The term freethinker is defined in the dictionary as “one that forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority; especially one who doubts or denies religious dogma.” This means that to be a freethinker, one has to be willing to consider any idea and any possibility, as long as it can stand up to the tests of reason, and does not fall into the traps of dogma or arbitrary authority.
- Knowledge must be testable; without supporting evidence, there is no way to prove something is accurate or correct.
- Knowledge must be falsifiable; without the ability to disprove an idea, then how can you know if you are wrong?
- Knowledge must be parsimonious; it should require as few assumptions as possible. If an assumption can be shown to be invalid, then the entire idea may be worthless!
- Knowledge must be logical; it must be free of contradictions, non sequiturs, and ad hominem character attacks.
While this is a strong basis for freethought, it is not a complete foundation. The scientific method itself can be viewed as a form of dogma, and thus the freethinker is also free to explore ideas that do not have a scientific basis. However, this is where many people get the mistaken idea that a freethinker must consider any idea, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. Ideas that are not testable become debatable, but as soon as an idea falls into the realm of logic and scientific inquiry, their principles must be applied. It may not be possible to test for the existence (or non-existence) of a supernatural deity, but the idea of creationism certainly can be! Therefore, religion is a valid point of debate for the freethinker, but an obvious non-truth becomes nothing more than uninformed opinion.
It is very important to stress that freethinking does not require a religious point of view, or even a non-religious point of view. Freethinking is a philosophical position, not a political one. Freethinkers are not necessarily atheists. It is quite possible to be one without the other, as long as the principles of reason and logic are employed. It is the process that matters, not the conclusions being made.
Some additional links and references: