LRB | Terry Eagleton rips Richard Dawkins' new book to confetti.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

People are genuinely welcome to worship whatever, as long as it harms no one else. Their views should however, not be insulated from critique, which is what Eagleton is employing all the smoke and mirrors to achieve.

Either god is empirically observable or he isn't. And I think we can agree that he isn't. Thus "study" of god is a pointless waste of everyone's time, and worse, a cover for religious extremism.

I don't know Eagleton's actual beliefs, and wouldn't like to guess. However, his way of writing is highly reminiscent of a theologian with whom any carefully-written points are always met with paragraphs of verbiage that could be summed up in one sentence "Never mind reality, look at my clever theological arguments, aren't they impressive!"

In conclusion, Eagleton has published utter tosh dressd-up as theo-literary criticism. He shold expand on this "theology" subject that people can be expert in. I also have some books written by expert astrologers he may be interested in. Dawkins debunks that, but interestingly is never accused of not researching his topic...

October 30, 2006 5:20 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

What he said.

October 30, 2006 6:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

READ THIS: Great rebuttal of Terry Eagleton's "review"


October 30, 2006 9:14 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

But now you're committing some rhetorical atrocities of your own, here, anonymous.

First, you assume that by theology we mean "studies" of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but theology is bigger than these questions. It is the field of the philosophical inquiry into religious issues, encompassing ethics, ontology, epistemology, etc. etc. from a religious perspective. I would argue that most of the field of what we today call philosophy has many of the same epistemological problems that theology has. Astrology is a pseudoscience, claiming to make scientific statements, and thus something else entirely, unless you're one of the Platonic sort, who think that statements about justice and statements about the coefficient of friction are completely similar.

Now, while I agree with you that the scientific study of God is uninteresting, your ridiculous claim that any study of God is a cover for religious extremism is just way out there. That would mean that all religion is extreme, and that's just not the case. You don't have any Christian friends, do you?

More to the point, isn't it a bit arrogant to presume that you as an atheist know what being a religious person means? And isn't it also a bit arrogant that you assume that your scientific paradigm is morally superior? Maybe things that aren't empirically observable are interesting after all? Justice and beauty aren't exactly measurable on a scale, for instance. Neither is Shakespeare, unless you want to dig up his corpse. Have you found a way of measuring the quality of sex yet? Me neither. If you are capable of reducing these things to neurochemical laws, well, you're probably God, and if so then why are we having this conversation?

Not to mention that infinite number of non-observable, yet massively human-influential phenomena that the universe very conceivably could contain? Science can only deal with what it is humanly possible to a) perceive b) interpret.

Lastly, it is my opinion that the phrase "people are genuinely welcome to x just as long as they don't etc." is one that should be handled with care. Usually in my experience, it is a code for "people can be what they want, as long as they are what I think they should be." I think one of the first duties of secular humanists is to be able to live alongside people who believe in God. This may break down at some point, as it has in the US, but it might not. Huge parts of the world have managed to have very religiously multicultural cities for centuries without ever experiencing religious tension.

I'm just saying could people for the love of ...Man get over the thing where we attack entire cultures only small percentages of which are problematic and start dealing with the real political problems instead?

Anonymous 2: I'm reading the rebuttal now. It's well-written, but I'm not impressed with the arguments. But thanks.

Oh, btw, could we add some usernames here, just so I know who's talking?

October 30, 2006 10:10 pm  
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October 31, 2006 12:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In addition to that other link, try this:


Theology is "the study of God". How can you study anything without evidence for existence?!

I have Christian friends, and was brought up a Catholic. All my family are pretty committed religious types. They are all deluded.

Sorry - don't have a username!

November 01, 2006 5:18 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

Might I suggest using your first name, then? Or some initials or something? Or even a fake name? How about I just call you Bob?

Bob: You are still making the mistake of thinking of theology as a science. It isn't, and often doesn't claim to be. It is a liberal art. It (mostly) deals with non-empirical ideas like justice or goodness and so forth. We study many things where evidence for existence doesn't come into it. This is not something that is new or special to religious ideas. If there is one thing that the past 2500 years of philosophy have taught us, it is that philosophy, science and religion all suffer from some of the basic epistemological difficulties that humans do: a flawed sensory apparatus, a contingent historical consciousness, a language which does not correspond to reality, etc. Religion is a special case here, but not that special.

While you may have personal reasons to be opposed to or skeptical of religion (I know that I do), we should also be able to take a step back and acknowledge that religion is not necessarily something we can't get along with, or something we should reflexively oppose for all values of religion. It's only a bad thing if it leads to bad things. Often it does, often it doesn't. This is why I find myself in the odd position of defending something I don't believe in myself.

I think the Paul Nixon link is full of non-arguments.

November 01, 2006 5:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry - I meant I needed a blogger username to not be anonymous. My name is Ben. But Bob's cool.

You've said that the cosmic variance and nixon posts are full of non-arguments: could you expand on this?

I never thought of theology as a science - I'm saying it is a non-subject. If - and do we agree on this? - there is no evidence for something (in this case 'God'/Divine something), and therefore nothing upon which to base a study of something, then you cannot have a subject that claims to study it.

Would you dismiss someone who claims that eminent astrologists, with years of understanding and experience in the field, cannot predict events through the positions of constellations and planets.

Astrology, theology, fairyology, santaology...

I see them on a par and can see no good reason not to.

November 02, 2006 10:04 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

What Ben said.

November 03, 2006 1:28 am  
Blogger mrtn said...

Ben: you can use the "other" field to write a username, that was what I was referring to.

I'm afraid I don't really have the time or the stamina to attack the Nixon or Cosmic Variance post at the length they require. For what it's worth, I thought the Cosmic Variance one was well-written, well-read and had many good arguments. I just disagreed with some of them. The Nixon one was sloppier, not really presenting any good arguments except backhanded intellectual insults.

Once again: I don't think that theology is a helpful and interesting discipline. I'm just saying that it's not up to us to set the terms of what people can and cannot discuss or think about. Some parts of what we call theology - what we could call the Taliban school of thinking - is very political, very reductive and nasty. Another is indistinguishable from the past twelve hundred years of philosophy. The ontological positions of (say) Kant, Leibniz, Spinoza, Descartes, etc. etc. are, in some sense of the word, theological.

I'm just saying that "our" back yard: the back yard of rationality, science, capitalism, objectivity, etc. is just as full of junk as that of theology and mythos and that we should be aware of that. The whole - pardon the pun - holier-than-thou attitude is just very unbecoming of us, and when it comes to Dawkins, I think, not a little dangerous. The ancient Greeks had a word for it: hubris.

November 04, 2006 9:23 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

I'm sorry, I meant Bob.

November 04, 2006 9:24 pm  

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