Christian and Scientific Fundamentalism

February 16th, 2010 / 36 Comments

I spend a great deal of time engaging fundamentalists. And I’ve learned a few lessons over the years.

As a professor of theology at an Evangelical university, a good portion of students enter my undergraduate classes as Christian fundamentalists. Many claim that the Bible is their sole, absolute, and inerrant authority. “Nothing but the Bible” is their mantra.

Many of these Christian fundamentalist students are intelligent — if SAT scores are any indication. They are not exposed to the wider world of knowledge, however.

Many students are suspicious and dismissive of liberal arts education. Many are wary of even rationality itself if rationality does not support their particular view of the Bible.

If experience — their own experience, the experience of others, or experiences of those in the larger Christian tradition — contradicts their view that the Bible is inerrant and the authority on all it teaches, then that experience should not be trusted. 

An inerrant Bible is their trump card for just about any discussion.

Those who think differently than these Christian fundamentalists on biblical, theological, or socio-political matters may become the objects of sharp criticism.  At its worst, this criticism includes demonizing rhetoric.

To fundamentalists, any move away from inerrancy and the comprehensive authority of the Bible is to slide down a slippery slope to extreme relativism and atheism. The Christian fundamentalist view of ultimate truth is narrow. It is limited to what their inerrant Bible affirms and their community approves as consonant with a particular interpretation of the Bible.

I also engage another set of fundamentalists. 

These people are scientific fundamentalists.  I engage them less often face-to-face.  My interaction with them is more often online, in private meetings, at scholarly events, or in journal debates.     

Scientific fundamentalists have as their sole authority a particular set of ideas and theories proposed by some scientists. They believe science provides the ultimate and/or unparalleled source of truth. Scientific fundamentalists reject out of hand any theory, intellectual tradition, or claim that is not in line with their particular scientific theories. 

Many scientific fundamentalists are bright — or “Brites,” as some call themselves. Of course, others are not so smart.

Whatever their intelligence, scientific fundamentalists share many things in common with Christian fundamentalists. While Christian fundamentalists are largely dismissive of reason and a broad range of scholarship that does not support their narrow biblical view, scientific fundamentalists largely dismiss reasoning and broad-ranging scholarship that does not support their narrow scientific views. Both groups restrict what they will accept as ultimately truth only to that which their small community allows.

Scientific fundamentalists are even more prone than Christian fundamentalists to reject experience — the experience of others and their own — if experience contradicts their scientific theories. Take the issue of purpose, for example. While scientific fundamentalists know themselves to be purposive, they allow no place in their scientific descriptions for purpose.

We should criticize scientific fundamentalists even more sharply than Christian fundamentalists, however, for ignoring the truths of experience that don’t fit their scientific theories.  They are more irresponsible, because they claim to defend an enterprise — science — that purports to rely chiefly upon empirical evidence.

For my own part, I think the biggest flaw in the scientific fundamentalism is the inability to speak plausibly about a supremely important element of creaturely experience: Love.

I suggest that science in general follow a general rule when it comes to proposing theories to account empirically for existence in general and human experience in particular.  My general rule is this: we should not allow that which we seem to know least — for instance, the role and function of genes — to trump that which we seem to know best — our own personal experience — for instance, our experience of purposefulness, beauty, warmth and affection, or sacrificial love.

This principle provides a basis to value the extensive and widespread human experience of religion. Thousands of years of study on the religious experiences of billions of people suggest that religious motivations and intuitions are widespread, complex, varied, and pluralistic.

To claim that something about which we know very little — genes — completely explains our religious intuitions and motivations seems foolish, shortsighted, and likely false. Reductionism reveals itself woefully inadequate when we consider the powerful empirical data of human experience.

So… what should be done about scientific fundamentalism?

My experience with both Christian fundamentalists and scientific fundamentalists suggests several strategies of engagement. Briefly, here are seven suggestions for how to engage scientific fundamentalists:

1. We should point out the internal inconsistencies of scientific fundamentalism.  The work being done on altruism, cooperation, and self-sacrifice in evolutionary biology interests me most and seems vital for this task.

2. We should point out inconsistencies between the theories espoused by scientific fundamentalists and our own human experiences.  Many scientific fundamentalists who call themselves “the New Atheists,” for instance, want a world in which cooperation and peace can reign.  And yet scientific fundamentalism provides no robust way to account for attaining widespread peace, benevolence, and cooperation.

3. We should appeal to research and wisdom in diverse academic disciplines, religious traditions, and forms of knowledge. We should embrace explanatory pluralism. One characteristic of a wise person is her capacity to engage a wide variety of knowledge in a respectful and appreciative way.

4. We should seek to establish moral authority. Many who are either fundamentalist or attracted to fundamentalism are unlikely to reject fundamentalism based on our clever arguments alone. We need to be trustworthy people. Fundamentalists of all stripes need to see moral examples whom they can believe with their heads and their hearts. 

5. We should listen carefully and charitably to scientific fundamentalists.  For instance, some criticisms of religion are justified criticisms. Justified criticisms can help theists frame their theology in ways that make better sense in light of scripture and science — and help both believers and unbelievers understand what Christians are saying.

6. We should avoid shrill and demonizing rhetoric. Not all fundamentalists use shrill and demonizing rhetoric. But some surely do. Rather than fight fire with fire, I believe progress can be made by fighting fire with friendship, caricatures with kindness, hyperbole with humility. We all must work to develop various intellectual virtues, including considering our opponents’ views in the strongest possible light. We must not criticize the log of pride in the scientific fundamentalist’s eye and while simultaneously sticking that log in our own.

7. We should engage the arguments of scientific fundamentalists as a way to educate those in our religious communities. One of the strongest critics of religion says he doesn’t really blame the average Christian for holding naïve views of Bible or simple ideas of God.  But he criticizes religious leaders — who presumably have been educated — for failing publicly and blatantly to disapprove of the naïve views of the masses. Christian leaders fail to act bravely to provide interpretations of the Bible and views of science that oppose the unsophisticated views of those who sit in the pews.

Of course, this kind of education is risky. In my own Evangelical context, the stakes are high.  To speak out against a naïve view of the Bible and Christian fundamentalism is sometimes to face dire consequences. The temptation to remain silent is extremely strong.

While warfare has not always and everywhere characterized the interaction between science and religion, warfare is surely a common motif in some communities.

I admit there are times that I am personally doubtful that fundamentalists of both types — Christian fundamentalists and scientific fundamentalists — will ever give up their narrow views of what counts as truth.  I worry that fundamentalists will never find the wisdom of the broad arena of wide-ranging experience and expansive reason. I am tempted sometimes to relent to hopelessness.

But in those times of bleakness, a flash of light invariably breaks in.  That flash of light comes from my own experience. After all, I was once a Christian fundamentalist. I know firsthand that real change can occur.

If a hard-headed, Bible-thumping, piously passionate, former inerrantist like me can shed his narrow thinking without rejecting his Christian faith, there is hope for other fundamentalists — both scientific and Christian.

I encourage us all to engage scientific and religious fundamentalists — in our own ways and in our own settings. I encourage us to do so in the hope that creative transformation and the widening of perspectives might occur. I encourage us to do so for the love of wisdom and the wisdom of love.

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Comments

Hans

Tom, I would love to hear more about your path from fundamentalism to where you are today. And most of all what caused you to change.


Karl Giberson

Nicely put, Tom.

It would be fun to do a rhetorical comparison sometime of the two different kinds of fundamentalist.


Bob Hunter

Tom,

Extremely well stated.  As you know this is a big concern I have. The brand of fundamentalism you describes seems to find people who carry an unusually high anxiety burden concerning the world we live in. In some cases this fundamentalist point of view can be present among clergy who find the pressures and complexities of pastoring almost too much to bear. Instead of seeking a wider perspective they retreat into a very narrow black and white understanding of the world that allows them to simplify matters. And in some cases, they impose this point of view on others from the pulpit.

I think we all have to experience a conversion of sorts away from fundamentalism.  Actually, Fowler’s faith development model suggests such a movement.

Nonetheless, the real danger of fundamentalism occurs when someone declares.. “I have the right to tell you what the truth is and what error is, listen to me and you won’t go wrong.  After all, I am the final arbiter of truth and the Bible is on my side.” Claims of this nature are often followed by exclusive calls to follow the true faith filled with ominous warnings of coming wrath and judgment if you don’t.

Anyway, thanks for addressing this issue.  I’m interested in comments on this topic.


Billie

Some interesting thoughts Dr. Oord.  Something that gives me pause in your discussion is the lack of a definition for the word “inerrancy”.  Since you offered no definition for the term, I am left with my own which places us at odds since we would not share an understanding of that term—which seems to have some cachet in many circles even within our own denomination.  I understand you disagree with the “fundamentalist’s” definition of inerrancy, as do I, but is theirs really the only viable definition (I think not).

I also struggle with scientific fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists when their belief systems seems to commit suicide (if not self immolation) if dissected.  The scientific fundamentalist claims that empirical science is the only viable method for determining “truth”.  Yet, this claim itself is not capable of being supported by empirical science.  Science, devoid of its philosophical basis, is unable to hold any epistemological ground. 

Likewise, the Christian fundamentalist who proclaims “Sola Scriptura” ignores the historical basis for our accepted scripture.  While it would be easy to over emphasize the role that various bodies such as the Council of Carthage had in defining canon, the role of the church in recognizing scripture cannot be completely dismissed either.  If one too thoroughly asserts that only scripture provides revelation of and from God, then we completely negate the work of the Holy Spirit both individually and communally.  And that position seems as untenable as the position of empirical science alone. 

Just some thoughts from a still somewhat hard-headed sometimes former sometimes still fundamentalist…  Just depends on which fundamentalism we are talking about…


Chuck Wilkes

Tom:

Thanks for your comments…they represent the best approach to deal with both kinds of fundamentalists.

I confess that I do not share the same hope you do, however. The conversion of a fundamentalist to a more open, yet still passionate Christ-follower, is extremely rare. My experience over almost 6 decades in the evangelical church have drained that hope for me.

Fundamentalism, as you describe it, is armored by a belief system that allows it to exhibit the most abhorrent and internally inconsistent characteristics possible…all the while dismissing them as non-existent in themselves while being pronounced in all who disagree.

Fundamentalists of both kinds, religious and scientific, commit the gross sin of placing their own God before the true God—and neither one can or will see that fact.

Keep up the good fight, however. Even small wins are good ones!

Chuck


Martijn

I concur with your view on these two streams of fundamentalism. And yes science and ignores one of the biggest themes the world has to offer. Love! 1 Cor. 13
Still it tries to cover this with any means necessary to convert people from the “awful Christian religion”…


Dave Gerber

Tom,

I appreciate your discussion of scientific fundamentalism. They are much the same, and your thoughts can help frame a discussion.

The arguments for or against ‘global warming’ seem to fit this topic. What is considered valid evidence for or against is based largely on one’s predisposition going into the discussion.

And, as I am a former “fundie” myself, there is hope. However, there are people that used to be in the camp in which I now reside, that have vacated to another camp. We can pray for them, but they are praying for us too.


Bob Hunter

Okay, I’m not the prolific blogger like Tom, but a few months back I blogged about fundamentalism and how humility not arrogance addresses these issues. My article was based on some material from Earl Creps.  Here is the short-link: http://wp.me/pCVKA-c


John King

As a casualty of the “Battle for the Bible”, I have some observations about the “definition” of inerrancy.  I appreciate the passion and desire that I find in those who want to use the term “inerrant” for the Bible.  They have a valid concern about taking the Bible seriously.  Some who use “inerrant” have discovered that the term is not completely appropriate but still want to use the term.  This task is many times accomplished by a re-definition of the term or by changing the object to which it applies.

I think this is a mistake.  The plain simple definition of inerrant is “free from error”

You may define inerrancy differently.  So be it.  If so, the average layman deserves to know the facts that contradict the plain, clear definition of “inerrant”.

Some of the facts are:

1.    Mankind possesses approximately 5,800 Greek manuscripts that contain part or all of the New Testament, approximately 10,000 Latin manuscripts that contain part or all of the New Testament, and approximately 9,300 manuscripts in other ancient languages.  None of these manuscripts say exactly the same thing.
2.  There are somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 variations in these manuscripts.  There are more variations than there are words in the New Testament.
3.  There have been many accidental copying mistakes and there have been intentional additions, deletions, and changes to the written words by both church members and professional scribes.  Many of the intentional additions, deletions, and changes were theologically motivated.
4.  While the New Testament was largely written in the first century A.D., the oldest manuscript that we have that only contains parts of the New Testament comes from around 200 A.D.
5.  No human alive today has seen the original of the books of the Bible, nor knows EXACTLY, without out any error, what words were in them.

If in the face of these facts, you still contend that the Bible is inerrant. So be it.  However, preaching “inerrancy” when the average layman will think that “inerrancy” means “free from error” is misleading.

Once these facts are faced, some will claim that the “original autographs” are inerrant.  This claim seems to me to be irrelevant.  Who has the “original autographs”?  Who has seen them?  Who can read them?  To claim that the Scriptures are “inerrant” when you are really talking about something that we do not have is misleading to the average laymen who only has one of the modern English translations in his hand to read.  So all the textual critics make no mistakes?  The translators make no mistakes?  The readers make no mistakes?  The preachers make no mistakes?  Your understanding of the Scriptures has no mistakes?  Even if we had Scriptures without errors, by the time we got done translating, reading, preaching, and understanding, there would be plenty of errors.

So, the claim of inerrancy for the Scriptures is misleading.  It is also inappropriate.  A description of “free from error” is not appropriate to apply to the wide diversity of literary types that are in the Scriptures, types that include poetry, narrative, parables, prophecy, apocalyptic, and history.  The description of “free from error” is sterile, rationalistic, and exacting.  It is more applicable to some sciences and mathematics.  It is inappropriate to apply it to literature that is so passionate, so full of life, and so applicable to the very heart and soul of man.  “Inerrant”, a very misleading, irrelevant, and inappropriate description that seems to imply a pedestrian and low view of Scripture.

Lets stop using the term “inerrant”.

Respectfully,
Grace and Peace
In God and Jesus Christ


A.D. Knapp

Very interesting article.  Fundamentalism does seem more natural than philisophical thought; when belief is rigid and axiomatic, and those axioms cover “relevant” experiences, it is easy to keep one’s mind petrified in the comfort of percieved success.  This raises the question; “what are the thresholds of fundamentalism?”, i.e. when does one cease to have a fundamentalistic epistemology?  Can one have strong epistemic claims without appealing to the superiority of a certain epistemology?


Ryan W.

I agree that when people of opposing views clash, that there has to be some guidelines followed, at least for someone who is a professing Christian. To keep a scientific fundamentalist from completely discrediting someone from someone who holds another view point, that person should be able to have a humble attitude and be intelligent on at least his own position, and hopefully able to understand and respond to the fundamentalist’s arguments. It does no good to fake knowledge in a subject and in an attempt to not “lose” the argument, fall on the Bible as the final and only source of truth.


Nathan Dupper

This blog seems to be about a how to deal with people who claim to know everything. Whether that is to know everything through science (scientific fundamentalism), or special revelation (Christian fundamentalism). I can see how you would have a problem with both. It does seem that both science and religion have a portion of Truth, but not the whole picture.

What I am wondering is how your view deals with peoples’ accusations of your theory being a “know-it-all” theory? I can see how some people may say that just by saying that, ” both science and religion encompass Truth” does not solve the problem brought up by the fundamentalists’ narrow view of truth.  It just seems to move it back one step.


Justin Barksdale

Tom-
Your piece is well-written and interesting.  I had never considered the comparisons between religious and scientific fundamentalists.  Thank you for offering pragmatic talking points with which to engage “Brites” in dialogue. 
As a pastor, however, I encounter religious fundamentalism far more often.  It is difficult at times to know how to engage people in dialogue about their hot-button topics like Biblical inerrancy.  This difficulty is magnified when I engage them as their pastor.  On one hand, I want to encourage them to consider a more comprehensive view of Scripture.  I know, first-hand, the benefit of embracing Scripture for what it is and not what I once hoped it was.  On the other hand, I don’t want to damage the faith of my parishioners.  I can be two-faced and agree that the original manuscripts of Scripture are inerrant precisely because it is an irrelevant claim.  I want to value the person above the fundamentalism. 
At what point is the most loving action to not press a person toward growth and to allow them to remain comfortably naïve?


John King

Justin

I am the type of person who likes one good question more than a thousand answers.

I must say you have a very good question; and , I will be the first to admit that I do not have the answer.  I can only say what I do.  First, context determines my action.

1.  In a congregation that is fundamentalist/literalist, speak truth that can open some minds without arguing the point.  For example, “this word in the Bible is different depending on which copy of the Greek New Testament that you read”
(Be prepared to show proof of the fact, but never argue for a conclusion).  However, I must say that I am going to avoid being part of such a congregation in any permanent way.

2.  With individuals that have a “natural naieve first century worldview”, I try to support their faith as they have it.

3.  With individuals that have a “conscious first century worldview” and who want to absolutize their view by belittling/purging/excluding those who have other ideas, I have with them what I call “the talk” in love if they are willing to listen.  You need to have your version of “the talk” prepared so you have it ready when it is necessary.  Only you can really determine what you say.

4.  There are those who are “not willing to listen”.  I avoid them like the plague.

I know, not a very good answer.  However, Justin, I have a luxury that pastors do not have.  As a laymen, I have no bonds but of love.


Tracey Berry

Dr. Oord,
I find this entry fascinating but am really curious as to why you changed your views and what exactly lead to the change? What was something or someone that made you stop and think and not just follow the masses? I am also curious as to exactly what you classify fundamentalists as… I have a vague idea as to whom are you are referring but would love a more through explanation.


Arielle Askren

Within my life I have seen incredible things, had conversations with people that I thought, at the time, that I had nothing in common with. Through it all I discovered that humans have faults and no one has the answers to every question except Jesus. Growing up in a more conservative home I found that I used to believe in truth and only truth. As I was forced to go out and experience the world and partake in these dialogues I have discovered that that no human, fundamentalist or other has all of the answers. In my mind the answer to this dilemma is just to love them and dialogue with them praying that something gets through. Love is the way to reach them and the action of Love allows for them to experience and know.


Jesse Turri

Great post Dr. Oord, thanks for writing it.


Danielle B

AMEN!!!
As a fellow e-inerrantist and bible thumper, I know that most people don’t respond to facts. I often feel like a religious version of the prisoner in Plato’s allegory of the cave who tries to go back to his old perspective and enlighten others. Some will not and some cannot understand some of the truths surrounding the bible or science and the criticisms of their beliefs. I think there is a lot of truth in number 4 and 6. As the old saying goes “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” It’s terrifying to let go of these fundamentalist views, at least I felt that my world might lose all meaning or I would not longer be a christian (scientist). It is important to continue teaching these individuals the truth in love. This is why I love schools like NNU.


Fábio Abreu

Dr. Oord,

As a theologian and a Brazilian Lutheran Christian, I have to confess that your paper is insightful on many points. I don’t know if you know, but Brazilian Protestantism was founded on missionary fundamentalism, especially that coming from the USA. Fundamentalism here is a serious problem and extremely challenging, mainly because we do not know a real alternative to this problem. Certainly your paper has much to contribute to our situation in Brazil.

Best regards,
Fábio Abreu.


Matt H

I also deal with both kinds, but my dealings with Christian fundamentalists are more frequent. I remember the theology classes in my first two years at NNU and was completely blown away by the hostility toward rationality and the fear of new ideas that some underclassmen exhibited. I tend to come from a viewpoint further to the left, but Intro to Christian Theology and Biblical Studies managed to challenge both mine and the fundamentalists’ worldviews. I find that the discussion in the higher level classes is much more healthy. Take comfort that NNU is doing a good job!


Andrea Hills

I’ll admit that in my journey I have struggled with some of these issues.  I was at one point what I would consider a Christian fundamentalist, but through more experiences I have broadened my views.  However, I often find myself reverting to my old beliefs because I struggle with finding the balance between fundamentalism and relativism.  I believe that the Bible can be interpreted in different ways, but I don’t like the idea that each individual can interpret it however they want to.  There is no clear-cut list of “do’s and don’ts” in the Bible, but there has to be at least some kind of absolute truth that we can all grasp from it.  There are a number of gray areas, which is why I struggle with this so much.


Craig Wolfe

It may not be certain if answers are to be found, but our conduct is something that can be controlled. “One characteristic of a wise person is her capacity to engage a wide variety of knowledge in a respectful and appreciative way.”


Elle

The author said that his general rule is: “we should not allow that which we seem to know least—for instance, the role and function of genes—to trump that which we seem to know best—our own personal experience—for instance, our experience of purposefulness, beauty, warmth and affection, or sacrificial love.”
Hmmm.  In reality we know nothing about our human experiences.  Experiences are constructed by our brain to perceive what we want them to be even if we are not conscious we are doing it. 

We have more and more knowledge each day about neuroscience and genetics.  We are a social species and as such our brains are wired to internalize experiences in order to function. Does not mean this internalization is real.  Well it could be real to the person experiences; however does it have to be real for others.  Is it real and can we even begin to define reality itself.  The question about love is overused and tired.  We know how the mechanism of love functions.  We can see it across all species.  Yes there is altruism outside of human nature; we can observe such in other animals.  Actually studying animal behaviour is the best way to trump the human arrogance that makes us think we are all so special.  We are not.  However this doesn’t mean that we must not live our lives at the fullest.  Intellectual recognition of what we are doesn’t need to change our experience.  That is what theists and some atheists or scientific fundamentalist as the author put it have not yet understood.  Sure I can know that genetically I am predisposed to certain things.  I may know that the emotion of what we call love is triggered by chemicals in the brain; however all of this knowledge does not need to make our experience any less valuable. 

Just think about a horror movie.  You intellectually know that what you are watching are just actors; however does that mean that you cannot enjoy such movie and even get a few scares because of that. Even knowing how the chemical process of fear is generated in our brains due to response to stimuli doesn’t need to change how we feel it.

The author also said:  “Thousands of years of study on the religious experiences of billions of people suggest that religious motivations and intuitions are widespread, complex, varied, and pluralistic.” 
Sure the same thing could have been said when people thought the Earth was flat.  Was it true? 
I believe the author needs another PhD in Neuroscience then come back and propose a more balanced approach to this subject.  But then again, the brain sees what it wants to see.  And that goes for both theists and atheists.  The bottom line is that whether you decide to rely on experiences or on hard core evidence which by the way may sometimes be subject to interpretation is your choice.  It doesn’t make it real, but then I don’t think our brain has evolved to the point of where we can truly separate reality from experience, if it did then we will be a completely different species. Heck we cannot even start to define what reality is.


Dan Kraynek

As I began to read your blog I couldn’t help but look at myself and wonder why I am like I am. One of the reasons is the teachings throughout my life beginning at a very early age when I first remember hearing about God and creation from someone who went through the same thing I did at a very early age. It’s no wonder we believe and hold onto the beliefs we do. I also believe we need to be open to what we hear and what we learn. I’ve often stated to different people who have never attended a Christian institution of higher learning that we are in a very safe environment which doesn’t allow for the challenges we are learning from Professor Oord. We need more of a challenge if we are going to be able to understand and bridge the gap between being a Christian fundamentalist and a scientific fundamentalist. There needs to be some sort of focus and challenge in our studies if we are going to be able to understand real truths about who we are. Professor Oord states, “Christian leaders fail to act bravely to provide interpretations of the Bible and views of science that oppose the unsophisticated views of those who sit in the pews.”


kristi jennings

Prof. Oord,

Your post goes a long way towards bridging the worlds of the scientist and the theologian by identifying the parallels in how parties in both camps can miss the mark by becoming so invested in their explanation and portrayal of truth, that they blind themselves to truth, itself, (at least some aspects of it).  One of the fundamental aspects of communications theory, is that we bring our own storehouse of meaning to the table of conversation.  This storehouse includes our experience, our culture, our personality, etc…  One of the biggest challenges in ‘listening’ is to suspend our own investment in our own judgments momentarily, while we entertain the perspective and ideas of the one communicating.  Our tendency can be to jump into a vigorous defense of our ‘storehouse’ of meaning if what the other person is saying contradicts it.  Coming to a place where we can listen to a message, repeat back that message as accurately as possible, while still disagreeing with it represents a huge milestone for dialogue between people who have different perspectives.  If we can recognize that ‘listening’ is not the same thing as ‘agreeing,’ we have crossed a major threshold towards idea exchange that may enrich both parties.


Trent

“You’re NUTZ!! I think we should all be convinced that we hold all the truth cards in our hand and that everyone else is looney. That way, when we get together we can yell and scream and each other, throwing our best battle axes at each other, and I’m sure that at the end of the day, you’ll see it like I do… the RIGHT way.”

This is the epitome of stage one discussion. One of the tough outer shells of fundamentalists is this stage one discourse that allows them to simply remain at the stage of I will just keep getting louder and coming up with more reasons until you agree or simply understand the futility of going further with the conversation.

Fundamentalists come to the discussion with their minds made up. That is the problem. When exploring the deep realities of God and His interaction with the world, I believe a mature believer (of religion or of science) can approach a conversation with humility and a teachable spirit, ready to learn from and be a student of a proponent of a different philosophy. That person need not lay down their believe, but simply let it grow or expend or be stretched every so slightly, should valid new thoughts or rationale be given.


Sylvia Eguren

I greatly appreciated this discussion.  It opened the door for me to have a discussion with my son, who at one time had a very close walk with God, but was exposed to many different sociological and philosophical ideas that made him question what he had been taught.  With this approach acknowledging fundamentalism on both sides, and the need for open-mindedness on both sides allowed a wonderful conversation to open up between us, helping him to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers.
    Dan shared he felt “safe” at a Christian university.  I am grateful that it was at a different Christian university as a biology major that we as Christians should be thinking about evolution in a way that would honor God and the term “co-creator” was not used at that time, but was inferred.

The benefit of a blog was also brought out to me very clearly.  I appreciated John King’s discussion on inerrancy and the many examples he posted.  Obviously, this is not something I can spread like a buffet to my evangelical congregation, but I can drop in small tidbits here and there in small groups and begin to “stir the pot.”


dan chapman

I liked your comment that many Christian fundamentalist students are intelligent but they are not exposed to the wider world of knowledge.  To me, this is the definition of ignorance.  To me, ignorance is not a bad thing as long as the ignorant person is aware of their ignorance and willing to learn what they do not already know.  Ignorance seems to be the foundation for fundamentalist – they know what they know about a subject, say religion or science, while purposely neglecting to learn about anything else.  By allowing myself to be a constant learner does not mean I am abandoning my faith or belief in God – I just have a desire to learn about the ways of the world and be brave enough to challenge how God interacts with the world.


Pete Myers

I’ve found that the older we get, the wiser we get and the wiser we get, the more willing we are to accept that we don’t know everything.  A fundamentalist on either side is having trouble recognizing their own limitations.  That is where the demonizing comes from.  As we obtain wisdom, we realize that even if we don’t accept fully what is being said on the other side, the conversation can still educate us.  In fact, it may educate us in a way that reinforces certain beliefs that we already hold.  It also may educate us and open us up to at least the possibility that we don’t have it all figured out and there are pieces of the puzzle that we hadn’t considered.  I know that is what has happened to me in this class.  I’m still not sure I agree with everything that has been posited.  However, I have certainly learned that there were things that I hadn’t thought of before.


Edward A. Hill

I was raised in a Christian fundamentalist household. My immediate family was never harsh toward other views but I do have other relatives who are quite strident in condemning those who hold other opinions. I think that their harsh words and actions are not the outgrowth of a hard heart, but simply a sincere attempt to defend the sanctity and honor of what they believe to be non-negotiable about the Christian faith. My view of the Bible is that it is divinely inspired and that provides all the information and insight we need to be saved and sanctified for service. To say it is inerrant nullifies the participation of human authors in the recording of the Bible, something that I don’t think we ought to do.
Your seven suggestions for engaging scientific fundamentalists were helpful and timely, as I have come across lately opponents of Christianity who are quite fierce and harsh in their pronouncements. Having said that, I think that my biggest complaint against scientific fundamentalism is the argument you make so well in your blog post. These folks completely discount the personal experience and testimony of millions of people who tightly embrace the work of God in their lives. To take the evidence drawn from genetic research, as you suggest, and hold it well above the personal experience of a large portion of the world’s population, seems disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worst. There is no more powerful evidence than the testimony of a true believer. It is close to impossible to confirm- that is true- but also quite unfair to refute out of hand. All of us need to be better listeners to one another in order to broaden our circles of knowledge and inquiry.


Charlene Sorensen

Perhaps one place we can begin a discussion with fundamentalists on each side is by using the information given above – that they are the same by definition, just different in focus.  In my experience with both types of fundamentalists, though, there is some resistance to identifying themselves as ‘fundamentalists’ or as ‘narrow-focused.’  “Bible believing,” “Conservative,” and “New Atheist” are familiar terms.  In my experience, having a discussion with some of my science colleagues about faith and love has them wondering about the validity of my degree.  Having a conversation with some of my fundamentalist folks causes them to question my beliefs or right to be called a Christian.  I hope (and think) that continuous dialogue with lots of listening.  What I have found that seems to have the most effect, though, is when an individual’s narrow focus fails to hold up under new conditions.  I have seen the molecular biologist who thought everything was understood and controlled by reactions and structures – until he had twins born at less than 26 weeks.  He still prays.  I have met the fundamentalist who did not believe in the workings of science (or medicine) – until that science solved a medical problem of his sister.  I hope conversations can change hearts and minds BEFORE a crisis.


Lisa Outar

As I read this post, I unfortunately was able to identify with the Christian fundamentalist. There is a great temptation to remain closed minded and think that we know everything there is to know already as as Dan Chapman says, this is the definition of ignorance.

I can sometimes be very ignorant and believe everything that’s been told to me without always checking it for myself. I believe it’s important for us to go back and question, doubt, explore and learn more. This doesn’t mean that we are easily swayed, but means that we are open minded and approach this with humility realizing that there is still so much to learn and not coming with an already made up mind.


Cody Stauffer

Tom, I really appreciate your points on what we can do for our own part when it comes to engaging others. Truth is, it’s really the only place we can start. Online discussions and debates through journal publications—while good for getting information out there, entertaining reading, and developing persuasive arguments—do very little in terms of building bridges between two view points or letting “opponents” know each other as anything other than the caricatures you mention. But being willing to sit and listen, to acknowledge valid criticism, and actually learning from our opponents actually puts what we are talking about in the first place into practice. We’re talking about transcendent ideals like altruism—so why not put it on display, creating an experience for the scientific fundamentalist?


Dennis Trexler

I guess I have some work to do before I “can shed my narrow thinking without rejecting my Christian faith.”  I am not convinced that it is in my best interest or in the best interest of the world to do that.  I actually do not have much problem with what has been said.  We have freedom in Christ and we are free to think and learn from every available means, but my trouble is with this freedom there is responsibility.  There is not a decision I make that doesn’t affect at least one other person.  I need to consider that.  Am I looking out for my own interest or the interest of others?  Is this constructive?  Is it true? (1 Corinthians 10, Philippians 2/4)

I think that is the hinge pin of all our discussions.  What is true?  What are we presupposing and empirically using as the standard of truth.  At this point, I need to be careful and I take Jesus’ words to heart when he told us that the gate that leads to life is narrow and the gate that leads to destruction is wide (Matthew 7).  The statement that I took out of the blog (quoted above) causes me concern because of impact we have on generations to come.  I can do just fine and have a strong, vibrant, and joyful relationship with God with a wider definition of truth, but what will that do to the future generations.  What foundation will they have to build their relationship with God on?

Dennis


Jonathan

first off, great essay!

I am an atheist and a proponent of science but given your essay’s description I am unsure whether I am a “scientific fundamentalist” as your description of this category seems rather vague to me.

One way to get more clarity is to hear whether or not you would describe the Sam Harris book ‘The Moral Landscape’ as espousing a fundamentalist viewpoint.  If yes, what makes it so?  I.e. a few concrete examples of well known scientific fundamentalists, what aspect of their world view is fundamentalist and what changes of their world view would move them out of the fundamentalist category would be interesting to read.

kind regards,
—jonathan


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