Sunday, August 02, 2009

Philosophy Humor
Plantinga on Fundamentalism

Jeremy at Parableman in a comment at Fundamentally Changed pointed to a post by Cynthia Nielsen at Per Caritatem quoting Alvin Plantinga's look into the "real" use of the word "fundamentalist". [I hurt my arm with all those hat tips]

Alvin Plantinga:

In 1980, Plantinga was described by Time magazine as "America's leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God." He was portrayed in that same article as a central figure in a "quiet revolution" regarding the respectability of belief in God among academic philosophers. Plantinga has delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures on three separate occasions . . . Plantinga is currently the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.
Ok, now the quote:
“But isn’t this just endorsing a wholly outmoded and discredited fundamentalism, that condition than which, according to many academics, none lesser can be conceived? I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ’son of a bitch’, more exactly ’sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ’sumbitch.’ When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you fell obligated first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use); it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ’stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ’sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ’stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’” (Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 244-245).
Incidentally, Warranted Christian Belief is supposed to be a classic book.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly