Fundamentalism and Scientism
Today, I want to play with "fundamentalism" and "scientism."
The contemporary culture wars are taking shape between the 30% of the American people who hold the Bible to be literally true, and the much smaller and opposite extreme who hold that science gives us the truth about the world. This is a clash between "fundamentalism" and "scientism." In between are the majority, who want to hold onto both traditional Abrahamic piety and the latest in medical breakthroughs. We've seen such fads as "intelligent design" vie for the attention of the majority, and although the street cred of ID diminished after Dover, it'll certainly have a comeback tour.
"Fundamentalism" holds that every jot and tittle of the Bible is absolutely and unerringly true. In maintaing this view, it is convenient to ignore such salient facts as (a) it is philologically difficult to even determine what the jots and tittles of the Bible are and (b) the Bible is silent on most matters that are important to the religious right. (Nowhere in the Scriptures is a clear and consistent position taken on abortion, for example, nor is gay marriage an issue. And despite the clarity of Leviticus 18:22, some scholars have suggested that David and Jonathan were more than just friends. Enough said . . . )
"Scientism" is the mirror-opposite, in that it holds that the totality of contemporary scientific methods and theories are the best (if not the only) way of discovering the Truth About the World.
In debates over the ethics of abortion, the teaching of evolution, and the looming threat of ecocide, the debate is increasingly polarized between scientism and fundamentalism.
But it's a serious mistake to see fundamentalism and scientisim as imerely implacably opposed. Rather, they are implacably opposed because they are different sides of the same coin: the coin of metaphysical dogmatism
Metaphysical dogmatism holds that the world has some real and essential structure which is fully knowable by human beings (even if they need assistance from divine revelation). There is a single and correct Way that the World Is. The only debate between scientism and fundamentalism is over how the Structure of the World is to be discovered: through systematic experimentation and quantification, or through authoritarian interpretation of divine revelation.
Against both, I want to hold out a plea for what Putnam (following Goodman) could call "internal realism", or for what Hakim Bey -- working out of entirely different styles, techniques, and traditions, calls "ontological anarchy": there is no single and correct way that the world is.
There are only many different ways. Scientific theories are, indeed, one way that the world is. Poetry and art are another. Music and literature are a way the world is. And so too are religion and philosophy.
Ontological anarchy refuses to look for a single over-arching principle that can unify all world-ways. It refuses to let any world-way be a Procrustean bed for all the others. It asks only that we cultivate as many different ways of being-in-the-world as we can, in order to further cultivate and expand our capacities for thinking, feeling, and living.