The religious person, in countering this charge, could point out that the atheist’s thoughts, existing within an atheistic worldview, are wholly deterministic. In other words, “free-thinking” would be illusory as our thoughts, actions, and dreams are solely determined by genetics, background, and environment. However, the Christian might respond by saying that theism provides rational grounds for freewill and “free-thinking” as a result of being made in the image of a rational God. Such a belief would encourage the Christian believer to explore, discover and to learn about the universe their God created. This is arguably the very reason why Christianity was so instrumental in the development of science.
Secondly, one may point out that it may be true (if we ignore determinism for a moment) that the atheist is indeed a freethinker in the precise sense of not being subjected to religious dogma. However, it does not follow that he, or other atheists, are freethinkers that are not subjected to some form of anti-religious dogma. It is also not true that there are no religious freethinkers (whether subjected to dogma or not). In fact, there are many, one could argue, who have become “religious” due to their freethinking or who freely think about dogma and accept it in that way. Daniel Wallace captures this line of thought:
“I would ask them “What do you mean by “Free thinkers” and “religious dogma”? Then truly listen and follow up perhaps with: Are you truly free to challenge the dogma that matter in motion is all there is? Are you free to consider the possibility that if you were right, and you and your brain are merely the result of matter in motion acting in law like fashion according to biochemistry and physics, you could never know it because you were physically determined to reach that conclusion and had no choice? Isn’t “that” more dogmatic, unreasonable and locked in than free thinkers who have a real foundation that allows them to believe they can reach valid conclusions based on free will, evidence, and reason?” (1) In a similar way Jonathan Sarfati find the “freethinker” concept quite strange, saying “We must wonder why atheists call themselves “freethinkers” if they believe thoughts are merely the results of atomic motion obeying the fixed laws of chemistry” (2)
1. Personal correspondence with Daniel Wallace on Facebook.
2. Sarfati, J. Using the Bible to prove the Bible? Are biblical creationists guilty of circular reasoning? Available.