Guest Contributor posted Entry 2280 on May 16, 2006 01:51 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2275

by Kevin Padian, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology; Curator, Museum of Paleontology; University of California at Berkeley.

Last Tuesday William Dembski began posting diatribes on his weblog accusing me of racism. He based them on a second- or third-hand report that he received from one of his acolytes who got the basic facts wrong. Dembski didn’t bother to check them before jumping to his accusation.

But worse things have happened in the world. I could have responded to Dembski immediately, because I was sure of my facts, and I’m happy to stand on my record. But I wanted to wait until I could get a tape of the talk, and to be sure that no one could reasonably interpret my comments as Dembski and his acolytes did.

That took until Friday afternoon, at which point I immediately sent an e-mail to Dembski’s Discovery Institute address. On Monday morning I received an apology from him, which he posted on his website. I consider the matter closed.

However, I would like to clarify the record on several additional points that have come up:

  1. I received not a single phone call or email as a result of the postings that Dembski allowed on his blog. That doesn’t excuse aiding and encouraging harassment. But it suggests that most of his audience has better judgment than some would credit.
  2. The contrast is interesting between the postings of people who actually went to my talk and those who did not.
  3. I hope that all those posting to PT empathize with the people of the Berkland Baptist Church and other Asian-Americans who may have been offended because they were misled by Dembski’s weblog.
  4. I would like to take a minute to defend the University of California at Berkeley, because Dembski’s posting, and the subsequent posts on his site, brought up an issue that needs to be addressed. Berkeley prides itself on its diversity. Like all typical Berkeley faculty members, I have taught, advised, and mentored students of all backgrounds – in my case for over a quarter century. Three of my recent Ph.D. students are of minority groups (Asian-American, Latina, and Native American), and each of them has done splendidly and won tremendous academic awards. In recent years four of my undergraduates have published work with me; three were from minority groups. Everyone in my department does such things and more. This is a Berkeley tradition.
  5. As a result of this incident, much has been said on PT and UD about the question of student religious beliefs and letters of recommendation. Personally, I’m delighted when students who are taught not to accept evolution are broad-minded enough to take my classes. I wouldn’t dream of trying to convert them; I admire them for wanting to learn the scientific basis of what they’ve heard so much about. They’re terrific people. I think all my colleagues at Berkeley share these views. I happily write these students letters of recommendation, because I can comment not only on their scholarship but on their strength of character.

I should also clear up some misapprehensions that persist on the UD website and elsewhere, including a comment that Dembski attached to his otherwise appropriate retraction and apology. The comparison that Alan Gishlick and I made between Jonathan Wells and The Talented Mr. Ripley – now the stuff of myth and legend on ID sites – was restricted to the opening scene of the film, where Ripley ingratiates himself to unsuspecting people by answering questions with half-truths. That’s the rhetoric and the standard of scholarship that Wells uses throughout his book, as Gishlick and I analyzed it. And that was the limit of our comparison; it was Wells who brought up the “psychotic murderer” stuff, I presume to cast himself as a victim and draw attention away from the distortions and cheap shots found in his book. We justified our comparison to his rhetoric throughout our review. To claim otherwise is inaccurate and inflammatory.

Second, because Dembski and his bloggers continue to misstate how others use these terms, “Christian” does not equal “fundamentalist,” because fundamentalists are only a minority of the people who identify themselves as Christian. Neither term is equivalent to “ID supporter,” either. I do regard fundamentalism as the greatest problem that faces the civilized world in this century, because (as John McCain notes) it encourages agents of intolerance. This applies to fundamentalism of all stripes – Muslim, Christian, Jewist, atheist, whatever – and I make that clear in my talks. Because these people can’t get along with each other, everyone in the world suffers as a result. It seems monstrous to me that some people, such as one of the co-bloggers on Uncommon Descent, would regard as “bigoted” the opposition to murderous actions taken by any fundamentalists in the name of religious belief. Relatively few fundamentalists are violent extremists, the people who are really causing all the trouble. But I’ve never met a “moderate extremist.” And it’s up to non-violent fundamentalists as well as moderates to put a stop to this.

I hope these points show that there is a difference between objecting to someone else’s opinion about something and mischaracterizing their work and statements. We all make mistakes, and we’re all glad when they’re corrected.

Commenters are responsible for the content of comments. The opinions expressed in articles, linked materials, and comments are not necessarily those of PandasThumb.org. See our full disclaimer.

Comment #100959

Posted by wamba on May 16, 2006 2:17 PM (e)

[b]Personally, I’m delighted when students who are taught not to accept evolution are broad-minded enough to take my classes. I wouldn’t dream of trying to convert them[/b]; I admire them for wanting to learn the scientific basis of what they’ve heard so much about. They’re terrific people. I think all my colleagues at Berkeley share these views. I happily write these students letters of recommendation, because I can comment not only on their scholarship but on their strength of character.

I’m not sure what you mean by the above. “convert” is an odd word to use in a scientific context. I do hope you dream of trying to educate them about the science. It’s unfortunate that some people confuse their religion with science.

Comment #100964

Posted by steve s on May 16, 2006 3:15 PM (e)

My favorite part of this was when Davescot drew a cartoon with Padian as a Klan member, because Padian didn’t like religious terrorists. Talk about Unintentional Irony.

Comment #100965

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on May 16, 2006 3:17 PM (e)

I’m not sure what you mean by the above. “convert” is an odd word to use in a scientific context.

It seems clear enough to me that Padian is responding to a common general claim made by antievolutionists that professors are out to “convert” believers.

You don’t have to go far to find precisely this charge being made of college professors:

Professor Richard Weisenberg, in an attempt to justify the teaching of Darwinian macroevolution, layed out in 2000 a perfect example of the scientifically absurd and very circular argument that Darwinists use to subtly convince students to become devout atheists.

(Source)

And, ironically enough, here’s essentially the same thing from William Dembski’s introduction for “Uncommon Dissent” (the book):

Thus, what many Darwinists desire is not just more talented communicators to promote Darwinism in America’s biology classrooms but an enforced educational and cultural policy for total worldview reprogramming sufficiently aggressive to capture and convert to Darwinism even the most recalcitrant among “religiously programmed” youth.

(Source)

So, if you find the word “convert” inappropriately used in this setting, go take it up with the people who brought it up as an issue in that setting, the antievolutionists.

Comment #100966

Posted by steve s on May 16, 2006 3:17 PM (e)

No, I take that back. My favorite part was when Davescot called the word “Asian” a “racially-loaded term”. LOL. I (heart) Uncommonly Dense.

Comment #100968

Posted by Mark Isaak on May 16, 2006 3:25 PM (e)

An excellent commentary, but I must disagree with the last line, “We all make mistakes, and we’re all glad when they’re corrected.” Yes, we all make mistakes, but welcoming correction seems to be all too rare. In part, this arises from simple ego; people generally do not like to admit that they have done something wrong. In part, it may arise from a realistic fear that others might hound you about the mistake for the rest of your life.

The problem seems to be particularly prevalent among creationists. Despite occasional lists of
arguments creationists should not use, there are remarkably few creationists claims in the last century which essentially all creationists now reject. This includes ID arguments. Examples from the sciences, on the other hand, are common.

Ironically, correcting mistakes is an essential part of intelligent design (real intelligent design, not what ID talks about). Progress would be impossible without it. Perhaps the reason why the ID arguments have not progressed is because ID proponents rarely practice intelligent design themselves.

Comment #100969

Posted by Don Baccus on May 16, 2006 3:27 PM (e)

Actually I believe Dave Scot said that the word “Asian-American” is a racially-loaded term. Despite the fact that the term was invented by Asian-Americans themselves …

Comment #100970

Posted by Gerard Harbison on May 16, 2006 3:30 PM (e)

Dembski’s now instead decided to accuse Ernst Haeckel of being a racist. Evidently he feels safer picking on the dead. :-)

Comment #100971

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on May 16, 2006 3:33 PM (e)

The dead cannot sue for libel or slander. IANAL, but I don’t think estates can do so on behalf of the deceased, either. Corrections welcome…

Comment #100972

Posted by steve s on May 16, 2006 3:38 PM (e)

Last Tuesday William Dembski began posting diatribes on his weblog accusing me of racism. He based them on a second- or third-hand report that he received from one of his acolytes who got the basic facts wrong. Dembski didn’t bother to check them before jumping to his accusation.

Consider yourself lucky. Dembski Called the Department of Homeland Security on Eric Pianka, based on secondhand information.

Comment #100973

Posted by C.J.Colucci on May 16, 2006 3:44 PM (e)

Ordinarily, one cannot sue for defamation of the dead. Some states have considered legislation allowing estates to sue for defamation of the dead. I am aware of no state that has passed such a law, but I haven’t been keeping track and some state might have. If the estate of Haeckel is the prospective plaintiff, however, any such claim will be too late. In nearly every state, defamation actions face a relatively short statute of limitations, and Haeckel has been dead a long time.

Comment #100975

Posted by Gerard Harbison on May 16, 2006 3:48 PM (e)

The hilarious thing is, Dembski, who’s now pontifiicating about 19th century racism, teaches at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptists were split off from the Northern Baptists in 1845 specifically in order to uphold slavery, and maintained segregationist policies for a full century after the Civil War. If I were living in that particular glass house, I wouldn’t be throwing stones.

Comment #100976

Posted by Leon on May 16, 2006 3:51 PM (e)

Fundamentalist atheists? Did I read that right, on this board?

I’m confused–how is it possible for an atheist to be a fundamentalist?

Comment #100977

Posted by Gerard Harbison on May 16, 2006 3:53 PM (e)

I’m confused—how is it possible for an atheist to be a fundamentalist?

We believe in the literal truth of nothing.

Comment #100978

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on May 16, 2006 3:54 PM (e)

Fundamentalist atheists? Did I read that right, on this board?

I’m confused—how is it possible for an atheist to be a fundamentalist?

My guess would be that Padian is referring to what I’ve termed “fanatical evangelical atheists” – the sort of people who are not content merely with their own state of non-belief in deities, but will not rest until everybody else joins them in that state.

Comment #100980

Posted by Sir_Toejam on May 16, 2006 4:13 PM (e)

I received not a single phone call or email as a result of the postings that Dembski allowed on his blog. That doesn’t excuse aiding and encouraging harassment. But it suggests that most of his audience has better judgment than some would credit.

or they’re just lazy.

lazy in thought, lazy in mind, lazy in body.

Comment #100985

Posted by heddle on May 16, 2006 4:37 PM (e)

Padian wrote:

I do regard fundamentalism as the greatest problem that faces the civilized world in this century, because (as John McCain notes) it encourages agents of intolerance. This applies to fundamentalism of all stripes – Muslim, Christian, Jewist, atheist, whatever

This statement is devoid of substance unless you define “fundamentalism.” In particular, who falls into the category of Christian fundamentalist? What are the defining characteristics? One would think you’d be careful with your terms, given that you view it as the greatest problem faced by the civilized world.

Comment #100986

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on May 16, 2006 4:41 PM (e)

If the discussion starts focussing on personal commenter matters, the whole lot will go over to the Bathroom Wall. Fair warning.

Comment #100990

Posted by JeffW on May 16, 2006 6:02 PM (e)

Actually I believe Dave Scot said that the word “Asian-American” is a racially-loaded term. Despite the fact that the term was invented by Asian-Americans themselves …

I’m confused. Why is this “dave scott” name/character so important? I assume he’s some kind of expert or has published something.

Comment #100993

Posted by steve s on May 16, 2006 6:21 PM (e)

*grin*

Comment #100994

Posted by Corkscrew on May 16, 2006 6:53 PM (e)

Fundamentalist atheists? Did I read that right, on this board?

I’m confused—how is it possible for an atheist to be a fundamentalist?

Fundie is a state of mind, not a religious position. Like stupidity, it’s found in roughly the same proportions all over.

Atheists in countries that are mostly Christian do have a slight advantage - Fundies will tend to default to the most obvious form of daftness available*, which means that in general they don’t hold to our viewpoint. However, there are strong counterexamples, and they’re likely to become disproportionately more prevalent as atheism gains more mindshare.

* Note: not (necessarily) saying that Christianity is daft here, just that the versions Fundies go for usually are, and that in any Christian country there will usually be a few of these floating around.

Comment #100995

Posted by Arden Chatfield on May 16, 2006 7:12 PM (e)

’m confused. Why is this “dave scott” name/character so important? I assume he’s some kind of expert or has published something.

Is that you, Dave?

Comment #100996

Posted by bigdumbchimp on May 16, 2006 7:12 PM (e)

I’m confused. Why is this “dave scott” name/character so important? I assume he’s some kind of expert or has published something.

HA

Comment #100997

Posted by AD on May 16, 2006 7:15 PM (e)

The dead cannot sue for libel or slander. IANAL, but I don’t think estates can do so on behalf of the deceased, either. Corrections welcome…

I believe the lone counterexample to this would be if the estate of the dead were owners of some kind of intellectual property still in play, the validity, sales, etc of which could be impacted by the slander or libel.

In which case you’d have to prove a standard of slander or libel and prove it was harmful, but I believe it’s theoretically possible.

Obviously inapplicable in this case. However, I hereby reserve the right to slander the snot out of Dembski when he dies.

Comment #100998

Posted by Rod on May 16, 2006 7:42 PM (e)

“the sort of people who are not content merely with their own state of non-belief in deities, but will not rest until everybody else joins them in that state”

Yeah. I dislike proselytizing in any form.

I didn’t think much of Dembski’s retraction and apology. Padian has responded to the whole situation with far more grace than I could have mustered. He’s currently at the top of my list of admirable people.

Comment #100999

Posted by Mike Z on May 16, 2006 7:48 PM (e)

JeffW–
DaveScot is one of the co-bloggers on Dembski’s Uncommon Descent.

Comment #101000

Posted by Mike Z on May 16, 2006 7:50 PM (e)

Oh yeah…and if DaveScot has published anything or is an expert in anything, I do not know what it is.

Comment #101001

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on May 16, 2006 7:58 PM (e)

BTW, the “JeffW” posting earlier in this thread provided a different email address than the “jeffw” who has posted here regularly before. If I get any response from an email inquiry, I will see about getting those two to use different posting handles.

Comment #101002

Posted by Spike on May 16, 2006 7:59 PM (e)

My guess would be that Padian is referring to what I’ve termed “fanatical evangelical atheists” — the sort of people who are not content merely with their own state of non-belief in deities, but will not rest until everybody else joins them in that state.

Wouldn’t that fit Robert Ingersol? It seems to apply to Richard Dawkins.

Corkscrew, but those guys that Gene Expression is talking about are fundy in their racism, not their atheism.

Like I tell people who try to claim that atheism is a religion - atheism is just a charcteristic of someone’s belief. They can be atheistic mysticalists, atheistic materialists, atheistic racists or whatever. There is nothing in atheism that requires or precludes any other kind of belief system, except non-acceptance of the belief in god(s).

Many people, even atheists, believe that atheism is the cause of their other belief systems, but I believe it is just a “symptom.”

Comment #101003

Posted by Arden Chatfield on May 16, 2006 8:20 PM (e)

Oh yeah…and if DaveScot has published anything or is an expert in anything, I do not know what it is.

That’s why Intelligent Design is so great. People who’ve never published anything or taken any relevant classes in biology can be experts in it. It’s very nonelitist that way.

Comment #101005

Posted by Shalini on May 16, 2006 9:03 PM (e)

“People who’ve never published anything or taken any relevant classes in biology can be experts in it.”

That’s why the DI are so big on press releases. Press releases don’t need peer-review.

Comment #101007

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on May 16, 2006 9:16 PM (e)

That’s why the DI are so big on press releases. Press releases don’t need peer-review.

Does it annoy anyone else that the self-serving missives from DI’s Ministry of Propaganda get released by Google News as “news stories” … ?

Comment #101009

Posted by JohnK on May 16, 2006 9:36 PM (e)

Should Dr. Padian have better things to do than define fundamentalism for Heddle, the scholars of the multi-volume Fundamentalism Project, Martin E. Marty, editor, could offer their ideas:

In this, the 5th and final volume, Fundamentalisms Comprehended, the distinguished contributors return to and test the endeavor’s beginning premise summarized in the last chapter of volume 1, Fundamentalisms Observed: that fundamentalisms in all faiths share certain “family resemblances” - as reactive, absolutist, and comprehensive modes of anti-secular religious activism.
With the research of the previous 7,500 pages in mind, the last several chapters of Fundamentalisms Comprehended delineate 5 ideological characteristics and 4 organizational characteristics of fundamentalism.

  1. major concern with the erosion of religion and its proper role in society: resentment of modernist, secular cultural hegemony with attempts to overturn the distribution of power
  2. selectivity in aspects of modernity their tradition/heritage either accepts or chooses to react against
  3. absolutism and inerrancy in at least one source of revelation: truth is revealed and unified
  4. sharp, unambiguous moral dualism, if not Manicheanism: envisioning themselves part of a cosmic struggle, and
  5. millennialism or messianism: seizing on and interpreting historical moments in light of the cosmic struggle

Organizational characteristics, based on religious idealism as basis for personal and communal identity, include:

  1. an elect or chosen membership, perceived as a righteous remnant; often as a minority even when numerically a local majority
  2. sharp group boundaries, intentional internal technical vocabulary
  3. charismatic authoritarian leaders; predominantly male and
  4. mandated behavioral requirements

Whether a necessary defining fundamentalist characteristic is – not mere opposition and confrontation towards both seculars and “wayward” co-religionists, but – a demonization of their opposition, is disputed.

Comment #101016

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on May 16, 2006 10:52 PM (e)

To “tango”/”idon’treallycare”:

There’s still something left over to be dealt with:

Is there some reason why “tango”/”idon’treallycare” should be excused from Rule 6 moderation?

Contact me off-board at welsberr at pandasthumb dot org if you have any interest in continuing to have access to this weblog.

Update: There has been no further word from “tango”/”idon’treallycare”, so that IP address is now blocked per Rule 6.

Comment #101022

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on May 17, 2006 12:07 AM (e)

““the sort of people who are not content merely with their own state of non-belief in deities, but will not rest until everybody else joins them in that state”

Yeah. I dislike proselytizing in any form.”

Thank you! Not being native english speaker, I had some trouble to understand the usage of “evangelical” in “fanatical evangelical atheists”. The dictionary had a subset of “ardent or crusading enthusiasm” and while crusades were campaigns, they weren’t conversion campaigns.

“Induce to join one’s cause” seems much more appropriate. So “fanatical proselytizing atheists” makes sense to me.

Comment #101030

Posted by heddle on May 17, 2006 4:48 AM (e)

John K,

I would say that is a very good definition. If that is Padian’s definition, then I have no further comment regarding his post.

BTW, As I understand it, this definition requires that one have all (or at least most) of those characteristics, not some or one. On Panda’s Thumb, for the most part, ideological characteristic 3 is sufficient reason to label someone a fundamentalist.

Comment #101032

Posted by Lars Karlsson on May 17, 2006 5:02 AM (e)

This paragraph by DaveScot made me quite nauseous. (The ‘gunman’ is targeting doctors performing abortions).

DaveScot at UD in 'Kevin Padian Hating Fundamentalists' in SciAm Letters wrote:

There is no comparison but Kevin Padian in his mindless rage against fundamentalists sees no difference. If you ask me it’s people like Kevin Padian who are a danger to society not fundamentalist Christians. If Padian can’t tell the difference between a mass murdering suicide bomber indiscriminately blowing up crowds of people and a gunman carefully selecting a single target for murder then Padian simply isn’t playing with a full deck and one has to hope he never decides to murder anyone because he isn’t able to distinguish between killing a crowd of strangers and a single person against whom he holds a grudge.

Comment #101036

Posted by Corkscrew on May 17, 2006 6:22 AM (e)

Lars Karlsson: It’s not even true. In my attempt at a follow-up post on UD (which mysteriously vanished) I pointed out a couple of cases of abortion-clinic gunmen killing indiscriminately. One of the scienceblogs crew pointed out a couple more. They weren’t exactly hard to find, either.

Comment #101037

Posted by Lars Karlsson on May 17, 2006 6:36 AM (e)

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more disgusting…

Comment #101038

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on May 17, 2006 6:40 AM (e)

heddle says:

“BTW, As I understand it, this definition requires that one have all (or at least most) of those characteristics, not some or one. On Panda’s Thumb, for the most part, ideological characteristic 3 is sufficient reason to label someone a fundamentalist.”

I was wondering about this too. For example, it is probably not the case that all fundamentalistic atheists have “resentment of modernist, secular cultural hegemony with attempts to overturn the distribution of power”. But I don’t see any requirements stated here to help us.

My experience is that characteristic 3 (“absolutism and inerrancy in at least one source of revelation: truth is revealed and unified”) is displayed, and then one can reasonable expect the others. It would be highly unlikely that mere comments would display all characteristics. Yet such a distinctive characteristic seems to be enough to distinguish this group of individuals. Perhaps the similarity and robustness of these behaviours are akin to (other) mental dysfunctions? ;-) :-(

Comment #101043

Posted by George on May 17, 2006 7:27 AM (e)

heddle wrote:

BTW, As I understand it, this definition requires that one have all (or at least most) of those characteristics, not some or one. On Panda’s Thumb, for the most part, ideological characteristic 3 is sufficient reason to label someone a fundamentalist.

Note that the five characteristics above are just that, general characteristics, not a list of criteria you have to fulfil to be a fundamentalist. My understanding is that a Christian fundamentalist is simply defined by a belief in the literal truth of the whole Bible- no interpretation allowed. In that sense, it’s not a pejorative term at all, just a description. Maybe this also defines a fundamentalist from another religion (Muslim, Jewish, Pastafarian, etc.). But those 5 characteristics are really accurate for religious fundamentalists, especially #4. Probably have to come up with a revised list of characteristics for “fundamentalist atheists”.

I wonder could someone be considered a Manchester United (or other football team with fanatical support beyond their actual level of talent) fundamentalist?

Comment #101044

Posted by wamba on May 17, 2006 7:33 AM (e)

Fundamentalist atheists? Did I read that right, on this board?

I’m confused—how is it possible for an atheist to be a fundamentalist?

An interesting question, and one taken up recently by AC Grayling at the Grauniad: Can an atheist be a fundamentalist?

What would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? Would he be someone who believed only somewhat that there are no supernatural entities in the universe - perhaps that there is only part of a god (a divine foot, say, or buttock)?

Comment #101047

Posted by Renier on May 17, 2006 8:02 AM (e)

I suppose the reference to Fundamentalist atheist is simply an evangelistic atheist, someone who openly opposes those who hold beliefs and tries to convert other towards his own views? The choice of the word Fundamentalist is strange, although I can see it as referring to fanatical or extremist. But, this would then no longer have relevance to the beliefs of a person, but to the actions.

I do regard fundamentalism as the greatest problem that faces the civilized world in this century, because (as John McCain notes) it encourages agents of intolerance. This applies to fundamentalism of all stripes – Muslim, Christian, Jewist, atheist, whatever – and I make that clear in my talks. Because these people can’t get along with each other, everyone in the world suffers as a result.

Would Dawkins be classified as a Fundamentalist atheist?

Is there something as a Fundamentalist Buddhist? Is there something as a Fundamentalist agnostic? I just find the use of the word Fundamentalist rather strange. Would the word extremist not be a better choice?

Comment #101049

Posted by heddle on May 17, 2006 8:23 AM (e)

George wrote:

My understanding is that a Christian fundamentalist is simply defined by a belief in the literal truth of the whole Bible- no interpretation allowed.

Then the set of fundamentalists is the empty set. If you give me any Christian of any known theological persuasion, I can find verses that he won’t take literally–and I mean substantive verses, not just obvious metaphors.

For example, probably the most obvious choice for fundamentalist are probably the hard core dispensationalists (think Tim LaHaye) who pride themselves on their literalism–yet (just one of many examples) they do not take eschatological time references literally–e.g., “this generation” (Matt. 24:34) is taken to mean this “race” (in order to keep the events described in the future.) For the same reason, they would not take the “the things that must soon take place” of Rev. 1:1 literally.

Comment #101050

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on May 17, 2006 8:32 AM (e)

“I suppose the reference to Fundamentalist atheist is simply an evangelistic atheist”

Ah, yes, I made a mistake in my latest comment. I don’t particularly like the terms “fundamentalistic” and “evangelical” here, since they are religiously inspired, and atheism has different epistemological grounds, character and practices. I believe I will try to use “intolerant” and “proselytizing” instead, they seem to me to be more precise.

Comment #101053

Posted by Ric on May 17, 2006 8:48 AM (e)

Kevin, I think you are being very charitable concerning Dembski’s apology. It was a backhanded apology at best, and it was anything but gracious. Consider these comments by Dembski:

…(not all of them: Padian in his letter above does not dispute that he singled out “young” “Asian” “fundamentalists” as supporters of ID)…

and

I’m not sure that “bigot” is any worse than “fundamentalist” (he apparently thinks “fundamentalist” is an appropriate designation for Christians who hold to ID). Moreover, Padian himself has not been averse to the ad hominem, comparing (see here) my good friend and colleague Jonathan Wells to “the talented Mr. Ripley” (a pathological murderer and impersonator portrayed by Matt Damon in the film by that name).

His apology amounts to something like “Yeah, I was wrong, but Padian is still a bad guy, so yeah, I’m sorry, but not really.” Talk about lacking nobility!

Comment #101061

Posted by AR on May 17, 2006 9:41 AM (e)

IMHO the main point regarding Dembski’s apology is that it sounds insincere. Given Dembski’s well documented record of an unethical behavior and his habitual avoidance of ever admitting errors, his apology to Padian most probably was caused by him getting scared of Padian’s possible actions. On top of other fine qualities, Dembski also seems to be a coward. Lately he has been hiding behind the likes of davescott, letting the latter perform dirty deeds on his blog and never repudiating even the most egregious escapades of that cyberspace hooligan.

Comment #101063

Posted by wamba on May 17, 2006 10:07 AM (e)

Moreover, Padian himself has not been averse to the ad hominem, comparing (see here) my good friend and colleague Jonathan Wells to “the talented Mr. Ripley” (a pathological murderer and impersonator portrayed by Matt Damon in the film by that name).

Wow, what a sense of culture Dembski has. Note that he mentions the movie rather than the Patricia Highsmith book upon which it is based.

Comment #101065

Posted by wamba on May 17, 2006 10:17 AM (e)

IMHO the main point regarding Dembski’s apology is that it sounds insincere. Given Dembski’s well documented record of an unethical behavior and his habitual avoidance of ever admitting errors…

Well I’m sure that the higher-ups at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Discovery Institute will quickly realize that Dembski is a stain on their records of honest and enlightened expression….

never mind.

Comment #101070

Posted by Raging Bee on May 17, 2006 10:53 AM (e)

Example of a “non-fundamentalist atheist:” one who believes that no God exists in any objective sense, but who also believes that gods may, for certain practical and explanatory purposes, exist (and affect behavior) in a subjective sense for certain people, and have beneficial effects for those people.

Such a person might say to persons of faith: “I don’t share your belief, but if your belief keeps you off drugs or otherwise makes you happy or stable, or helps you function responsibly in the real world, then it’s ‘true’ for you and I won’t argue with it.”

Comment #101077

Posted by Ric on May 17, 2006 11:36 AM (e)

Raging Bee, where I come from that’s not called a non-fundamentalist atheist. It’s called a Relativist.

Comment #101079

Posted by Arden Chatfield on May 17, 2006 11:47 AM (e)

Raging Bee, where I come from that’s not called a non-fundamentalist atheist. It’s called a Relativist.

And where is that?

Comment #101087

Posted by AC on May 17, 2006 12:22 PM (e)

Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

(quoting Renier) “I suppose the reference to Fundamentalist atheist is simply an evangelistic atheist”

Ah, yes, I made a mistake in my latest comment. I don’t particularly like the terms “fundamentalistic” and “evangelical” here, since they are religiously inspired, and atheism has different epistemological grounds, character and practices. I believe I will try to use “intolerant” and “proselytizing” instead, they seem to me to be more precise.

Of those four words, I’d say “proselytize” fits best. “Fundamentalist atheist” is somewhat redundant to me, since atheism only consists of one belief: that a god or gods do not exist. I can only imagine a “non-fundamentalist atheist” as someone who says “Yeah, the god of Abraham exists, but I don’t believe in Him”. :)

Raging Bee wrote:

Such a person might say to persons of faith: “I don’t share your belief, but if your belief keeps you off drugs or otherwise makes you happy or stable, or helps you function responsibly in the real world, then it’s ‘true’ for you and I won’t argue with it.”

I don’t agree with that relativism, or the total refusal to argue, but I generally agree with the sentiment. I’d change it to: “I don’t share your belief, but if your belief keeps you off drugs or otherwise makes you happy or stable, or helps you function responsibly in the real world, then I won’t antagonize you too much, for the same reason that I don’t poke rattlesnakes or kick the crutches out from under people with casts on their legs.”

However, just as I would hope a broken leg eventually heals, so the cast can come off and the crutch be discarded, I would also hope that such believers eventually find strength within themselves - and the wisdom to know it is their strength.

Comment #101091

Posted by Raging Bee on May 17, 2006 12:33 PM (e)

AC: Why “antagonize” such people AT ALL? Do you feel “antagonized” by their adherence to a different belief?

You wrote:

However, just as I would hope a broken leg eventually heals, so the cast can come off and the crutch be discarded, I would also hope that such believers eventually find strength within themselves - and the wisdom to know it is their strength.

Be careful who you label handicapped or “weak.” Many of the people who rely on the “crutch” of religion have shown themselves to be a lot stronger, more decent, more mentally agile, wiser, and more open-minded than those who so loudly claim they don’t need any such “crutch.”

Comment #101096

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on May 17, 2006 1:04 PM (e)

““Fundamentalist atheist” is somewhat redundant to me, since atheism only consists of one belief: that a god or gods do not exist.”

Now you are conflating atheist and intolerant atheist. BTW, atheism isn’t a belief, it is at least a lack of belief confirmed with a lack of observations to the contrary. (I happen to believe there is more, but this seems to be the accepted thinking.)

Comment #101098

Posted by Moses on May 17, 2006 1:23 PM (e)

This is about the most accurate definition of fundamentalist I’ve ever come across:

“Fundamentalist” describes a movement to return to what is considered the defining or founding principles of the religion.

Basically, it’s a roll-back of scriptural interpretation, principle and practice to a much earlier and, typically, primitive version. The problem is that most religions have evolved away from their bronze-age principles to deal with our greater understandings of the universe. The fundamentalist, in going back to a bronze-age world-view, tries to erase these understandings and frequently ends up with a schizophrenic world-view.

Comment #101099

Posted by Arden Chatfield on May 17, 2006 1:27 PM (e)

Is there something as a Fundamentalist Buddhist?

There appear to have been some examples, but not many. The whole idea would be a classic example of Missing the Point.

Comment #101100

Posted by AC on May 17, 2006 1:43 PM (e)

Torbjörn, point taken. Change “belief” to “assertion”, “position”, “conclusion”, etc.

Raging Bee wrote:

Why “antagonize” such people AT ALL?

My wording (“I won’t antagonize you too much”) was meant to be humorous. Maybe it only amused me; I’ll elaborate. I don’t go out of my way to antagonize people, but if I hold a position contrary to someone else’s, and they bring it up, I won’t just change the subject for the sake of some perceived civility. The problem when someone is a recovering addict, for example, is that they tend to be more sensitive - and justifiably so. I can sympathize with that on a basic animal level if nothing else, so I’ll give their perception of antagonism the benefit of the doubt.

Be careful who you label handicapped or “weak.” Many of the people who rely on the “crutch” of religion have shown themselves to be a lot stronger, more decent, more mentally agile, wiser, and more open-minded than those who so loudly claim they don’t need any such “crutch.”

The crutch analogy refers only to those whose belief “keeps [them] off drugs or otherwise makes [them] happy or stable, or helps [them] function responsibly in the real world”. The virtue of those who are religious and also “stronger, more decent, etc.” is not the religion - it is the people themselves, even when they believe it isn’t.

Comment #101102

Posted by Raging Bee on May 17, 2006 2:01 PM (e)

The problem when someone is a recovering addict, for example, is that they tend to be more sensitive - and justifiably so.

“Sensitive” how, exactly? The recovering addicts I’ve met didn’t seem that “sensitive” about their beliefs. In fact, they seemed to feel pretty secure: it worked for them, and that’s all they needed to know. If you tried to jump down their throats about it, they’d simply shrug you off and get on with their lives.

The crutch analogy refers only to those whose belief “keeps [them] off drugs or otherwise makes [them] happy or stable, or helps [them] function responsibly in the real world”.

And still the analogy fails: those to whom you refer are very often stronger than those who insist on looking down their noses at them.

The virtue of those who are religious and also “stronger, more decent, etc.” is not the religion - it is the people themselves, even when they believe it isn’t.

If a person’s beliefs and values are an integral part of his/her character, how can you separate them? That’s a bit like saying “I deserve credit for saving this kid’s life; my belief that I had a moral obligation to save the kid had nothing to do with it.”

Comment #101105

Posted by Tony on May 17, 2006 2:08 PM (e)

In defining who or what a fundamentalist is…

Moses wrote:

Basically, it’s a roll-back of scriptural interpretation, principle and practice to a much earlier and, typically, primitive version. The problem is that most religions have evolved away from their bronze-age principles to deal with our greater understandings of the universe. The fundamentalist, in going back to a bronze-age world-view, tries to erase these understandings and frequently ends up with a schizophrenic world-view.

I had my own opinion as to how to best define a fundamentalist, but I like this definition a whole lot better!

Comment #101110

Posted by Raging Bee on May 17, 2006 2:32 PM (e)

Moses’ definition of a “fundamentalist” works for me, and it seems to be the definition most people use in daily discourse. However, there are at least some Christians who call themselves “Christian Fundamentalists” because they subscribe to the interpretation of Christian doctrine set forth in a book called “The Fundamentals,” published (I think) in the 1940s.

I have not read this book, so I can’t say how that definition differs from Moses’.

Now thiat I think of it, I question Moses’ definition: if a Christian rejected everything in the Bible except the words of Jesus himself, would that make him a “fundamentalist?” There could be more than one “much earlier…primitive version” of a given belief. What about a Muslim who accepted the Koran, but none of the subsequent Hadiths?

Comment #101115

Posted by Sir_Toejam on May 17, 2006 3:13 PM (e)

Raging Bee, where I come from that’s not called a non-fundamentalist atheist. It’s called a Relativist.

hmm, IIRC there was a nice contribution to the discussion of relativism on the thumb fairly recently, maybe last month?

anyone recall?

Comment #101122

Posted by Mike on May 17, 2006 4:43 PM (e)

BTW, atheism isn’t a belief, it is at least a lack of belief confirmed with a lack of observations to the contrary.

Mere lack of belief in god(s) is agnosticism. Atheism is the positive belief there are no gods or god. Not a religious belief, but a belief similar to that of a person who positively believes we have not been visited by aliens. or who believes China exists.

The bit about observation is a red herring in defining atheism (or any other belief, whether it be in god(s) or the existence of China). A person can be an atheist (or believe China exists) because the voices in his head tell him there are no gods (or that China exists) and he’s no less an atheist (or consumer of Chinese takeout) for the the origin of the belief.

Comment #101124

Posted by ben on May 17, 2006 4:57 PM (e)

While Padian is gracious in accepting Dembski’s bogus apology, that’s exactly what it is–a bogus apology. A true apology is when one recognizes that one has unintentionally done wrong and expresses contrition at the error. The concept of apology does not apply when one intentionally does wrong and apologizes to save face, out of embarassment at having one’s intentional mendacity exposed, and when one is primarily worried about the negative consequences of not apologizing.

It’s not as if Dembski really thought Padian was a racist and wanted to warn the world of evil afoot. Dembski saw Padian as a bitter enemy, lashed out clumsily and intentionally to smear him as something he wasn’t, then took it back when he realized he’d made a total ass of himself and was probably worried about exposure to libel. That’s not an apology, it’s old-fashioned dirty tricks by someone with little else to offer but machiavellian maneuvering and self-serving pseudointellectual blather. He’s not apolgizing, he’s an apologist, and one who will go as far as he thinks he can get away with do defend his bankrupt belief system and–more importantly I think–his cash cow, ID.

Comment #101125

Posted by Raging Bee on May 17, 2006 4:59 PM (e)

No, Ric, that’s not what a “relativist” is, at least not in the dialects of English I’ve herd used all my life. Intolerant political and/or religious absolutists may use the word that way, but they twist and misuse words all the time.

Comment #101127

Posted by wamba on May 17, 2006 5:03 PM (e)

Mere lack of belief in god(s) is agnosticism. Atheism is the positive belief there are no gods or god. Not a religious belief, but a belief similar to that of a person who positively believes we have not been visited by aliens. or who believes China exists.

There is disagreement about the relevant definitions. Some, such as George Smith, say that agnosticism is a position on the knowability of the existence of god(s), not on their existence. He therefore states that agnostics are still either theists or atheists, depending on their beliefs on the existence of god(s).

Some agnostics do not like this definition, because the very reason they chose the word agnosticism is because they were looking for a noncommital middle ground of not declaring either theism or agnosticism.

Comment #101129

Posted by AC on May 17, 2006 6:05 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

“Sensitive” how, exactly? The recovering addicts I’ve met didn’t seem that “sensitive” about their beliefs. In fact, they seemed to feel pretty secure: it worked for them, and that’s all they needed to know.

Sounds like a defense mechanism to me. Maybe I should have said “defensive” instead of “sensitive”. At any rate, I try not to break the casts and poke the wounds of the injured.

And still the analogy fails: those to whom you refer are very often stronger than those who insist on looking down their noses at them.

If they overcame their addiction through some inner strength that had nothing to do with religion, then the religion is superfluous. If religion is all that saved them, it’s a crutch. As I’ve said before, I don’t begrudge anyone their crutches as long as they don’t use them as truncheons.

If a person’s beliefs and values are an integral part of his/her character, how can you separate them? That’s a bit like saying “I deserve credit for saving this kid’s life; my belief that I had a moral obligation to save the kid had nothing to do with it.”

My point is that a person’s religion is not necessarily an integral part of their beliefs and values, or the source of their strength, decency, etc. When it is, it’s a crutch. Come to think of it, it’s sometimes more like a cane, which can be used either for walking assistance or merely as a fashion accessory.

Comment #101131

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on May 17, 2006 6:14 PM (e)

This is about the most accurate definition of fundamentalist I’ve ever come across:

“Fundamentalist” describes a movement to return to what is considered the defining or founding principles of the religion.

Basically, it’s a roll-back of scriptural interpretation, principle and practice to a much earlier and, typically, primitive version. The problem is that most religions have evolved away from their bronze-age principles to deal with our greater understandings of the universe. The fundamentalist, in going back to a bronze-age world-view, tries to erase these understandings and frequently ends up with a schizophrenic world-view.

Point of fact here:

It is simply wrong to assume that a literal interpretation of the Bible is the “earliest” or “most primitive” condition. Au contraire, none of the early church figures, from Constantine to Augustine to Benedict, declared that the Bible had to be interpreted literally. It’s why the earliest churches discouraged its members from actually reading the Bible – without a grounding in church history and theology, they thought, “common people” might take the words of the Bible as more authoritative and final than they actually were, a heresy known as “biblidolatry”, or treating a Book as if it were God.

Of course, NOBODY could be THAT stupid, so as to be unable to tell the difference between God and a Book About God, could they …… . ?

Even the Protestant revolutionaries didn’t necessarily advocate a literal interpretation of the Bible — they simply wanted to be their OWN priest, instead of depending upon the interpretations of other priests.

Fundamentalism as an organized religious movement, moreover, didn’t exist until the 1910’s, with the publication of “The Fundamentals”, the series of booklets which gave the movement its name.

Comment #101132

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on May 17, 2006 6:17 PM (e)

Is there something as a Fundamentalist Buddhist?

There appear to have been some examples, but not many. The whole idea would be a classic example of Missing the Point.

Indeed, the very idea of being a “Buddhist” is also a case of “missing the point”, since the entire point is, well, to be yourself. And nobody else can tell you how to do that. Not Buddha, not a priest, not even God (if such exists). Only you can do that.

Buddhism itself is, therefore, just another crutch that must be dropped along the way.

Comment #101133

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on May 17, 2006 6:20 PM (e)

Mike says:

““BTW, atheism isn’t a belief, it is at least a lack of belief confirmed with a lack of observations to the contrary. ”

Mere lack of belief in god(s) is agnosticism. Atheism is the positive belief there are no gods or god. Not a religious belief, but a belief similar to that of a person who positively believes we have not been visited by aliens. or who believes China exists.”

Fine. I was merely trying to conform to what one commenter in my last discussion tried to impose as the major definitions (weak atheism = agnosticism, major support = “know”; strong atheism = atheism, minor support = “belief”) even though I had made my definitions as you do. wamba points out that there is a disagreement here.

I am not comfortable to make the definitions theory laden with where the belief lies. The best definitions seems to me to be that agnosticism is the claim that we don’t know whether gods exist or not and atheism is the claim that gods doesn’t exist. One of these claims is corresponding to facts, since they are stronger than empty religious beliefs, as you point out. I have my conclusion, you have yours; they may be different.

“The bit about observation is a red herring in defining atheism (or any other belief, whether it be in god(s) or the existence of China). A person can be an atheist (or believe China exists) because the voices in his head tell him there are no gods (or that China exists) and he’s no less an atheist (or consumer of Chinese takeout) for the the origin of the belief.”

I don’t think this is correct, however. We are discussing the general definitions, not special cases. An analog to what you suggest could be a person whose head voices tells him that special relativity is a correct theory. He isn’t more of an educated person because that claim happens to be correct.

Comment #101134

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on May 17, 2006 6:21 PM (e)

However, there are at least some Christians who call themselves “Christian Fundamentalists” because they subscribe to the interpretation of Christian doctrine set forth in a book called “The Fundamentals,” published (I think) in the 1940s.

I have not read this book, so I can’t say how that definition differs from Moses’.

A history lesson:

Christian fundamentalism is almost uniquely an American phenomenon. Although most of the history of fundamentalist thought occurs in the United States, however, this phenomenon was itself, originally, a reaction to a series of intellectual trends that happened in Europe.

From the time of the earliest Christian church in the first century CE, to the time of the European Enlightenment, the dominant view was that the Bible had been directly revealed by God to a small number of authors. The first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), were, according to tradition, all written by Moses during the 40 years of wandering in the Sinai desert.

One of the first criticisms of the traditional view of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was made in Germany in 1520, when the Reformation scholar Carlstadt wrote an essay pointing out that the description of Moses’s death (Deuteronomy 32:5-12) shared several literary characteristics with portions of the rest of Deuteronomy. Since, Carlstadt pointed out, Moses could not have written of his own death, he concluded that the same person had written both sections of the book, and that person could not have been Moses. In 1651, Thomas Hobbes, in his book Leviathan, also concluded that several portions of the Pentateuch could not have been written by Moses. In support of his hypothesis, he cited several Biblical verses which referred to events that happened after Moses’s death. Twenty-five years later, the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza concluded that not only had Moses not written the Pentateuch, but much of the rest of the Old Testament was not written by a single person either, and was probably edited together from pre-existing manuscripts.

The first serious attempt to examine the matter happened in 1753, when a French doctor, Jean Astruc, published a pamphlet (anonymously) titled Conjectures on the Original Documents That Moses Appears to Have Used in Composing the Book of Genesis. Astruc pointed out that many of the incidents and events described in Genesis were “doublets”, that is, they often were described twice in back-to-back accounts that differed in details. There are, for instance, two different accounts of the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2, and two different accounts of the Flood story in later chapters. The presence of these repeated but different accounts, Astruc concluded, didn’t make sense if, as tradition held, Genesis was a single narrative written in complete form by a single author.

To explain the presence of these doublets, Astruc proposed what later became known as the “Documentary Hypothesis”. Using the techniques of literary and textual analysis that had already been used for secular literature, Astruc compared the wording and style of various passages in Genesis and concluded that there were two distinctly different accounts in Genesis which, based on differing literary conventions, were written by two different authors at different times, and then later combined into one book. One of these accounts consistently referred to God as “Elohim”, or “The Lord”, while the other account consistently referred to God by the name “Jehovah”. Astruc labeled these two different sources as “A” and “B”.

Within a short time, a group of German scholars expanded upon Astruc’s ideas, and produced a school of Biblical study that became known as “Higher Criticism”. By taking the linguistic/textual analysis done by Astruc and applying it to the rest of the Old Testament (which also contained doublets or even triplets – there are for instance three different versions of the Ten Commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy), the German scholars Eichhorn, Ewal, DeWette, Graf and Wellhausen identified four different sources for the Old Testament. One of these source documents always referred to God by the name “Jehovah”, and therefore was labeled the “J” source. The J source was also distinguished by the particular words it used to describe the pre-Israeli inhabitants of the Promised Land, and tended to depict God in anthropomorphic terms. From implicit political assumptions made in the descriptions, it is apparent that the J source was identified with the Aaronid priesthood which was centered in Judah. The second identified source always referred to God as “Elohim”, and was called the “E” source. The E source used different words to describe the pre-Israeli inhabitants of the Holy Land, and also tended to avoid anthropomorphic depictions of God. The political opinions implied in the account suggest that this source was allied with the Shiloh priesthood in Israel. The book of Deuteronomy had linguistic styles and topics that did not match either the J or E source, and thus was identified with a different source “D”. Literary similarities led to the conclusion that the D source had also written the books of Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, and First and Second Kings. Since the D source makes references to material found in both the J and E source, it was concluded that it had been written later. Finally, there is a fourth source text that seemed to be most concerned with details of rituals and the conduct of priests, as well as a penchant for long lists of dates and geneologies. This has been labeled the “P” source (for “priestly”). This is the source for the detailed laws of Leviticus. The P source is generally held to have been the most recent, chronologically. All of these varying sources were later edited together into their final form by an unknown person or persons known as the Redactor, who probably performed this task in about 400 BC. This view, known as the Documentary Hypothesis, is still held today by most Biblical scholars.

When the Documentary Hypothesis entered the United States during the late 19th century and became widely accepted (under the name “Modernism”), it exploded like a bombshell among the conservative elements of the Protestant churches. Not only did the German school reject the traditional idea that the Pentateuch was the work of a single author who had recorded the words dictated by God, but it concluded that the Bible itself was a collection of different documents by different authors, each with differing theologies and motives. The American conservatives flatly rejected the idea of a Bible that was pieced together years after the events which it describes. William Jennings Bryan, one of the most prominent Christian conservatives, thundered, “Give the modernist three words, ‘allegorical,’ ‘poetical,’ and ‘symbolically,’ and he can suck the meaning out of every vital doctrine of the Christian Church and every passage in the Bible to which he objects.”

In response to the Modernist Higher Criticism, conservative Protestants in the United States met, in the Niagara Bible Conference in1897, to hammer out a counter-theology, a process continued at the 1910 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. The conservative traditionalists settled on a set of five principles which, they argued, defined Christianity. These were (1) the inerrancy of the Bible, (2) the Virgin Birth and the deity of Jesus, (3) the belief that Jesus died to redeem mankind’s sin and that salvation resulted through faith in Jesus, (4) the physical resurrection of Jesus, and (5) the imminent Second Coming of Jesus. Between 1910 and 1915, a series of twelve booklets were published, titled The Fundamentals; A Testimony to the Truth, containing 94 articles by 64 authors, setting out and defending these principles. The introduction to the first volume declared, “In 1909 God moved two Christian laymen to set aside a large sum of money for issuing twelve volumes that would set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and which were to be sent free of charge to ministers of the gospel, missionaries, Sunday school superintendents, and others engaged in aggressive Christian work throughout the English speaking world.” From these booklets, the conservative Christians became known as “the fundamentalists”. Financed by the wealthy oil businessmen Milton and Lyman Stewart, some 3 million copies of The Fundamentals were printed. In 1919, the World Conference on Christian Fundamentals met in Philadelphia. At around the same time, the Moody Bible Institute was formed to publish fundamentalist defenses of Biblical inerrancy, and fundamentalist theologian Cyrus Scofield published an annotated Reference Bible, with margin notes defending literalist interpretations of Biblical passages. The fundamentalist conviction that they alone were the True Christians led to a long series of bitter fights with other Christians, as fundamentalists sought to take over as many theological institutes as they could in order to purge them of “modernists” and “liberals”.

In addition to the five Biblical “fundamentals”, the conservative Protestants also came to largely accept and embrace a number of other concepts that had not previously been a tenet of any of the major Christian denominations. These included (1) exclusivity, the idea that only the fundamentalists are able to authoritatively interpret the “true meaning” of the Bible, and thus are the only legitimate “True Christians”, and (2) separation, the idea that not only are any other Christian interpretations (Catholic, liberal churches) utterly wrong, but it is the duty of fundamentalists to oppose and overcome them, while remaining apart from their corrupting influence. These characteristics, indeed, have today come to be almost the defining characteristics of any “fundamentalist” church.

The majority of the essays included in The Fundamentals were attacks on Higher Criticism, and defenses of an inerrant Bible that was to be taken as literal history and revelation. Other essays attacked the idea of the “Social Gospel”, in which many liberal Christians asserted that Christians should ally with other social groups and become active in political movements to improve the living conditions for all humans. The fundamentalists rejected this idea, arguing instead that, since the Second Coming was imminent, the only task of the church should be to save as many souls as possible in the short time left before the world came to an end. The fundamentalists also did not want to associate with what they viewed as heretical and apostate liberal Christians.

It was the third major target of the fundamentalists, however, which ignited a conflict that continues to this day and is the direct ancestor of the creationist/intelligent design movement – the political campaign targeting science, and, in particular, evolution.

Comment #101137

Posted by David B. Benson on May 17, 2006 6:29 PM (e)

Lenny, thank you for the history lesson!

Comment #101149

Posted by Dan on May 17, 2006 7:50 PM (e)

I second that. Very good essay. Thanks for taking the time.

Comment #101150

Posted by Moses on May 17, 2006 8:03 PM (e)

Comment #101110

Posted by Raging Bee on May 17, 2006 02:32 PM (e)

Now thiat I think of it, I question Moses’ definition: if a Christian rejected everything in the Bible except the words of Jesus himself, would that make him a “fundamentalist?” There could be more than one “much earlier…primitive version” of a given belief. What about a Muslim who accepted the Koran, but none of the subsequent Hadiths?

It is not about Old Testament/New Testament emphasis in beliefs. There are many fundamentalist churches that don’t use the old testament as anything but filler and maybe the odd Bible story, but otherwise reserve their doctrinal teaching from the New Testament. Whereas, there are also many that (in vain) try to reconcile them. (Usually by ignoring inconvenient things like the Sermon on the Mount and declaring errors and contradictions as metaphors and allegories or making up elaborate explanations how two clearly contradictory points are not.)

It much more has to do with getting back to the ‘fundamental,’ core scriptural roots of a religion in some reaction to modernism in religion. They’re really searching for some type of doctrinal purity, and, of course, to recapture those “good-old-days of morality” bronze-age roots/interpretations of the religious text in question.

Ironically, within fundamentalism itself, the playing field is not uniform. There is a strong anti-rapture movement because it’s not in the Bible. Another area where fundamentalists disagree with each other is dispensationalism. I know there are more, but those are the two biggies.

Comment #101154

Posted by Moses on May 17, 2006 8:38 PM (e)

Comment #101131

Posted by ‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank on May 17, 2006 06:14 PM (e)

This is about the most accurate definition of fundamentalist I’ve ever come across:

“Fundamentalist” describes a movement to return to what is considered the defining or founding principles of the religion.

Basically, it’s a roll-back of scriptural interpretation, principle and practice to a much earlier and, typically, primitive version. The problem is that most religions have evolved away from their bronze-age principles to deal with our greater understandings of the universe. The fundamentalist, in going back to a bronze-age world-view, tries to erase these understandings and frequently ends up with a schizophrenic world-view.

Point of fact here:

It is simply wrong to assume that a literal interpretation of the Bible is the “earliest” or “most primitive” condition. Au contraire, none of the early church figures, from Constantine to Augustine to Benedict, declared that the Bible had to be interpreted literally. It’s why the earliest churches discouraged its members from actually reading the Bible — without a grounding in church history and theology, they thought, “common people” might take the words of the Bible as more authoritative and final than they actually were, a heresy known as “biblidolatry”, or treating a Book as if it were God.

Of course, NOBODY could be THAT stupid, so as to be unable to tell the difference between God and a Book About God, could they …… . ?

Even the Protestant revolutionaries didn’t necessarily advocate a literal interpretation of the Bible —- they simply wanted to be their OWN priest, instead of depending upon the interpretations of other priests.

Fundamentalism as an organized religious movement, moreover, didn’t exist until the 1910’s, with the publication of “The Fundamentals”, the series of booklets which gave the movement its name.

I don’t really know why this argument was made because it doesn’t seem to be addressing what I was saying.

As for the term fundamentalist, I know it’s origins. But like the word “gay” it no longer means only what it meant 95 years ago. (Or even when the Flintstones were popular on TV.) Which is why instead of going over the five-points of fundamentalism which, ironically, apply to many mainstream Christian churches as well, I prefer that more current sociological definition than an old-fashioned doctrinal definition.

The five beliefs of “doctrinally defined” fundamentalism are:

1. Biblical inerrancy
2. Virgin Birth & the Divinity of Jesus
3. The doctrine of atonement through Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s grace and human faith.
4. The Resurrection of Jesus.
5. The authenticity of Jesus’ miracles and the second coming.

These “fundamental doctrines” were being eroded by “liberal” and “modernist” views. Views that you can find in many existing churches today, like the UCC (the ones with the controversial commercials) and Unitarian Universalists.

I would hazard to guess who has more believers. But I will say in most of the churches I went to before I gave it up as rubbish, including the one in which I was ordained, fundamentalism with some tempering of modernism is the usual course. Case in point, even the Mormons and Southern Baptists have dropped their “blacks are the ‘beasts in the field’” schlock from Leviticus.

Comment #101157

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on May 17, 2006 9:15 PM (e)

I don’t really know why this argument was made because it doesn’t seem to be addressing what I was saying.

It does indeed. Fundamentalism is not a return to early “bronze age” interpretations. Indeed, the Bronze Age priests who wrote it didn’t take the Bible literally as history, and didn’t intend for others too, either. Neither did any of the earliest Christian church founders.

Fundamentalism simply is not the oldest or the original way of looking at the Bible (although they very much would like everyone to accept that it is, since that gives them, in their view, added authority). Indeed, fundamentalist literalism is one of the most *recent* ways of looking at the Bible. It is not a “return to” any earlier tradition. It is instead the invention of a totally new tradition. The fundies are not “traditionalists”, nor are they “conservatives”. They are innovators and revolutionaries, who have utterly changed the traditional views of the Bible.

Similarly, in politics, the fundies are not “conservatives”. They do not want to get government off our backs; they want to get government in our bedrooms. They have no interest in protecting existing social relationships; they want to overthrow them. They do not want to conserve traditional American society; they want to replace it completely with their own version of theocracy.

They are radicals, in the truest sense of that word.

Comment #101174

Posted by Raging Bee on May 18, 2006 12:23 AM (e)

AC wrote:

My point is that a person’s religion is not necessarily an integral part of their beliefs and values, or the source of their strength, decency, etc. When it is, it’s a crutch.

So religion is supposed to be superfluous, but when it’s more than superfluous – i.e., when someone tries to apply it to improve his life – it’s a “crutch.” You’re really desperate to avoid giving religion credit for anything, aren’t you? And you’re calling others “defensive?”

One more thing: there’s a difference between “healing,” which is, well, healing, and a “crutch,” which provides limited mobility without healing anything. You’re overusing the latter term. Sometimes spirituality is a crutch; sometimes it heals.

Comment #101199

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on May 18, 2006 8:01 AM (e)

Torbjörn says:

““The bit about observation is a red herring in defining atheism (or any other belief, whether it be in god(s) or the existence of China). A person can be an atheist (or believe China exists) because the voices in his head tell him there are no gods (or that China exists) and he’s no less an atheist (or consumer of Chinese takeout) for the the origin of the belief.”

I don’t think this is correct, however. We are discussing the general definitions, not special cases. An analog to what you suggest could be a person whose head voices tells him that special relativity is a correct theory. He isn’t more of an educated person because that claim happens to be correct.”

My analogy is a failed one. But I still think that my objection stands. Then analysing a claim it is the general definition we must look at. Special cases may affect how the claim affects us, of course.

Comment #101202

Posted by some dude on May 18, 2006 8:29 AM (e)

Raging Bee,

I interpret differently what AC is saying (if my interpretation is wrong, AC should definitely correct me).

Words, ideas, opinions, adages, beliefs, religious doctrine, etc. are merely signposts pointing toward various ways of acting and living. They may point the way very clearly, but believers actually have to follow those signposts for anything to happen. They have to make the journey revealed by whatever ideas, opinions, or beliefs that they hold. The beliefs or ideas won’t do the work for them. Thus, the strength to act or change comes from them; religion is just a guide.

And maybe you’re right. People wouldn’t know where to direct their personal strength without some values or belief systems to guide them. Some people probably *need* a religious message to motivate them. Others need a well-worn secular adage. Others need a slogan. Others a mantra. Though I personally believe that all of these message forms amount to the same thing (basic guidance), some may prefer one form of message over another. That’s fine, but from my point of view (and possibly AC’s), this doesn’t actually make that message-form anything special (i.e. religion isn’t ‘special’ in the realm of guidance–but maybe you’re not claiming that it is). It still just points the way, and we still have to follow it for anything to happen.

Whether religious beliefs actually ‘do some work’ for us or whether they’re just there to direct us when we do the work ourselves is a pretty subjective judgment call. The answer seems obvious to me, but I suspect that an alternative answer seems just as obvious to you. I actually don’t think we can argue each other on that one, so at this point (if my interpretation of what AC was saying is reasonable) perhaps we agree to disagree?

Also, as a hair-splitting side note, crutches don’t heal, but they do allow things to heal.

Comment #101203

Posted by Raging Bee on May 18, 2006 8:50 AM (e)

…(i.e. religion isn’t ‘special’ in the realm of guidance—but maybe you’re not claiming that it is)…

Indeed I am not: it’s not “special” in a good way, as in always superior to education or secular forms of guidance; nor is it “special” in a bad way, as in a useless prop or “crutch” that never contributes to a good result.

Comment #101212

Posted by some dude on May 18, 2006 10:03 AM (e)

Raging bee,

I think we’re on the same page, then; what you’re saying sounds exactly right to me.

Comment #101223

Posted by K.E. on May 18, 2006 10:47 AM (e)

Lenny it seems Fundy irony is not a recent thing;
In rejecting the easily supported theory that the Bible was written by a plurality of authors they reply with…
The Fundamentals;A Testimony to the Truth, containing 94 articles by 64 authors

My favorite though is the rejection of J.C’s social agenda simply by ignoring it and elevating the O.T. ‘war of the worlds’ scenario to….. a higher plane(smirk).

Lenny I wouldn’t agree with you re: the Fundies being ‘radicals’ after all JC was a liberal radical compared with the conservative religious hierarchy at the time, he wanted change. The Fundies are reactionary political and religious conservatives (reacting against change, wanting to maintain the status quo ,with them on top of course) may be a more correct category. The whole basis for the Fundamentalist project is old fashioned right wing politics reacting against “liberal moral relativism(read: spend money on things they don’t like)” and they don’t give a hoot about the the facts including, the fact stated earlier in this sentence.Just watch J.McCain and his pandering.

Comment #101245

Posted by AC on May 18, 2006 12:32 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

So religion is supposed to be superfluous, but when it’s more than superfluous — i.e., when someone tries to apply it to improve his life — it’s a “crutch.” You’re really desperate to avoid giving religion credit for anything, aren’t you? And you’re calling others “defensive?”

Religion is superfluous when an otherwise good person wrongly believes it is the reason for his goodness, or when an otherwise strong-willed person wrongly believes it is the reason for his triumph over adversity. I don’t give religion credit or blame for anything; people are the deserving recipients of those. Ultimately, my position on religion in the spiritual sense (as opposed to a mere tool of politics) is that it gives you nothing you can’t get elsewhere, and it is fundamentally dangerous to believe unreasonable things, so a person is better off without it. Therefore, it is, at best, a crutch (or guide if you prefer) that should be retired when strength is found, wisdom achieved, etc.

One more thing: there’s a difference between “healing,” which is, well, healing, and a “crutch,” which provides limited mobility without healing anything. You’re overusing the latter term. Sometimes spirituality is a crutch; sometimes it heals.

I disagree. I think that “provid[ing] limited mobility without healing anything” is exactly what religion/mysticism does - hence the crutch. The healing is done elsewise, e.g. through existing qualities or qualities developed during recovery. If you consider religion/mysticism potentially integral to the development of those qualities in that kind of situation, then I think we’ll have to take some dude’s advice (good post BTW).

Comment #101251

Posted by AC on May 18, 2006 12:39 PM (e)

Lenny wrote:

Indeed, fundamentalist literalism is one of the most *recent* ways of looking at the Bible. It is not a “return to” any earlier tradition. It is instead the invention of a totally new tradition.

Right - It’s an imagined return, or a desire to return to an imagined past, by people who are committed to imagination over reality and want to remake the real world according to their image of it.

The idea of a group with the desire and ability (through political power) to rewrite history as they see fit scares me now just as much as when I first read 1984.

Comment #101254

Posted by Raging Bee on May 18, 2006 1:19 PM (e)

Wow, AC, such an amusing train of non-sequiturs packed into one paragraph…

Religion is superfluous when an otherwise good person wrongly believes it is the reason for his goodness, or when an otherwise strong-willed person wrongly believes it is the reason for his triumph over adversity.

How do you know that a particular person holds these beliefs “wrongly?”

I don’t give religion credit or blame for anything; people are the deserving recipients of those.

Okay, that’s consistent at least, as long as I don’t see you blaming “religion” for anything. But “people” act on what they learn, from whatever source, and that includes religion and morality, among many other things. A person’s beliefs or feelings are part of the person deserving credit or blame.

Ultimately, my position on religion…is that it gives you nothing you can’t get elsewhere…

Speak for yourself. There may be other people who find what they need only through religion, or who find the guiding principles of their lives most effectively expressed by priests or holy texts. As long as they’re going in the right direction, why get sniffy about it?

…and it is fundamentally dangerous to believe unreasonable things, so a person is better off without it…

Which “unreasonable things” are you referring to? How do you define “unreasonable?” Are all “unreasonable” beliefs indistinguishable and equally “dangerous?”

…Therefore, it is, at best, a crutch (or guide if you prefer)…

Because a “guide” is the same as a “crutch,” and we can use those words interchangeably? You might as well say “This object is a PC (or a car if you prefer)…”

…that should be retired when strength is found, wisdom achieved, etc.

Why “retire” a tool that’s still known to work and get results? “Refine” or “update,” sure, but “retire?”

[You had not closed one of the italicized bits of text. Use the “Preview” button before the “Post” button to avoid that in the future. – Admin]

Comment #101255

Posted by Raging Bee on May 18, 2006 1:27 PM (e)

Okay, several paragraphs of text vanished into thin air, and I got a “mismatched tag” message, whatever the hell that is. I don’t have time to retype everything I wrote, so I’ll just say that AC’s statement that

Therefore, [religion] is, at best, a crutch (or guide if you prefer)…

is mind-bogglingly silly. A “crutch” is not the same as a “guide;” they’re not even similar enough that we can use those words interchangeably under any circumstances. You might as well say “This object is a PC (or a car if you prefer)…”

Comment #101263

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on May 18, 2006 2:50 PM (e)

If I may interject, “crutch” and “guide” are in this case (I believe the word is) similes, or perhaps a better description is “analogies.” No, I’m not saying analogies and similes are one and the same, any more than AC is saying that a crutch and a guide are the same thing. It’s whatever description/simile/analogy you prefer to apply to assist in understanding. In this case, a “crutch” and a “guide” share the quality of being assistants, and when you leg heals or you learn the way for yourself, they become superfluous.

Comment #101290

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on May 18, 2006 6:19 PM (e)

Words, ideas, opinions, adages, beliefs, religious doctrine, etc. are merely signposts pointing toward various ways of acting and living. They may point the way very clearly, but believers actually have to follow those signposts for anything to happen. They have to make the journey revealed by whatever ideas, opinions, or beliefs that they hold. The beliefs or ideas won’t do the work for them. Thus, the strength to act or change comes from them; religion is just a guide.

Very Zen of you. “In order to show the moon to someone who has never seen it, one must point a finger. But only a fool would mistake the pointing finger for the moon.”

Or, as the Taoists put it, “If one wants to catch a rabbit, one must employ a snare. But after the rabbit is caught, one no longer needs the snare.”

:>

Incidentally, that is the basic problem with the fundies — they can’t tell the difference between God and a Book About God.

Silly, isn’t it.

Comment #101293

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on May 18, 2006 6:25 PM (e)

Speak for yourself. There may be other people who find what they need only through religion, or who find the guiding principles of their lives most effectively expressed by priests or holy texts. As long as they’re going in the right direction, why get sniffy about it?

I quite agree. There is no “correct” way to get to the top of a mountain. All that matters is *that* you get there, not *how*.

Some people need to depend on organized religion. I don’t begrudge them that. Some people don’t. I don’t begrudge them that, either. After all, no matter what, YOU are ultimately the one who makes all the decisions anyway.

Comment #101339

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on May 19, 2006 12:07 AM (e)

Or, as the Taoists put it, “If one wants to catch a rabbit, one must employ a snare. But after the rabbit is caught, one no longer needs the snare.”

It would be embarrassing to count up all the rabbits that Rusty has caught that I managed not to hang on to while stepping her off of them. All too often, yeah, I still would need the snare.

Comment #101343

Posted by Larry on May 19, 2006 12:25 AM (e)

Just what is a fundamentalist atheist? I am an Atheist and cannot conceive how an atheist could fit the definition of a fundamentalist.

Comment #101434

Posted by AC on May 19, 2006 5:19 PM (e)

Bill Gascoyne wrote:

In this case, a “crutch” and a “guide” share the quality of being assistants, and when you leg heals or you learn the way for yourself, they become superfluous.

That’s my intended meaning. No simile/metaphor/analogy is perfect. To me, “crutch” captures the idea of a passive, temporary aid that people sometimes hold onto after they no longer truly need it, or use despite never needing it in the first place because they don’t realize that. Also, “cane” captures the idea of a similar tool that people sometimes use for a purpose completely different than its typical or intended purpose. These are the dimensions of religion/spirituality I wanted to address.

Raging Bee, I don’t want to get into a line-by-line parse war, so I’ll respond with another amusing train of non-sequiturs. I don’t necessarily know that a particular person holds such beliefs wrongly. Sometimes it might be impossible to know. But based on people who have held such beliefs and later realized they did so wrongly, I conclude that such a state does exist. My hope is that everyone in that position can come to that realization. Maybe for some people it’s not possible in practice. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time I was overly idealistic. I don’t get “sniffy” about it, but I would urge anyone who has found religion helpful to think hard about how integral it really is to their lives and selves.

Are all unreasonable beliefs indistinguishable and equally dangerous? Of course not, and I didn’t say they were. But I definitely do think that unreasonable beliefs are inherently dangerous. Since reasonable alternatives exist, why take any degree of risk? In some cases, as above, it may not be possible in practice. I find that harder to accept, but I generally can. I’d still urge people to be reasonable, though. Or, in simple answer to “Why “retire” a tool that’s still known to work and get results?”: because better tools are available.

Comment #101582

Posted by Lou FCD on May 21, 2006 11:29 AM (e)

Aren’t we overdue for a Clouser drive-by about now?

Comment #101591

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on May 21, 2006 1:37 PM (e)

Aren’t we overdue for a Clouser drive-by about now?

You have to speak the words “Genesis” and “literal” to invoke the Clouser.

Comment #101599

Posted by Sir_Toejam on May 21, 2006 2:14 PM (e)

damnit, Lenny, you know that some idiot is gonna see that and just HAVE to try it.

countdown to Clouser…

Comment #101601

Posted by Lou FCD on May 21, 2006 2:15 PM (e)

Is that like “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!”?

Comment #101603

Posted by k.e. on May 21, 2006 2:16 PM (e)

Dang Lenny I KNEW I was doing something wrong!
So when Carol says that a Genisis day is roughly a billions years long she is literally proving genisis wrong. I’d never have guessed…..Don’t worry though I haven’t invoked her, she has me on her list of goyim who will not be spoken to. Thank yehovah (Carols (secret) ronunciation…exactly)

Comment #101607

Posted by Lou FCD on May 21, 2006 2:26 PM (e)

Sir_Toejam wrote:

countdown to Clouser…

3…