While I keep you waiting for the next podcast episode (within the next couple of days, I swear!), this is a letter I wrote to the paper a few months ago. It was pretty long, and predictably they didn’t publish it. It was a response to this piece by Bob Brockie (be sure to hold your nose when you read the piece in that link, it’s a stinker!).
My response follows:
Fundamentalism and science: strange bedfellows
Fundamentalism is alive and well in the clash between religion and science. Its hallmarks are not difficult to locate. First, there’s the general carelessness about factual details when it comes to preaching for one’s cause. Bob Brockie (ironically in the name of sticking to the evidence) fudges both the date of the establishment of the Royal Society and is painfully sloppy in detail. He portrays the founders of the society as cool rationalists like himself without time for religious nonsense, showing no awareness at all of the deep religious faith of men like Issac Newton (who also, by the way, was deeply involved in occult studies and alchemy – oh the rationalism of it all). He also may want to brush up on his Latin. The slogan of the Royal Society, “Nullius in Verba” does not mean “take nobody’s word” as Dr Brockie alleges. It translates to “On the words of no one,” which is actually an abbreviation of a quote from Horace: Nullius addictus judicare in verba magistri. Translated, this is: “Not compelled to swear to any master’s words.” In practical terms it referred to the freedom to form opinions and reach conclusions that were not politically correct. The irony is almost amusing here. But why worry about accuracy? Just preach that sermon!
Another common fundamentalist phenomenon is mindless sloganism without serious reflection on the consequences of those slogans. Dr Brockie does not disappoint here either, urging all science classrooms today to refuse to take anything on anyone’s word, believing only things that they have confirmed via experiment. Gone are the textbooks, history lessons and teachers. To place stock in such things is unscientific, Dr Brockie urges. The trouble, of course, is that not only is nearly all of our knowledge gained by taking the word of others, but for us all to believe that the only way to gain knowledge of the world is by experiment is itself a claim that Dr Brockie is asking us all to take on the basis of his word. Fundamentalism is often self refuting in this way, for it is ultimately grounded in ignorance, bigotry and anger or fear, rather than reason.
Lastly, fundamentalism cultivates ignorance of “the other side” and the tendency to lash out with uninformed attacks regardless of the facts (if one is even aware of them) because the attacks serve the holy cause and “rally the troops” as it were. He assumes (without much by way of evidence) that there is one view out there called “creationism” that can be simplistically equated with “biblical Christianity,” apparently unaware of the spectrum of points of view held by many conservative Christian individuals and organisations on questions like the age of the universe, the role of intelligent design in the origin of species and so forth. He carelessly lumps together different organisations simply because they are Christian (in spite of their different views on science), he makes a blanket claim that literally “no rational person” – none at all – could believe in things like life after death or answers to prayer (in spite of the fact that Isaac Newton, cited by Brockie, believed in these things wholeheartedly). The wholesale denunciation of so many geniuses in history and the modern age is inexcusable, but understandable as a symptom of a fundamentalist approach to life: You’re either with me/us, or you’re not merely wrong but stupid.
Fundamentalism is as active now as ever, and in the name of reason it should now – as always – be opposed in all its forms.
Dr Glenn Peoples
- John Piper on Christian/Muslim relations
- Dawkins gets science and religion wrong. In other news, man bites dog.
- Born Atheists? Science and Natural belief in God
- (one of the ways in which) Van Til was wrong
- Coming up…