Showing posts with label Humanism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Humanism. Show all posts

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Secular Humanism: What Is It, And Can It Replace Religion?

There are numerous ideas in modern social justice philosophy and tactics used to achieve its goals that are counterproductive and that are fueling a resurgence and interest in the political Right. Many people on the Left are completely unaware of this because they live firmly surrounded by the ideological bubble cocooning them from any views they might disagree with.

And so in the sea of alternatives to traditional religion, a large segment of the Left has turned to social justice in a way that resembles all the hallmarks of a traditional religion, just without the deity. This alarms many, including me, which is why in my last post I argued why we have no better alternative but to double down in our efforts to replace traditional religion with something like secular humanism. But this won't be easy, and secular humanism is fraught with problems if it is to replace religion. And that's what I'm going to explore in this post.

What is secular humanism?

First, what is secular humanism? The name gets used a lot by atheists, but what does it mean? While there are numerous definitions, I'll focus on two. From, it's a "comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance incorporating:
  • A naturalistic philosophy
  • A cosmic outlook rooted in science
  • A consequentialist ethical system"
So secular humanism commits one to a basic consequentialist ethics, according to the Council for Secular Humanism. According to Wikipedia, secular humanism is a "philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making."

The international symbol
of secular humanism
So let's examine the definitions above. First, secular humanism is naturalistic, meaning, it's atheistic. And that means it can't be religious in any traditional way. So far so good. Second, it's rooted in science, meaning, it's a worldview with an epistemological framework "relying on methods demonstrated by science." A critic could argue that this is scientism. Scientism is the view that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. The problem with that is it's wrong. There are other ways to know truth besides science, like for example, philosophy. It's not clear from the secular humanist's site that they are saying science is the only way to truth, but it is implied. Science is certainly the most reliable way to know truth about our world, as I've written about in the past, but it isn't the only way. This is a modified view known as weak scientism. Third, strict consequentialism as a normative ethical theory is too restrictive. The best approach to ethics is the tool box approach: a combination of consequentialism, virtue ethics, and deontology. So demanding that secular humanists must abide by consequentialism is a potential problem. It can alienate people, like me, who think there is no single normative ethical framework that works perfectly in all situations.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What Should Replace Religion In A Post Religious Society?

I just wrote a few blog posts last week about how traditional religious belief is rapidly declining in the US, particularly among the younger generations, and how in its absence "social justice" increasingly has become the new "religion" of the Left, adopting along with it many of the negative attributes one typically associates with traditional religion: dogma, tribalism, group-think, purity.

I am certainly not alone in noticing this, nor am I the only one concerned by it. I see this as a huge problem. The Right has made somewhat of a comeback in recently years with its fresh faced new internet superstars Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Southern, and Paul Joseph Watson, all gaining notoriety riding the growing wave of criticism of the Left's extreme PC culture and identity politics. It's quickly becoming "cool" to riff on the Left's insanity — as well as a good way to make money. Notorious critic of the Regressive Left, Dave Rubin, for example, makes over $30k a month just on Patreon donations.

I'm mostly on the Left politically (even though I'm increasingly weary of labels), but I do have to say, many of these popular critics of the modern day Left do have a point. Their criticism isn't completely unfounded. In the larger picture, it was never just religion simpliciter that was the problem, it was always the kind of thinking endemic in religion that was the main problem: the dogmatic, tribalistic thinking that puts feelings-before-facts. Religion is just a product of that kind of thinking; it's not the cause.

Here is where I will predictably tell you that we need to replace religion with critical thinking, secular humanism, and skepticism. But I'm not sure anymore that this is even possible. I'm very skeptical skepticism will prevail. That's not to say we shouldn't encourage these three things as paramount, it's just to say that achieving them as a replacement for religion may not be feasible because human nature is antithetical to them. (More on that later.) Secular humanism is also too vague an idea to unite us. What is secular humanism? That's a topic I will tackle properly in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that it's not going to unite people as easily as traditional religion did. Not even close. And yes, I'm aware that religions divide, even from within via competing sects, but I don't see secular humanism even coming close to the unifier that any major religion ever has.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Time To Walk The Walk: Hurricane Harvey Donation

If you want to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and if you're a humanist or an atheist who wants to show the world that atheists can do what the religious can do — but even better, then donate to help the recent hurricane victims through the Foundation Beyond Belief. I just gave $10.

Foundation Beyond Belief

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Nation Ruled By Science Wouldn't Be A Terrible Idea, If Done Right

Recently there were several articles criticizing a tweet by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about an idea for a virtual country called Rationalia with a single line constitution that all policy should be based on the weight of evidence:

For an evidentialist like me who thinks the justification of a conclusion depends solely on the evidence for it, this seems like a good idea. Who wouldn't want to live in a society where policy is based on evidence? Well, lot's of people apparently. Now mind you, Twitter has a 140 character limitation, and offers little room for nuance. So the details of Tyson's idea aren't able to be hashed out on such a platform. But for someone who just wrong a lengthy blog post about how we should infer ontology and who actively supports applying scientific thinking to society's problems, I can offer some insights and a critique on how such a country could in theory work, and in the process shut down many of the strawmen arguments made about such a view.

Over at New Scientist Jeffrey Guhin makes several mistakes in his critique of Tyson in an article called, A rational nation ruled by science would be a terrible idea. First he immediately calls Tyson's idea "scientism." 

“Scientism” is the belief that all we need to solve the world’s problems is – you guessed it – science. People sometimes use the phrase “rational thinking”, but it amounts to the same thing. If only people would drop religion and all their other prejudices, we could use logic to fix everything.

Now it is true that Tyson has been accused of scientism in the past, so I cannot defend Tyson on this, as I myself reject it in its strong form. But, there are two different kinds of scientism, strong and weak. Here are the differences:

Strong scientism: the view that science alone can render truth about the world and reality
Weak scientism: the view that science is the most reliable method to render truth about the world and reality, but one among many methods that can render truth.

There are various definitions of strong and weak scientism, and no necessary agreement on them among philosophers and scientists, but that's how I define them. Given weak scientism, no one is forced to think science is the sole way to solve the world's problems or the only thing that can count as "evidence." And with that, this critique disappears.

Next Guhin moves onto flaws in science itself. Scientists have irrational biases he says, and this could lead them to mislead us. Sure, we all have cognitive biases, and scientists are not in any way immune to this defect. But the scientific method takes into consideration these inherent cognitive biases and employs methods like double blind peer review to correct for them. In a society like Rationalia which emphasizes scientific thinking, presumably any problems that exist in science, like a lack of funding, or issues with the peer review process, will have special dedications reserved for fixing them. Why would we assume that the problems that exist in science today in societies that do not privilege scientific research and its findings to determine policy would persist in a society that does? In Rationalia scientific funding would take precedent over many other forms of funding, like the insane corporate welfare and military industrial complexes we have in the modern US.

The Big Picture Talk

I'm about two-thirds of the way done reading Sean Carroll's latest book The Big Picture. It's a fascinating read that I recommend every atheist, naturalist, skeptic, and humanist get their hands on. Heck, every theist and pantheist should get their hands on it, since it would undoubtedly challenge many of their views and answer some of their questions about naturalism. This is a talk Carroll did at Google not long ago that was very similar to the talk he gave in New York last May that I attended where he summarizes many of the points of his book. I haven't gotten to the last past of the book yet where Carroll goes into morality and I think I'm going to disagree with what he says, mainly because he rejects any notion of objective morality, which I support. Anyway, here's his talk if you haven't seen it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Please Donate To the Nepal Relief Efforts!

I gave $10 recently to assist the relief efforts after the devastating earthquake recently. Large numbers of small donations make a big impact. The way I think of it is like this: if I can waste ten dollars on some watered down drink at some pretentious bar that I got absolutely no pleasure out of, I can spend ten dollars to help those suffering right now from a disaster. Fuck yeah I can. It's the least I can do.

Be an example of secular humanism at work!

Click here to donate to the Red Cross

Donate here through the Foundation Beyond Belief

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Is Atheism Just A Means To An End?

I don't think about atheism all the time, but I do think about it a lot. Recently, while thinking of atheism and what it means to me, I realized that atheism might just be a means to an end. Let me explain. Atheism may not even be the right term here, because after all, in its most disabused definition, it simply means lacking a belief in any gods. It's not even technically a worldview simpliciter. But definitions and proper usages aside, trying to increase the number of people who lack belief in any gods in a way, to me, is just a means to achieving an end, and that end is having and sustaining a peaceful, humanistic, liberal, free-thinking society, that employs the best of reason and evidence towards all modes of thinking, and one that lacks any religious, ideological and financial hindrances.

The way the atheist sees it, why should religion get a free pass when it comes to anything we honestly think is getting in the way of trying to achieve the best kind of society intellect can produce? I don't know exactly all the details of what that society looks like, but humanists like myself have a general goal that we're trying to achieve and we see that the goal posts are always moving and consider it a good thing.

If and when it's ever the case that atheism or agnosticsm becomes the dominant views in the world toward god, active atheism and counter-apologetics wouldn't really need to be a "thing." In such a world, my primary goals and interests would probably encompass a broader range of social and economic issues and I wouldn't really care so much about disbelief in god per se. Therefore, the real goal in sight is not a world in which active atheism really plays a significant part. Active atheism is merely a reaction to active theism and a strategy to decrease the level of religiosity in the world. Sure, it's still interesting to think about the deepest metaphysical questions the mind can conjure up. Naturalism, in and of itself, is pretty fucking amazing if you really think about it deeply. That we're giant bags of atoms that are mostly empty space, evolved and determined by the laws of physics, that have the ability to think about this very process and environment that it's a part of, is, in my opinion, just fucking mind blowing. (I've always liked to think that the ultimate nature of reality, whatever it turns out to be, is going to be mind blowing.)

But I digress...

The real goal secular humanists like myself have is a world that best fits humanist ideals. A world where evidence matters; a world where empathy and compassion are treated among the highest virtues and are not limited to fellow man; a world where freedom and equality reign supreme, where there are no dogmas or faiths that put limits on intellectual growth and moral progress. Atheism is just a means to that end, and is by no means the only mean; it's just one among many. We have to rid ourselves of religion and religious thinking if we are going to make this possible.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Debating Means To Me

How could someone who claims to be a man of love and compassion be so argumentative and polemic? The question has arose from time to time. I think it's perfectly rational to be for love and compassion while at the same time rigorously debating deeply held ideas.

To use an analogy, it's similar to how two boxers can pummel each other in the ring, and then are able to sit down together and enjoy a peaceful diner. There is a right time and place for punching someone in the face. When two consenting people step into a boxing ring, it's the right time and place. Punching someone on the street for no reason is not the right time or place.

I see debating in a similar manner. There is a time and a place for debating. Challenging someone random on the street in a hostile manner unprovoked is not the time or place for debate. That's just being rude. On the internet however, it's a little different. Comment threads on apologist and counter apologist websites are the time and place for debate. The same goes for political websites. In fact, any time someone expresses their views publicly could warrant a debate. If I'm forced to hear your views on anything, whether it be political or religious, then you must be forced to hear my criticism. If you can't handle getting challenged, keep your views to yourself.

I welcome debate on this blog and actively seek out prospective interlocutors. I admit that I can sometimes get nasty and can appear very cocky, and if I were a theist I'd definitely think an atheist like myself would be an arrogant antitheist, to say the least. I'm conscious of this and I'm actively working to conduct myself with a certain level of politeness and courtesy, but the impersonal nature of the internet perhaps brings out the worst in me. Intellectual debates should be civil, most of the time. But as Christopher Hitchens often said, "civility is overrated." He was the kind of polemicist that I deeply admire. He could be ruthless in a verbal or written  disagreement, but nice and courteous in regular social functions.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Came First The Atheist Or The Skeptic?

We all wear many hats in life, and carry many identities. For some of us, our race is the most important factor in our identity. Some people are black first and then an American or a Christian, or they're Latino first and then a woman. For other people, religion is first and foremost. So they might see themselves as a Muslim first, and then an American, or a Jehovah's Witness first, and then an Australian. Still others identify strongly with their gender. So for them, they might see themselves as a woman first, then a mother or a Latina. And others put nation identity first. So they might see themselves as an American first, or French first, and then male or female. And then there are those who see their occupation first. So they might see themselves as a chef first, then an Argentinian, or as a musician first, and then British.

How we identify ourselves depends on what identities we feel are most important to us. I've always hated the idea of being identified too strongly with what I do for a living because I've never really had a job that I liked a whole lot. In a city like New York, all too often you are what you do. When you meet someone new one of the first questions that you'll be asked is what you do for a living. When I would give my answer I'd feel like that person was immediately coming to conclusions about me based on what I did. I've worked in the IT industry for the past several years and I've had to deal with quite a few people thinking that I must be a computer geek who sits home and plays video games for hours on end. I happen not to be much of a gamer at all, and I'm not even much of a computer geek either.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 9

Purpose And Meaning In A Godless World (Continued)

We all seek purpose in our lives, and we all seek a deeper understanding and meaning to why we exist. I think that the naturalistic worldview can serve many more minds in ways that religion has traditionally done so. From my earliest memories as a child I was captivated by science. I wanted to know. I was driven towards the way science can explain things in precise detail. I poured over statistical reference books – illuminated by the knowledge of knowing the true facts about the world. Religion never gave me such information; it glosses over detail and is purposely vague and light on specifics. Perhaps that’s why it never intrigued me as a kid. I just couldn't accept the idea that our world was a mere 6,000 years old when all the geologic data I had learned said otherwise. And I just couldn't accept that my purpose in life was to serve an invisible being called “God”, who I was told is perfect and free from all earthly desire, and yet still got extremely jealous when I did not recognize him.

When I discovered that religious belief - even when it's in some of its moderate incarnations, poses a terrible threat to the progress of the free world, my insulated secular bubble had burst. I had recognized that the world around me is teaming with faith-based ideologies that seek to diminish that freedom to their liking, and that the freedoms I take for granted in the US should never be. My purpose became one dedicated towards thwarting the tide of oppression that seeks to enforce its mind-forged shackles upon the liberated.

I've come to recognize that the purpose driven life is up to each one of us to create for ourselves. I don’t need my life or my actions to have cosmic significance in order for them to have purpose. Why should I care if the universe doesn't notice my noble efforts? And why should you care either? What matters is what happens in our celestial neighborhood to the living conscious beings that are affected within it. To require universal recognition mandates the kind of arrogance religion often produces. I've always thought that the religious worldview that demands the greatest cosmic significance to human life and its talents was anything but the humble portrayal that we so often hear. Nothing could be more arrogant, more self-centered and conceited, and more solipsistic than thinking that the entire cosmos – all that exists and all that ever will – billions upon trillions of stars and galaxies – were all created and designed for us. And I say to those folks who need this belief to feel special, you can believe that if you like, but please don’t insult my intelligence and try to tell me that this human-centered worldview is humble.

I don’t deny that there's something special about human life. We have evolved the unique ability to figure out nature’s deepest secrets. Humankind is in a sense, nature becoming conscious of itself. And although at a purely physical level, we are all just matter in motion, naturalism does allow for emergent properties like consciousness that allows us to perceive the awe and mysteries of the cosmos, and the recognition that we are alive and can experience joy, pleasure, pain and suffering.

Along the path of my atheistic journey, I went from a skeptical kid to an adult who found passion and purpose in advancing the case for atheism and secularism. But my goal in life is not merely to get everyone to disbelieve in supernatural gods. I want to eliminate what prevents people from being rationally informed with the best evidence based knowledge that exists, and the two main culprits are ignorance and religion. Now if religion disappears, something will inevitably replace it. For most atheists today, the ethical framework that we feel should replace religious belief and morality is secular humanism. I'm a secular humanist as much as I'm an atheist or a naturalist. Secular humanism is the best overall philosophical framework that we can use to build a humane society because it emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world free of the impediment of dogma. Religious morality is believed simply because it is believed to come from god. There often is no secular justification for many of its "morals" without reference to believing that it's what god wants. If a belief prevents someone from accepting scientific facts about the world and affects their ability to make rationally informed decisions based on evidence, and if the belief requires one to make others believe it too, then I’d feel an imperative to put a stop to this growing meme. And if that isn't a noble life purpose, I don't know what is.

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Monday, December 31, 2012

Depression, Nihilism & Humanism

I am sad. I am weary. I sometimes wish I was never born. Why does life have to be so tragic? Why does happiness evade me so easily? I often have those moments where I am alone and can do some self-reflecting. I think about my past and what things in my life have meant to me. Like the Buddha, I recognize that all things change. People die; relationships whither; money dries up; beauty fades; material things are lost or broken. One can never attach themselves to any of these things because they are all temporary and finite. As much as I wish that things I value would last forever, such is never the case; for change is the only thing that is constant.

I still can't help but speak of tragedy when I reflect upon the hardships I have endured. My life has been a roller-coaster of emotion, with a lot more valleys than peaks. I have come to think of my life as near constant depression, punctuated only by momentary episodes of bliss. Is it my nature to be such a way, or is it due to the circumstances beyond my control? I cannot help but be an emotional being. If nineteenth century romanticism has taught us anything, it is that we are as emotionally sensitive to our surroundings as a feather is to the wind. Love almost always ends in tragedy; happiness almost always ends in sorrow. Perhaps there is the need for a balance to be struck, in that one must exist for the other to have grace. I don't know if nature requires such equalizing properties with regards to emotion.

Is the prospect of nihilism to blame? Is the belief in no ultimate purpose or value the cause of such conditions? Like most atheists, I would rather know the truth even if it has negative consequences than live under an illusion. I reject accepting notions of false consolation, even if their falsity is not absolutely demonstrated. What hope can there be under nihilism when one is faced with depression?

I have a sought refuge during periods of depression in the hope that the future will be better. One thing that really depresses me is the idea of permanence, in that hardship will never improve or get worse. It is not easy accepting that things will never get better. Hope drives us all to wake up and start our day and think that a little bit of improvement can be made.

Is nihilism rationally justified given naturalism? Is humanism and nihilism one in the same or are they opposed to one another? Well it may depend on how you define each of them. Humanism can be defined as a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God. Nihilism can be defined as the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life and argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. 

So with these definitions do we have a conflict? I consider myself both a humanist and a nihilist. I do not believe human beings have objective or intrinsic value that exists beyond other living beings and certainly not beyond the material world, and I affirm human value on the basis of reason through the recognition that humanity benefits best from being treated with dignity, and with certain inalienable rights. The fact that we will all individually and collectively perish is by no means a source of conflict for the humanist.

Humanism is not attained by default given atheism, but nihilism apparently is. I have discussed this notion with other atheists who like to reject nihilism perhaps due to its negative connotations. I tell them, that in the absence of god nothing gives objective meaning and value to human life, and that even in the presence of god, human value is still not really objective but rather is subjective to god's will. He could have easily just said that rats and not humans have objective value. I think all atheists accept the idea that human life has no objective meaning, purpose or intrinsic value but some are simply not willing to accept the idea of nihilism because it is perceived as believing that there is no hope and can be no value at all to human life. But I like to remind them that nihilism doesn't say that life has no value, just no objective value. We can still give ourselves meaning and purpose and lead fulfilling finite lives.

So when it comes to tragedy and depression which none of us are immune to, atheists can seek hope in humanist values which affirms scientific inquiry and moral progression free of dogmatic constraints. Free and open inquiry will allow us to best discover the realities of our natural world, which unlock the potential to better the lives of everyone, leading to less unnecessary misery at the hands of nature. Recognizing human rights and dignity through reason will affirm the value of human beings, leading to less unnecessary misery at the hands of mankind. While this by no means will result in the end of all personal hardships and depression, we can know that we are using our intelligence to better the lives of mankind and nature not only through science and this will lead to more fulfilling lives for all conscious beings.

Happy New Year to all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Does Religion Retard Human Achievement?

It might seem pointless to pose the question of whether religion retards human achievement to atheists since we pretty much already know that it does. So my question is not really to address whether or not religion retards human achievement ( it does), but rather to address whether or not it is possible that religious people can recognize that it does, and understand that it's this retardation that bothers most atheists, free-thinkers and progressives.

Most atheists in the West are humanists. On the American Humanist Association's website, humanism is defined as:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Now humanism is not a default belief given the absence of religion. There are many other alternatives that can compete in a free market of politics, philosophies and ideologies. Humanism must therefore be arrived at through the use of critical thinking with the goal to seek the "greater good of humanity".

When I debate with conservative theists on the epistemology of truth, they all believe that the use of logic, reason and science, are inferior to the "truth" of revelation; meaning, if a supposed revelation gives us a claim to scientific or moral knowledge, even if it seems counter-intuitive, mankind's use of his critical faculties is futile, or in the case of Islam it is forbidden, to try to better explain events or arrive at better truths. So to the conservative theist, revelation must always supersede any amount of knowledge that contradicts it.

One of the most enduring arguments that Christopher Hitchens repeatedly made against religion, was that religion forces us to constrict our critical thinking abilities, - the most important abilities that we have, in favor of unproven dogma believed on faith. This is a retardation of human achievement if there ever was one.

But through all my debating what I have not been able to achieve, is to get any theists to admit this and say something like, "yes religion does hinder critical thinking, and that can slow human achievement, but my religion requires that I belief certain things on faith." If a religious person actually said something like that, perhaps with a difference choice of words but with the same overall message, I think it would be a milestone in the debate between reason and faith.

Instead of an acceptance that religion retards critical thinking, I get a bunch of history lessons thrown at me about Islamic and Christian scientists who made great achievements in math and science. For example, one Muslim debated me this position:

You still keep lying & saying that Islam retards Human-achievement, yet you have absolutely no proof of this. However, there are countless historical & contemporary proofs that the light of Islam has inspired Muslims to excel in the fields of history, science, medicine, mathematics, and the list goes on. In fact, the world-renowned “1,001 Inventions” exhibit, which highlights the technological achievements of Muslims, over the past 14-centuries, as well as the renovated Islamic-Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, thus proves how Islam helped, and even pushed people towards greater understanding of the cosmos, art, mathematics, technology, etc

Now I don't deny that there have been many people who believed in god that have made great achievements for mankind, but I cannot also forget that it was institutionalized religion in Europe and the Middle East, that feared many discoveries these inquisitive minds brought us because it contradicted long held assumptions founded on dogma. So I respond saying:

I fully acknowledge achievements made by Muslims during the golden era. But Islamic thinking (much like how Christianity was centuries ago) began to resent the critical thinking that lead to scientific and philosophical progression. Greek philosophy, which Arabs had preserved, became illegal to copy; the Ash’ari school of thought which still dominates Islamic thinking today, closes off the idea that human reason, science and observation can discover scientific & moral truths, and instead believes only revelation can do so. This is clearly evident in the way you argue. This lead in part to the decline in Islamic science and understanding, and the West, which had less restrictions on reason and logic, passed the world in all areas of achievement. So, if you do not have a free and open system, that allows all ideas to compete in a free market, where the best wins, you will retard human achievement. And Islams does exactly that.

When religion turned against the free pursuit of knowledge, many great minds were jailed, tortured, killed, and burned alive in the religious war against knowledge before, during and after the Middle Ages. Just because a person can be inspired by religion to pursue knowledge, doesn't mean that the religion as a whole supports an open platform for free inquiry if it also held down by unproven dogmas, as all religions have. 

Religious people do not want to publicly acknowledge the fact that religious dogma can hinder the pursuit of truth because they know that by doing so they will be admitting that religion acts like an anchor that prevents growth and thus retards our body of knowledge. That is why atheists like myself are extremely passionate about maintaining a system in which the free pursuit of knowledge, unchained by any dogmatic beliefs, continues to thrive. 


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