Monday, November 21, 2005

New Scientist Fundamentalism

The October issue of New Scientist has quite a few good articles on religion. Unfortunately the articles aren't available online without a subscription. However, I thought some of the letters were interesting. The one point I found interesting was how some evangelicals, as evidenced by a forum sample size of one, are rather miffed at evangelism being equated with fundamentalism. It seems quite analagous to the annoyance many Mormons have at the perjoritive cult label.

I was reading the first article on fundamentalism with some interest until I reached the suggestion that the terms evangelical and fundamentalist are synonymous. This is semantically inaccurate and, given the negative connotations of the term fundamentalist, most unfair. - From Robert Cailliau, CERN

From the evangelical perspective I would hazard that the non-Christian, cult label is given to Mormons, and other religions precisely because of the perjoritive connotations. It helps steer people aways from the perceived perniciousness of said institutions. From this perspective it is clear that many scientists view evangelism as something warranting similar treatment. More generally, I can imagine some scientists reacting to ID, and the Marshall Institute's supposed attack on science as something now annoying enough to be confronted. In effect some may be realizing that letting religous fundamentalists frame PR arguments is damaging. By not presenting a case, one is doing diservice to society. One can easily imagine lines being drawn in attempts to prevent "innocents" from falling into the wrong camp.

So why is there such an empowering of fundamentalism? I would be tempted to argue that in the West, the empowering of minority views is coming to fruition. Such empowerment doesn't just work for the opressed groups we like to see helped out. However this doesn't explain the rise of fundamentalism in non-western societies. In the New Scientists articles some mention was given to the idea of compartmentalization. The faith based world, and the modern world are separate. Some discongruity is fine, but as it widens one must choose one path or the other. Thus the world is getting framed in secular vs. religious terms.

While I don't agree with this argument, I can certainly see how one could create these conditions if one wanted. I think a big question is whether or not we really want to draw a line for the imagined help it would offer those on the balancing edge? To me, doing this seems tantamount to faith based paradigm choice. Each side presents their evidence, and those on the middle really choose their side based on what evidence feels good to them. Certainly some things in one paradigm have more potential than those in another, but this seems to assume that those making the choice will actually take advantage of these potentials. As society removes more and more consequences from individual and even group and national choices, the advantage to choosing one road or the other is diminished. It is like Hutterites who reject most science, yet still get to have their trucks and computerized dairy farms. I can choose fundamentalism knowing I can get the next generation of laptops and RPG's, created by those values I reject.

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