Related to the post from a couple days back, Andrew O’Hehir at Salon has a glowing review of Terry Eagleton’s new book Reason, Faith, and Revolution, which is a rebuttal of the neo-atheism of Hitchens, Dawkins et al, whom Eagleton refers to as ‘Ditchkins’, which gives you some idea of the quality of Eagleton’s thought. O’Hehir loves the book and titles his review ‘Those Ignorant Atheists.’
Obviously I haven’t read Eagleton’s new book but I have read his review of The God Delusion. His main argument is that the Christianity attacked by ‘Ditchkins’ is a parody of the true faith – ie the one practised by Eagleton – which is far more intellectually robust and philosophically sound than we give it credit for. There are a few problems with this, the first of which is that Eagleton is a Marxist Catholic liberation theologist who believes that ‘God is not a principle, nor an entity and not even existent’ and ‘neither inside nor outside the universe’ but is instead’ the condition of possibility’. I think it’s fair to say that he does not speak for the majority of Christians, or even Catholics, or even Marxist Catholics, and that it’s fair for ‘Ditchkins’ to aim their critiques at the hundreds of millions of Christians who believe in creationism, biblical inerrency, demons, the rapture etc than cater to Eagleton’s singular and complicated Kantian sophistry about ‘the condition of possibility’.
And then there’s the special pleading:
What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case?
PZ Meyers has a wonderful rebuttal to this kind of pompous rubbish. The Courtiers Reply:
I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all.
Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.
Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.
In his review O’Hehir remarks:
A few years ago, I read an article by a Roman Catholic theologian who wryly observed that the quality of Western atheism had gone steadily downhill since Nietzsche. Eagleton heartily concurs.
I’ve never understood what Nietzsche was talking about, but I do think the neo-athiests are basically just regurgitating what Bertrand Russell said eighty years ago. His famous lecture Why I am not a Christian is online and it’s essentially a breezy, chatty, condensed and less dyspeptic version of The God Delusion:
I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?’” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.”
That is, by the way, where the ‘turtles all the way down’ meme probably comes from – although some people attribute it to William James.