Friday, May 19, 2017

Geesh, Simps Forces Me To Come To The Defense Of Fundamentalists

I had planned on ignoring the link to a piece at "Big Think"* to a "study" alleging that brain damage has something to do with fundamentalism that Simps sent because he thinks I'd have some skin in the game.   Being essentially a neo-know-nothing (it's the house religion among pop-atheists) he doesn't know that Catholics aren't fundamentalists.

Apparently the authors of the "study" don't understand that fundamentalism has a specific meaning and it is a Protestant movement of the early 20th century which was, among other things, vehemently anti-Catholic.  I've actually looked at The Fundamentals and there is an article specifically devoted to banishing "Romanists" from Christianity.   It's been too hot to work in the garden so I've been wading, first, through the "Big Think" screed by a film maker and the things he links to.  I will probably get a post out of that later because, unlike Simps, I try to know what I'm talking about before I write something.  I have read the claims of one of the researchers and see some pretty glaring problems with the study and with the idea that the findings are applicable to the general public or even fundamentalists.   I'll start by the definition of "fundamentalist" in the tripe Simps sent me.

The researchers define fundamentalism as a cognitive approach that “embodies adherence to a set of firm religious beliefs advocating unassailable truths about human existence.“ They write in their paper that the appeal of such a rigid way of thinking is in promoting “coherence and predictability” within a religious group. People in fundamentalist groups tend to value strong commitment to their community, rejection of other beliefs, often combined with science denial and violence. Deliberation becomes victim to conviction.

For those who just tuned in to this blog, I spent my morning writing about Jerry Coyne, an atheist fanatic of "firm religious beliefs," whose materialist atheist world view leads to him "advocating unassailable truths about human existence."  His materialist-monist writing and, in fact, his scientific orthodoxy refuses to admit to anything that doesn't accord with his religious views so as to produce "coherence and predictability"

 I would conclude with Jerry by saying most of this definitely applies to him, including "strong commitment to his community, rejection of other beliefs, often combined with science denial and violence."  If you think that he couldn't be considered to deny science, I would advise you to do what I suggested this morning, word search his blog for James Shapiro, Denis Noble, and others who have produced peer-reviewed, published science which he will never, in a thousand lifetimes, admit could be true.  And as to violence, again, read some of his blog.  Though there are better examples whose violence isn't confined to their computer keyboards.

You could go through the same exercise substituting any number of names for Jerry Coyne's.  It is certainly characteristic of atheist ideological groups including groups whose murder victims measure in the tens of millions such as Marxists, and some fascists.  You could include some very violent anarchists. especially the franatics who adopted the murderous doctrine of "propaganda of the deed" such as the absurdly romanticized  Emma Goldman.  I would especially point you to such domestic American atheists as the scientist neo-Nazi author of The Turner Diaries and advocate of world wide genocide, William L. Pierce and some of his acolytes, such as Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber who held the record for an American mass murder before 9-11.

Clearly, the authors of the study and superficial scribblers who represent their work, need to do a bit of clarification of their definition.

Apparently both Simps and, I'm told one "Tacitus Volare" at Eschaton didn't notice this part of the quite short and easily read post at "Big Think".

The scientists specify that they are not stating religious people overall are mentally inflexible or that belief is caused by brain damage. There are many cognitive processes involved in forming beliefs. But in some people, the system of “belief revision” may become suppressed due to brain damage.

The study model as described in both the "Big Think" piece and the things he links to send up some major problems.   The "study" was based on 119 Vietnam era veterans who suffered what are classified as specific types of brain damage and a control group of 30 who didn't have brain damage.

The article claims:

They compared levels of religious fundamentalism between 119 vets who had lesions and 30 veterans who didn’t.

If that definition given above is how they determined the "levels of religious fundamentalism" it is seriously flawed in just that, alone.   As noted above, those traits are hardly limited to people who are, by proper definition, "fundamentalists".   I'd like to know more about how they measured "levels of religious fundamentalism" because the idea that you can do that and for it to have scientific validity doesn't seem credible to me.

I have yet to find in the literature - some of which is behind a pay-wall which I can't afford to get past - how they controlled for things like.

- Which of the veterans were draftees and which were volunteers.

- Religious orientation before their head injury and, if that changed, when and under what circumstances it changed.

- Political orientation before and after their injuries.  Other aspects of identity. 

- How any change would be explained by the individual veterans.  For example, did some of them convert after they married someone of that orientation or if they moved to a part of the country where fundamentalism is more commonly found.

- Did they define themselves as "fundamentalists" and what did they believe such a label included.

And given more time with it, I'm sure there are other problems which might lead to them sub-dividing their sample to the extent where they could come up with no significant statistically reliable statements about them.

Compared to the many millions of people who might be considered fundamentalists who have perfectly functioning brains, this is a tiny sample, certainly nothing like a random sample of American fundamentalists.  They are all men, for example, at a time when few women were in the military and few of those were victims of head injury.  It would be interesting if they could study women of the same age with the same experience but one suspects they're not available.

But they should start by tightening up what they mean by "fundamentalists" because their definition is meaningless, if identifying a specific part of the human population is their beginning point.  I doubt their definition would pass muster in a Freshman comparative religion class conducted by a competent teacher who was interested in accuracy.  To peddle something as having the reliability of science, it should be a requirement that they at least come up with a definite. accurate, unambiguous definition of what they're allegedly studying.

I don't have any particular affection for fundamentalism or its religious holdings, I think it's a thoroughly bad way to read the Bible and I think it is corrupted with ulterior motives of ideology, race, gender, and other forms of discrimination.   I also, as an LGBT man, reject its conclusions dealing with my people.  Not to mention I'm an Irish catholic.  But I think this study is dishonest and its authors obviously wanted to make a splash with a big, attention getting religion bashing "study". And if they didn't, the "Big Think" guy definitely did.   Simps and Tacitus were just being asses.

*  They do low budget, in-studio videos that are a sort of Ted Talk for the even more attention deficient.

Update:  As I knew it would, it all went over Simel's head.  That's not what you'd call a "tall order" as pretty much everything goes over his head.

As to the fact that Catholics can't be properly called "fundamentalists"  here, from Chapter XXI of The Fundamentals - the definition of "Fundamentalism"

Is Romanism Christianity?
by T.W. Medhurst

I am aware that, if I undertake to prove that Romanism is not Christianity, I must expect to be
called "bigoted, harsh, uncharitable." Nevertheless I am not daunted; for I believe that on a right
understanding of this subject depends the salvation of millions.

One reason why Popery has of late gained so much power in Great Britain and Ireland, and is
gaining. power still, is that many Protestants look on it now as a form of true Christianity; and
think that, on that account, notwithstanding great errors, it ought to be treated very tenderly.
Many suppose that at the time of the Reformation, it was reformed, and that it is now much
nearer the truth than it was before that time. It is still, however, the same; and, if examined, will
be found to be so different from, and so hostile to, real Christianity, that it is not, in fact,
Christianity at all...

If you want to traffic in something you're calling "fundamentalism" in the human population and pretending what you're doing is science, you're going to have to come up with a definition that matches something that actually exists out there in the population.  I doubt you can do that so this would be one of those phenomena in life that can't be treated scientifically.


  1. You gave that study more attention than I did. I saw an article about it (not at "Big Think," but I'm not sure where) and skipped it based on the headline. It's crap, no different than "The Bell Curve" (which is back and being championed by Sam Harris, no less) saying "race" has something to do with "IQ" (both scientifically dubious terms, but that's another matter).

    Religious fundamentalism has been studied. There is a five-volume work on it by Martin Marty and others, covering all forms of religious fundamentalism, not just Xian. The authors of that study create a very ignorant and useless definition, then study 150 people (based on the numbers you gave, so I could be wrong about that) to conclude for millions?

    I call BS.

    It's another of those useless things like there are more atheists than anyone will admit, or "nones" are on the rise, etc., etc., etc. I know people who prefer not to think as rigorously as I do, and I've known fundamentalists who were as careful in their reasoning as Aquinas. I prefer not to set people apart by those who reason as I do, and those who don't (the latter being inferior sorts). It's the worst kind of snobbery.

    1. I strongly suspect the researchers could and likely did include people as fundamentalists who would not only reject that label, themselves, but who would be rejected by fundamentalists. Simps is insisting that Catholics are fundamentalists. There are words for fanatical Catholics, "integralists" "Jansenists" many of them call themselves "traditionalits" but Biblical fundamentalism is very rare among Catholics - the fanatics are probably too familiar and to reverential towards Augustine to be fundamentalists.

      I doubt that whatever they think they've defined as fundamentalism, it corresponds very badly with anything real in the real world.

      As you've said, there are fundamentalists who are very subtle thinkers and very careful. I strongly suspect that they'd include William Lane Craig in that category though his thinking is definitely not what fundamentalists would accept as fundamentalism. I respect his skilled use of logic and his phenomenal, disciplined preparation for his debates, he is often able to anticipate all of the arguments of his opponents - I'll point out again that he absolutely mopped the floor with Larry Krauss and a number of others. Sean Carroll barely managed to avoid totally embarrassing himself the way Krauss and a number of others have. I respect him but I certainly don't agree with him, grown ups often don't while being able to respect people. That's something that most atheists don't seem to be able to do.

  2. You're not posting enough of Simels' comments. He was so upset at being unpublished he came over to my blog to insult me, unprovoked.

    Of course, It's my blog, so I'm free to delete him. Guy really needs to get a life.

    1. I'm thinking of never posting another word he writes, it will drive him over the edge.