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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And another thing (on Ruse vs Kitcher)

"Kitcher repudiates all claims to objective truth in religion as unacceptable fundamentalism," says Ruse. He objects that, according to Kitcher, the Archbishop of Canterbury is a fundamentalist for believing in the literal resurrection of Jesus. But, the implication goes, that's surely absurd.

I'm crying foul at this point. While the literal resurrection of Jesus may well be one of the "fundamentals" that gave fundamentalism its name, the kind of literal-minded scripturalism that is denoted by the word "fundamentalism" goes way beyond belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus. Kitcher never says otherwise.

In fairness, Kitcher does say some (overly?) subtle and potentially confusing things about fundamentalism. But it's a very uncharitable reading of Kitcher to claim that he thinks all genuine religious believers are fundamentalists. What could be said, perhaps, is that Kitcher, by using five categories, of which only one consists of religious believers, fails to make important distinctions about people in that category. But that's not the same as thinking that all people with supernatural beliefs can be fairly labeled as fundamentalists. I don't see anything in Kitcher's article to suggest that he thinks that or wants us to think it.

4 comments:

josef johann said...

Jason Rosenhouse recently commented that the eagerness to call atheists shrill or strident, being disproportionate to its actual instances, should be thought of as a significant sociological phenomenon.

I think similarly you have the wealth of seemingly sober commentators who just aren't doing a very good job of putting up accurate readings of atheist arguments. It happens again and again and again and again.

Rieux said...

In my experience, it is liberal promoters of religion (some of them self-described religious people, others not) who overdiagnose religious fundamentalism.

Defenses of religion along Karen Armstrong or John Shelby Spong lines—"religion doesn't require a belief in silly things such as a personal god or literal resurrection"—frequently pretend that utterly mainstream religious beliefs are "fundamentalist" ones that they can just ignore. Or consider NOMA: I don't recall Gould using the "f" word, but his case depends upon the presumption that "real" religion is limited to a set of beliefs that is woefully insufficient to describe what millions of real people actually believe.

Defenders of religion frequently pretend that overwhelmingly common religious beliefs are fringe fundamentalism. If Ruse wants to complain about that tactic, Kitcher and Gnus are by no means the proper targets for his criticism.

Russell Blackford said...

A correction - "Ruse's" right at the end should have been "Kitcher's". I've corrected it now. The commenters so far don't seem to have been confused by it, so I hope no one else was.

Camus Dude said...

Ruse went off the deep end a long time ago. His Taking Darwin seriously: a naturalistic approach to philosophy (1986) was influential on my becoming an atheist and naturalist, but since I read it (probably around 2003) he's become a Neville Chamberlain secularist for sure.