400 years of freethought by Samuel Porter Putnam - PDF ebook

400 years of freethought - 1894

400 years of freethought
400 years of freethought

Four hundred years of Freetliought — from 1492 to 1892 — present the most alluring and brilliant pages of human history. Only those who stand at the end of these crowded centuries can realize the advancing great- ness of humanity. Never was the picture of Shakspere so glowingly demonstrated: " What a piece of work is the man; how noble in reason; how infinite in faculties; in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god." What lofty intellects adorn the way! What pomp of music is poured forth! 

What radiant discoveries on earth and in heaven are there! What vast inventions! what gigantic powers! It is like looking upon the splendors of the dawn, ever-accumulating, as the day advances. Through darkness and struggle; through bloody war; through torture and terror; through superstition, ignorance, and tyranny, Freethought has steadily pushed onward, with true Promethean fire, with the torch of reason, with undaunted face, with unreceding step, until now it leads the world with victorious colors. But in tracing and unfolding the harmonious grandeur of these spacious centuries, it is necessary first of all that we understand what Freethought is — not a vague and indeterminate coruscation, but a distinct radiance, a manifold power, an intelligence " looking before and after," a destroyer, and a builder. Freethought is a spirit, a method, and a result. 

The eternal spirit of Freethought is the spirit of doubt. Freethought never ceases to inquire, to question, and to deny. It utterly abhors faith. It makes no terms with a submissive mind. Doubt, says Aristotle, is the beginning of wisdom.

 It is, indeed. Doubt is the first step to knowledge. It is only through Doubt that we can analyze, judge, and select. Unless we deny, we cannot search. Belief is ignorance. Unbelief is attainment. Doubt is sanity — faith is insanity. The supreme virtue of orthodoxy is credulity. The supreme virtue of Freethought is skepticism. This has been the eternal battle — Faith on one side, Doubt against it, and Doubt has won and gemmed the earth with civilization. Freethought doubts, but Freethought builds. 

Truth is its object, but there 'is only one way to reach the truth — through facts. The scientific method is the one universal method. There is no a priori royal road to truth. There is only the common road, the toilsome common-sense path of observation and induction. 

experience alone is the beginning of knowledge. He who starts with ideas, and labors to accommodate facts to ideas, is no Freethinker, for he is bound to come to a certain conclusion, not by the force of truth, but the fiat of an assumption. The truth for authority, and not authority for truth, is the axiom of Freethought; and by truth is meant not an image of the mind, tut a fact of the universe. Freethought is observation, experiment, demonstration — beyond that nothing. _ It, therefore, rejects all authority — the authority of a book, of a church, of a pope, of philosophy, of a scientific congress even. Science in itself is not authority, but influence — the constant association of facts with reason, not to command but to prove. Freethought furthermore is a result.

 It is an intellectual attitude. It's Agnosjbicisin, as that term is scientifically understood, and also Secularism. As all experience is finite, so all knowledge is finite and relative. The infinite, the absolute are negations of thought — not thought itself. Freethought rejects intuitions, revelations, and high-sounding words, which have no meaning. It rejects God and Immortality as entirely outside of attaining- able truth. Freethought confesses the limitations of the human mind. To go outside of those limits is to become the slave of an imperious desire. 

We are not free when we think in obedience to an emotion. We are free only when we stick to facts. It is folly to assert that Freethought means that we can believe as we are a mind to. We can believe only according to evidence. It is not slavery to conform to reality, but it is slavery to believe a lie merely because it is attractive. 

Freethought is not an intellectual result only, but a. practical result. It is^the application of truth. It is a selection of facts and a re-arrangement of facts. It is the conquest of nature. It is human happiness, and human improvement by law and not by caprice. With Freethought there is no such thing as chance. . It takes nothing on trust. It is open-eyed and always on the lookout. It believes in work, and is, therefore, an industrial power. It is action. It is forethought, skill, and invention. It is not only the illuminated brain but the left hand.

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