Article

Rebuttal to Terry Eagleton’s Critique of Dawkins’ The God Delusion

Dear Readers, my apologies in advance for a very long post. I’m refuting Eagleton’s critique of Dawkins point-by-point!

London Review of Books

LRB | Vol. 28 No. 20 dated 19 October 2006 | Terry Eagleton

Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching
Terry Eagleton

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins • Bantam, 406 pp, £20.00    

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.

In the very first sentence, Eagleton makes the most common mistake: he places theology on a par with science—the study of the unknowable and invisible equivalent to that which has helped humanity understand nature and build the modern world. Dawkins makes no attempt to be an expert on theology, any more than he makes an attempt to be an expert at wizardry. The book is not written as a theological treatise. It is a scientific, rationalistic analysis of what is clearly a human cultural phenomenon—god belief.

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.

But what is a first-year theology student studying? Other people’s writings and opinions which have no grounding in fact. They can wince all they want, but they are essentially studying the literature, history, and anthropology of believers—nothing more.

Like historians, theologians may fret and split hairs over the accuracy of documents, their authenticity, translations, and the like. But unlike historians, they do not think they are simply studying human civilization. They have made up this other character, about which nothing can be known or quantified. And this character runs like a thread through the entire discipline. And like pulling the needles out of your grandmother’s knitting, theology will come totally unraveled when the “god needle” is pulled out.

The first year theology student is learning to suspend his critical thinking skills, while the historian, anthropologist, philosopher and literature student are sharpening theirs.

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.

How so? Derrida’s qualifications to receive the degree were questionable. His deconstructivism could be read as an attack on the ability to have certainty of knowledge, independent of language, and the existence of any degree of logical positivism. This stance was highly controversial.

Derrida is a far cry from Dawkins, who is wholly non-controversial as a scientist. Dawkins hasn’t tried to give anyone a fake degree. He is staying within his discipline and giving commentary on the physical evidence for the existence of deities, which is to say—none.

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.

Do I need to study the entire canon on Alchemy to know that it was bunk?? Maybe I should take up phrenology for 4 years before I can readily conclude that it has been superseded by modern medicine.

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.

Likewise, Karl Marx or Hitler really need no debunking. Do we need to wade through Das Kapital or Mein Kampf to understand what these men were about? I personally would have more interest in understanding Marx than Hitler. But one need only read the Cliff’s notes to get the picture.

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?

Does it matter? I’m sure Dawkins doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the difference between Aquinas and Scotus. In The God Delusion, though, he gives a rather swift and stern debunking to Aquinas’ weak ‘proofs’ for the existence of god.

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?

Dawkins is a biologist, not a philosopher. He is studying religion as a natural phenomenon. He does not need to understand every detail of religious philosophy to comment on it.

Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right. As far as theology goes, Dawkins has an enormous amount in common with Ian Paisley and American TV evangelists. Both parties agree pretty much on what religion is; it’s just that Dawkins rejects it while Oral Roberts and his unctuous tribe grow fat on it.

Here we go with the “equally fanatical” charge again. If I’m passionate about bicycle riding, stamp collecting, or a particular microprocessor design, does that make me a fanatic like Oral Roberts? It does matter whether you are being passionate about something grounded in fact or fantasy—unless you are the most vulgar post-modernist.

Besides, theists are free to disagree with Dawkins, and they obviously do. What else would one expect people to say who’ve staked their entire life on something unprovable? The only thing they have to hold onto is the persistence and broad nature of the delusion. The fewer believers, the harder it is for the theists to insist the emperor is wearing clothing.

When I hear the fanatic charge about Dawkins, I scratch my head! Is he out buying weapons to go and assault seminaries? Is he rounding up groups of suicide bombers? Is he trying to stop the distribution of contraceptives, or stop scientists from doing stem-cell research?? NO!! That’s what his opponents are doing. He is working quietly writing books, lecturing, and making TV appearances. Something theologians take it as their god-given right to do. Where does the charge of fanaticism come from?? I don’t get it.

A molehill of instances out of a mountain of them will have to suffice. Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.

This is what the religious like to tell themselves, that they think critically. Many times it is true. They have highly developed analytical skills and amazing memories for scriptural detail. They think critically about everything except their basic premises. In some ways, I think theists have to work harder because doubts come at them 24/7, and new types of doubts are coming up every day. What a horrible nightmare to have to defend oneself against the knowledge that your invisible world might crumble at any moment. Especially when you have tended this fantasy to the exclusion of all else in your life.

(Where, given that he invites us at one point to question everything, is Dawkins’s own critique of science, objectivity, liberalism, atheism and the like?) Reason, to be sure, doesn’t go all the way down for believers, but it doesn’t for most sensitive, civilised non-religious types either. Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason.

More by faith than reason?? This is one of the sickest of the theist arguments. When they can’t win with reason, they have to try to devalue reason to the level of faith. It’s like a perpetual inferiority complex. The only way to deal the feelings of inferiority is to turn it around—claiming equivalence. Trouble is, if reason is nothing but faith, and theists are dismissing reason, then how can they claim to value faith?

It is the perfect recoil argument, similar to that which easily defeats post-modernism: namely that the statement that "all knowledge is relative" is itself an absolute statement, therefore it fails its own criteria.

When theists pull the “reason is faith” card, they have the same problem, and you know they have run out of arguments.

We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain. Only positivists think that ‘rational’ means ’scientific’.

Care to cite examples of non-theistic beliefs which have no rational justification and are still reasonable to hold??

Dawkins rejects the surely reasonable case that science and religion are not in competition on the grounds that this insulates religion from rational inquiry. But this is a mistake: to claim that science and religion pose different questions to the world is not to suggest that if the bones of Jesus were discovered in Palestine, the pope should get himself down to the dole queue as fast as possible. It is rather to claim that while faith, rather like love, must involve factual knowledge, it is not reducible to it.

Everything is reducible. It’s the only way of understanding complex things. It is a particularly vexing brand of obstinacy which declares ANY knowledge or beliefs off-limits, or tries to claim they are not reducible. This ends any possible discussion. Why? Everything else in the world has an explanation. If something is so important that the greater portion of humanity walks around believing in it and shaping their lives by it, is it not important enough to critically analyze it? If not, why not?

For my claim to love you to be coherent, I must be able to explain what it is about you that justifies it; but my bank manager might agree with my dewy-eyed description of you without being in love with you himself.

No. We understand love as a biological phenomenon. We understand that it is not always rational. In fact, love is considered colloquially to be “blind.” When science explains to us the chemistry behind the feelings of love, in no way does it invalidate our euphoric, subjective experience. The bank manager doesn’t “agree” with the person who is in love—he is not having the experience. He simply understands that his customer is in the grip of what otherwise might be described as a temporary insanity.

Dawkins holds that the existence or non-existence of God is a scientific hypothesis which is open to rational demonstration. Christianity teaches that to claim that there is a God must be reasonable, but that this is not at all the same thing as faith. Believing in God, whatever Dawkins might think, is not like concluding that aliens or the tooth fairy exist.

How is it not?? He simply asserts this without proof. It seems to me to be EXACTLY like belief in aliens or the tooth fairy. In fact, ask a Christian if they believe in Kuan Yin, or Zoroaster as living spiritual beings, and they will tell you that it is indeed like believing in the tooth fairy. So why is their god any different?

God is not a celestial super-object or divine UFO, about whose existence we must remain agnostic until all the evidence is in. Theologians do not believe that he is either inside or outside the universe, as Dawkins thinks they do. His transcendence and invisibility are part of what he is, which is not the case with the Loch Ness monster.

“His transcendence and invisibility are part of what he is.” Asserted with absolutely no proof, and conveniently out of reach of any proof.

This is not to say that religious people believe in a black hole, because they also consider that God has revealed himself: not, as Dawkins thinks, in the guise of a cosmic manufacturer even smarter than Dawkins himself (the New Testament has next to nothing to say about God as Creator), but for Christians at least, in the form of a reviled and murdered political criminal.

The “Jesus is God” position is not even universal in religion. The bible claims Jesus was the son of god. Other texts claim that Jesus was simply a human being, and all human beings have the ability to reunite with god, just like he did. There are as many positions about Christ as there are Christian denominations. What do any of them prove, and how is anyone to authenticate any of them?

The Jews of the so-called Old Testament had faith in God, but this does not mean that after debating the matter at a number of international conferences they decided to endorse the scientific hypothesis that there existed a supreme architect of the universe - even though, as Genesis reveals, they were of this opinion. They had faith in God in the sense that I have faith in you.

Pure bunk. I know a person exists because I see them standing in front of me. I don’t have to have “faith” in them.

They may well have been mistaken in their view; but they were not mistaken because their scientific hypothesis was unsound.

We have now lost all meaning of the term “scientific hypothesis.”

Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms.

This is a huge straw man!

For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.

If god is the entire universe, then what business does Eagleton have discussing the nature of god, since his concept of the universe is entirely limited to what can be observed from this planet. If god is everything, then how can one know god without traveling to the furthest reaches of the universe. In any case, what further meaning does the concept of “god as the universe” have, than simply declaring that the universe is natural? We reach the same conclusion: it is unknowable to us–except through our instruments and methodical study. Interior subjective knowledge doesn’t count!

This, not some super-manufacturing, is what is traditionally meant by the claim that God is Creator. He is what sustains all things in being by his love; and this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning.

Assertion without proof. God sustains all things? Care to provide some evidence?

To say that he brought it into being ex nihilo is not a measure of how very clever he is, but to suggest that he did it out of love rather than need.

Nonsense. Who says the universe was even created? And if god did it, then who created god?

The world was not the consequence of an inexorable chain of cause and effect.

Really? He claims to dismiss cause and effect with a wave of the hand?

Like a Modernist work of art, there is no necessity about it at all, and God might well have come to regret his handiwork some aeons ago.

Now he is ascribing feelings and motivations to his imaginary friend?? This is beyond intellectually disgusting. He’s simply stating his opinion. What does it say about humanity, if god regrets having created humans. Is this guy a misanthrope?

The Creation is the original acte gratuit. God is an artist who did it for the sheer love or hell of it, not a scientist at work on a magnificently rational design that will impress his research grant body no end.

More opinions—derision for science and research.

Because the universe is God’s, it shares in his life, which is the life of freedom. This is why it works all by itself, and why science and Richard Dawkins are therefore both possible. The same is true of human beings: God is not an obstacle to our autonomy and enjoyment but, as Aquinas argues, the power that allows us to be ourselves. Like the unconscious, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He is the source of our self-determination, not the erasure of it. To be dependent on him, as to be dependent on our friends, is a matter of freedom and fulfilment. Indeed, friendship is the word Aquinas uses to characterise the relation between God and humanity.

This is pure sermon. Praise the Lord!!

Dawkins, who is as obsessed with the mechanics of Creation as his Creationist opponents, understands nothing of these traditional doctrines. Nor does he understand that because God is transcendent of us (which is another way of saying that he did not have to bring us about), he is free of any neurotic need for us and wants simply to be allowed to love us.

Allowed to love us???? Poor god, all he wants to do is LOVE us, and we’ve REJECTED him. BOO-HOO. If god is omnipotent, then can’t he love us whether we like it or not?

Dawkins’s God, by contrast, is Satanic.

Can’t have god without the devil, now, can we!!!

Satan (’accuser’ in Hebrew) is the misrecognition of God as Big Daddy and punitive judge, and Dawkins’s God is precisely such a repulsive superego. This false consciousness is overthrown in the person of Jesus, who reveals the Father as friend and lover rather than judge. Dawkins’s Supreme Being is the God of those who seek to avert divine wrath by sacrificing animals, being choosy in their diet and being impeccably well behaved.

Dawkins is only speaking of how religions have been observed in a historical anthropological sense. He is not attempting to describe god ontologically—if that were even possible.

They cannot accept the scandal that God loves them just as they are, in all their moral shabbiness. This is one reason St Paul remarks that the law is cursed. Dawkins sees Christianity in terms of a narrowly legalistic notion of atonement - of a brutally vindictive God sacrificing his own child in recompense for being offended - and describes the belief as vicious and obnoxious. It’s a safe bet that the Archbishop of Canterbury couldn’t agree more. It was the imperial Roman state, not God, that murdered Jesus.

The brutally vindictive god has been created by humans. That is what Dawkins is talking about. According to a Baylor university study, a large percentage of believers think god is this way. Of course, we only have to look at the Old Testament.

Dawkins thinks it odd that Christians don’t look eagerly forward to death, given that they will thereby be ushered into paradise. He does not see that Christianity, like most religious faiths, values human life deeply, which is why the martyr differs from the suicide. The suicide abandons life because it has become worthless; the martyr surrenders his or her most precious possession for the ultimate well-being of others. This act of self-giving is generally known as sacrifice, a word that has unjustly accrued all sorts of politically incorrect implications.

Here comes the insidious religious position on suicide: If you take your own life for your own reasons, and hurting no one, it’s not OK. If you give your life for OTHERS, or even better, for GOD, then you will be rewarded. And that philosophy, my friends, is what makes people willing to become suicide bombers.

Jesus, Dawkins speculates, might have desired his own betrayal and death, a case the New Testament writers deliberately seek to rebuff by including the Gethsemane scene, in which Jesus is clearly panicking at the prospect of his impending execution. They also put words into his mouth when he is on the cross to make much the same point. Jesus did not die because he was mad or masochistic, but because the Roman state and its assorted local lackeys and running dogs took fright at his message of love, mercy and justice, as well as at his enormous popularity with the poor, and did away with him to forestall a mass uprising in a highly volatile political situation.

If the historical Jesus really existed, he ran afoul of the authorities and died in a political murder. It took him a couple of days to die, far less than the multitudes of political torture victims who have died slowly at the hands of despotic regimes throughout history. Christians make way too big of a deal about this small suffering by Jesus.

Several of Jesus’ close comrades were probably Zealots, members of an anti-imperialist underground movement. Judas’ surname suggests that he may have been one of them, which makes his treachery rather more intelligible: perhaps he sold out his leader in bitter disenchantment, recognising that he was not, after all, the Messiah.

Whatever–Who cares? Betrayal is a part of life—it happens to everybody.

Messiahs are not born in poverty; they do not spurn weapons of destruction; and they tend to ride into the national capital in bullet-proof limousines with police outriders, not on a donkey.

The entire biblical account of Jesus, with its story of the meek carpenter, is suspect.

Jesus, who pace Dawkins did indeed ‘derive his ethics from the Scriptures’ (he was a devout Jew, not the founder of a fancy new set-up), was a joke of a Messiah. He was a carnivalesque parody of a leader who understood, so it would appear, that any regime not founded on solidarity with frailty and failure is bound to collapse under its own hubris. The symbol of that failure was his crucifixion.

Here we go again—theistic promotion of the virtues of weakness, bolstered by misplaced faith in an all-powerful god who doesn’t intervene. If god wouldn’t intervene for his son, Jesus, then why are all the other poor fools who aren’t even god’s son convinced he’s going to help them when they pray?

In this faith, he was true to the source of life he enigmatically called his Father, who in the guise of the Old Testament Yahweh tells the Hebrews that he hates their burnt offerings and that their incense stinks in his nostrils. They will know him for what he is, he reminds them, when they see the hungry being filled with good things and the rich being sent empty away. You are not allowed to make a fetish or graven image of this God, since the only image of him is human flesh and blood. Salvation for Christianity has to do with caring for the sick and welcoming the immigrant, protecting the poor from the violence of the rich. It is not a ‘religious’ affair at all, and demands no special clothing, ritual behaviour or fussiness about diet. (The Catholic prohibition on meat on Fridays is an unscriptural church regulation.)

Now we’re cherry picking church teachings to say which ones are canonical and which ones are not. Tough job being a theologian.

Jesus hung out with whores and social outcasts, was remarkably casual about sex, disapproved of the family (the suburban Dawkins is a trifle queasy about this), urged us to be laid-back about property and possessions, warned his followers that they too would die violently, and insisted that the truth kills and divides as well as liberates. He also cursed self-righteous prigs and deeply alarmed the ruling class.

I don’t know that Jesus was such a revolutionary, but maybe. From this description, he sounds like a self-contradictory mixed bag–a hippie, a relativist, a Marxist, and a populist.

The Christian faith holds that those who are able to look on the crucifixion and live, to accept that the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body, might just have a chance of new life - but only by virtue of an unimaginable transformation in our currently dire condition. This is known as the resurrection. Those who don’t see this dreadful image of a mutilated innocent as the truth of history are likely to be devotees of that bright-eyed superstition known as infinite human progress, for which Dawkins is a full-blooded apologist. Or they might be well-intentioned reformers or social democrats, which from a Christian standpoint simply isn’t radical enough.

At the very most, the resurrection holds as a metaphor for renewal. But why isn’t the Phoenix an equally good one? Why are the trappings of human blood and a violent death necessary? My theory is that these were designed by early Christian scribes specifically for their sympathy value—the better to play on the feelings of everyman.

The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then, is your pie in the sky and opium of the people. It was, of course, Marx who coined that last phrase; but Marx, who in the same passage describes religion as the ‘heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions’, was rather more judicious and dialectical in his judgment on it than the lunging, flailing, mispunching Dawkins.

Marx saw the awesome manipulative power of religion on the human psyche, and concocted his own religious fantasy—of a worker’s paradise–to massive worldwide destructive effect which persists to this day.

If Dawkins is “Lunging, flailing, mispunching” then why do theists hate him so much? He must have touched a nerve. This is the typical defense, that Dawkins is not a nice guy. But I’ve yet to hear his detractors effectively argue with him. I’m halfway through the God Delusion now, and I’ve yet to see this kind of sloppiness in evidence. In fact, Dawkins seems to maintain a good sense of humor throughout, especially given the nature of the subject matter.

Now it may well be that all this is no more plausible than the tooth fairy. Most reasoning people these days will see excellent grounds to reject it. [Emphasis added]

NOW, FINALLY, THOUSANDS OF WORDS INTO THE REVIEW, DO WE GET THE ADMISSION OF TRUTH!!! HA!

But critics of the richest, most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook.

Cultural relativism. Argument from popularity. Flat earth? Phlogiston? Ether? Earth as the center of the universe? Do we need to examine those cases as well at their most persuasive?

The mainstream theology I have just outlined may well not be true; but anyone who holds it is in my view to be respected, whereas Dawkins considers that no religious belief, anytime or anywhere, is worthy of any respect whatsoever. This, one might note, is the opinion of a man deeply averse to dogmatism. Even moderate religious views, he insists, are to be ferociously contested, since they can always lead to fanaticism.

Beliefs should only be respected for their truth-value, not how we feel about the people who hold them.

Some currents of the liberalism that Dawkins espouses have nowadays degenerated into a rather nasty brand of neo-liberalism, but in my view this is no reason not to champion liberalism. In some obscure way, Dawkins manages to imply that the Bishop of Oxford is responsible for Osama bin Laden.

THIS IS THE MOTHER OF ALL STRAW MEN!!

His polemic would come rather more convincingly from a man who was a little less arrogantly triumphalistic about science (there are a mere one or two gestures in the book to its fallibility),

By definition, science is fallible. It thrives on constant revision.

and who could refrain from writing sentences like ‘this objection [to a particular scientific view] can be answered by the suggestion . . . that there are many universes,’ as though a suggestion constituted a scientific rebuttal. On the horrors that science and technology have wreaked on humanity, he is predictably silent.

Now he’s arguing from result. Science just is. What people do with it is another matter, and a purely political problem.

Yet the Apocalypse is far more likely to be the product of them than the work of religion. Swap you the Inquisition for chemical warfare.

And chemical warfare is most likely to be waged in this day and age by religious fanatics.

Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false.

Arguing from result again. Religion has had doubtless anthropological benefits as it has been observed in every human culture. But so have rape, murder, and war. Does that mean we want to take these forward with us into the future?

The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history - and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.

Here we go with altruism again. People are altruistic when it serves them, and this has been a product of human evolution and social development—not religion.

He is like a man who equates socialism with the Gulag. Like the puritan and sex, Dawkins sees God everywhere, even where he is self-evidently absent. He thinks, for example, that the ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland would evaporate if religion did, which to someone like me, who lives there part of the time, betrays just how little he knows about it. He also thinks rather strangely that the terms Loyalist and Nationalist are ‘euphemisms’ for Protestant and Catholic, and clearly doesn’t know the difference between a Loyalist and a Unionist or a Nationalist and a Republican. He also holds, against a good deal of the available evidence, that Islamic terrorism is inspired by religion rather than politics.

Conflicts would not evaporate—that’s sure. But if the Islamic world were educated classically instead of steeped in the quran, we’d have a hell of a lot easier time talking to them. There’s a reason why the imams burn down schools and shoot teachers—their belief system cannot survive rational education. Nor, it seems, can Christianity long survive Dawkins and Harris.

These are not just the views of an enraged atheist. They are the opinions of a readily identifiable kind of English middle-class liberal rationalist. Reading Dawkins, who occasionally writes as though ‘Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness’ is a mighty funny way to describe a Grecian urn, one can be reasonably certain that he would not be Europe’s greatest enthusiast for Foucault, psychoanalysis, agitprop, Dadaism, anarchism or separatist feminism. All of these phenomena, one imagines, would be as distasteful to his brisk, bloodless rationality as the virgin birth. Yet one can of course be an atheist and a fervent fan of them all. His God-hating, then, is by no means simply the view of a scientist admirably cleansed of prejudice. It belongs to a specific cultural context. One would not expect to muster many votes for either anarchism or the virgin birth in North Oxford. (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.)

Post-modernism and religion are different branches of the same tree, I’m afraid: Subjectivity.

It is relativism that allows religious belief to flourish in the first place. The position: “Respect my beliefs.” Or “That’s your truth, that’s not my truth.”…statements to that effect…. Albeit this is a paradox most religious people would reject, since they look at their scriptures in absolutist terms. (I don’t know how they reconcile their differences with other scriptures.) But they consider atheists to be the relativists, about morality and a host of other things. The whole discussion is highly ironic and stupefying.

There is a very English brand of common sense that believes mostly in what it can touch, weigh and taste, and The God Delusion springs from, among other places, that particular stable. At its most philistine and provincial, it makes Dick Cheney sound like Thomas Mann. The secular Ten Commandments that Dawkins commends to us, one of which advises us to enjoy our sex lives so long as they don’t damage others, are for the most part liberal platitudes. Dawkins quite rightly detests fundamentalists; but as far as I know his anti-religious diatribes have never been matched in his work by a critique of the global capitalism that generates the hatred, anxiety, insecurity and sense of humiliation that breed fundamentalism. Instead, as the obtuse media chatter has it, it’s all down to religion.

It’s all capitalism’s’ fault? Sounds like what Marx said. Here we have the Jesus-Marx connection of so-called ‘liberation theology.’

It thus comes as no surprise that Dawkins turns out to be an old-fashioned Hegelian when it comes to global politics, believing in a zeitgeist (his own term) involving ever increasing progress, with just the occasional ‘reversal’.

That’s pretty much what you are going to hear from any scientist, or from anyone who lived to see the incredible progress made in the 20th century, and the even greater progress we’re making now. According to Kurzweil, we are on a double exponential of progress. At today’s rate of progress, the entire 20th century was only 25 years worth. At that same rate, the 21st century will be 20,000 years of progress. If this sounds incredible, please refer to Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near.

‘The whole wave,’ he rhapsodises in the finest Whiggish manner, ‘keeps moving.’ There are, he generously concedes, ‘local and temporary setbacks’ like the present US government

Which has as its center a highly religious president—does Eagleton really miss this point????

- as though that regime were an electoral aberration, rather than the harbinger of a drastic transformation of the world order that we will probably have to live with for as long as we can foresee. Dawkins, by contrast, believes, in his Herbert Spencerish way, that ‘the progressive trend is unmistakable and it will continue.’ So there we are, then: we have it from the mouth of Mr Public Science himself that aside from a few local, temporary hiccups like ecological disasters, famine, ethnic wars and nuclear wastelands, History is perpetually on the up. Apart from the occasional perfunctory gesture to ’sophisticated’ religious believers, Dawkins tends to see religion and fundamentalist religion as one and the same. This is not only grotesquely false; it is also a device to outflank any more reflective kind of faith by implying that it belongs to the coterie and not to the mass. The huge numbers of believers who hold something like the theology I outlined above can thus be conveniently lumped with rednecks who murder abortionists and malign homosexuals. As far as such outrages go, however, The God Delusion does a very fine job indeed. The two most deadly texts on the planet, apart perhaps from Donald Rumsfeld’s emails, are the Bible and the Koran; and Dawkins, as one the best of liberals as well as one of the worst, has done a magnificent job over the years of speaking out against that particular strain of psychopathology known as fundamentalism, whether Texan or Taliban. He is right to repudiate the brand of mealy-mouthed liberalism which believes that one has to respect other people’s silly or obnoxious ideas just because they are other people’s. In its admirably angry way, The God Delusion argues that the status of atheists in the US is nowadays about the same as that of gays fifty years ago. The book is full of vivid vignettes of the sheer horrors of religion, fundamentalist or otherwise. Nearly 50 per cent of Americans believe that a glorious Second Coming is imminent, and some of them are doing their damnedest to bring it about. But Dawkins could have told us all this without being so appallingly bitchy about those of his scientific colleagues who disagree with him, and without being so theologically illiterate. He might also have avoided being the second most frequently mentioned individual in his book - if you count God as an individual. -

Eagleton’s misguided summation basically boils down to the idea that Dawkins is vain and mean. His critique fails intellectually on all counts.

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Comments (29 comments)

The Exterminator / December 21st, 2006, 12:23 pm / #1

Everything you say is right, and very well put. Nice work.

Still, what do we gain by debating with people like Eagleton? When we allow ourselves to be drawn into a discussion of their so-called philosophical system, we support that system by indirectly acknowledging that it must be rebutted. If someone asserted that Peter Rabbit were king of the world, would we bother to comment, other than to roll our eyes and make the swirly finger cuckoo-sign next to our heads.

These guys love drawing us into their ballpark to play their game. They use philosophical, historical, and scientific terminology to promote nonsense. Debating with them is like debating crazy people–there’s no way for sanity to win.

That’s why, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to be gained by accepting their silliness as worthy, whatsoever,of discussion.

Eagleton has a right to his deluded beliefs–as long as he doesn’t impose them on me.

Tony Fioretti / December 21st, 2006, 5:45 pm / #2

Thanks for your tight rebuttal to this bit of pseudo intellectual gobbledygook from Terry Eagleton. Like you, I managed (just)to get through his diatribe/critique but not without utter disbelief in what I was reading. How does this garbage get print space? There ought to be a law…

BlackSun / December 27th, 2006, 5:55 pm / #3

Exterminator, my point in writing such a rebuttal is not to debate with Eagleton, but to let others in the blogosphere know that we atheists are watching. I think it’s important to challenge these notions, because they have gone unchallenged for so long. It won’t stop theists from holding their opinions. But it may get some people to stand up and ask some questions. That’s the best we can hope for. The alternative is doing and saying nothing. That doesn’t cut it for me.

Tony, thanks.

Daniel / December 29th, 2006, 10:59 pm / #4

BlackSun,

While I don’t share all your opinions of Dawkins’ and Eagleton’s writings, I do think that you were perhaps a bit overzelous in your refutation of Eagleton. You attack him rightfully on some claims, but some of your refutations are presented as though obvious, even though, upon further inspection, they are quite flawed. I’ve included a few examples for review:

“Flat earth? Phlogiston? Ether? Earth as the center of the universe? Do we need to examine those cases as well at their most persuasive?”

Well, yes. Why would we treat any theory unless at its most persuasive. Not only would defeating the best argument in support of an incorrect theory be a “final nail in the coffin,” but we should always attack the best arguments. Consider this: if I planned to attempt to refute relativity, would I seek an astrophysicist/mathematician, or a plumber? Both can undoubtedly argue in support for relativity, but no serious conclusion concerning the validity thereof could be reached by knocking down the version presented by the plumber. Likewise, we would expect, so long as we were genuinely interested in truth, to address any argument, no matter how preposterous, on its strongest front. This includes arguments about god.

“Now he’s arguing from result. Science just is. What people do with it is another matter, and a purely political problem.”

Can you think of any reason we cannot apply the exact same reasoning to religious belief? Religious belief just is, what people do with it is another matter….

On the face of this argument, is a liberty being granted to science here that Dawkins denies to religion?

“Does it matter? I’m sure Dawkins doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Aquinas or Scotus. They are not in his field of study.

Dawkins is a biologist, not a philosopher. He is studying religion as a natural phenomenon. He does not need to understand every detail of religious philosophy to comment on it.”

I dunno, I guess that he doesn’t NEED to understand the subject he is attacking in order to comment on it, but it seems that this is what any intellectually honest individual would do. I am not insulting Dawkins here, but I fear you might be crossing dangerous lines to defend him.

I’ve read the book, and Dawkins isn’t merely studying the phenomenon of religious belief, he is asserting the actual non-existence of god. For him to do so (AND, more importantly, for us to take him seriously), he needs to exhibit a strong command of theological arguments. Knocking down strawmen will only harden hearts.

Another example might aid this point. What if a well-known religious leader wrote a book that spent 9 weeks on the NYT Best Seller list about the flaws of evolution, the evils of darwin, and the probabilistic certainty of fundamentalist creationism? Moreover, what if this book was written by someone who clearly didn’t have a firm grasp of evolutionary science? Would we quickly jump to his defense, proclaiming, “He doesn’t need to know every detail about evolution to debunk it”?

Hardly. And I think we would be granting too much to extend this luxury to Dawkins. Again, I’m not agreeing with Eagleton about Dawkins’ treatment. I’m only suggesting that your refutation offers a logical safe haven to Dawkins that would not be offered to others (I suspect).

Chris Tyack / January 3rd, 2007, 10:07 pm / #5

The problem is indeed that Dawkins does not understand what theology says God is. The God of theology, you might be surprised to learn, is not the God of popular faith. It is not a bearded chap in the sky.

In the 13th century Aquinas (who followed Aristotle) said that God is the mysterious first principal. It is One, the principal of unity. It is simple, having no material parts. It is unbounded (infinite), being perfect freedom. It is everywhere. It is prior to time (time being an illusory notion, arising from the movement of finite beings.)

It is the first Power (”prime mover”) and Reason (”uncaused cause”), infusing all things: it is that in which, of which and according to which anything is.

Human consciousness arises within the divine principal discussed above: our consciousness derives from it and so is inherently meaningful. That is because “the greater cannot arise from the lesser”: all things are contained in the first principal of the universe. So the divine being is in fact a kind of superconsciousness, containing and surpassing human consciousness. This is what it means to say that God is “personal”: it is better to say that God is superpersonal or transpersonal.

Because it is the principal of meta-order, the divine is said also to be Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Indeed, everything that is meaningful is mysteriously held and reconciled in the divine, including history, culture and language. All our knowing is a participation in the Knower.

We grow into the divine principal individually (e.g. we acquire lanaguge.) But we are also evolving into it corporately. “Survival of the fittest” is a tautology: yes, the “survivor survives,” but according to what? According as it reflects the principal of meta-order, which is God.

Finite things, by reason of their boundedness in matter (finitude), daily fall from the order and meaningfulness of God into disorder and futility. They experience pain and evil. But in worship, one reintegrates oneself in the Source, the Ground of Being and Meaning. One “comes to oneself.” That is the point of religion.

Broadly catholic (incl. Anglican) theology considers Old Testament images of God to be metaphorical only. They are not philsophical. The chap in the clouds does not exist. So are we all athiests then?

Now, Eagleton is saying that Dawkins never came to terms with theology/intelligent religion, and I must agree with that.

The problem is not religion, but stupidity.

BlackSun / January 4th, 2007, 12:30 pm / #6

@Daniel,

“Well, yes. Why would we treat any theory unless at its most persuasive.”

But the flat earth or phlogiston at their most persuasive are still without merit. That was my point.

“Can you think of any reason we cannot apply the exact same reasoning to religious belief? Religious belief just is, what people do with it is another matter….”

Yes, science is based on evidence–religious belief is based on tradition and authority–which is to say–in scientific terms, nothing.

“I dunno, I guess that he doesn’t NEED to understand the subject he is attacking in order to comment on it, but it seems that this is what any intellectually honest individual would do.”

He’s not attacking the nuances of religion. He is attacking GOD BELIEF, which, no matter how nuanced or detailed it may be, still amounts to an undefinable, impossible-to-pin-down human cultural phenomenon. Hence it is not necessary to know every philosphical detail of something which was simply invented by humans. Even religious authorities cannot agree amongst themselves, so how is science supposed to keep track of it? Dawkins was wise to steer clear of that swamp. All God-belief is on equally unsupportable footing.

“What if a well-known religious leader wrote a book that spent 9 weeks on the NYT Best Seller list about the flaws of evolution, the evils of darwin, and the probabilistic certainty of fundamentalist creationism?”

You are again putting science on an equal footing with religion. Such books have been written trying to debunk evolution (by people from the Discovery Institute, for example) and they have been quickly seen for the gobbledygook that they are.

@Chris Tyack

“The problem is indeed that Dawkins does not understand what theology says God is. The God of theology, you might be surprised to learn, is not the God of popular faith. It is not a bearded chap in the sky. ”

Chris, theologians can’t even agree on what god is. So how can you say Dawkins doesn’t understand?

“Human consciousness arises within the divine principal discussed above: our consciousness derives from it and so is inherently meaningful.”

“Because it is the principal of meta-order, the divine is said also to be Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Indeed, everything that is meaningful is mysteriously held and reconciled in the divine, including history, culture and language. All our knowing is a participation in the Knower. ”

I’m afraid your statements about god are unsupportable assertions and assumptions. This is typical of theology, to make circular declarations and to use them in argument as if they were fact.

Chris Tyack / January 5th, 2007, 7:54 pm / #7

Well I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree, BlackSun. I didn’t intend to make a fully-supported case in my post. I just wanted to describe the broad shape of philosophical theism as I understand it. Something like this would be the intellectual tradition in Christianity and Islam, deriving as it does from Aristotle. Only Protestant/Evangelical Christianity has renounced it, preferring to rely on the Bible alone. That is perhaps much of the problem, esp. in the US now.

Philosophy is simply thinking through the conditions of existence. While it is less precise than science, it is arguably more comprehensive in its scope. Of course, as a product of the human mind, philosophy can easily lapse into art or poetry or religious feeling. Yet it still knows itself as “truth”.

Science is different. “Truth” is based on experiment and hypthotheses which are not easily falsifiable (as I understand it). So there are two accounts of truth operating here, one ancient and one enlightenment.

Perhaps the only thing in science that comes close to God as I described it above is energy, which can never be created or destroyed. It is interesting that Aquinas considered God to be the most energised of beings, fully “actual” and never “potential”. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that for Aquinas, God is energy. Moreover, existence itself is implicated in energy; when something comes “to be” it is energised, or held in God. Of course Aquinas would attribute mysterious qualities of consciousness at least to the primordial energy (God) and that is perhaps something scientists could contemplate.

No doubt none of this is known to fundamentalists. And even if it’s not ultimately true, I think it’s worthwhile understanding as part of our intellectual heritage.

BlackSun / January 6th, 2007, 1:34 pm / #8

@Chris,

I do think that the history of theology is important in an anthropological sense–but only if it is clearly divorced from the idea that people were believing in something real. We can study a human cultural phenomenon, nothing more.

The idea that God belief is separate from science is sometimes referred to as “non-overlapping magisteria.” This is partially discussed by Dawkins in “The God Delusion.”

It’s sort of an uneasy truce between science and religion–the idea that neither will step on each other’s toes. But this doesn’t work. The question of whether or not there was a creator (as discussed in the ‘proofs’ of Thomas Aquinas) is fundamental to both religion AND science. It is no longer possible to keep these separate and keep a sense of intellectual honesty.

We can agree to disagree, but there is only one ‘truth.’ We could call this a “state vector” of the universe, multiverse, whatever. Our knowledge of this “state vector” or lack thereof does nothing to change its value. Asserting the contrary is a sort of solipsistic temper tantrum. Any agreement to disagree is only meaningful in the sense that I will agree that I don’t have all the answers and you don’t either. But there are ways of looking at probabilities that bias toward and away from truth. These probabilities are as close as we will ever get to an answer. Dawkins has done an admirable job as sketching out the equation.

Daniel / January 7th, 2007, 3:18 pm / #9

BlackSun:

“But the flat earth or phlogiston at their most persuasive are still without merit. That was my point.”

Yes, I understand… but my point is that the most effective way to arrive at the invalidity of a theory is to combat the theory at its strongest. The conclusion that the earth is round, for example, is, on the surface, counterintuitive to the way most of us live our daily lives. Early man was easily convinced of the flat earth theory; proponents of the round earth theory couldn’t further their conception of truth by merely dismissing flat earth theory as “meritless”. They, at first, needed to present a powerful case that could stand against any flat earth claims.

It is obvious to us now that the earth is round, but there was a time when it was not. Likewise, if Dawkins or anyone would like to change the shape of accepted belief, attacking the counterposition with arguments that avoid the stronger arguments in favor of it allows adherents to maintain their current beliefs.

“Yes, science is based on evidence–religious belief is based on tradition and authority–which is to say–in scientific terms, nothing.”

Well, and revelation presumably. Part of the claim of many religions is that god is in either direct or indirect contact with prophets and the like. Since this evidence is not replicable for all people, it is meaningless in the eyes of science.

The real question here is whether truth is entirely contingent on the ability to isolate it, replicate it, and demonstrate it. I’m not entirely sure that there is an inherent link between truth and these things.

These (among others) are the criteria that scientists use for truth, but like Chris has observed, this may not be the only measure of truth.

“He’s not attacking the nuances of religion. He is attacking GOD BELIEF, which, no matter how nuanced or detailed it may be, still amounts to an undefinable, impossible-to-pin-down human cultural phenomenon. Hence it is not necessary to know every philosphical detail of something which was simply invented by humans. Even religious authorities cannot agree amongst themselves, so how is science supposed to keep track of it? Dawkins was wise to steer clear of that swamp. All God-belief is on equally unsupportable footing.”

First of all, you say that “religious authorities cannot agree amongst themselves.”

Neither can scientists. Bohr vs. Einstein. Kronecker vs. Cantor. Even modern models of quantum mechanics and string theories stand in opposition to one another. We do not interpret differences in scientific opinion to indicate the overall incorrectness of the scientific process.

Second of all, you are nakedly betraying your bias in judging this subject matter. You say that Dawkins is studying religion as something “invented by humans”. This begs the question. If we assume that religion isn’t a means to a very real truth, it makes the conclusion that there is no god meaningless.

It would be as if I were to use the fact that science was invented by Descartes, Bacon, Machiavelli, and a few others to claim that, since science is a human invention, and hence a “cultural phenomenon”, its conclusions and substance don’t require rigorous scrutiny in order to be rejected.

But this is preposterous. That a thing was “invented” does not invalidate it’s claims, ignoratio elenchi. Reducing the validity of a claim to a mere debunking of origins constitutes a “genetic fallacy”.

BlackSun / January 8th, 2007, 3:33 pm / #10

@Daniel

“The real question here is whether truth is entirely contingent on the ability to isolate it, replicate it, and demonstrate it. I’m not entirely sure that there is an inherent link between truth and these things….this may not be the only measure of truth.”

That you’re not sure is not an argument. Yours is an appeal to “other ways of knowing.”

http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2005/10/the_appeal_to_o.html

We have 400 years of the scientific method which refute this. Your arguments smack of relativism, which is the most self-defeating philosophy of all. I have no interest in pointless debates on the unattainability of truth or knowledge.

“Neither can scientists. Bohr vs. Einstein. Kronecker vs. Cantor. Even modern models of quantum mechanics and string theories stand in opposition to one another. We do not interpret differences in scientific opinion to indicate the overall incorrectness of the scientific process.”

Science transcends and includes. The difference between scientific debates and dogmatic ones is that dogma makes absolute truth claims, and scientists hold theories. There is a marked difference. Scientific paradoxes are encouraged, and resolving them is where human knowledge makes its greatest gains. Just today, a new paper was published on a vast improvement in the understanding of dark matter.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/01/070108-dark-matter.html

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had ‘dark matter’ thrown in my face as an example of how ’science doesn’t have all the answers.’

I’m pretty much done with these types of debates. Science stands on its own, and all the religion-mongers on the internet and TV are rank hypocrites. When’s the last time anyone prayed over a pile of parts and achieved a working TV or computer? Yet they all use them to spread their intellectual viruses. Let them go back to the quill pens and see how far they get! Likewise, the Islamic terrorists use the tools of science against modern civilization. (Embeding terror communiques in image files, for example.)

“Second of all, you are nakedly betraying your bias in judging this subject matter. You say that Dawkins is studying religion as something “invented by humans”.”

Guilty. I have a bias for evidence. Case closed. If you read my blurb, it says “eliminate all beliefs and SUBJECTIVE biases.” Evidence is objective, and hence not a bias. Religion is subjective, and belief differs wholly from individual-to-individual. In terms of scripture, it’s no different than any other written fiction, except it claims to be actually true. In terms of revelation, it’s nothing but a clever way of getting people to listen to you.

Things which humans have invented which actually work (like the internet, the automobile, etc.) have validity. Vacuous notions about supernatural fantasies do not count. This has nothing to do with a “genetic fallacy.” Invented claims must be supported by evidence or they are nonsense–good for entertainment purposes only.

On this point of finding real universal truth, science succeeds, and religion fails.

Daniel / January 9th, 2007, 9:08 am / #11

BlackSun:

“That you’re not sure is not an argument. Yours is an appeal to ‘other ways of knowing.’

We have 400 years of the scientific method which refute this.”

400 years of scientific method do not refute or support the notion that what is real can be entirely exhausted through this method. Science has two options: it can remain silent on matters such as metaphysics and theology, of which “empirical evidence” is certainly lacking; or it can take a definitive stance on these issues, but do so from an untestable, and hence unscientific, position.

The problem with this latter stance is that it, ironically, lacks the rigor touted in the method itself. That science is the ONLY path to truth is a meta-question in which the use of the “scientific method” as the means to evaluate its validity assumes the premise of the proposition we are attempting to prove. Therefore, since the original claim was that all knowledge can be obtained through this method AND that the method itself is unable to reach a conclusion on this proposition, by definition; ergo, the proposition that scientific knowledge exhausts all truth must be self-defeating, and we, as seekers of truth, must retreat to our “unsureness” on this question. To do otherwise would betray the claim.

“Your arguments smack of relativism, which is the most self-defeating philosophy of all. I have no interest in pointless debates on the unattainability of truth or knowledge.”

Nor do I. The position that there MAY be other means to arrive at absolute (and hence universally valid) truth is entirely distinct from relativism.

The reason my argument appeared relativistic is because you were operating on the assumtion that scientific knowledge must, by necessity, be the measure of all true things. I have already shown that this is an unfounded and even self-defeating claim.

“Science transcends and includes. The difference between scientific debates and dogmatic ones is that dogma makes absolute truth claims, and scientists hold theories. There is a marked difference. Scientific paradoxes are encouraged, and resolving them is where human knowledge makes its greatest gains.”

This is certainly true. I think it is important to understand that, all things being equal, I believe we ought to defer to the expertise of the scientific method on issues where there is conflict between dogmatic beliefs and scientific evidence.

But this is certainly not to say that science is capible of speaking on all grounds of human inquiry. We are certain that the application of the scientific method can reveal some absolute truths to us, but we must not lose sight of the fact that this method makes fundamental assumtions about truth that are not logically necessary.

Take the example, given by Dawkins, of the Templeton Foundation’s scientific evaluation of the effectiveness of prayers. We, as scientists, hold the fundamental assumtion that absolute truth is immutable (David Hume demonstrated, quite brilliantly, that this assumtion cannot be verified empirically.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_induction
Divine intervention is, by Dawkins’ own definition: a temporary alteration of the natural laws of physics, done for the sake of an intelligent end.

Simply by this definition, a miracle ought to be rejected by the scientific method as something impossible. But, since this conclusion would come from the unverifiable immutability/inductive axiom of the scientific method, the scientific method must remain silent on the issue. The only means held by the scientific method to refute a miraculous occurrence would be to demonstrate that a particular miracle DID NOT happen, which is a far cry from determining that one CANNOT happen.

Moreover, Dawkins’, in his analysis of the study, neglects that god, by his definition, is an intelligent actor, and not a natural law. If there is one thing that we know about human psychology, it is that awareness of scientific testing can ruin the results of the test. I don’t think it is unfair to extend this reasoning to a being which is supposed to be omniscient. I digress.

(Incidentally, I do not believe in the actuality of divine intervention. This is not for scientific reasons, which, as I have demonstrated, are inadequate; but instead for theological reasons. Namely, that the existence of a supernatural miracle implies that the world entered an undesirable state which god felt the need to “correct”. This would imply a fallibility on god’s part, and therefore, would logically contradict the characteristics associated with god, id est, omnipotence and omniscience.)

“I’m pretty much done with these types of debates. Science stands on its own, and all the religion-mongers on the internet and TV are rank hypocrites. When’s the last time anyone prayed over a pile of parts and achieved a working TV or computer? Yet they all use them to spread their intellectual viruses.”

I entirely agree. It would be silly to reject truths derived by the scientific method, as they are the most certain truths that we have. My objection, unlike others, isn’t to defer to scripture over science, nor is it to needlessly restrict the realm of scientific inquiry.

My only concern is that science is often extended beyond its capacity in an attempt to speak authoritatively on all matters. I think that this is particularly dangerous, exactly because science has been so effective at arriving at absolute truths. The fear is that many, draping themselves in the guise of science, will speak on matters on which science has no real authority. In short, we must guard ourselves from borrowing the supremacy of the scientific method to sermonize beliefs without scientific ground.

BlackSun / February 2nd, 2007, 7:44 am / #12

@Daniel,

After a little reflection, I wanted to comment on your last post:

“Science has two options: it can remain silent on matters such as metaphysics and theology, of which “empirical evidence” is certainly lacking; or it can take a definitive stance on these issues, but do so from an untestable, and hence unscientific, position.”

I can acknowledge that science may be superseded in the future by some other method that is better at defining the truth of the universe. But I think you have to acknowledge that whatever method may be developed would have some way of testing its truth claims, right?

So it would still boil down to some sort of evidence, even if that evidence was far more detailed, nuanced, and complete than any we have today.

For example, what if a way were found to measure actual events or objects based on the beliefs or brain-states of humans? At that point, we would have a way of testing religious truth claims empirically. Assuming for the moment this were even possible, (I don’t think it is) we would then find some to be true, and others false, right?

So at that point, we would have simply expanded our definition of the material universe to include human-generated or human-observed abstractions of a certain special kind. Other types would be found to not be consistent or ‘real.’

In this sense, we must conclude that there are some constraints on what is real, no matter what we use as our method of testing. Call it science, or call it ‘thucodash,’ there’s still going to be a method of some kind. It is still going to have to be internally consistent.

The problem of induction is not so easily dismissed. You are right that Hume pinpointed a weakness of empiricism. We can never prove an absolute causal connection with ANYTHING. Only that we observe greater and lesser degrees of correlation.

But are we really to think that matter has some ghost in the machine waiting to trick scientists? So this ghost sits there and waits, and makes experiments work repeatably every time, and then at some point in the future when no one is looking, the ghost sneakily and maliciously changes the rules?? Occam’s razor takes care of this ridiculous concept.

Far more likely is the idea of causal systems. And since we are dealing with human perceptions and methods of testing, we are not going to have perfection. But I think we can agree that high scientific probability beats conjecture or revealed truth every time.

In this sense, I don’t think the scientific method is in danger of being supplanted by mysticism, psychicism, ‘thucodash,’ or anything else.

There are no “non-overlapping magisteria.” Only what exists in the universe and what doesn’t. If religions were to give science any real competition on defining these questions of existence, it would certainly revolutionize human thought, and spur exciting new areas of research. After all, there is so much time and money invested in worship worldwide, it couldn’t help but advance the state of knowledge. I truly wish such a connection could be found–I’d be all ears.

Unfortunately, religions stick to their scriptures. They resist change and new information. It’s part of their design. It’s why they have been so successful up to now: They are memetic replicators, and real inquiry is not part of their program.

Hasan Spiker / February 21st, 2007, 9:11 am / #13

The first poster failed to see that the fact that the rational interpretive paradigm is itself a only form of faith only negates the value of reason if one holds an atheistic materialist position, as I will imply below. (For theists, it merely demonstrates the supra-rational origins of any logical formulation, which is not to devalue it at all, but rather to understand and therefore really appreciate it.) You were also wrong about empirical knowledge being more objective than religious knowledge, exactly because you do not understand how observation statements come about, not do you understand the nature of spiritual experience.

The fact is that God is percieved; the epistemological bases of spiritual experience in every tradition stress that such experiences, in order to be more than mere fancies, must stem from a paradigm of agreed absolute morality, and from the contemplation of the Divine source of contingent reality. For anyone who has ever read accounts of mystical experience, it is clear that these experiences are not in quality anything like ‘hallucinations’ or emotional ‘projections’, but rather they are intuitions of an objective reality which has its own transcendent, and distinctly ‘Divine’ quality. Thus, they are not analagous to an atheistic evolution theory, an interpretive hypotheses that is offloaded as fact to blind followers misled by the utter ignorant hubris of the atheistic dialectic and mistaking its false confidence for an expression of intelligence.

Mr Dawkins simply does not have the philosophical tools to engage seriously with Theistic apologetics. Dawkins is using distinctly high-school level philosophical tools to engage some of the greatest thinkers of the past and present, Leibniz, Descartes, Ghazali, Aquinas, Ward, Swinburne and Nuh Keller to name but a few. It is like a Theology major with a general dislike of Science ‘proving’ that the conclusions of Nuclear physics do not exist merely because he has never seen them. Dawkins’ dismissal of spirituality simply makes him the laughing stock of literally billions of religious people world-wide who percieve God as the ineffable, the holy in their lives, and the hundreds of millions of mystics on methodical spiritual paths who know that the negation of the selfishness of the human psyche is a practical avenue to seeing God in their lives. Certainly if we are blind we can deny the sky; that does not mean it is not there.

The biggest mistake that Dawkin’s makes is in promoting the supposedly’value-free’ knowledge of ‘the facts of evolution’. In Dawkins’ terms, consciousness is an epiphenomenon, in that it is a product of mere ‘blind physical forces’. The rather hilarious irony emerges then, of making observation statements about ‘objective reality’ based on a psyche which in evolutionary terms can never be anything but subjective.

A rather elementary oversight; but it seems impossible for non-theists nowadays to see that the rational paradigm itself, logic, is nothing but the product of a type of human intutition. It is then absolutely specious to assume a strictly materialist outlook based on it, because the foundations of what we know as reality, of human language,of ’scientific’ observation statements, are then based on the all-too-human sense of meaning that produces them. There are numerous other inconsistencies: the man whose dogma demands relativism seems to turn out a bigger absolutist than just about anyone, for ‘nature’ is his absolute. There is no mention of what the ontological ground mights be for the field of transient particles we are called by Dawkins to believe is reality itself.

Like so much else that recoils in Dawkin’s work, the ‘principle of incredulity’ that Dawkins and his followers are so fond of applies better to themselves than it ever could to theists intuiting design in nature. ‘How could there be anything else’ they exclaim. ‘It just ‘doesnt seem probable’ based on their everyday experience.

But the emergence of a huge, unified, and coherent (meaningful!) reality (this one we’re in now!) ‘blindly’ from ‘nothing’ seems rather less ‘probable’ than the existence of a single unified and immutable reality, God, that being transcendent of time, is not subject to our concepts of coming in and out of existence, and is in fact reality itself. I would remind those who pretense that, since ’so many cultures have so many different gods, how can any of them be true’ that we hardly subject language to the same specious criteria ‘ if there are so many languages in the world, how can anyone of them be true?’ Just as a sense of meaning informs the need for language, so it is the ’sense of the divine’ that informs religion. Mazda, Allah, Brahman, God, Tao, Heaven, Nirvana and The Great Spirit all fit the above criteria, a single unifying reality.

In fact, there is a recent trend in epistemology, led by F. Copleston and taken up by others, that suggests that the existence of God is in fact apodeictic. If the cultural imperium of our time makes it almost impossible to shed the complexes that veil the realisation of this fact, one might at least hope that those with faith in Scientism would utilise some of their precious subjective morality to treat theists with a little respect in their polemics, especially given the considerable uncertainty (delusion?) of the atheistic position.

It is a shame that you can’t see the subjective origins of your own observation statements. All you are doing is projecting this subjectivity into a logicist word-view and pretensing an origin of the historical progression of particles, which itself is merely a subjective concept. This is a product of a neurotic fear of anything that shatters the naive-realist reductionist illusion that you have constucted for yourself to avoid ever feeling the awe or fear of recognising realities beyond your understanding. Theism is based on a paradigm which recognises the ontological root of reason and meaning, and links it to an overwhelming perception of a transcendent and divine source of reality. The first poster mistook Eagleton’s analysis as a profession of pantheism, which was not what he was positing at all. It is precisely because you cannot recognise the supra-rational and abstract nature of mans perceptional faculties that you cannot recognise the reality of pure unrestricted potentiality, namely, God.

Jonathan / March 6th, 2007, 11:38 pm / #14

Here’s the problem, in a nutshell:

If Dawkins doesn’t carefully study what he’s attacking, he might end up disproving a God nobody belieives in anyway.

And if that’s Eagleton’s point - which it seems to be - then he may well be right. Many theologians and biblical scholars who’ve read Dawkins agree with him: The kind of God he paints does not, in fact, exist. But that, so say the theologians, is not the God of Christianity. It might be the oversimplified God of Sunday School and perhaps popular forms of evangelical Christianity…but it’s apparently a far cry from the God of Christian faith.

Fancy that. Christians agreeing with Dawkins’ God Delusion! And why not?

Mathew Reynolds / June 13th, 2007, 1:44 am / #15

I’m an agnostic as nobody has yet given me proof that there is or isn’t a God. I enjoyed the Selfish Gene, but I’m as bored with reading his god-bashing views as I am with Posh Spice’s weight, Dawkins needs to channel his energies elsewhere.

BlackSun / June 13th, 2007, 7:51 am / #16

Matthew,

Agnosticism is sort of a cursory default position, since we can’t prove a negative. But we can look a little closer: Wouldn’t you say that the probabilities are somewhat heavily weighted against a creator (who would have to have an infinite series of creators) or any sort of deity who intervenes in human affairs? Doesn’t the stunning lack of evidence for any such being tip the scale in your mind?

Dawkins needs to channel his energies elsewhere.

So he shouldn’t make his case as freely as anyone else?

Mathew Reynolds / June 13th, 2007, 2:20 pm / #17

Yes I agree, the probabilities are against a creator, but not conclusively so.
That’s why I’m an agnostic, that’s a scientific viewpoint.

Mathew Reynolds / June 13th, 2007, 2:25 pm / #18

And of course I’m being slightly facetious, I’d much rather see Dawkins god bashing in the Sunday supplements than some religious fundamentalist nutcase. I’m 99% sure evolution explains god away, but I’m not 100% sure.

Hasan Spiker / June 29th, 2007, 2:41 pm / #19

Black Sun’s gross misunderstandings are unfortunate. God does not require an ‘infinite series of creators’ because ‘coming into being’ is only a condition of existence in the sphere of the perceived relationality of multiplicity, that is, time. As in, being in existence requiring a time when the existent was not, i.e before
the time that it is existent.

God, being transcendent of time and the originator of time, obviously does not require being created. : )

As for the ’stunning lack of evidence’ for God’s Existence, this is rhetorical nonsense, which this time isnt even backed up by your usual sophistry. This epistemological bases for spiritual experience are actually stronger than those for normal human recognition of normal existents in the space/time field - why? - because the spiritual experience is neither immanent nor transitive, and as such is not sullied by egocentric subjectivism. “Not immanent!? you say! But everything perceived occurs within human perception!” Yes, but ‘immanent’ is an observation statement referring to a state in which an object is known solely in the psyche, rather than having any transitive effect with other objects in the ‘objective world’. Since the mystic state admits of no duality, and there is no experience of self involved, saying that it ‘occurs within the psyche’ or even, is ‘transitive’ is nonsense, except in a retrospective sense, exactly because both ‘transitive’ and ‘immanent’ require more than one object.

So exactly why is your “knowledge” (in this case the interpretive paradigm of evolutionism, which is not only philosophically self-defeating (see Alvin Plantinga’s work) but ‘has no evidence whatever on the biological plane’ (MIT educated Seyyed Hossein Nasr) more ‘objective’ than mystical knowledge, especially considering that the latter is absolute in its scope and as such is capable of contextualising and clarifying knowledge of existents ‘in time’, exactly because, as I have shown above, it is not in ‘time’.

Your paradigm of scientism is completely self-referential - you require faith on every level of you dialectic, obviously, because you admit of no absolute - furthermore the reality of the situation is that your paradigm is inherently circular, blind, and again, self-defeating. Meaning, that is, the recognition of a relational purpose in existents in the transient sense, can have no ‘meaning’ unless you admit that it had in some sense absolute value - otherwise you may as well remain quiet, because according to your own philosophy you are simply somehow blabbering meaningless nonsense into dead space (of course even that is ridiculous, because the recognition of that requires several meaningful concepts).

Existence is not self-explanatory in its relationality - we cannot find its ultimate meaning by looking at particles moving, because these are simply relations of apparently seperate existents as perceived in human perception, which are, inescapably, in time. However, by understanding what meaning really is, that is, the various aspects of human perceived reality relying for their congruent relationality on a Unifier, the in-time meanings being on an absolute level the created in-time manifestation of the attributes of the Ultimate reality itself, we will come to real understanding. And millions have. Everything is from God, the Absolute Infinite Source of all being. That includes your protestations.

The Absolute is there. Often, experience of spiritual realities has concommitants in the physical world. But your not going to see it until you shovel all that selfish matter out of your being and let some light shine through. You re being blinded by the illusion of your seperatedness from the rest of reality. God is infinite, fluid in manifestation, and transcendent beyond being a Trinity, having a Son, or resembling any of God’s creation. The final call for all this is Islam.

BlackSun / June 30th, 2007, 2:15 pm / #20

Hasan Spiker, I think you’re very confused. You’re arguments are hardly worth addressing again, (I’ve addressed them all many times) but since this is your second comment, I’ll play:

God, being transcendent of time and the originator of time, obviously does not require being created.

How convenient! You set aside all logic and empiricism by removing your most basic assumption from any analysis. An epistemology built on such nonsense is rotten to the core.

This epistemological bases for spiritual experience are actually stronger than those for normal human recognition of normal existents in the space/time field - why? - because the spiritual experience is neither immanent nor transitive, and as such is not sullied by egocentric subjectivism.

Oh, really? I thought the whole thing was experiential and based on the ‘personal contact with god’ by each person. In other words, subjective.

Since the mystic state admits of no duality

Actually, mysticism is totally based on spirit-matter duality, as well as mind-body duality. If everything was of one physical substance, we should see the physical evidence of the claimed universal mystical connections, if they existed. Dualism keeps such evidence conveniently away from analysis.

Your paradigm of scientism is completely self-referential - you require faith on every level of you dialectic, obviously, because you admit of no absolute - furthermore the reality of the situation is that your paradigm is inherently circular, blind, and again, self-defeating.

The term scientism is a pejorative invented by the religious to demean empirical truths and keep scientists away from their turf. Your use of the term “faith” is equivocation, (but thanks for playing.) The “faith” you speak of in science is not the same as your religious “faith.” Science has delivered an ever-increasing and ever-more-accurate understanding of the world, which can be verified–far from being self-defeating–it is self-evident.

Everything is from God, the Absolute Infinite Source of all being. That includes your protestations.

This is just rhetorical sleight-of-hand, which keeps you from having to address your total and complete lack of evidence for any Deity.

The final call for all this is Islam.

Why not Jainism, or Zoroastrianism, or Christianity, or Orthodox Judaism? Why does Islam have the absolute truth, and how would anyone ever know??

Hasan Spiker / July 1st, 2007, 11:23 am / #21

Oh dear. Readers, at least dont be misled into thinking that because he replied last, he actually has anything meaningful to say. Instead read carefully and see that he’s missed the point utterly.

Actually you probably wont post this will you black sun?

Well anyway read:
Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam : by Syed Naquib Attas

Knowledge by Presence: Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy : Mazdi Haeiri Yazdi

You didnt quite get what I meant about meaning and mysticism did you!? Clearly, because your reply post ignored all of it.

BlackSun / July 1st, 2007, 1:49 pm / #22

You didnt quite get what I meant about meaning and mysticism did you!? Clearly, because your reply post ignored all of it.

Hasan,

Actually, I did address it. Mysticism stems from duality, for which there is no evidence. You are coming very close to violating the comment guidelines which read:

“4. Lengthy subjective justifications for why religious mythology or the supernatural “must be” real from the author’s personal experience will not be accepted. There are plenty of apologist sites for this type of dialog. Black Sun Journal is for evidence-based discussion.”

Further nonsense and equivocation of this sort will result in your comments being deleted.

p.somniferum / January 16th, 2008, 11:18 pm / #23

“I’m pretty much done with these types of debates. Science stands on its own, and all the religion-mongers on the internet and TV are rank hypocrites. When’s the last time anyone prayed over a pile of parts and achieved a working TV or computer? Yet they all use them to spread their intellectual viruses. Let them go back to the quill pens and see how far they get! Likewise, the Islamic terrorists use the tools of science against modern civilization.”

Well put. I live in Polk Co. Florida which you may have recently heard about with regards to ID being taught alongside evolution. The local boards blow up with regularity over this, every effete religious argument pulled out of the hat. I have to say, I advocate that these people live within some sort of compound and do without every scientific advance of the last few hundred years. Though they’ll soon be relying on science to get through their diminished lives, I feel certain they’ll continue to disavow it.

Found this site when doing a search on Eagleton as I’m reading his book “Holy Terror,” which while it has a few decent points, it’s full of redundancies and ostentatiousness–features which seem to characterize his work.

Enjoy the site! Keep up the good work.

Miriam_Cotton / January 30th, 2009, 5:11 am / #24

"In the very first sentence, Eagleton makes the most common mistake: he places theology on a par with science—the study of the unknowable and invisible equivalent to that which has helped humanity understand nature and build the modern world."

And there in the very first sentence of your 'rebuttal' is made explicit your failure even to begin to understand what Eagleton wrote. You cannot prove a point by referring to your own convictions as if you they were absolute givens. Eagleton's review has simply flown way over your head. This piece is as lunging and flailing and mispunching as Dawkins' book.

BlackSun / January 30th, 2009, 5:28 am / #25

Miriam_Cotton,

Are you going to say what you think Eagleton meant so I can try to understand? Or am I just supposed to read your mind.

I did not refer to my 'convictions,' I spoke about the methods of science. Theology and science are not on a par. If you are asserting that they are, it is up to you to demonstrate how and why.

Miriam_Cotton / February 2nd, 2009, 9:36 am / #26

BlackSun - the answer to your question lies in the text of Eagleton's article - which, with the greatest of respect, you quite simply have not read closely enough and/or don't understand. What you are attempting to do here (as with most of Dawkins' disciples) is insisting that you define the parameters of the debate so it fits into a forgone conclusion to suit your own convictions. Any discussion of anythng outside that small box appears to be lost on you. I have no intention of proving the existence of God any more than you can prove that there is no such thing. All I can do for you is to explain how I see it and ask you to respect that - just as I respect your right not to believe in God and to reject religion. Neither of us has any way of knowing whether we are right, ultimately.

(Rest of comment to follow)

BlackSun / February 2nd, 2009, 7:55 pm / #27

Miriam_Cotton,

I gave a detailed point-by-point rebuttal. Now for the second time you won't tell me what you disagree with.

I hear argument from result: "You don't agree with me so you obviously haven't understood."

I hear proof-burden shifting: "…you can't prove there's no God."

I hear guilt-by-association: "Dawkins' disciples."

I hear relativism and an attack on knowledge generally: "Neither of us has any way of knowing whether we are right, ultimately."

So why are you here? Are you going to make an argument? After declaring that nothing can be known, what's the point of telling me I haven't understood? Are you really that intellectually dishonest or are you holding back for some unknown reason?

It appears you've thrown down a gauntlet and then failed to draw your sword.

Stanley / July 6th, 2009, 8:07 pm / #28

I think Eagleton's assertion that atheism must take account of the latest theological writings is a kind of categoty error in that theology assumes what the atheist seeks to deny.

The Wittgensteinian / April 9th, 2014, 3:06 pm / #29

The whole thing is a strawman fallacy. I do not understand why you just ignored the other guy's comment regarding Christian theologians actually agreeing with the "God" he is trying to debunk in the book.

Furthermore, I am appalled by your comparison of Das Kapital and Mein Kampf. Capital is a well-thought out book, a serious work with real philosophical merit, a classic on the political economy of capitalism. Mein Kampf, on the other hand, is ideal for those working in psychiatry or abnormal psychology.

And your dismissal of Aquinas' Quinquae viae. Actually, the notion of the Five Ways as "proofs" is just hogwash that philosophy 101 instructors too lazy to read closely feed you. The Five Ways are not really proofs, but a demonstration of the coherence of theism, the same way Ludwig Feuerbach (a greater and more intelligent atheist than your Dawkins) demonstrated the coherence of atheism by pointing out religion to be infantile. But they are not proofs per se. You can read that part of the Summa here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm

Here, Aquinas clearly says that the contrary statement to the proposition "God exists" simply cannot be thought, as the predicate itself is contained in the subject. Hence, it does not require proving, as much as the proposition "All bachelors are unmarried men" does not need an empirical survey of all bachelors to prove the truth of this statement. God, as our Muslim friend has been trying to say all along, is Nothing, definitely not a being among other beings. Daoists call it the Dao, we in the Abrahamic faiths call it God/Love, Buddhists call it the Great Nothingness, Hindus call it Brahma, etc.

Think of it this way: suppose we are out to prove/disprove the statement "X exists" aren't we supposed to know first what we want prove or disprove? This is the one thing Dawkins and the Bible-thumping "Christians" agree on: they think they know what this x is. orthodox Christianity (with a small 'o', although I myself is an Orthodox Christian with a capital 'o') pulls the rug beneath these two camps, saying I don't know X, so this whole business of proving and disproving is just a waste of time. To begin with, that's not how we use the word "God".

Wittgenstein delineated two kinds of grammar: surface grammar and depth grammar. The former refers to grammar as we know it; the latter however is an unconscious set of rules that governs our linguistic activity. E.g. we can say "red green" which is correct at the level of surface grammar, but we violate a rule of the depth grammar of colour. Same thing with God-talk: when we say God, we mean it to be that which makes things be (in the words of the Latin Credo: "factorem caeli et terra", i.e. factorem here means making things into fact, or simply "making", which has a subtle difference with just "creating"). In Heideggerian terms: Being (to which the ontological, not the ontical, refer to), that which makes beings be.

If Dawkins cannot even frame the best form of argument, Eagleton simply says with a tone of exasperation (which is to be expected, since that pseudo-philosophical trash book of his sells more than the serious philosophical works), then Dawkins do not have the right to dabble in these things. Otherwise, books like The God Delusion are an exercise in futility.

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