…individuals should not accept ideas proposed as truth without recourse to knowledge and reason. Thus, freethinkers strive to build their opinions on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or the intellectually limiting effects of authority, confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, sectarianism, tradition, urban legend, and all other dogmas (Wikipedia, “Freethought” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freethought, accessed October 12, 2012)
British-Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein, the author of the “duck-rabbit”illustration asserted:
The questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt…It belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed not doubted (1969, p. 342)
If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The practice of doubt itself presupposes certainty (1969, p. 115).
Wittgenstein thus maintains that it is impossible to question, to doubt, or to practice skepticism without having a foundation upon which to stand. Tilley (2000) proposes:
To attempt to analyze, inquire, doubt, or question a given item in a tradition requires participating in some tradition (perhaps not the tradition under inquiry). …the Enlightenment thinker’s commitment to rationality arises within a tradition. Numerous contemporary philosophers have even argued that such a commitment is a faith commitment, in the sense that it is not founded on an argument but is grounded in hope and sustained and supported by fellow practitioners (pgs 20-21).
What is the tradition that the freethinker aligns with? The freethinker is aligned with the Enlightenment trajectory that crystallizes into modernism. The practice of modernism is heuristically, at its best, worked out in positivism (or verificationism) and methodological naturalism. Positivism is the position that the only questions worth asking or answering are those which can be answered empirically, that is, through science, and science relies by definition on the use of methodological naturalism.
…there is no experience of truth that is not interpretive. I do not know anything that does not interest me. If it does interest me, it is evident that I do not look at it in a noninterested way (Loc 285).
…knowledge is not the pure, uninterested reflection of the real, but the interested approach to the world, which is itself historically mutable and culturally conditioned (Loc 316).
When the situatedness of human knowledge is forgotten, the practitioner is at risk of elevating her perspective to the level of a “God’s eye” perspective. And this is the irony of absolute atheism: it practices the dogmatism of asserting a “God’s eye perspective,” that is, it falls into the temptation of the mythical Adam and Eve who seek to know, who seek to grasp what is not possible and so to leave behind the ultimate situatedness of human knowledge.
There are other options to the absolutes thus far critiqued, and they do not require the dissolute. That is, the only alternative to absolute is not dissolute relativism. In the next most I will introduce one alternative.