October 21, 2006

Eagleton takes on Dawkins

Terry Eagleton is right to suggest, in the London Review of Books, that Richard Dawkins shows little understandings of the subtleties of theological debate, doesn't understand that there are many beleivers for whom God is not to be represented as a vengeful super-ego but rather as a gentle father or lover (images with a long Christian usage at least- only ignorance prohibits me saying religious there), but Eagleton is also interestingly blind. Where Eagleton is blind is in his descriptions of the flaws of science- like Dawkins Eagleton seems to imagine a grand view of the purposes and perview of science- he argues that science is responsible for the events of the twentieth century and matches religious inquisitions against chemical warfare.

The truth though lies in a different line of thinking- science and religion answer different questions. Science rests upon a presumption that the world is as it seems to us to be. If we seek to undermine that, as Eagleton in his essay at one point attempts to do, we begin to stroll a long road towards academic obscurity and pointlessness: like Dr Johnson we may refute scepticism by kicking stones and feeling pain. That neither implies nor does not imply what created the system and for what purpose the system exists- by the neccessary conditions of its existance as an analysis of the data within the system science can not tell us what lies beyond the system. Nor can it tell us much about other systems, like the systems of morality we might seek to invent.

Fascinatingly therefore Eagleton, an English don with a postmodern bent, and Dawkins, a biology don with an atheist bent, reveal their limits. Eagleton's lack of scientific literacy means that he fails to understand what science does, and Dawkins' lack of understanding of the wider philosophic context- both of the theology and the place of science within philosophy, means that the argument they have is a debate of the deaf.

Both men are incredibly intelligent people- both serve in my analysis as examples of the flaws of a specialist intellect- unavoidable in our age of intellectual abundance- but perhaps with its disadvantages. You have been warned!

9 comments:

edmund said...

i thought eagleton's article was very flawed too in lots of ways , and i thought his scientific point was v stupid, but actually he made the same mistake as Dawkins. tHe proper equivilant of relgious faith (or religous faiths) is not science but atheism/hard agnosticism -and indeed atheistic ideolgies have a muc more impressive killing rate than any major religion as east europe and the far east bear witness!

edmund said...

I also think science is realy a system of falsifiable (or at least replacable) theories on how the world's physuical operations work, would be a better way of looking it, it's a way or working as well as a a particular subject matter

Gracchi said...

Ok to answer your first point- I agree that Eagleton's article is very flawed. I disagree with you about atheist ideologies because I'm not sure that particularly Naziism with its mix of folklore and basterdised Christianity should be regarded as atheist. Furthermore it strikes me that there are as many kinds of atheist as there are kinds of religious people- saying that atheist ideology (in the singular) was responsible for the killing rates of Naziism and Communism is like saying that religious ideology led to the events of September 11th- it lacks subtlety and is consequently a flawed argument.

To your second point. I think that science is a way of working- though I'm not sure I would be as Popperian as you are obviously. But I think the key point is that science deals with knowledge that is in principle falsifiable- I can do an experiment to attempt to falsify the law of gravity. The problem with God's existance is that there is no experiment which if done could falsify the existance of God- consequently we can say that the method of scientific reasoning can not analyse the answer to that question because its method cannot prove or disprove it- which is a different way of saying what I've said in my article.

The key point is that the existance of God is not a scientific by a philosophic question.

edmund said...

I agree there are many types of athiest ideolgoies just as there are many types of relgionm, indeed that is my point- I'm showing Dawkins is wrong in his own attempt to attakc religon rather than legitimiazing the method

I think Nazism could aruablly be hard agnostic (it is certialy anti-chrisan) and the "folklore" aspect has been massively overdone , but the diffent kinds of marxists have killed more than enough people to make my point,

, however all the states that have been atheistic in ideolgoy ( as opposed to neutural) have been v repressive and all them ost powerfull (ie Russia, China ect) have enaged in colalsla mass murder indeed nearly all the ones that have been consitaly indpent have (eg North Korea, Russia, Cambodia) which Darwksins appears just to ignore eg the mass murders of the Russian revolution were regarded warmly by every athist state that has existed-no crime done in the name of Christ has commanded the same level of consensus from Christian states.



On falsification do you think the theories of evolution and parallel univerisies are inherently unscienfitic , if not how could they be falsifed? I do however agree that in the modern sense of sicnce (that is a particular way of working) relgion is not part of it, as opposed to the older sense of more general knowledge

edmund said...

I also disagree the existnace of god is necessarily a philosophical question ( philosophy is just one other altive way of thinking to science)

Gracchi said...

I'm starting with your last objection because its the obvious one- if the question of the existance of God isn't scientific, isn't historical say, isn't a question of literary or filmic criticism, can't be a question of theology (that presumes the answer) then the answer must be that it is a philosophical question, I am not stuck on it but I can't think of any other way to assess that question. If you are asking the question is this true can you prove it then it is philosophical- faith by the way is not an argument.

Ok to the scientific thinking- it was you that brought up the way of thinking not me. I argued that science was an expression of truths about the world that we live in, the system that we live within and so couldn't tackle ideas from without- you raised falsification- see your second post and I feel on that basis that arguments about God have nothing to do with science. I was slightly confused by your point on this as it was you that raised the Popperian point and if you read my post carefully you'll see that I criticise a purely Popperian reading of scientific philosophy.

OK on to atheist ideology. Being an atheist doesn't mean being a communist. Imagine the situation prior to the conversion of Constantine- could I turn around to you and say that all previous states had been religious and that they therefore offered the record for a Christian state to be judged upon. I think you would hesitate- I would hope you would- and notable Christians like St Augustine have. So whatever China, Russia or North Korea have or haven't done I think taking the record of Communist states for Atheist states is a bit silly- like taking the record of pagan states or Muslim states for Christian states or vice versa.

Strikes me that by continuing to use the example- despite denying it- you are rhetorically trying to make a point which I would submit to you is as ridiculous as Dawkins's point. So lets chuck out these random examples of communist persecution when we discuss atheism because they are invalid and ridiculous.

edmund said...

I would say the existance of god is a truth question-that could include all or none of hte various ways you've mentioned of ascertaining truth i don't see it as pecularily philosohical in nature at all, I think we may agree on this but that's an argument about terms

"faith is not an argument" is obviously correct , but expereince can be whether person or based on others- "somone is trustworhty" is an argument evne if it's a false one

I think on scince we probably agree- my point was that scince is boht a particular field of operations and a particular way of looking at the world whihc can not cover all forms of human knowledge- I think you agree , i was rather worried about surrounding to the typoe of thinking I can understand why dawikins gets contemptous-thoeris with knowledge are scineific theoies without arne't . the diffences are more subtle than that

edmund said...

I don't understand the constantine point- I thik it might be you've misstated it, not stone thrwoing obviously but could you explain

my point is primarily aimed at Dawkins and to some extent eagleton , not you it is that the equivilnace of relgiion is not science (which is a way of thiking many of whose formest practiciors eg newton are/ were religious) but atheism which is also a system of meataphysical belief -indeedo ne much more cohesive than relgion which combines a million equivlents ( monotheism, monlateraslim ect ect) thus Dawsins trics of saying scince never killed anyone is a trick- it's the actions of atheist regimes acitn int he name of englih that need to be compaed iwth theistic regimes which act in the name of holiness- he doen' use this comaprision because it kills his case so comprehensively that was my main case and i supect you agree with it.

as for anmything All actual atheistic regimes have i think been commuist-and it's not equal t the constantine regime as there's been more than one atheisic regime (at least 3 or 4 by my example) wh8ch ave indeed been communist-but surely it says something that all athestic reigmes have been communists? I think there's also a case most of the major mass murders- under secularizing regimes-that is regimes considerably more secular (even when not as militantly atheistical) than their predecessors. I agree though taht such comparison are very very broad generalizations- but if Dawkins wants to make them I think they're unqueastily work against rather than for his argument.

suma project said...

good point on specialization.

science does not need to look whether the intricacies of theology matter, which i'm sure they do at some level, religion's subject/object is false--an un-truth.

if religion seeks to undermine science--and it does with hog-wash--science; lucid, rational thought based on empiricism must fight a public fight making only claims that it can prove.

eagleton needs to do more science even if he won't read other people's books. dawkins does not need to study religion further--he's got hold of it by the jugular.