Free thought, in a general sense, is a process by which truth is determined by considering facts and evidence using logic, reason and rationalism. According to a Wikipedia post, the term originated in the 17th century to describe the process by which persons inquired into the basis of traditional religious beliefs (dogma). Those who are satisfied with religious dogma would be considered religious. Those who find religious dogma to be untrue or questionable include humanists, atheists, agnostics and skeptics - freethinkers. So, free thought is an umbrella term to include humanism, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism or any other belief system that questions established religious dogma.
Free thinking is basically the scientific method, though without the formalities we find in science. Free thought is a process, but it is also a philosophy. Freethinkers feel free to question any established views or teachings and are characterized by a belief in reason as the basis for their conclusions or beliefs. Thus, if you believe that everything can be questioned and that you should base your conclusions on reason (rather than on faith, for instance) then free thinking is a part of your philosophy; but, also, it is the process by which you reach your conclusions. It can be applied to any subject, but as noted we are applying it to religion on this web site.
Free thought is not equivalent to secular humanism, atheism, or agnosticism, though certainly those beliefs result from free thinking. Free thinking includes deism which is a belief in a god based on reason rather than on Biblical or other so-called divine revelation. Deists believe that a god created the universe but does not interfere with how it runs. Deism is contrary to the dogma of all Christian denominations, but is not the focus of this web site. Nevertheless, much of the revolutionary thought upon which the United States was founded was based upon the free thinking deistic ideas of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine, among others.
Here is an important point! Freethinkers should be willing to listen to positions contrary to their presently held positions, but that does not mean that a freethinker can never reach a conclusion that he or she believes to be true. If a freethinker has investigated a topic and drawn a reasonable conclusion, he or she is entitled to defend that conclusion, even strongly. A person who has never reached a logical conclusion is a person adrift in indecision and is incapable of accomplishing anything.
Free thinkers have existed throughout recorded time, although the term "free thought" probably was not used until about the 17th century. In terms of applied free thought, its pinnacle may have been reached in the U. S. Constitution. Since then free thought has been under constant attack from established religions, although it did have a flowering in the United States during what is called the Golden Age of Free Thought from about 1870 to World War I. Never, since the establishment of the government of the United States, has free thought been as under attack as it is today from the religious right which includes fundamental protestant churches as well as the Catholic Church.
Some people eliminate the space between the two words, "free" and "thought" and it becomes "freethought". Those holding free thought positions are generally referred to a "freethinkers" - one word
The purpose of this web page is to give you a brief overview of free thought. There is a lot of information about free thought on the internet and a search of the words "free thought", "freethought" or "freethinker" will link you to many sites.