What is anti-religious ‘fundamentalism’ ?

The Guardian has  jumped on one particular response from Peter Higgs during an interview with a Spanish newspaper in which Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious ‘fundamentalism’

“And exactly what kind of ‘fundamentalism’ is that?” asks Jerry Coyne.

Well actually there are at least three kinds that it could be.

It might be the claim that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible, and/or that all religion is fundamentally in error, and/or that religion is fundamentally evil.

Higgs, like any sane person, can see that some religious positions are incompatible with science; but he can also see that many intellectually respectable people (eg Dyson) claim to have a religious position that is compatible with science, and he is not so dim as to be unable to imagine what such a position might be.

Ironically, the claim that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible often arises from an apparent inability to comprehend any but the most fundamentalist forms of religion, so one might say that a fundamentalist about incompatibility is also a fundamentalist about religion. Those of us who are neither sometimes find this amusing, but more often it is just annoying.

The claim that all religions are fundamentally in error implies either having a definition of religion which involves having to have false beliefs or to have understood all of them well enough to have found false beliefs in all of them.  This kind of fundamentalism again depends on having what I would regard as an unreasonably restrictive  idea of what constitutes religion.

The last kind of anti-religious fundamentalism strikes me as much more plausible than the other two. It is hard to find a real generally acceptable definition of religion, but I think a case could be made that any such definition includes some aspect of delegation of moral authority and it is conceivable that the net effect of such delegation always turns out to be harmful. I could perhaps be an anti-religious fundamentalist myself in this sense, but most of the time without either much conviction or passion. (Dawkins’ objection to the label ‘fundamentalist’ applied to himself correctly distinguishes fundamentalism from passion, but still confuses it with unshakeable belief when in fact it is neither. Fundamentalism actually refers to *what* one thinks, not to how strongly one believes it or how passionately one feels about  it.)

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