Monday, May 28, 2007

Fundamentalism has nothing to offer - whether of religion or science

I took in most of the two part series 'The Root of All Evil?' devoted to Richard Dawkins' exploration and denunciation of religion. At one level he is to be commended for triggering a debate about what is at issue. Like him I was appalled at some of the religious fundamentalists he encountered in making his documentary. As an explanatory device the 'capital G' form of God, with its associated institutional arrangements and practices, seems to me a device designed to avoid responsibility. But any fundamentalism does the same thing. So I was equally appalled at Dawkins' own scientistic fundamentalism and, perhaps worst of all, his lack of reflexivity. Here I concur with Margaret Somerville when she observes that Dawkins has set up an unhelpful dualism:

'In short, Dawkins — who is a fundamentalist atheist (atheism is a secular religion) — and religious fundamentalists are similar in an important respect. They take an either/or approach to everything: my beliefs or yours; religion or science; reason or faith; and so on. They then seek to reconcile what they see as the conflicts between these pairings by dropping one or the other of them. Dawkins' call for the elimination of religion demonstrates such a choice on his part. But it is an extremely dangerous proposal, likely to escalate the culture clashes and "religious wars" we are seeing.'

Either/or dualisms are about negation - they leave no scope for dialogue and for the creation of more holistic, helpful dualities. These distinctions have been taken into Economics (a good thing) but the origins of the terms seem to be disputed amongst sources. We have used these distinctions in both an earlier and current version of our Open University course, 'Environmental Decision Making: a systems approach'.