A few weeks ago, Josh Walters, John Silvestri and myself were invited to join the Sarnia- Port Huron – Freethinkers for a public dialogue. There was the three of us and three folks from the Freethinkers group and we worked our way through these questions:
1) What is Faith?
2) Where do Love & Morality come from?
3) Is there a conflict between Religion & Science?
4) How do we know, what we know, about Religion is true?
I tried to record the conversation, you can listen to it here if you feel so inclined. It’s about two hours long. The recording quality is pretty poor.
The evening went how I somewhat expected in that it really felt like we were having two different conversations. It felt like those from the freethinker group only knew how to respond and dialogue with a fundamentalist/conservative Christianity. So an answer from them usually had more to do with what they were against always stating after “and that’s why I get my truth from Science” or “and that’s why Creationism is bonkers” kind of suffix. Which didn’t make for amazing dialogue at first as one audience member noted: “it seems like you guys all agree” after our first round of responses.
All three Freethinkers at one point or another alluded to beliefs that they would hold to such as: do no harm, be fair, common sense, goodness, and meaningfulness. To me this is a great starting point for some awesome conversations about philosophy, faith, spirituality and religion. However, it was clear to me that there was some major issues with words such as ‘faith’ or ‘supernatural’ or ‘metaphysical’ or ‘religion’ as they all carried with it the weight of apparently being anti-science. This made conversation difficult as it seemed that we were unable to speak intelligibly together about anything that couldn’t be empirically proven. So where I would have hoped we could have had some philosophical conversations we were stuck in this sort of nebulous neutral zone.
I think all six of us started in the most honest place we could, admitting that we didn’t know most things, and that we didn’t think we could know for sure, and then building from there. It seems, and I don’t mean this as insulting, that the freethinkers have limited themselves in being able to have any conversations that exist outside of what is measurable and that knowledge can only come from science. They would claim that we should never say that we might not know an answer to anything at all (even though we don’t have them now), and then the conversation just ends with those platitudes that I mentioned above. Ironically, we agree with all the platitudes, but we just really want to explore them in more depth and understand how humanity has explored them in depth throughout history. We think that we can attain knowledge (note: not facts) about the world and our place in it through other means than scientific discovery.
Overall, it was a really fun night and the Freethinkers groups was extremely hospitable to us and I think that new friendships were formed. We look forward to carrying on these conversations and seeing where they will take us.