Fundamentalism (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Two sets of complex ways by which contemporary people look at reality coexist and often clash. The code word most frequently used for one set of views is fundamentalism. The other is referred to as science, as in "the scientific worldview." Science has developed over many centuries and has taken different forms since at least ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. At its heart are notions such as these: Scientists must be able to observe cause and effect, and they must be able to replicate experiments to test their validity. Such notions have to do with methods and serve mainly practical purposes.
It happens, however, that many scientists and science theorists become so engrossed in the method and its many positive results that they see it as an all-purpose explanation of the world. Anything that cannot be subjected to the cause-and-effect approach is suspect. Almost inevitably, habits of attention to science become preoccupying. More than a few devotees of the scientific worldview come to regard it as exclusive. Any alternatives that challenge it have to be refuted or repudiated.
The term fundamentalism was first applied to Protestants in the United States in the 1920s, but it now represents a set of phenomena that can be observed in most cultures where religion has influence and especially in cultures where religion dominates. Fundamentalism is almost always associated with religion, but some scholars also see it as an outlook on life that can characterize the non-religious as well. In fact, some theological scholars claim that those who are devoted without question to the scientific worldview sometimes approach it as uncritically as most scientists see religious fundamentalists defending their worldviews.
If the word fundamentalism was coined in the twentieth century, it must have been needed to describe a new reality. By common consent, the word points to phenomena different from what is suggested by the related words conservatism, traditionalism, or orthodoxy. The difference lies chiefly in the fact that fundamentalism is reactive. Its defenders "fight back" against what they feel might undercut or assault what they believe. Such fundamentalism is especially present in the "religions of the book": Christianity, Islam, and, to a lesser extent, Judaism. Fundamentalism is present in other forms in Buddhism and Hinduism, but the lines between religion and science are drawn differently in these traditions.
Religions of the book also speak of cause and effect. In their case, the cause is philosophy's "First Cause," which translates into "God." The means of producing effect is the revelation of God through prophets, events, and a sacred book. It is difficult for devotees of the book to subject it to experiment. How does one "replicate" the creation of the world or the presence of prophets who profess to speak about realities that are not testable in the laboratory? How does one "repeat" events that belong to faith, such as the resurrection of a God-Man or a journey into the heavens by a prophet Muhammad on his horse?
Ordinarily people can live with the two world-views, which do not always have to be seen as competing. Religion can address some aspects of life and science can address others. But fundamentalists have great difficulty picturing how the two worldviews can coexist in the same mind and the same culture. To fundamentalists, one world-view must be right and the other wrong. One is of God and the other is anti-God, perhaps of Satan.
Fundamentalists react or fight back against threats to their communities, traditions, and ways of life. Usually the term for what they attack is modernization and all that goes with it. Fundamentalism took shape in countering the assaults of what modernity brings. Not to fight back is to play into the hands of God's enemy and to see the possible destruction of all that one believes.
Technology provides the most profound impact of modernization among citizens around the globe and in all the religions. Technology might include mass communication, rapid means of travel, highly developed weaponry, and the like. With it may come social arrangements that disrupt community. In the modern world, guided by technology, people migrate and spread alien ideas in traditional cultures. While many adapt, fundamentalists say their adherents dare not.
Paradoxically, however, most fundamentalists are very comfortable with technology. Jewish fundamentalists in Gush Emunim in Israel have highly proficient weapons and systems of communication. The modern revolutionary Islamic movements, from that of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in the 1970s to the al-Qaeda terrorists in Wahhabi Islam at the beginning of the twenty-first century, have exploited technologies from tape recordings to the Internet. In the United States, Christian fundamentalist broadcasters are much more effective in the use of technical media than are their nonfundamentalist competitors.
What has happened? Is there, in fact, compatibility between two worldviews that were opposed root and branch? As one studies Islamic and Christian fundamentalisms, it becomes clear that the leaders are able to separate the practical instruments of technology from the scientific theories and experiments that made them possible.
This does not mean that all fundamentalists oppose all science. Many are, in fact, experts in hard sciences. The largely fundamentalist American movement called creation science includes people with Doctor of Philosophy degrees, often in the hard sciences where "facts" are determinative. They might accept but one miracle: That their book is the utterance of God. From there on, they will draw "facts" from the sacred book and approach those facts the way they would approach species in biology.
Islamic and other non-Western fundamentalists aim their reactionary efforts against the West, which is the source of so much science and the philosophy of science. The West is seen as the intrusive agent that has exported science and made the non-West dependent upon its hated alternative. And the science that comes from the West tends to arrive with trappings, which may include scientists and technicians who ignore or have disdain for religion. In a world that is gradually being dominated by technology, whether in medicine, opinion formation, or weaponry, the fundamentalist rejection of science is seen as dangerous among moderate coreligionists or people of secular mentality.
Cultures dominated by fundamentalism may eventually be able to overcome suspicion and retrieve from their heritage the variety of approaches that helped them lead in science, as was the case with medieval Islam. Until then, it will remain necessary for regimes dominated by fundamentalists to borrow some coveted features of scientific development, such as modern medicine. Whether such regimes can remain players on the global scene and serve their constituents without developing their own scientific research traditions is a fateful question both for fundamentalist-ruled nations and those who experience the dangerous expressions of their reaction.
See also CHRISTIANITY, EVANGELICAL, ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION; CREATIONISM; CREATION SCIENCE
Antoun, Richard T. Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Movements. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira, 2001.
Bassam Tibi. "The Worldview of Sunni Arab Fundamentalists: Attitudes toward Modern Science and Technology." In Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education, ed. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Farhang Rajaee. "Islam and Modernity: The Reconstruction of an Alternativbe Shi'ite Islamic Worldview in Iran." In Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education, ed. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
James Moore. "The Creationist Cosmos of Protestant Fundamentalism." In Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education, ed. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Lindberg, David C., and Numbers, Ronald L., eds. God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
Mendelsohn, Everett. "Religious Fundamentalism and the Sciences." In Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education, ed. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Moore, James. The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
MARTIN E. MARTY