Thursday, December 8, 2005

Fundamentalist Sumbitches

William Dembski posts Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga's well-known discourse on the definition of "fundamentalist" found in his Warranted Christian Belief:

We must first look into the use of this term 'fundamentalist'. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like 'son of a bitch', more exactly 'sonovabitch', or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) 'sumbitch'. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of 'fundamentalist' (in this widely current use): it isn't simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like 'stupid sumbitch' (or maybe 'fascist sumbitch'?) than 'sumbitch' simpliciter.

It isn't exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase 'considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.' The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like 'stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine'.

Of course a fundamentalist is one who emphasizes and remains loyal to the basics, the fundamentals, of his craft or his convictions and is loath to be cajoled away from them. In that sense, there are fundamentalists in every endeavor, and in every ideological, political, and religious quarter. Since the word has pejorative connotations, however, it's used frequently by people who are given to the use of polemical abuse as a way of insulting people who are conservative in their religious or political views without having to resort to calling them a sumbitch.

Grounding Natural Rights

Carlos Alberto Montaner considers himself to be an agnostic but he nevertheless writes an essay whose point is that God is a sine qua non of moral judgment, a theme we have often written about ourselves here at Viewpoint. Montaner argues that human rights are contingent upon a transcendent moral authority and that if there is no such entity the whole notion and discussion of rights, as well as, we might add, right and wrong themselves, are little more than subjective blathering about personal preferences and arbitrary tastes.

Here are two paragraphs from Montaner's column:

The whole philosophical and juridical structure that supports liberal democracy hinges on the existence of a superior being from whom emanate the ''natural rights'' that protect individuals from the actions of the state or from the will of other people. If the premise of God's existence disappears, the theory of the existence of natural rights is automatically eliminated and the door is flung open to all kinds of abuses.

It's just that simple. If there are no natural rights, it may be acceptable to enslave prisoners, discriminate against women and execrate foreigners or homosexuals. All that's required is a decision by a legitimate source of power, such as a majority in numbers, for instance, or a group of notable and petulant wise men.

And, of course, if there is no God then there is no such thing as a natural right. Everyone would have the "right" to do whatever he or she has the power to do. Might would make right. If right is not grounded in something objective and transcendent, it simply doesn't exist other than as a matter of mere personal predilection.

You can read the rest of Montaner's article here.


Some readers may be familiar with Jonathan Wells and his book Icons of Evolution which drove the Darwinists into paroxysms of vein-popping rage. It was a good book.

The web site Intelligent Design: The Future is running Wells' response to his critics. Part I is up, and if you've never read it before and you're interested in the sorry legacy of Darwinian duplicity in high school biology textbooks, you might wish to check it out.