These days, ‘fundamentalists’ of any sort are generally despised. If you say you are a fundamentalist, the news media will assume you are a terrorist, or at least a fanatic. Sections of the scientific community will assume you are their enemy. And your non-Christian acquaintances will steer clear of you, fearing another Jonestown tragedy or Waco inferno.
So it is interesting that in recent months, several commentators outside mainstream creationist circles have referred to zealous evolutionary scientists as ‘fundamentalists’. The label is more appropriate than it may seem, for the word has changed its meaning over the years.
The term ‘fundamentalist’ at the turn of the century meant someone who accepted the basic doctrines of Christianity, such as the inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the bodily Resurrection and the Second Coming of Christ. In 1902, evangelicals founded the American Bible League, and produced 12 pamphlets entitled The Fundamentals. These pamphlets pointed out the errors of biblical criticism, and led to more informed support for basic biblical doctrines
Since the 1970s, the word ‘fundamentalist’ has absorbed a more sinister meaning. Violent extremists during the Iranian Revolution of 1978 were daily called ‘Muslim fundamentalists’ in news reports. Hardline politico-religious sects in India and elsewhere were known as ‘radical fundamentalists’. Today, any cultic screwball who seems to the media to have a religious connection is labelled a ‘religious fundamentalist’.
Fundamentalist is now commonly used to mean narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, fanatical, and suppressive of opposing views.Fundamentalist is now commonly used to mean narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, fanatical, and suppressive of opposing views. It is in this sense that critics seem to have begun to refer to evolutionary zealots as ‘Darwinian fundamentalists’.
Law professor Phillip Johnson, from the University of California at Berkeley, has been particularly active in pointing out that Darwinists are ‘fundamentalists’. He sees that they are using their enormous clout to exclude creationists from science and education. In his book, Darwin on Trial, Johnson said Darwinists are fundamentalists who do all in their power to suppress criticism of evolution.
Johnson is not a strong literal creationist, which makes his entry into the creation-evolution debate all the more persuasive. He has adequately defended his charges against heated attacks from those who fall into the category which his book so ably critiques.
‘Darwinists begin by assuming that science excludes the possibility of a creator’, Johnson told the Los Angeles Times. ‘If Darwinists actually had to prove their theory, they could only make a most undignified retreat. So instead of proof, they fall back on a loaded definition of science and tell us that only kooks believe proof is necessary.’
A lecturer in philosophy at the University of Reading in England, Dr David Oderberg, recently sprang to Johnson’s defence. Dr Oderberg’s review of Johnson’s book, published in major newspapers this year, makes it clear that he agrees Johnson has got the arguments against Darwinian fundamentalists right. Oderberg calls Darwin on Trial a ‘remarkable and exceedingly well-informed critique’, and urges that it be read by anyone who cares about the pursuit of scientific truth—‘an activity increasingly incompatible with the promotion of scientific orthodoxy.’
So the lawyer and the philosopher are in agreement that, as a group, it is the Darwinists who are the narrow-minded propagandists who will go to extraordinary lengths to control the public’s thinking about science.
Enter the liberal Jewish rabbi.
Unrelated to the fray around Darwin on Trial, the senior rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London, David Goldberg, wrote in April an article for The Guardian newspaper in which he noted that religion had no monopoly on fundamentalism.
Rabbi Goldberg argued against fundamentalism of any kind, but warned that science is in danger of assuming it has answers to all questions. He concluded his article: ‘One does not have to be religious to be a fundamentalist.’ (Although, as some critics have pointed out, evolution has a ‘Trinity’ of sorts—‘Mother Nature’, ‘Father Time’, and ‘Lady Luck’!)
Evolutionists have largely failed to admit, much less answer, the inherent problems of their theory which creationists have pointed out. So it is now the lawyer, the philosopher, and the liberal religionist who are speaking out on an issue they see more clearly than does the evolutionary scientific community itself. Being expert in a discipline outside science has its advantages. Thinkers from British writer and literary critic C.S. Lewis to American philosopher Thomas Kuhn have contended that those outside a discipline often have the necessary impartiality to criticize the discipline’s major beliefs.
The message is clear for the evolutionary scientific community. Refusal to allow questioning of the basis for their theory, with recriminations against any who are brave enough to speak out against the ‘believe it or else’ philosophy, can only continue to choke scientific inquiry and freedom of thought. The alternative, to allow creationist views to co-exist and compete with evolutionary views in schools and the science lab, can only benefit us all.