Philosophical Errors that Fundamentalists Make

Philosophical Errors that Fundamentalists Make July 10, 2012

That’s what Bethel University philosopher Dan Yim is thinking about:

Prof. Dan Yim

I think I’m beginning to understand Christian Fundamentalists a bit more, in that they tend to make both types of inference errors: (a) mistakenly believing that they have the right rules (as opposed to the hypothetical “right now” rules) and (b) not taking into account the probability that the conditions for observation evolve and in fact alter (and should alter) our allegiance to hypothetical “right now” rules (or propositions or creedal statements or…). They forget the motto Ecclesia semper reformanda est (“The church is to be always reforming.”).

Please allow me to head off a red herring at the pass. The bogeyman of “relativism” does not apply at all, precisely because the whole enterprise is premised on progress. In science (well, in scientific realism, to which I subscribe), the march towards better and more accurate representations of The Real is prosecuted hand-in-hand with – for lack of a better phrase – epistemic humility on the part of the scientists and philosophers of science I resonate with most. In the philosophy of science, we even invented a term to describe this orientation: verisimilitude.

In religion, I don’t see why it can’t be the same. (Actually, I see why, but it has nothing to do with rationality.) One specific analog for religious programs and religious ethics of the new observational possibilities and technologies in science should be the complex cluster of new social, political, and economic possibilities that exist for women, racial/ethnic minorities, and other types of under-represented or historically-repressed groups in the West and increasingly other global places. These new “encyclopedias of reference” allow for deeper insight into religiously important phenomena such as scripture, hermeneutics, nature/function of religious communities, etc., while simultaneously correcting a gross distortion – namely, the distortion that religious/doctrinal history floats somehow free of other social and historical realities such as the political economies that largely determined the modern consciousness, to name just one.

via Bethel Philosophy Blog: two kinds of inference errors.

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  • Joshua


    • Ben Hammond


      Go to the link and read the rest of the post – the section quoted above is actually near the end of the professor’s piece.

  • craig

    “The church reformed always reforming according to the word of God.”

    Thought you might want to get the full quote (context is a suttle thing)

  • Craig
  • Evelyn

    I think Yim has it a little backwards about the Christian Fundamentalist observation schema. The Christian Fundamentalists have the right “right now” rules in that they are trying to observe scripture through the modern day lens of scientific materialism (i.e. scripture and the creation story are materialistically (i.e. present-day literally) correct) and they are not taking in to account that the “conditions for observation” have, in fact, devolved relative to the “conditions for observation” when the scriptures were written. The viewpoint of our scientifically materialistic culture does not apply to scriptures that were likely considered myths when they were written.

    • Seth

      I like what you’re saying, especially the last sentence. But I don’t think we can presume either case fully. The skyrocketing growth of fundamentalism may mean that we can only progress by going backwards, so, you both win.

  • Just a long winded way of saying we shouldn’t base our world view on 3,000 books. This will not appeal to people who believe the Bible is the word of god and won’t make any difference to those who don’t believe it. it is his parenthetical aside that needs to be developed and discussed by modern-thinking Christians. When he says, “In religion, I don’t see why it can’t be the same. (Actually, I see why, but it has nothing to do with rationality.)”

    We need to figure out how to speak to and reach our fundamentalist brothers and sisters and help bring them into the 21st century. If we don’t, they will drag us back into the 14th.

    • I meant 3,000 year old books, not 3,000 books

    • Jonathan

      No chronological snobbery here…

  • Frank

    So culture should inform and evolve the word of God? Yeah that’s it! It’s not biblical but hey if it makes you feel important….

  • I’ve always felt/observed/experienced that, even for those who think the Bible or scripture is fixed/literal, it does end up changing as our world, culture, and general knowledge changes. For example, we cannot read stories of healing in the gospel without bringing into it our modern day understanding of healing & medicine. Even if we try to read it in some sort of isolated way, the word “healing” is loaded with meaning that would have been foreign to the original author(s)/hearers. Even if we chose not to, we add meaning to the text.

    Does this ring true for anyone else, Tony or other readers?

    • Excellent point Nathan. My understanding of Jesus “healing” the lepers is that he touched them, when no one else would touch them. This symbolically welcomed them back into the community. They may still have had leperosy, but they were loved and cared for. It also reminds me of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” where the old man performs CPR on a little kid in a primitive tribe and “brings him back to life”. They make the old man a god.

      Crossan, or was it Borg, had a book not too long ago that talked about the word “believe”. Being pre-scientific and not having the same definition of “fact” as we do, the word had very different meaning back then. So John 3:16 is really talking about something more like “loving” god, not some cold calculation of whether or not he exists.

      • Evelyn


      • Lance

        I have to object Lausten, I think we need to look at Matthew 8:1-4 or Luke 17 again. Question, how would you explain the leper showing himself to the priest, did he have a note from Jesus? Did the priest not comply with Lev. 14:2-32 and ensure the lepers were clean?
        I would also be curious to know your take on the blind man, “I was blind, now I see!…but just figurtively.”

  • Chris

    It seems to me this author had juxtaposed the “right rules” with the “right now” rules and throb accuses fundamentalists of doing so because her doesn’t agree with fundamentalists interpretation. The author then protests against claims of relativism and then explains a rational that had the basis of relativism, despite his protests to the contrary. The author posits that we change the “rules” based on the new revelations of social development and modern contexts, assuming that these new developments and contexts are both positive and superior to those in which God chose to reveal Godself, and assuming that both God’s choice of relevatory culture and those cultural manifestations of God’s commands are entirely coincidental. These assumptions are the basis of relativism, whether the author chooses to admit to such or not.

  • si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses…

  • Tom Mc Carrick

    “In the philosophy of science, we even invented a term to describe this orientation: verisimilitude.
    In religion, I don’t see why it can’t be the same. ”

    It can’t be the same in religion because “God reigns” and we will all answer to Him.
    It can’t be the same because the Lord Jesus Christ is The Way, The Truth and The Life.
    You can’t get around it.

    Psalm 93:
    1The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.
    2Thy throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting.
    3The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their waves.
    4The LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.
    5Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, for ever.