Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fundamentalisms

One of the differences among us is the ability to deal with ambiguity. There are those who are willing to believe that various approaches to truth may provide seemingly contradictory answers and who are willing and able to wait to discover which is true or whether there may be satisfactory ways to reconcile the contradictions. Others insist that their internally consistent system rules out any other possibility. Peter Berger belongs to the first category. From his blog, "The Return of the Village Atheist":
Over the last few years there was published a flurry of books marketed and discussed under the heading of “The New Atheism”. The best-known authors are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. While differing in emphasis and style, their books have in common an aggressive, indeed vituperative hostility to religion in all its forms (though particular venom is directed against Christianity and Islam). Agnosticism is rejected in favor of an unambiguous atheism. Also rejected is the widespread tolerance of non-believers for believers deemed moderate—all religion is dangerous and morally objectionable. ....

The books at issue here regard atheism as science. It is useful to compare them with a vastly more successful genre of books which treat faith as science—the literature spawned by creationism and “intelligent design,” mostly written by American Evangelicals (though some Catholics have jumped on the bandwagon). Though often thrown together by the media, these two attempts to support faith by an alleged science are quite different. Creationism proposes to demonstrate, scientifically, that the Biblical account of creation is correct—thus alleging that the theory of evolution is false and that the earth is only some six thousand years old (the creationists have a nice term for this—they speak of a “young earth”). “Intelligent design” does not challenge modern biology, but asserts that the universe simply makes no sense unless one assumes that it is the product of an intelligent creator. This assertion is also allegedly supported by scientific evidence.

These two projects of deploying science in the service of religion are very different. It seems to me that anyone who successfully completed a high school course in biology could not find creationism plausible. The phrase used by its adherents, “creation science,” is an oxymoron. On the other hand, “intelligent design” reiterates what any religious believer (certainly a believing Christian, Jew or Muslim) would say—that the universe provides testimony to its creator. In the words of Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” ....

The “New Atheists” have a faith masquerading as science. The creationists are doing the same, on the other side of the fence. And the ID types mistakenly want science to provide a way of proving faith. All three are variants of fundamentalism—the assertion of certainty where no certainty is to be had. There are perfectly plausible reasons for being an agnostic: God, if he exists, has not made it easy to believe in him. Atheism is an altogether different matter. An atheist could be defined as someone to whom a voice from heaven has proclaimed that there is no heaven. ....

What impresses me most about atheists is the flatness of their worldview. They have this in common with all fundamentalists, religious or secular. Fundamentalism is a decision to avoid the mystery of the human condition. [more]
The Return of the Village Atheist - Peter Berger's Blog - The American Interest