Tag Archives: humanism

Fundamentalism

I’ve been reading a spate of articles recently concerned with fundamentalism. Antony Barnett and Isobel Hilton have kickstarted a discussion on democracy on openDemocracy, while Bernard Crick wrote a salutory piece in The Guardian on the need for humanists to find common cause with religious people in the face of fanaticism. Also in the Guardian, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne wrote a majesterial piece on the problems of attempting to pass off Intelligent Design (ID) as a theory.

New Scientist last month had a special report on fundamentalism, which covered the issue from most angles satisfactorily. Kike Holderness wrote about the “wedge strategy” adopted by Center for Renweal of Science and Culture (CSC) which is behind the current push in the US for ID. In a 1996 document, the CSC stated that:

If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a ‘wedge’ that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied to its weakest points.

The links between ID campaigners and the anti-Kyoto movement is similarly enlightening.

But before this sounds like a downer on religion, Bryan Appleyard wrote an interesting piece on how there is a danger of “scientific fundamentalism” as well, by which he means:

the belief that the world is accessible to and ultimately controllable by human reason.

He goes on to say:

The human world is very different from the one seen through the telescope or in the test tube. To say it would be nice if it wasn’t is to say nothing. To say that it should be and we can make it so is downright sinister – fundamentalist in fact. But that is precisely what many scientistic thinkers, dazzled by the success of science, have been saying. The human weorld is perverse, complex, violent and utterly indecipherable. There is no science of history and no technology that will save us from the future. Scientific fundamentalism deludes us with dreams of competence; it expects too much of this world, just as religious fundamentalism expects too much of the next.

I think Appleyard lapses slightly into post-modernist, “science is just another faith” vacuity. What he appears to be arguing against is the naturalistic fallacy, that is inferring an ought from an is. It needs to be emphasised here however that this is an area where scientists are sinned against at least as much as they are sinners. Nonetheless, it is certainly a pitfall that scientists should be wary of.

Is it the same thing as “fundamentalism” in the religious sense though? Maybe, maybe not – it certainly doesn’t appear to be on the rise, unlike fundamentalism within all major religious movements. Phenomena such as mass panics over food, mobile phone masts, crime and globalisation (and climate change? discuss) are probably more analagous. Indeed, the world seems to be simmering softly in mind – and occasionally not so mild – panic at the moment. Whether we end up spinning out of control, or more rational forces begin to take hold once more, is not at all clear.

I wouldn’t join any cult that would have me as a member…

I got the latest issue of the British Humanist Association‘s newsletter in the post today. Weird, since I don’t recall asking for a copy. As a secularist and an atheist, I happen to also believe that data protection is a pretty important thing as well, so whoever decided to pass on my contact details, bad move pal. I very much hope it wasn’t the newly formed Liberal Democrat Humanist and Secularists Society, which I may or may not have contacted at some point (it certainly didn’t include a covering letter from them).

It’s a bizarre newsletter, and reads like a parish magazine. On the left hand column on page one, they’ve included a list of recent opinion polls that suggest that religion is a bit shit. One of the most spurious is a phone in poll of New Statesman readers, 96% of whom are against faith schools. Big surprise there then! Then there’s the frankly surreal article about a humanist families day out in York, where concerned humanist parents got to share horror stories about religious images and propaganda “even at toddler group.” For shame.

A few things really bugged me. For starters, why is “Humanism” presented as a proper noun? Another is a quote from a Concerned Parent about an RE lesson: “In his second RE lesson of the year the RE tacher wrote the word ‘Atheist’ on the board (I guess ‘Humanist’ is a bridge too far) as part of a questionaire about Year 6 children’s beliefs and values…” What the bloody hell is wrong with the term “atheist”?!

It all smacks me as a little cultish, and that’s coming from a subscriber to Liberal Democrat News (bdum, tshhh!). In fact, what it reminded me most of all was the stuff I read at university (doing my, um, religious studies degree), about Auguste Comte and his attempt to replace Christianity with Positivism, which to all intents and purposes resembled another religion. As an atheist, I don’t have any hole in my life that needs filling with something. I don’t need to give my lack of believe a sense of importance by capitalising the first letter in the term commonly used to describe it. All it is is a lack of belief, period.

One thing I never realised was that humanists, as part of their unceasing campaign against idolatry, seem to want to replace the Christian cross with a Humanist stick man, shaped like an H. The only problem with that symbol is it looks like the poor fellow is being tortured on a rack. It’s hardly a step on from crucifiction, is it?

Finally, they helpfully provided me with a flyer of Christmas, sorry, “Winterval” cards for me to send to friends and family. However, unlike the charity cards I usually buy (and always fail to send), the money raised from these cards appear to go towards enriching an individual. Perhaps they should call themselves Materialists, capital “M”?