User:Woozle/Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching

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This is a response to "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching" by Terry Eagleton, which is a review of the book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.


This was originally written as an email; I have left the wording as it is for now.

Eagleton basically avoids addressing Dawkins's points, trying instead to undermine his credibility with the usual tools (ad hominem, appeal to authority, appeal to snobbery, etc.) for the first 3 paragraphs.

In the 4th paragraph, he finally starts to close in on the point by beating a bit more closely about the bush: "Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly." The former is an arguable point, and the latter is certainly true unless you include the word "all" ("...and that all Christian and Muslim children..."). He then quickly backs away from the point, dismissing those statements by an appeal to common belief ("Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that.") and by simply stating the opposite: "For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief." Right. Got any bridges you're trying to sell?

Wait, I take that back. It's probably quite arguable that they "played a role"; in fact, that might be the best way to describe the situation: defenders of the faith will regularly trot out reason and logic and manipulate them, like Punch and Judy dolls, to arrive safely back at the Official Truth. "Playing a role" is not what we're looking for; reason, argument, and honest doubt should be central to any quest for truth – be that quest spiritual or otherwise.

The rest of the piece strikes me as more of the same; if you notice what seem to be any actual points he makes, please feel free to point them out and I'll have a look at them.

Other Responses

This page is in need of updating. These commentaries should be moved back into the article link page.

2008-05-28 Looks like PZ Myers said it better:

PZ Myers said on 2006-12-24:

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Hat tip to Dana; commentary: Underverse has commentary critical of Myers, in a muddy sort of way

And earlier:

PZ Myers said on 2006-10-24:

I've seen an email that cites that crappy Eagleton review of The God Delusion that seems to think this quote is somehow a significant rebuttal of the book, rather than an indictment of the reviewer's ability to comprehend the book without inserting his own biases against atheism into it.

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. 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.

If you actually open The God Delusion to pages 340-345 and read, you will find a substantial section in which Dawkins defends the Bible as a literary and historical source, deplores the lack of knowledge of the book by its most ardent defenders, and even argues that religious rituals like those for marriages and funerals are a good thing.

And still earlier, making the key point:

PZ Myers said on 2006-10-22:

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

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

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

Other Links

  • 2006-10-29 The God Conundrum: "These questions, of course, have absolutely no relevance to the matter at hand; they are just an excuse for Eagleton to show off a bit of erudition. If Dawkins is right, and religion is simply a "delusion," a baroque edifice built upon a foundation of mistakes and wishful thinking, then the views of Eriugena on subjectivity are completely beside the point. Not all of theology directly concerns the question of whether or not God exists; much of it accepts the truth of that proposition, and goes from there. The question is whether that's a good starting point. If an architect shows you a grand design for a new high-rise building, you don't have to worry about the floor plan for the penthouse apartment if you notice that the foundation is completely unstable." Reviewer contends, however, that Dawkins has started battles on more fronts than he is able to provide clear arguments, and the weaker arguments are being used as straw men to shoot down his main argument.