Pharyngula

Eagleton vs. Dawkins

You should only read Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion if you enjoy the spectacle of “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching.” That’s the title of the review, but I think it’s more a description of the contents. You can get the gist from just the first paragraph.

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.

Shorter Terry Eagleton: “How dare a mere scientist criticize theology?” The whole thing blusters on in that vein for far too long.

He really misses the point, though. What we have in Dawkins is a scientist who has a fairly good grasp of what the real world is and how it works, noting that the personal spiritual guardian of most religious beliefs doesn’t appear to be doing anything in that world, and that all the convoluted rationalizations of theology seem to be a desperate grasping at straws, trying to insert an a priori belief in a supernatural entity into a universe that doesn’t need it. Eagleton practically snarls that Dawkins is “theologically illiterate”…which I think is a good thing. I don’t need to know the arcana of drawing up a horoscope to know that astrology is bunk; similarly, no one needs to spend years poring over the scribblings of theologians to see that their god is a phantasm. It ain’t the geopolitics of South Asia; South Asia exists, and bears a body of hard data.

And good grief, how can anyone speak of theology as the “queen of the sciences” as if that were a good thing? You’ve got to laugh at the notion, but this fellow writes as though the addition of half a millennium of knowledge that has dethroned his gibbering, senile queen was a great mistake.

Comments

  1. #1 The Laugh
    October 22, 2006

    “And good grief, how can anyone speak of theology as the “queen of the sciences” as if that were a good thing? You’ve got to laugh at the notion, but this fellow writes as though the addition of half a millennium of knowledge that has dethroned his gibbering, senile queen was a great mistake.”

    PZ the only one that is laughing is you and your minority friends.