Why The "Fundamentalist" Approach To Religion Must Be Wrong
An essay by Scott Bidstrup
"I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good... Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism."
-Randall Terry, Founder of Operation Rescue
Quoted in The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana. 8-16-93
"I want to say to all you Scribes, Pharisees, heresy hunters, all of you that are going around pickin' little bits of doctrinal error out of everybody's eyes and dividin' the Body of Christ...get out of God's way, stop blockin' God's bridges, or God's goin' to shoot you if I don't...let Him sort out all this doctrinal doodoo!...I refuse to argue any longer with any of you out there! Don't even call me if you want to argue...Get out of my life! I don't want to talk to you...I don't want to see your ugly face!"
-Paul Crouch, President, Trinity Broadcasting Network
"In winning a nation to the gospel, the sword as well as the pen must be used." "Democracy is a heresy against God!"
-R.J. Rushdooney, Director of the Rutherford Institute,
which was the principal funder of Monica Lewinsky's
legal defense, and architect of "Christian Reconstructionism."
Fundamentalism is variously described by various authors, but to me it really boils down to a rather simple test: In my view, a fundamentalist religion is a religion, any religion, that when confronted with a conflict between love, compassion and caring, and conformity to doctrine, will almost invariably choose the latter regardless of the effect it has on its followers or on the society of which it is a part.
Fundamentalist religions make this choice because they uniformly place a high priority on doctrinal conformity, with such force that it takes higher priority than love, compassion and service.
Indeed, many fundamentalists are so caught up in doctrinal seriousness, that love, service and compassion seem scarcely to even be a part of their thinking. As one correspondent said to me regarding a certain Christian sect's converts, "Its like they go in and surgically remove any sense of love or any sense of humor."
This emphasis on doctrinal conformity seems to be the result of the belief in the requirement of absolute conformity to doctrine to achieve salvation. Yet at the same time, many will also officially claim that simple acceptance of that sect's doctrine is sufficient for salvation. This dichotomy is often seen in the same sect; some of the fundamentalist Christian sects being good examples. The contradiction seems to go unnoticed or if it is noticed, it is ignored.
It seems that another facet of fundamentalist thinking is belief in the correctness of their thinking. Invariably, they will make the claim that they are right to the exclusion of others, even all others, and that they, and they alone offer the path to salvation.
Fundamentalist religions regard their missions with great seriousness. Many claim that the salvation of the world depends on them, and some will seriously contend that the earth will end without them.
It is this overwhelming seriousness about religion that seems to be one of the hallmarks of the fundamentalist. He is concerned not only with his own conformity to doctrine, but the conformity of the rest of society to it, too. Many fundamentalists will not hesitate to intervene in the political process to ensure that society is forced to conform to the behaviors their world view requires, if not accept that world view. The belief that they are right, without any question, justifies, in their own minds, taking upon themselves the right to impose their point of view, by force if neccessary. An example is the attempt, by some Christian fundamentalist groups to shut down, by force, abortion clinics that are operating in accordance with the law. Some have gone so far as to threaten and intimidate employees, and even murder doctors working there.
Fundamentalism isn't restricted to Christianity or Islam, the two major religions on which it has had its greatest impact, but it is found in every major religion, ranging from Judaism, to Hinduism, to Sufism, to Buddhism, to even Zoroastrianism.
In Christianity, though relatively small in numbers, it has overtaken the legitimate sects in influence, and has become the dominant force, particularly in the United States, much of Latin America, and in the Christianized African nations. Most (though certainly not all) "evangelical" Christian sects have succumbed to fundamentalism.
In Islam, which has always eschewed the separation of church and state, it has amalgamated with political forces to institute a particularly harsh set of rules as political law. Called the Sharia,this code of law is the law of the land in Iran, the Sudan, some of the sultanates of the Persian Gulf and lately in Afganistan. Its advocates threaten to institute Sharia in Algeria and Egypt as well.
In Judaism, fundamentalism represents only about 1/10th of those who call themselves Jews, but it certainly makes the most noise, especially in Israel, whose constitution and political situation almost guarantees a major voice to fundamentalist sects in parliament and government, even though they are only a small portion of the population.
Why does fundamentalism have such a broad appeal? Besides the appeal to vanity ('join us and you can be one of God's chosen'), and its appeal to fear ('you can't be saved without us'), its broad appeal is because it offers an easy way -- a fundamentalist need not think deeply about doctrine or be highly educated in it; as one Mormon leader once said to an audience of university students, "Don't think for yourself. The thinking has already been done." If you surrender your right to think for yourself and just do as the leader asks, the fundamentalist promises you a sure ticket into heaven. What could be easier?
Of course, the fallacy is that the possibility always exists that the fundamentalist leader seeking your submission could be wrong. He may not have a sure ticket into heaven to offer you after all. And if he doesn't, you've engaged in an act of self deception of massive proportions.
Indeed, I am prepared to argue that he never does. He is always wrong, at least to some degree.
"Bidstrup's Index of Fundamentalism"
It has been observed that one of the characteristics of fundamentalism is that among patriarchialistic religions, at least, chavinism is a clear, almost defining characteristic. Indeed, it has been my experience that the degree of chavinism within a religion seems to closely parallel the degree to which the organization could be charactarized as fundamentalist.
Based on that observation, I hereby propose what I'm somewhat laughingly calling "Bidstrup's Index of Fundamentalism." It is basically just a measure of the degree to which women's rights are abrogated by the religion's doctrine and the culture that the religion creates. It is scored like this: If a religious organization is characterized by each or any of the statements below, add the points indicated to the score.
* Does the religion deny to women the same religious privileges and authority it accords to men (such as denying the priesthood)? If so, add 2 points.
* Does the religion seek to deny women secular (i.e., usually political) power (e.g., the right to vote, run for office, etc.)? If so, add 3 points.
* Does the religion impose greater 'moral' burdens on women than it does men (i.e., promote a double standard)? If so, add 4 points.
* Does the religion seek to promote unquestioning submission of wives to their husbands? If so, add 4 points.
* Does the religion promote involuntary marriage arrangements (such as arranged marriages, involuntary polygamy, denial of divorce initiated by the wife, etc.)? If so, add 5 points.
* Does the religion discourage the participation of non-parenting wives in the workforce? If so, add 3 points.
* If the above question is no, does the religion discourage the participation of parenting wives in the workforce regardless of economic circumstances? If so, add 3 points.
* Does the religion discourage the education of women? If so, add 4 points.
* Does the religion encourage women to remain at home, with contact with other women and men in the community discouraged? If so, add 5 points.
* Does the religion accept or promote the treatment of women as property or a commodity, or treat wives as servants? If so, add 5 points.
* Does the religion seek to deny women their reproductive freedom (taking a "pro-life" position on abortion, or discouraging or interfering with artificial contraception)? If so, add 5 points.
* Does the religion seek to deny women the full right of self-determination, dignity and self respect that they accord men ("at home, barefoot and pregnant")? If so, add 4 points.
* Does the religion publicly humiliate women who violate the prohibitions that apply only to women? If so, add 3 points.
By applying this little index, it will help measure the degree of intolerance and bigotry associated with a fundamentalist religion. This, then, becomes an index to how dangerous a religion is, as defined below.
Why Fundamentalism Denies The Power Of God
The greatest philosophical problem of fundamentalism is that it denies the power of God.
Gott Mit Uns (God is with us) proclaimed the belt buckles of the Nazi SS storm troopers. Of course, every religious fundamentalist makes the same claim. The way that the fundamentalist justifies the exercise of his influence and power in society is that God is on his side, and needs his efforts to see that God's work is done. The famous Christian fundamentalist political technician, Ralph Reed, even says of himself, "I'm the stealth candidate... I paint my face and travel at night." How does he morally justify that kind of deceptive behavior? Does the end justify the means? Or is God simply incapable of implementing His own agenda without Ralph's help?
Does God really need the fundamentalist's efforts?
To make the claim that God needs one's efforts is a flat-out denial of the power of God. Claiming that God is omnipotent and omniscient is to imply that nothing happens in the universe that isn't happening with the knowledge and consent of God. How could it happen without the knowledge of God? It has to be that way if you accept the omniscience of God. If God doesn't allow it, how can it happen? Otherwise, God would not be omnipotent. If God allows it, it implies at least knowledge and consent.
Why, then, must God require the services of the fundamentalist to ensure that His will happens in the Universe?
If the homosexual were as abhorrent to God as most fundamentalists imply, the homosexual wouldn't last a millisecond. Otherwise, God cannot be omnipotent. Why would an omnipotent God need someone else to persecute the homosexual for Him?
If God is saying, "I'll let him live, but he's still abhorrent" it implies that God's behavior isn't consistent with what He wants. Why would God want something abhorrent to him to continue to exist?
Then there's proselytization.
There is a saying in Buddhism that where the student is ready, the teacher is provided. Such a concept certainly affirms the power of God to bring the word of God to the sincere seeker. Why then, does the fundamentalist almost always assume that God needs him to go out and spread God's word? If God is omnipotent, He doesn't need anyone to proselytize on His behalf. He's quite capable of steering the seeker in the direction of His word all by Himself.
Why Fundamentalism Appeals To The Base Tendencies In Man
The reason that fundamentalism makes the claim that God needs his services is that it flatters the fundamentalist. He gets a self-stroke out of the deal. Makes him feel good about himself and what he's doing.
But it doesn't stop there. When you figure God is on your side, you can justify almost anything. Recently a spate of bombings of abortion clinics and gay bars in North America has underlined how far this self-justification can take the fundamentalist. Even murder has been justified by those claiming the authority of God.
Of course, if God wasn't willing to allow abortion, it wouldn't happen. And if God didn't want the obstetrician-gynecologist to live, he would last even a millisecond. So why does God need the fundamentalist to carry out his will? But this does not occur to the fundamentalist, since his conception of God's word becomes his self-justification for acts he would find abhorrent in any other context.
This isn't the only base appeal in fundamentalism. Another appeal, equally damaging, is the notion that you're one of "God's chosen." Such an idea is an outright appeal to vanity and ego. Here the unspoken implication is that if you're one of God's chosen, the other fellow isn't, and that you're somehow therefore better.
This appeal to vanity can set the fundamentalist apart in his own mind from his peers. It can justify a certain arrogance in thinking he is superior. This is seen in just about any public debate involving fundamentalists and those who oppose them -- just watch the attitude of the fundamentalist when the subject of abortion rights or gay rights comes up.
Another belief common to fundamentalists is that they are somehow less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life. God will somehow protect him, because he is chosen to do God's will. Of course if that were actually true, it would be reflected in statistical analysis. Science has studied this problem extensively and has never been able to show a correlation between fundamentalist belief and any measure of well-being. To the fundamentalist who holds this view, however, it just means Science is wrong.
Fundamentalism often justifies hatred in the minds of its adherents. This is undoubtedly the most dangerous aspect of fundamentalism. The idea that God hates the same people you do is particularly gratifying in that it makes the indulgence in hatred not only acceptable, but somehow approved and even encouraged by God. This is seen most clearly in many fundamentalist Islamic sects, which routinely justify Terrorism and murder as being "God's will." Of course, Islamic fundamentalism isn't alone. There are plenty of Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist sects which do the same.
The results are obvious. Terrorism in Northern Ireland, which is framed in religious terms, war in the Middle East, domestic terror in Egypt, Algeria, and in countless other conflicts around the world are the results of hatred justified by the fundamentalist notion that my side is right and the other side is wrong. If the religionists involved adhered to the concept that the purpose of religion is to teach tolerance, love and compassion, such conflicts would not exist. But they are justified to the fundamentalist, because he believes that God is on his side and will reward him for his acts that in any other context, he himself would condemn.
Sincere people who come to religion often come as a result of guilt and shame. Such a motivator often leads the seeker to a fundamentalist religion which tries to assure the follower that he need not concern himself with his guilt and shame because of some doctrine which exempts him from responsibility for the situations that cause that guilt and shame. Among many Christian fundamentalist groups, that exemption is found in the doctrine of the redemption of Christ.
That sense of exemption relieves the guilt and shame, and thereby makes the follower feel good. That good feeling is then often associated with the notion that the follower has been 'saved.' Often the price the religion extracts for that 'salvation' is a requirement to contribute to the church or to proselytization its behalf, or at bare minimum, conformity to the doctrine and the advice of the leadership. Hence, the follower is made loyal to the religion which has relieved him of that guilt and shame, and a true-believer and often zealous advocate is born.
Why Fundamentalism Accepts Hypocrisy
Fundamentalism, like any other belief system, has to propagate itself in order to survive and prosper.
A method used by many fundamentalist Christian religions, is to appeal in very subtle ways to some of the baser instincts in man.
It is obvious that telling someone he is right is more likely to get him to agree with you than telling him he is wrong and should reform himself.
And so fundamentalist sects do just that; they have justified slavery to slaveholders. They have justified persecution of unpopular minorities to bigots, and war to nationalists. They have justified disregard and even oppression of the poor and dispossessed by the wealthy and powerful.
What have the fundamentalist sects gained by such behavior? Obviously it is membership and financial support among members, and an acceptance and acquiesence among its neighbors.
Yet a fundamentalist religion cannot make such base appeals openly. To do so would be to deny the principles of religion that make religion a positive force in the minds of most people. Religion must be respectable to survive for long, so fundamentalist sects will invariably pay a great deal of lip service to the ideals of true religion, all the while ignoring them in practice, and occasionally even being contemptuous of them in private. An example is the anti-abortion movement; while it makes a lot of noise about the sanctity of life, rarely do its adherents concern themselves with the lives of the babies after they're born. The reason why is that they don't really care about the infants; what they really care about is the control.
Why Fundamentalism Promotes Intolerance
The fundamentalist believes that he is right. Period.
He believes he knows the will of God. We've all seen that bumper sticker that says, "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." Of course the fallacy is that there's no proof, or even reliable evidence, that God ever said anything.
When someone takes such a doctrinaire approach to religion, without being willing to accept that he may be wrong, it becomes very easy to believe that he knows what's right for everyone else as well.
When he believes that he knows what is best for everyone else, it is a very short leap to the feeling that he has the right, if not the responsibility to impose on others the point of view he is so sure is not only correct, but even infallible. After all it is for their own good, is it not?
Thus the fundamentalist has, by his conviction that he is correct, justified the extinction, by force if neccessary, of opposing points of view. This is why so many highly public fundamentalists take positions that would not only be familiar, but quite comfortable to most fascists. This is why Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, feels justified in saying that he doesn't want pluralism. It is why Ralph Reed used to describe himself as the "stealth" candidate, "painting [his] face and travelling at night."
The philosophical Achilles' heel, here of course, is that the fundamentalist can be wrong, and occasionally have to admit it. There are few Southern Baptists today who would openly argue that God meant for people of African descent to be enslaved to people of European descent. Yet that argument is precisely how the Southern Baptist Convention came into being. Now, a century and a half later, the doctrine seems to have changed, in spite of their notion that the Bible should be interpreted literally, and therefore it's meaning can't change.
Well, if the Southern Baptists were wrong about slavery, and later about segregation, those very facts beg the question, what else are they wrong about? Yet it is remarkable how few Southern Baptists ever stop to consider that question. The belief is that by asking such questions, you're somehow falling into "Satan's trap" as if logical inconsistency wasn't itself a trap.
Of course, the Southern Baptists aren't alone. A favorite example of mine is the Mormon practice of polygamy in the 19th century. For five decades, the Mormons endured considerable persecution in the practice of their belief in polygamy; yet today, a century after the official practice of polygamy ended in the Mormon church, that church is using precisely the same arguments against gay marriage that were used against them in the practice of polygamy a century ago. And the proponents of gay marriage are using the same arguments in favor of gay marriage that the Mormons used in arguing for polygamy then. Yet the ironic hypocrisy of that position is totally lost on the current generation of Mormon leadership and even many of the members.
Why Fundamentalism Contradicts The Intent Of Founding Prophets
The purpose of religion is to teach love, both for self and for others. Indeed, living in the state of self-love is "the kingdom of heaven" that Jesus and other founding prophets talked about being "within you."
When one has self-love and self-respect, one respects others, because one sees reflected in others the empathy, compassion and love one sees in oneself. It is this insight that the founding prophets of all major religions have tried to convey to their followers. It is arriving at the point of living this ideal that has been, from the beginning of time, the goal of the sincere seeker and the true, undefiled religion.
Achieving this self-love, however, can be difficult. It requires self-examination, which at times can be intensely painful. Not everyone is up to that kind of self-discipline.
A religious leader seeking to fill the pews with contributing churchgoers at some level has to know this. Yet he must fill the pews to keep the lights on, the furnace running and the maintenance paid.
The temptation is there to do what will fill the pews. And filling the pews can be really much easier, if all you feel you have to do is make the worshipper feel good about being there.
If making the worshipper feel good is all you're after, and you don't care how you do it, the easiest way to do it is to assure him his prejudices are approved by God. Make him feel that he doesn't have to change because he's already arrived at salvation, or, as in the case of the Christian doctrine of redemption, someone else has agreed to pay for his mistakes, or you or God can make the changes for him, and you have a loyal church member. It's, oh, so much easier than telling him he has to work on himself!
Yet the founding prophets never did such things. Jesus Christ and Ghatama Buddha and the prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h) and many others all knew of the fallacy of such an approach and did not advocate it. They were totally honest with themselves and their followers, that salvation requires personal effort and sacrifice.
Those who sincerely seek spiritual growth intuitively know this. This is why sincere followers are attracted to the words of the founding prophets like bees are drawn to nectar laden flowers. The sincere seeker already knows he is going to have to work on himself, and is looking for the best method by which to do it. As he seeks that path, and he finds his personal insights match those of the prophet, the seeker is drawn to the prophet's wisdom.
Unfortunately, for every sincere seeker, there are a thousand people driven to religion by fear, guilt and shame. These negative emotions are then played upon by religionists who seek to fill the pews with compliant, profitable members. It is my contention that many, if not most fundamentalist organizations have fallen into this trap.
How Fundamentalism Promotes Ignorance
Fundamentalism almost invariably has a problem with science. Science is the process of starting with the evidence and proceeding to the conclusion that best fits the evidence, regardless of what that conclusion may be.
Fundamentalism, on the other hand, starts with a conclusion and searches for evidence to support that conclusion.
Anyone who has ever been wrong knows that the latter is no way to find the truth, because it presumes the searcher has the truth to begin with, which of course may or may not be the case.
But this doesn't stop the fundamentalist; the very premise of fundamentalism presumes to start with the truth, and all the fundamentalist lacks is evidence. This false science has even become an industry in such organizations as the Institute for Creation Science, the Family Research Council, etc. There are many other examples, and from many religions besides just Christianity.
This can most clearly be seen in the Christian fundamentalist's hard-core, bedrock belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. While there are numerous contradictions, obvious errors and serious problems with doctrine in the Bible, the Christian fundamentalist simply ignores them at worst, and applies tortured, twisted logic in an effort to explain them at best. But in the final analysis, the Bible speaks for itself, and anyone who takes the time to seriously study it will be impressed at how many irreconcilable problems there are with the Bible.
How can the fundamentalist read the Bible and ignore the irreconcilable contradictions? It is done by compartmentalized thinking, a thought technique that allows two or more contradictory facts to inhabit the mind at the same time in peace and without conflict. Yet when the contradiction is directly pointed out to the fundamentalist, the reaction is to claim that such an argument is "one of Satan's traps." It really isn't, of course, it's just truth coming to call. But the notion that such nagging thoughts are the devil's tools are the way the inerrantist maintains peace in his mind.
Why Fundamentalism Is A Force For Evil In Society
By distracting otherwise sincere people from honest self-examination and the spiritual growth it makes possible, and by obstructing honest scientific inquiry and intellectual debate, fundamentalism derails the progress that society would achieve by honest, competent religious practice.
But more than that, fundamentalism all too often justifies in its adherents' minds the prejudices, the zealotry, the intolerance and the hatemongering that are all the most base of human instincts. To gain and keep adherents, these religions can do great violence to human freedom and dignity, and often are the source of much economic and social stagnation and even ruin. Much human misery owes its origins to fundamentalist religion and the spiritual corruption it fosters.
Why Fundamentalism Should Be Fought
Human progress is essentially a search for truth. To the extent that fundamentalism blocks or impedes that search for the truth, it blocks or impedes human progress. True religion is a relentless search for and acceptance of truth about yourself and the universe in which you find yourself regardless of the discomfort that truth may cause.
One of the insights of the American democracy has been the unique justice of the concept of equal protection of the law. Unfortunately, fundamentalism undermines that concept by promoting its political philosophy as superior to others, even though it is often wrong, and thereby undermines the egalitarian foundations of western democratic institutions. An example of this is the hard fight that the Southern Baptists fought in the last century to preserve the institution of slavery, and the fight to preserve segregation in this century. Those fights were all based on Biblical scripture, of course, but few fundamentalists today would still defend these positions.
Fundamentalism of any stripe is not progress, but rather, I contend, is the impedance of progress. With so many problems facing humanity, the notion that we can even afford the luxury of even tolerating politically active brands of fundamentalism is rapidly becoming impossible. The world gets continually smaller as it gets more crowded, and the imposition, by public policy, of religious doctrines on others who know better is a sure recipe for strife. It has been the cause of enormous death and suffering over the centuries.
As the world becomes ever more crowded, there are fewer and fewer places to which a refugee of conscience can escape. For this reason, it is imperative that we strive to make our nations as egalitarian as possible, affording for all the freedom of conscience to all equally and without acceding to the presumption of superior wisdom by any religious group. Environmental pressures caused by rapidly expanding human populations, make public policy decisions based on the best available information and hypotheses, elucidated by honest intellectual inquiry, increasingly urgent.
Some fundamentalist religious groups, which seek to strike down the wall of separation between church and state so that they can impose their views on others, work in opposition to this increasingly urgent need.
How Should Fundamentalism Be Fought?
Fundamentalism must be fought with education.
It is obvious that the best innoculant against any form of ignorance is education. And make no mistake, fundamentalism is a form of spectacular ignorance, ignorance of the basic principles of true religion.
It is no coincidence that fundamentalism has arisen in America at the same time that the public education system has collapsed. And it is also no coincidence that fundamentalism is strongest in America and elsewhere in the world wherever the educational system is at its weakest.
The best form of education is the teaching of critical thinking skills. It is the most important skill any educator can teach. With it, the fundamentalism's deceiving tricks are quickly exposed, and it is seen for what it is. Students need to be taught the importance of gathering the evidence and then proceeding to the conclusion, not the other way around. The best way to teach logic, reason and critical thinking skills is with the "Socratic method" of guided discussion. This should be done beginning in the earliest grade, and by the fourth year, the formal elements of logic and reason can be introduced, so that students have a guide in recognizing and rejecting fallacious thinking. Doing this with rigor and consistency throughout the educational process will lead to a generation that will think independently as a matter of habit, rather than accepting pre-digested doctrines blindly.
It would be helpful too, to teach what true religion really is. Once the student is aware of the nature of true religion, the fundamentalist doesn't stand a chance, because the logical weakness of his doctrine becomes obvious and the devious subtlety of its appeals are exposed.
The other effective way to fight fundamentalism is to teach humility.
Spiritual progress is impossible without it. Scientific progress is impossible without it.
I'm not suggesting students should be humiliated -- not at all. That's child abuse and should be fought vigorously. But the value of humility should be taught, so that students understand that they can't maintain an open mind in the absence of humility. They'll gain a lot from learning it, not just academically, but in relationships and social skills, too.
Perhaps the best way to check the progress of fundamentalism is with critical, analytical thinking. If every school taught the basics of critical thinking, learning would flourish and fundamentalism would fade.
Fundamentalist apologists lack scholarly rigor, because in their rush to ensure that they are covering all the obvious problems with the doctrines they preach, they often commit unacceptable errors in logic. To wit:
* They concentrate on their opponents' weak points, while rarely saying anything definitive about their own position. They point, for example, to the fact that an honest scientist will refuse to make a statement from a position of certainty, while they're happy to do so, claiming divine knowledge. This is an example of the straw-man fallacy.
* They exploit errors made by scholars who are making opposing arguments, implying that because a few of their opponents' conclusions were wrong, all of their opponents' conclusions must be wrong. An example here is the claim, occasionally heard, that Newton was proven wrong in some important details, Einstein was eventually proven wrong in a few details, and scientists admit that they don't have the final answers and therefore science doesn't know what it's doing, and can't be trusted. This is a non-sequitor fallacy.
* They use quotations, usually taken out of context to buttress their own position. A favorite here is the various quotations of Einstein, usually referring to God, suggesting that Einstein believed in the same sort of God they do. Einstein most emphatically did not, as will be obvious if you read his essay on the subject. This is the fallacy of suppressed evidence.
* They mistake genuine, honest debates between scholars about certain points within a field for a dispute about the existence of the entire field. For example, rather than debate the legitimacy of the interpretation of specific fossil evidence, vis a vis evolution, they often attack paleontology in general, claiming it to be an invalid science. This is the fallacy of hasty generalization.
* They focus on what is not known and ignore what is known, emphasizing data that fits and discounting data that does not fit. An example is the claim that science simply doesn't have an answer as to the age of the universe. True enough, but science has solid, reliable evidence that it is more than the seven thousand years that these same fundamentalists claim.This is again the fallacy of suppressed evidence.
Dr. Carl Sagan, in his last book, The Demon Haunted World gives us some excellent tools for the use in the process of critical thinking. In a nutshell, here they are:
* Where possible, what is claimed to be factual has to be independently confirmable by two or more sources not in league with each other.
* Debate and argument must be encouraged, not stifled.
* There's no such thing as an "authority." They've been wrong in the past and will be in the future. Which means they're wrong now.
* More than one hypothesis is needed to stimulate debate. All points of view should be examined equally and with as little bias as possible.
* Don't get emotionally attached to your own hypothesis (faith?). Doing so blinds you to better ideas.
* Quantifiable hypotheses are better than qualitative ones, because they are more testable. In other words, go for testable hypotheses first because untestable qualitative ones are of little value.
* If there's a chain of logic that supports an argument, every link in that chain must be valid and unbroken.
* Go for simplicity. Occam's Razor states that of the competing hypotheses that explain the data equally well, the one most likely to be correct is the one that makes the least number of assumptions and is the least complicated.
* Hypotheses that can't be experimentally disproven aren't worth much. For a hypothesis to be useful, it has to be testable, which means it must be capable of being disproven if wrong. Skeptics have to be able to follow your arguments, do your experiments and be capable of producing the same experimental results if your hypothesis is to be considered correct.