Okay, yesterday we were considering Philip Kitcher's classification of people into the religious believers, the doctrinally entangled, doctrinally indefinite, mythically self-conscious, and secular. I suggested that these categories make sense as one way of cutting the cake, though there may be other ways. It seems to me to be possible to think of people who fall into these different categories.
You can probably see where this is leading: Kitcher, as we've seen, argues against all beliefs in transcendent beings and entities. He thinks that the correct view of the world will not contain these things, and he thinks we should say so. He doesn't think we should shut up about it or that what we know through reason and science is consistent with belief in any of the transcendent beings and entities that have ever been described by any religion. In that respect, he agrees with the "New Atheists", and his book Living With Darwin, in which he puts his own case against familiar kinds of religion, could even be thought of as a New Atheist book, part of the same publishing phenomenon. He's probably no more different from the core New Atheist writers than they are from each other - after all, Daniel Dennett does not read much like Christopher Hitchens and his concerns are rather different. However, he thinks the prominent Gnus go wrong in their approach, or some of it, because they more or less divide the world into secular people and religious people, perhaps with a further distinction between fundamentalists and moderates, and that this is an inadequate typology to work with. It can mislead us about how to communicate and prioritise.
I'll come back to that (in a later post) - I'm just foreshadowing it for the moment. At this stage, I want to say, first, that I think the typology offered by Kitcher is suggestive and we can use it to expand our vocabulary of terms and concepts. Even if it doesn't take us to precisely the same place as it takes Kitcher, it can give us some tools for thinking and talking about the issues.
Second, though, a word of warning. The model does seem to have weaknesses. One, of course, is that it tells us nothing about the proportions of people in these various categories. If most religious people were mythically self-conscious or at least doctrinally indefinite, the New Atheism phenomenon would never have happened. Surely the sheer number of people who fall into the various categories makes a difference. In particular, the US is well stocked with people who not only have a robust belief in supernatural doctrine but actually put their commitment to these beliefs ahead of their acceptance of what comes out of science - surveys show many people who say that, if a scientific finding contradicts some religious doctrine they hold, they'll reject the scientific finding. When it comes to the number of people in these groups, size does matter.
Another problem is that the model tells us nothing about what people believe. Note that even people who count as secular within Kitcher's typology may vary enormously. This category could include not just politically liberal humanist types but also revolutionary communists, followers of Ayn Rand, and all sorts of others with varied beliefs. Some of these people may have belief systems that are, for many practical purposes, as apocalyptic as those of any religious believer. Depending on the historical situation we find ourselves in, there might be an urgent need to produce critiques of some belief systems that Kitcher would label "secular".
There's also the issue of how pure any of these types are - e.g., couldn't there be a spectrum from secular to mythically self-conscious? After all, many people who are otherwise secular may be happy to participate in religious rituals on special occasions - perhaps going to a church service at Christmas or taking part in Carols by Candlelight. If you are secular but not actually hostile to religion, you may shade into the situation of the less active mythically self-conscious churchgoers. Conversely, as noted in the comments to my previous post, one might question whether the doctrinally-indefinite category is really needed. Might there not simply be a continuum from the more doctrinally entangled to the more mythically self-conscious? Again, is there a clear divide between the true religious believer and the doctrinally entangled - mightn't there be a spectrum of people who put greater or lesser priorities on (on the one hand) belief in transcendent beings and entities and associated doctrines and (on the other hand) certain beliefs and values. Given the way people are actually socialised into religion, as well as into morality and values, mightn't it be difficult to tell in any case which is primary?
These issues don't take away from the fact, if it is a fact, that Kitcher has offered us valuable concepts and some useful vocabulary. Some of the conclusions that he reaches may hold up, and they may follow from these concepts and this vocabulary being available. But the reality is that things are even more complicated than Kitcher suggests. When we consider his conclusions, we'll need to keep that in mind.