Monday, October 23, 2006

Atheist takedown

at the London Review of Books: Terry Eagleton on Richard Dawkins. It's a rather good piece, I think; here are the opening paragraphs, in any case:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.

Dawkins on God is rather like those right-wing Cambridge dons who filed eagerly into the Senate House some years ago to non-placet Jacques Derrida for an honorary degree. Very few of them, one suspects, had read more than a few pages of his work, and even that judgment might be excessively charitable. Yet they would doubtless have been horrified to receive an essay on Hume from a student who had not read his Treatise of Human Nature. There are always topics on which otherwise scrupulous minds will cave in with scarcely a struggle to the grossest prejudice. For a lot of academic psychologists, it is Jacques Lacan; for Oxbridge philosophers it is Heidegger; for former citizens of the Soviet bloc it is the writings of Marx; for militant rationalists it is religion.


  1. Hmm...not very different than my view of Pullman.

  2. 2 things - First, it's funny to see Eagleton with a piece that smells like Stanley Fish.

    Second, perhaps my favorite part is his slightly menacing "(I should point out that I use the term North Oxford in an ideological rather than geographical sense. Dawkins may be relieved to know that I don’t actually know where he lives.)" Seems to imply that he could easily find out, if he cared to. I can almost picture him turning up on the bewildered Dawkins's Summertown doorstep to finish this one mano a mano.

  3. This makes me think of the ornithologist who wanted to know about Burns...

  4. Yeah, read this a couple days ago. Eagleton is always lively. Currently reading his: Ideology of the Aesthetic.

  5. Dawkins and his kind are so grating because they're fundamentalists---and a lack of fundamental knowledge in the areas they belittle is one of the trademarks of. fundamentalism.