Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fundamentalism

Clarification. . .
My apologies, to revere and everyone else that I linked to, for my lack of clarity. I did not intend to imply that anyone I linked to is a fundamentalist. Quite to the contrary, I really meant it when I said that it is a label that should not be used lightly. I honestly don't believe the label is appropriate to use on anyone that I linked to. The reason that I linked to them all, was not to imply anything about their characters, but merely to show where the formulation of the post I wrote came from. While they are few, the fundamentalists come out in comments attached to the posts.

Ok, so I am on my second post here and already breaking my own rules. Yes, JuliaL, this means I will definitely move that post you mentioned over here, in an updated form. But first, I am going to address an issue that has been broiling around Seed magazine's science blogs, for a few days now.

First the roundup. It all began with this rather innocuous (for PZ Myers anyways) post at Pharyngula. To which Rob Knopp of Galactic interactions responded here. I recommend going to Rob's blog for the follow ups, he removed the aforementioned post from his front page. There were several reactions to Rob's posting. Here, here and here. To be sure, this is not a comprehensive listing, but it is pretty indicative of the situation. The culmination was at the last post I linked to, by Sheril Kirshenbaum, a poster at The Intersection.

The question that arises; Can an atheist, also be a fundamentalist? In short, yes, they can.

It was after reading the following comment by Rob, found here, that I formulated the following, which I posted to this thread.

The only people who seem to think, for instance, that a literal reading of the Bible describes the beliefs of Christians are science-ignorant fundamentalists, and religion-ignorant atheists. Strange bedfellows.

But are they really that strange of bedfellows. They are, in fact two differing fundamentalist viewpoints, in polar opposition to one another. I think that when people decide to couch their attitudes and beliefs in absolute terms, it does not matter which end of a spectrum they exist upon, they will be in strong agreement on a number of points, even while in opposition.

It is no coincidence that the only people who accept the notion that acceptance of evolution is inherently atheistic, are extremists who are either religious or atheists. The further you go in either direction you will find that they agree that secular humanism is inherently atheistic. Until you reach the end ( at least the furthest extreme that I have seen) where even the very notion of being a scientist is inherently atheistic. I have indeed been involved in this very debate over the last few days, with he who shall remain nameless, lest his vitriol and petty bigotry rear it's ugly head.

This is not just true of theism versus atheism, but in any ideological posturing. Take an extremist marxist and contrast them with an extremist libertarian and you will see the very same thing. Even more bizarre, is that the desired ends are the same. With marxism v libertarianism, the goal is absolute power in the hands of the individual. With theism v atheism, it is a desire to find, or a belief in, an absolute truth. Keep in mind I am talking about fundamentalists, this is not meant to paint all theists or atheists, with the same brush. Ultimately this is the definition of fundamentalism, a belief in absolutes.

This is what makes fundamentalism so appealing. Absolutes are easy. Absolutes are clean and comfortable. Unfortunately, life is not black and white. Life is neither clean or comfortable, at least not all the time. It takes great courage to face the reality that, no matter how hard we try, absolutes are hard to come by. Ideals are just that, ideals. It doesn't mean we stop trying, most certainly we shouldn't. I daresay that to even accept that the ideal cannot be achieved, is to accept defeat. What it does mean though, is that we should be ever skeptical, even fearful of those who make claims of absolute truth.

I would just finish with saying that it is ineffectual to use the label of fundamentalist too freely. Like terms such as fascist and denialist, if used inappropriately it loses it's true meaning, becoming nothing more than an epithet.

2 comments:

revere said...

" Ultimately this is the definition of fundamentalism, a belief in absolutes."

Only if you wish to talk a private language. There are many possible definitions and each depends on context, which you omit. It's rather easy to say, "I condemn both extremes. I am a sane moderate." But you define what is extreme and situate yourself elsewhere.

There are real questions here and genuine differences in philosophy and outlook. The discourse is carried out in blogs, which have their own diction (word choice, to you). You need to consider the speech in the context in which it is uttered. You linked to me with the full implication I was a fundamentalist on one side of the issue (the atheist side) without commenting at all on the merits of my post or considering whether I might have given long and careful consideration to the basic epistemological questions.

"A plague on both your houses" is a facile and easy answer. Did I forget to say "fashionable" too?

DuWayne Brayton said...

revere -

First, I am sorry that you thought I meant to imply that the label fit you, I updated the post to clarify that I meant nothing of the sort. The only reason that I linked that post at all, was to give people a chance to read most of the posts and comment threads that led to the formulation of this one.

Only if you wish to talk a private language. There are many possible definitions and each depends on context, which you omit.

Certainly there are other definitions depending on the context, but I make the context of this one clear and I stand by it. If you think my definition is wrong, by all means enlighten me.

It's rather easy to say, "I condemn both extremes. I am a sane moderate." But you define what is extreme and situate yourself elsewhere.

I would be the last one to declare my beliefs entirely sane. I think that my position, at least as it applies to the "culture wars" is about as sane as it gets though. I want to see an absolute end to the war on dominionism, bigotry and ignorance. I am more than willing to ally myself with those who would love to see religion of every sort end with those and support them in saying it, to achieve my goals. That does not mean that I support the larger goal of an end to all religion. It is simply that I recognize that such rhetoric has it's place and can even have a positive effect on moving forward goals that I do have.

Quite honestly, I don't even care if my faith becomes a minority position, as long as the death knell of dominionism follows in it's wake. Yes, I happen to be an extreme moderate, as it were. That doesn't mean that I think that such moderation, in and of itself is whats sane. The sanity is born of my pragmatism.

"A plague on both your houses" is a facile and easy answer. Did I forget to say "fashionable" too?

In light of your assumption that I was lumping you, or anyone else that I linked, as fundies, I understand the flippant attitude behind this statement. To be clear, I could care less how fashionable I am. I never have. But in the case of actual fundies, yes indeed, a plague on both their houses indeed.

There are far more fundies on the side of religionists, than on the side of atheists. But fundamentalism is not far from fanaticism, which is a very dangerous mindset indeed.

That said, the notion of fundamentalist atheists, was not brought up because I thought that anyone I was linking to fits the bill. There are however, a few commenter's on most of those posts, who definitely fit the label.