A Facebook 'friend' has posted a photo of one of those sign's you see outside of churches -- and now a cause célèbre on the web -- saying "A Freethinker is Satan's Slave". This friend is very smart and pretty eccentric, and a bunch of his friends are too, and a lot of them are posting comments, slamming the idea that freethinking is a sin. But we could put what they're doing another way -- falling right into line to agree with each other about freethinking not being a sin. And that they don't believe in sin anyway. The tribe of freethinkers -- whose bible is Atlas Shrugged, and whose religion is atheism.
Ok, that's a bit harsh. This guy and his friends bring you some of the smartest, funniest, quirkiest writing, film, and television you know. But, if you put those details aside, it's possible to view this as one side in the religion culture wars, and as such it is relevant to the kinds of things we try to say here -- and try to stay away from. It's more of the same 'freethinking' ideology that you find all over the web, often in blogs that start out as science, and then get derailed (in our view) by the creation/evolution 'debate' into the fervent defense of atheism. These blogs have lots of followers -- but they are no longer doing science. They're advocating another ideology.
And, seen from an even greater distance, it's further evidence of our tribalism, of our need to conform -- to something. Indeed, Facebook itself is evidence of that -- the great potential of the worldwide web to expose us to different people and thoughts and ways to define ourselves we now use by and large to reinforce what we already think. And on Facebook we all define ourselves according to the dictates of the software; job, schools, religion, marital status, friends -- what else do you need to know?
Of course science is tribal, too. In physics you've got your string theorists and your anti-string theorists, and in biology you've got your evolution by regulatory region and your evolution by coding region people, and in ecology you've got people who believe we're bound for disaster if we don't stop contributing to climate change right now, and people who believe we're ok doing it in baby steps. These are issues that data should support or not, but often the two sides are looking at the same data and interpreting them differently. Based on values or preconceived notions or assumptions, so that one's commitment to a point of view ventures beyond the realm of science into ideology. And an ideology brooks no heresy. The stronger a view is held, especially against other views, the more it becomes hardened and uncompromising.
This is no different when free-thinking no longer allows freedom of thought!