13th February 2011
INTELLECTUAL AUTONOMY: BEING AN INDEPENDENT THINKER
By Harold Williams
What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
We are moulded as children by ‘authority’ – our parents, schoolteachers and religious leaders. Unquestioning obedience is probably the quickest way to develop, learn and establish our position in society. However, if our intellects are to develop we need to begin to question. Just as our bodies mature so should our minds – and that requires critical thinking - a scientific approach to the physical world and a questioning approach to ideas, beliefs and opinions. We need to develop Intellectual Autonomy and become Independent Thinkers.
Autonomous persons are in charge of their lives. They are not irrationally dependent on others and not controlled by infantile emotions. They have self-control. They are competent. … In forming beliefs, critical thinkers do not passively accept the beliefs of others. … They are not limited by the accepted way of doing things. They evaluate traditions and practices that others often accept unquestioningly. … They function from values they themselves have freely chosen. (Richard W. Paul & Linda Elder: Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life. ISBN 0-13064760-8)
The desire to conform, not to be seen as being different from the crowd, is very strong in the human psyche and difficult to overcome. Most people are Intellectual Conformists. In this state they may easily accept the status quo, unquestioningly submitting to dominant groups in society such as politicians, traditional and religious leaders, and captains of business. Thinking for oneself does not always go down well with these dominant groups which need the passivity of the masses to maintain control and to gain or retain power, wealth and influence.
Secular Humanists have generally gone through a period of critical thinking and honest self-evaluation. They often find that the generality of the public is disturbed by pronouncements that may challenge comfortable beliefs and habits. In this series we will challenge many of your cherished beliefs. We hope that you will understand the honest process that preceded the challenge. We hope that you, also, will discipline yourself and examine your beliefs with a critical and honest mind. Just a few suggestions for the exercise:
- Do we REALLY need a Messiah to cure the problems of our nation? Or do we require good policies honestly and vigorously applied?
- Is our President REALLY the ‘father of the nation’? Is that what we voted for?
- How is it that many self-anointed Christian leaders live a rich and ostentatious family life at the expense of their ‘flock’ whilst espousing a doctrine that demands they leave their families and give up all worldly goods? Should we REALLY believe such hypocrites and show them honour?
- If each religious group claims to follow the one true faith, how can we know which group is REALLY right?
Or are they all wrong?