms which have been around since the Big Bang, BUT
            my conscious intention does affect them. I’m not a “puppet.”

            It’s true that we exist in matter, but matter doesn’t do it to us. Because of the neural plasticity, creative thought, reflection, etc., we humans can go beyond instinct. I think that even some of the more complex conscious animals can get beyond being “puppets” even if only once and a while.

            Back to the focus of McGrath’s article, I will say that I think Daniel Dennett in most of his books does seem to be a “freethinker”:-)

          • Nick G

            Until this last comment, you’ve made no distinction between what you call “hard” and “soft” determinists – you just appear to have been identifying determinism with fatalism, or in your terms, insisiting that all determinists are hard determinists! A little more care in making your views clear would be helpful. I haven’t read Dennett’s latest – indeed, thanks for bringing it to my attention – but I certainly recommend Freedom Evolves. Personally I now tend to avoid using terms such as “free will” because they are so mired in ambiguity, and say instead that people – and many other animals – have agency – we really do make decisions, based at least in part on rational considerations; but that there is no reason to think our mental operations are made up of anything other than a lot of elementary physical events that obey exactly the same regularities (“laws”) as any other such events.

  • Joseph Shaw

    I disagree with Rauser’s point about branding. Branding your group with “reason” doesn’t mean that you’re calling everyone else irrational. I don’t assume that Christians who brand their groups with “love” or “mercy” are calling everyone else hateful or unmerciful. Some Christians may feel that way, but it’s not because of the branding of the group.

    • arcseconds

      Taken in isolation perhaps not, but movement atheists frequently do think that religious people are deeply irrational, and they also frequently have a higher opinion of their own intellectual abilities than are really warranted. And evangelical Christians frequently really do seem to think that everyone else believes in obvious falsehoods for selfish and God-rejecting reasons.

      • Joseph Shaw

        As long as you’ve found a way to feel superior to both groups.

        • arcseconds

          Well, either you’ve run out of rational responses and you’re just resorting to ad hominem, or you genuinely believe criticism is just about feeling superior to other people, in which case it appears you’ve found a way to feel superior to me!

          Well done, I hope you enjoy the warm glow.

          • Joseph Shaw

            Oh, the irony.

            When I suggest you “you feel superior” it’s an ad hominem. But when you paint whole out-groups, “movement atheists” and “evangelical Christians”, with the same broad derogatory brush, it’s – what? – “rational response”?


          • arcseconds

            Unfortunately, it’s a fact that movement athiest fairly frequently are very sure of their own rationality, and yet hold beliefs that are irrational and poorly founded. Such people also have a great tendency to think that anything that smacks remotely of religion must be irrational. They don’t listen if you try to explain otherwise to them.

            Saying so is not ad hominem, it’s the truth.

            If you need examples, just google “ mythicism”

            I’m not entirely sure what Rauser’s take on the ‘truth-branding’ is, but evagnelicals fairly frequently also hold irrational beliefs that they’re very sure of and aren’t open to reason on. Have you never encountered Young Earth Creationism? Or is it somehow an ad hominem in your view to point out that this view is unscientific and defended by intellectually dishonest tactics?

            Whereas you have no proof whatsoever of my motivations, it’s something you just made up. Even if it’s true that that’s what motivates me, the motivation does not mean I’m wrong! So it’s both baseless and beside the point.

          • Joseph Shaw

            Just digging in deeper I see. Your question’s a strawman. Do you really not see the difference between criticizing a “view” and criticizing an entire out-group?

            I’m sure you could find examples of Christians who are stupid; that doesn’t give you a basis to paint all Christians with the same brush: “Christians are frequently stupid”.

          • arcseconds

            ‘Christian’ is too large and diverse a group for generalisations to be worth much, it’s a bit like trying to make generalisations about the English-speaking world. ‘Stupid’ is just an insult, pretty meaningless particularly without any further context.

            So you’ve taken my claim that evangelicals frequently hold unscientific and irrational beliefs, and turned it into a vaccous insult of a much larger and more diverse and disconnected set of people. This is in fact an excellent example of a straw-man, and it’s you that is doing this, not me.

            About 60% of American Evangelicals don’t believe in evolution. That’s more than ‘examples’, it’s a lot. It’s over half. It’s two-thirds. More than enough to warrant ‘frequently’. In fact frequently is an understatement, we could say ‘mostly’. You apparently accept this is an unscientific and irrational belief. So it seems pretty clear I’m fully justified in saying that they frequently hold unscientific and irrational beliefs.

          • Joseph Shaw

            So … you still don’t see the difference between criticizing a “view” and criticizing an entire out-group?

            Arc: Atheists and Evangelicals think their superior to everyone else.
            Me: Sounds like you.
            Arc: Ad hominem! You don’t know me! I’m rubber, you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!

          • arcseconds

            I don’t see the problem with saying most evangelicals have unscientific and irrational beliefs about evolution so long as that happens to be the truth. I can see this is different from saying the view is irrational in the trivial sense that one criticism is about the view and the other the people. You apparently think that saying this about the people is something I shouldn’t do, despite it being the truth. Why is that?

            Yet you also seem to think it’s OK to criticize me personally by making up a story about my motivations. You do understand the difference between a criticism based in fact and a baseless accusation, yes?

            (Even if it were true, it would still be ad hominem, as me being motivated by a feelings of superiority doesn’t mean I’m wrong about evangelicals, but the fact it’s simply slander on your part seems the worse of the matter)

          • Joseph Shaw

            “Why is that?”

            You’ll have to be more specific, you keep altering your accusation against Evangelicals:

            My response was to your claim that they “think that everyone else believes in obvious falsehoods for selfish and God-rejecting reasons”, but now you’ve changed your claim to say they “have unscientific and irrational beliefs about evolution” (you must not like them, you keep adding to the list).

            You had no statistics on the claim I responded to, so now you’ve conveniently found a claim with statistics, and are pretending it’s the claim I was responding to. You’re so clever.

            “You do understand the difference between a criticism based in fact and a baseless accusation, yes?”

            Yes, and the claim that atheists “have a higher opinion of their own intellectual abilities than are really warranted” is about as baseless an accusation as my little “you’ve found a way to feel superior”, which is, of course, the point of my saying it (though it still seems to be flying over your head).

          • arcseconds

            The stated reasons given by evangelical leaders and evangelical followers online and in print are along these sort of lines, and young-earth creationism is an example of the sort of doctrine they defend like this: the general tenor of the argument is that it’s obvious that evolution has not occurred (e.g. it should be obvious to anyone who has studied both physics and biology to tertiary level), and the only reason why anyone says otherwise is because they’ve deliberately adopted a viewpoint that systematically denies God.

            So many of them do believe that other people believe in obvious falsehoods (e.g. evolution) for selfish an god-denying reasons.

            Obviously getting hard statistical evidence for how

          • Joseph Shaw

            So … this little spin about the foibles of evangelicals is supposed to convince us that you don’t feel superior to them? You keep asking me for evidence that you seem more than willing to supply all by yourself. Are you going to tell us more about the inferiority of evangelicals?

            I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about your motivations. I never made any claims about your motivations.

            But you repeatedly fail to provide any evidence that atheists “have a higher opinion of their own intellectual abilities than are really warranted”. You keep avoiding that claim for some reason.

          • arcseconds

            So, it seems you finally accept that I’m right about evangelcials, as you have stopped disputing the matter. That’s good. That’s progress. However, it is rather like pulling teeth with you. It should be obvious to anyone who has a reasonable understand of science and know what evangelicals say about the matter that I have done nothing but speak the truth about them.

            Given that you’re either ignorant of evangelicals’ attitudes to evolution or you’re disingenously pretending you don’t in order to create difficulties for me, and either way you’re being very stubborn, it’s easier for me to deal with one thing at a time. For now, I think it’s time for you to defend your statements about me. But it’s not true I haven’t provided any evidence. I gave you a google search to perform. Have you tried that? There is also the matter of Rauser’s reception in Freethought Arizona, which is concordant with my (and others’) experience of movement atheists. I don’t expect you to be entirely convinced by this, but it should be enough to at least suggest that there might be something of the sort going on, and it isn’t just me making things up on a couple of isolated incidents.

            You said earlier “As long as you’ve found a way to feel superior to both groups.”

            The obvious way of reading this is that you think, or at least you’re asserting, that the important thing for me about my criticisms of movement atheists and evangelicals is that I feel superior. In other words, that’s my motivation. Is that not what you meant? And if not, why did you not correct my interpretation when I first mentioned motivation? I’m afraid, given the wording, the late correction, and how dishonestly you’ve represented me so far, that I’m inclined to believe you’ve just realised you can’t support a claim about motivation at all, so you’re retreating to a weaker claim.

            But as far as the weaker claim goes, you have no proof for it apart from the fact I’m criticising them. Yet you are criticising me. So by parity of reasoning, don’t you feel superior to me?

          • Joseph Shaw

            Arc, I can’t really tell you why you keep coming with more bits of irrelevant information about Evangelicals that I already know. Doesn’t really have anything to do with your notion that they “think that everyone else believes in obvious falsehoods for selfish and God-rejecting reasons”.

            And Rauser’s experience at a rally hardly proves that the entire out-group of atheists “have a higher opinion of their own intellectual abilities than are really warranted”.

            And now you’re really spending a lot of time unpacking my little observation about superiority. Is that the “dishonest” representation you’re talking about? Keep going! Tell me more about myself!

          • arcseconds

            Also, you’ve set up a little catch-22 for me, haven’t you?

            If I don’t give evidence for my claims, you complain I haven’t provided evidence so I’m just making things up, like you are making things up about me. If I do provide evidence, that’s further proof that I feel superior.

            Very clever. Well done. I should have spotted this sooner.

            However, silly games aside, the underlying assumption here is that criticising someone means you feel superior. If that’s the case, then you must feel superior to me. If it’s not the case, you have no evidence for your claim.

          • Joseph Shaw

            You’ve spent an awful lot of time in the comments worrying over my one line suggestion about superiority. Seems like a game of your own devising.

            Ah, I found my source!



          • arcseconds

            So, are you now telling me you were making a pop-culture reference all along, and this was not a serious suggestion?

            Yet you let me continue on thinking you were for posts and posts?

            It’s increasingly seeming to me as though it’s a complete waste of time talking to you, as it appears you’re not in fact interested in discussing anything seriously, you’re just doing all you can to make me look like a fool.

            Don’t you have better things to do with your time than to troll people on internet forums?

          • Joseph Shaw

            “So, are you now telling me you were making a pop-culture reference all along, and this was not a serious suggestion?”

            That’s an obvious false binary. Sorry, not falling for it.

            “Yet you let me continue on thinking you were for posts and posts?”

            Serious? I’m serious. Your first response to me marginalized atheists and evangelicals: Not in the all the “facts” you’ve collected about the ideas they promote (I think it’s pretty clear you were addressing a strawman with those responses – you don’t fool me), but in your characterization of their personal character flaws and motivations. Precisely why my line about “feeling superior” was apropos, whether or not you can find it in “pop culture”. Physician heal thyself.

            “Don’t you have better things to do with your time than to troll people on internet forums?”

            … and you continue to prove me right …

  • Brandon Roberts

    i agree as a nonreligous person however most atheists know religous people can be freethinkers in other areas

  • Matt Woodling

    One critical thing is missing from Rauser’s statement. Critical thinkers frequently and specifically question their own beliefs, considering opinions and arguments from those who oppose their beliefs. Most importantly, they are willing to change or drop their most cherished beliefs when warranted.

    • Joseph Shaw

      Good point. In fact, it’s a much more useful point to make than Rauser’s focus on “branding”.

  • Matt Woodling

    One critical thing is missing from Rauser’s statement. Critical thinkers frequently and specifically question their own beliefs, considering opinions and arguments from those who oppose their beliefs. Most importantly, they are willing to change or drop their most cherished beliefs when warranted.

    A free thinker who doesn’t practice this self-skepticism is hardly free.