Voyou Désœuvré

I had intended to return to a more regular blogging schedule with one or more tremendously scholarly posts about silent films. Obviously, the problem there is that I then don’t write anything at all until I’ve got time to discuss the finer details of Hegel’s relationship to Buster Keaton. So, thanks to Rachel for tagging me with a so-called “meme,” a blog-related obligation which can obviously not be passed up.

5 books:

  1. Karl Marx, Capital (predictable, but it really is great)
  2. Jean-Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason
  3. Michel Foucault, The Will To Knowledge (just re-read this recently, it’s an almost perfect book: a startling central idea, beautifully written, with Foucault’s extraordinarily precise, dispassionate style).
  4. Aristotle, The Nicomahean Ethics
  5. John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

5 songs (conveniently already listed for a not-yet-made post):

  1. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
  2. Girls Aloud, “The Show”
  3. Dubstar, “Stars (Motiv8 Mix)”
  4. White Town, “Your Woman”
  5. Tatu, “All the Things She Said”

5 addictions:

I don’t think I believe in the concept of addiction, at least, not as distinguished from all other human behaviour. Doesn’t it depend on a spurious mind/body distinction (sometimes sublimated into an equally spurious conscious/unconscious distinction)? As if the mind was usually free and insulated from the physical world, with addictions somehow improperly subordinating the mind to the body.

5 famous people:

  1. Britney Spears (again, obvious)
  2. Walter Benjamin (I don’t know if he’s famous enough to count, but I think he would have enjoyed being a celebrity if he had gotten the chance).
  3. Paris Hilton (Ian Penman recently wrote about the underlying misogyny in a lot of criticism of Paris Hilton ; I think one could also add that the dislike of Hilton simply for being rich is an example of the same anti-structural impulse that leads right-wingers to blame poor people for being poor)
  4. Hala Gorani (at some point, I may post something about why I find American news anchors so mezmerizing).
  5. Yulia Volkova/Lena Katina (one can’t have one without the other).

In other Richard Dawkins news, Terry Eagleton’s review of Dawkins new book prompted this fatuous letter from A. C. Grayling (scroll down). I wonder, actually: was there ever a public “intellectual” stupider than A. C. Grayling? It’s difficult to imagine.


  1. rachelfmb, 3:26 pm, November 25, 2006

    Yay. You did it :).

  2. rachelfmb, 3:39 pm, November 25, 2006

    Oh, and I really should have seen Cartesian implications of the term addiction!

  3. bat020, 9:12 am, November 28, 2006

    Gawd, I saw that idiotic letter from Grayling. I briefly considered writing in a response, but decided that he was just too damn stupid to be worth bothering with. I mean, how exactly do you even begin to argue with someone who claims allegiance to Enlightenment values by endlessly flaunting exactly the kind of cretinous dogmatism that Kant & Co spent their lives railing against? And he’s “one of Britain’s leading intellectuals” according to his publisher! aaaarghh Re Paris Hilton, must say I am less than bovvered about disliking the rich simply for being rich. Yes of course this skates on the edge of ressentiment, but providing one doesn’t mistake dislike for political critique, I don’t see the problem. And given the oodles of propaganda telling us we should honour the rich simply for being rich, I think this dislike has a political point to it even if it is Mere Negation. Agree about the misogyny underlying much of the flak directed at her (cf that appalling Banksy thing recently).

  4. lenin, 1:32 pm, November 28, 2006

    Birkbeck plugs Grayling endlessly in its philosophical stuff.  His Introduction to Philosophical Logic contains several travesties and vulgarisms, yet it’s the recommended text for students getting into the topic.

  5. mark k-p, 4:21 pm, November 28, 2006

    OK, OK, Grayling’s a moron… but let’s not forget that Eagleton’s no better… his review of the Dawkins book was one of the funniest and most astonishing things I’ve read for quite some time…

  6. voyou, 1:21 am, November 29, 2006

    I think most of what Eagleton says in that article is right, though, particularly the point that Grayling latches on to. It doesn’t make much sense to call yourself an atheist without actually looking at what people have actually done with their religious belief. given Dawkins’ apparent ignorance of theology, his “atheism” doesn’t seem to have any content; how can we know what it is he is rejecting?

    Bat, I think the problems with an anti-rich-people attitude are particularly acute in Hilton’s case, as she gets criticized for being an heiress, unproductive, parasitical, etc. I think mapping productive and unproductive onto the proletariat and bourgeoisie is problematic anyway, but certainly Hilton is no more unproductive than someone like Bill Gates. So I think criticising Paris Hilton for being rich is particularly objectionable.

  7. Alain, 10:02 am, November 29, 2006

    This may seem obvious, but I think Paris Hilton gets criticized for also sounding very stupid.  In fact, she seems to be famous for two reasons: (1) She is a young heiress who some people find physically attractive and (2) She often sounds like an idiot.

  8. mark k-p, 4:45 am, November 30, 2006

    The triangulation of Eagleton, Dawkins and Grayling does produce an awful picture of British intellectual life, but I’m afraid that Dawkins is clearly the most substantial of the three figures. I laughed all the way through Eagleton’s Catholic sermon – littered with text book cases of just about every fallacy going where it wasn’t a fan letter to Aquinas. Eagleton’s defence of theism is desperate sophistry; I didn’t object to Grayling’s analogy, in fact it seems perfectly apt – you don’t need to be an expert in the arcane lore of different types of astrology in order to reject astrology. Not that Eagleton seems to know about any other kind of theology apart from the Thomism he was taught at school. In any case, how would Dawkin’s knowing what Eagleton preaches – which, let’s face it, he almost certainly does; after all, the Catholic church has been really quite effective at disseminating its message –  change anything? Aquinas’ theology depends upon positing a supernatural presence which Dawkins rejects. What I objected to in Grayling’s letter was his sign-off quip about Derrida.

  9. bat020, 5:31 am, December 1, 2006

    Grayling’s sign off quip about Derrida was entirely consistent with his argument about religion. I don’t see how you can object to the latter but not the former.

  10. mark k-p, 10:10 am, December 1, 2006

    Consistent in what sense? The remark about Derrida doesn’t advance Grayling’s argument; it’s really a non sequitur, and an ad hominem attack, which the rest of his letter isn’t. Defending Grayling is a really rather uncomfortable position, but, the fact I’m driven to do it is a testament to the imbecility of Eagleton’s article. I’m really somewhat astonished – and amused I suppose – that you folks are taking Eagleton’s piece seriously. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve read for quite some time. I repeat my previous question: how does Dawkins’ argument in any way depend upon the ‘ignorance’ of Catholic theology imputed to him by Eagleton? How would knowing Aquinas’ (well-known) arguments count against Dawkins’ rejection of a supernatural being?

  11. voyou, 2:29 pm, December 1, 2006

    The question is, though, what does Dawking mean by “supernatural,” and is it the same as any property that Christians would ascribe to God? Grayling’s analogy with astrology actually works against him, I think. When astrologers talk about the planets and constellations, they’re not talking about large lumps of rock and gas that exist in space; I’m not really sure what they’re talking about, but if I wanted to write a book-length rejection of astrology, I would probably have to find out.

  12. A. C. Grayling, 6:30 am, December 2, 2006

    Someone kindly forwarded these posts to me, and I wondered whether the following two observations might interest the safely anonymous posters involved: sure enough, it’s hard to resist the occasional ad hominem stab at folks we feel a degree of contempt for, but if such remarks pass a minimum standard of restraint and enter the domain of spleen, it’s probably best not to charge others with it as if it were a fault. – Secondly: the point of saying that if you reject the claim that the universe contains supernatural agencies or entities, there is no need to wade into the bog of verbiage raised on the premise that the claim is true, is about as obvious as it can get. Try a different analogy: medical theories in antiquity are premised on concepts of the four humours. Would you require the person about to give you a bypass to mug up on Galen first? You make the same mistake as Eagleton: theology has historical and sociological interest, not least for the amount of murder it has been responsible for, but insofar as its basis is proposed as a serious claim about the origin and nature of the universe, it is toilet paper. That’s Dawkin’s point, which Eagleton could only answer as he did by slipping unconsciously from physics to sociology. (An entirely characteristic manouevre for the post-modern mind.)

  13. A. C. Grayling, 7:50 am, December 2, 2006

    PS I don’t usually answer anonymous posts & messages – what justification for anonymity, by the way, apart from cowardice and the chance to be insulting from safety? – but the question at stake is an important one: people are killed over it; at very least it merits clear and sober thought. Leave aside Dawkins’ rebarbative manner: what are the serious answers to the case he makes? I’ve seen nothing from any one-paragraph-wonder (=blogger) yet that offers one.

  14. voyou, 3:31 pm, December 2, 2006

    I think your Galen analogy gets things the wrong way round: sure, if I’m interested in planetary motions, I won’t ask an astrologist; if I’m interested in medicine, I won’t ask an expert in the theory of the humours; and if I’m interested in cosmology, I won’t ask a priest. But if I’m interested in the theory of the humours, I’m not going to ask a doctor, and if I’m interested in religion, in makes sense to seriously think about what religious people are actually saying, not just assume they’re making bad attempts at scientific hypotheses.

    You say that Eagleton “slips unconsciously from physics to sociology,” as if religion was trying to do the same thing as physics. That is precisely what Eagleton is questioning, and why a criticism of reigion ought to pay attention to theology. To think that Christianity claims to provide the same sorts of explanation as natural science is anachronistic, and disregards what the more thoughtful Christians have written. If you look at the kind of arguments the scholastics made, for instance, it takes a real interpretive blindness to think that they are making scientific claims. So the question becomes, what sort of claims are they making, and are these claims of any interest?

    Dawkins seems to think he’s saying something interesting by casting doubt on the scientific validity of religion. But this is an extraordinarily banal and obvious point (who outside of a couple of creationist nutters in the US would disagree?). Atheists can do a lot better.

  15. a. c. grayling, 10:00 am, December 3, 2006

    “Anachronistic”; “interpretative blindness”; “a couple of creationist nutters in the US”: this dismisses the tens of millions of ‘Bible-believing Christians” in that God’s-own land, to say nothing of literalists in all other creeds who think that the ancient documents and legends of their faith explain the origin, nature and destiny of the universe, mankind at its centre. If you haven’t heard about these guys, where have you been lately? Perhaps you have become too habituated to the dense smoke-screen of reinvention with which theology tries to pretend it is a subject with an object. But if religion does not rest on an existential claim – viz. that there is or are supernatural something(s), and moreover of special interest to us for some reason to be explained – then what is it that atheists are supposed, in your view, to be doing a lot better at? – The fact is, the onus is on you to justify your commitment to the basic fairy-tale, without justification for which religion in its varieties is of strictly historical, sociological and psychopathological interest – and in these respects we know all there is to know. Such justifications are indeed offered aplenty by apologists for the mainstream religions, and it is they whom Dawkins answers. Contemporary theology, evasive fog-cloaked intellectually dishonest word-spinning of the worst order, is designed to avoid direct refutation by eschewing literal meaning altogether – often by the cheap expedient of saying that its (putative) subject-matter is ineffable, and that one can only grope one’s way to partial comprehension by indirection and metaphor. Very convenient, though scarcely discussable. But this is doubtless because theists can’t do better.

  16. mark k-p, 10:59 am, December 3, 2006

    Two points of information for Grayling: 1. Ad hominem attacks are only fallacies when they stand in for a consideration of the argument. I have no problem with insults or attacks per se; I object to them when they replace arguments. (i.e. Eagleton’s claims must be dismissed because he supported Derrida). As a matter of fact, my position was the exact opposite of this (even though I have contempt for Grayling I agree with him about Eagleton). 2. Using pseudonyms is not the same as being anonymous. If a pseudonym is used consistently, it functions in exactly the same way as a given name does … how would introducing patronyms help?

  17. a. c. grayling, 11:37 am, December 3, 2006

    Mark k-p: use of a pseudonym does not amount to being anonymous? In this zone of mentation I’m honoured by your contempt. – As to Eagleton and Derrida: the latter is a conspicuous fraud, but the former’s attitude to him was not my reason for dismissing his attack on Dawkins, as you will see if you read my LRB letter properly. The Derrida point was ancillary; it’s just so hard to take seriously anyone who takes him seriously, not least because he had a dishonest mind. – OK friends I’m signing off this site: enjoy your anonymous insults and allegiance to obfuscation whether theological or Derridean: my (nevertheless genuinely meant) good wishes to you.

  18. voyou, 12:51 pm, December 3, 2006

    It’s interesting, A.C., that you assume I am a theist because I don’t share your belief that religion is a “fairy-tale.” I’m not; I don’t think religion is true any more than you do. But I do think that it’s a bad interpretive practice to attribute to people ideas that are obviously false, as the construal of religious belief you favor is. That’s why I say atheists can and should do better: we can understand what’s false about religion in such a way that we also understand why it has been believed by intelligent and reflective people.

    The rejection of religion offered by you and Dawkins depends on the belief that a large number of people in the past were unaccountably stupid and believed obviously false things, while we, by chance or by the grace of God, are not stupid, and so believe sensible things. Apart from being rather misanthropic, this position is also worryingly uncriticial: if the difference between theists and atheists is explained by their stupidity and our cleverness, we’re left without a way of analyzing how our own sets of beliefs might be plausible but ultimately false.

  19. Daniel, 3:55 am, December 4, 2006

    Enter Grayling, exit Grayling, as Derrida might have put it… Bit unfortunate the consideration of him began with “A.C. Grayling is the stupidest…” both because this didn’t seem to do much for his belligerence, but most especially because, as Tim succinctly points out, this intelligence/stupidity “deception” model of ideology is really what this entire question is revolving around. Grayling himself remains firmly committed to this model – pace “Derrida is an obvious fraud” – the idea here, again, is simply the question is simply empirical, one way or another. Religious believers are mistaken, so the story goes, because there is no God, and what makes this position so unbearable is because the question of the existence of God is really a moot point. Pace Zizek, the philosophical question of religion is not, “Is it true?”, but rather, “What does it mean that so many people believe it is true?” – which is why I find your take on Eagleton/Dawkins somewhat surprising Mark. Whatever the unnecessary Catholic concessions which Eagleton might make, it seems to me that he is far closer to the right (Marxist) line than Dawkins or Grayling, who are not really considering anything substantial (material/sociological) at all, just kind of being glibly bluff and shouting out “absurd!”

  20. Justin, 8:02 am, December 4, 2006

    Isn’t it the case that Dawkins didn’t just confine his comments to the truth or otherwise of religion – in which case my sympathies would be with him entirely – but with the healthiness and consequences of belief in it? This latter being so, it’s hard to see how Eagleton’s points can be so summarily dismissed.  Anyone may think, for instance, that belief in a God, without empirical foundation for that belief, is absurd, and that starting with an absurd premise is likely to lead to irrational and unhealthy attitudes down the line – but that’s not the same as demonstating the irrationality of the original contention. If you’re going to show that religious belief is unhealthy, as well as absurd, you surely have to engage with the actual conclusions have drawn from their a priori assumption, rather than simply show that that assumption is without empirical backing or intellectual merit?

  21. lenin, 1:51 pm, December 4, 2006

    “he had a dishonest mind”. The words of Britain’s leading intellectual: a kernel of senseless red-faced Blimpishness.  I’ll give an anonymous lap-dance to anyone who can tell me what a “dishonest mind” is.  I’ll add a period of head-lap interaction if you can tell me what distinguishes Grayling’s pneumatic style from that of the tabloid columnist Oliver Kamm.

  22. caleb, 2:00 pm, December 4, 2006

    can’t see what the fuss is about, eagleton just points out that dawkins doesn’t know what he’s talking about, not very controversial, and k punk’s comment is strange considering he’s gone on record as a christian.  Is it the catholicism he’s offended by?

  23. Just passin thru, 2:54 pm, December 4, 2006

    How interesting that it is only ‘voyou’ who valiantly resists Grayling’s one-paragraph-wonder stereotype, with his/her two- and three-paragraph comments! Daniel: you are misusing the word ‘pace’ here. But this fact is not important in the scheme of things. Yours in anonymity, and/or pseudonymity, ‘…’

  24. caleb, 3:32 pm, December 4, 2006

    the other mistake people seem to have made is the idea that eagleton is an ardent fan, or defender of derrida.  Not so. 

  25. mark k-p, 6:02 pm, December 4, 2006

    Caleb – it is not Eagleton’s Christianity I object to (IS he a Christian, then?), it is the slew of poor arguments and fallacies in his ‘review’. I would agree that my positions on religion are not conspicuously consistent lol but, for the record, I am on record as an anti-theist – I’ve never supported any supernaturalism. Daniel – I don’t see how a fawning recapitulation of Aquinas constitutes a Marxist position.

  26. wani, 7:39 pm, December 4, 2006

    There are a number of well made points on this little internet debate; points that will not be read by many people. Christians beat real philosophers hands down in there understanding of the nature of this argument, as the success of Creationism shows. What Christians understand is the debate cannot be won by some insightful analysis based on a misguided grammatolatry and quixotry. The sucess or failure of theories is not based upon merit, but upon the efforts of those who seek to persuade others of the validity and the immediate or potential benefits of believing the theory. Truth is like the queens seal on a tin of baked beans – sounds good but has no connection to the contents. Eagleton is a case in point of a “man of ideas” who is far more influential than all of you combined because while he espouses perpensions of the lowest intellectual order, he has confromed to a certain clique within the academic community which has worked to ensure his position of influence. People who walk around saying true things all the time end up murdered by thugs in unmarked ditches. I wish you honest blighters the best of luck.

  27. Adam Kotsko, 7:40 pm, December 4, 2006

    A lot more people are killed nowadays because of nationalism than because of religion. In fact, the two most destructive conflicts in the history of humanity (the world wars) were not about religion at all, and the threat of nuclear destruction that hung over the world during the Cold War also had nothing to do with religion. All this hand-wringing about religion’s murderous tendancies — modern secular liberal state, remove the plank from your own eye!

  28. Daniel, 8:06 pm, December 4, 2006

    “I don’t see how a fawning recapitulation of Acquinas constiutes a Marxist position…” Arguendo, let’s say that this was what it was, and I’ll still stand by the point. With his famous “opium of the people” line, Marx first of all took the point that religion testifies to real suffering, only finally inadequately, to the extent that it serves as a mystified form of it. From this, he laid-on his ideology, in the service of a concerted attempt to demystify it. In a certain sense, Marx saw religion avant la lettre as a kind of Lacanian symptom, demanding interpretation on the hand, but equally leading back to the real on the other, and in this way it is clear that the formulation “the prerequisite of all critique is the critique of religion” remains an ambivilant one. The point here is both that real critique cannot begin to take place without the special form of mysticism which is religion first being taken out of the equation, and also that religion already itself is critique, at least the embryo-form of it. From this, Marx goes on not by immediately denying religion, but rather by temporarily bracketing the question, so as to turn in the meantime religion on its head, through a cool procedure of deducing the material causes from which it sprung. In this, and this is his great brilliance, Marx effectively reconceived the question of religion as a materialist question, with this reconception leading directly from his basic acceptance that religion was indeed a question in the first place. Marx understood, quite apart from any consideration of the question of the putative existence of God (really, a meaningless question at best, and a chimera at worst) essentially, that religion was real, with the distinction between this stance and the stance adopted by Dawkins amounting to his own conceptualization of the matter as essentially illusory. For Dawkins, religious believers are essentially deluded dupes, and while, indeed they certainly are, he himself is really far more thoroughly deluded, since, ultimately, he does not believe in belief. He does understand what it is, or where it might come from. He regards the world simply as a self-transparent empirical object, and religion accordingly simply a special kind of empirical error – it thus he proposes to enlighten the world by simply correcting it, but without a shadow of a doubt a religious believe would simply shrug his shoulders at this kind of complaint – thence to go home, feed the kids, and keep voting republican. Better Acquinas than Dawkins for Marxist, than, because Aquinas at least acknowleges that religion exists as a real thing in this world. Dawkins doesn’t, but rather simply forecloses it – in a manner, interestingly, somewhat analogous to that of Max Stirner – and this is as intellectually fatal as it ultimately critically worthless.

  29. Daniel, 8:11 pm, December 4, 2006

    Some grammatical errors in the above, lacks of certain “nots” and whatnot, apologies for that.

  30. Dominic, 7:47 am, December 5, 2006

    Dawkins does actually have a minimally-satisfying account of the genesis and dissemination of religious thought and practice, and it isn’t just that certain broad categories of person are dumb. The argument runs like this. The propagation of persuasive notions through sheer force of persuasion (plus exploitation of the vulnerabilities of impressionable minds) is the default way for ideas to get around: you have to have become smart (epistemologically discriminating) in a particular way in order to start filtering persuasive notions on the basis of other criteria. A fairly common operation in philosophy is to introduce some “other criteria”, the more violently foreign and rebarbative to the doxa of “common sense” the better, and to put the world to the test of those criteria. I think the most substantial (and intractable) disagreement is between those who think that religious notions are simply not available for evaluation according to the criteria Dawkins proposes, and those who think that the claim that they are not so available is simply a defence mechanism used to avert an otherwise unendurable critique. Grayling’s “intellectual dishonesty” is the second camp’s way of accusing the first of trying to pull this kind of dodge. The inevitable retort from the first camp is that the second is unreasonably upholding a position it has already dismissed as impertinent. It’s not at all clear what either side could possibly say next without repeating themselves.

  31. Dominic, 7:49 am, December 5, 2006

    That would have been two paragraphs, if this sodding comments box hadn’t stripped them out. I hate wysiwyg editors.

  32. mark k-p, 5:30 pm, December 5, 2006

    Lol, I have had the paragraph problem too, Dominic! (There would be a paragraph break here) Daniel… Yes, you re-state Marx’s arguments on religion very well, and these are certainly superior to Dawkins’…. but these have little to do with Eagleton’s article, which was not ABOUT the social construction of belief, but was simply a dewy-eyed homily TO belief. I do not see that Aquinas is ABOUT belief either. (There would be another paragraph break here.) I suppose the interesting dimension of Aquinas’ cosmological arguments would be their proto-transcendental structure (Eagleton alludes to this): God is not so much an empirical being which exists as that which must be in place in order that anything whatsoever can exist. But there is more than a commitment to a belief in an impersonal  transcendental entity; Aquinas wants to establish the existence of a personal, benevolent God. For that reason, I can’t see how religious believers – theistic religious believers – can possibly just ‘shrug their shoulders’ when confronted with Dawkins’ claims to have refuted the existence of the theistic God.

  33. Daniel, 6:07 pm, December 5, 2006

    For the reason you suggest – on account of the stubbornness of the transcendental structure! Dawkins pitches his argument at a purely empirical level, and leaves the transcendent untouched. As I read it, this was the crux of Eagleton’s argument – with his point regarding God as the condition of possibility intending to emphasize, not exactly that this is indeed what God is, really is, but rather the meaninglessness of any criticism of religion that does not acknowledge this dimension of the metaphysical structure of religion as a whole.

  34. Daniel, 6:16 pm, December 5, 2006

    Dominic – for this reason, I am not entirely sure whether Dawkins does have a minimally-satisfying account, in the way that you claim. Citing Dennet, Zizek is good on this in the TPV: “When you examine the reasons for the spread of scientific memes, Dawkins assures us, ‘you find they are good ones.’ This, the standard, official position of science, is undeniable in its own terms, but question-begging to the mullah and the nun – and Rorty, who would appropriately ask Dawkins, “Where is your demonstration that these ‘virtues’ are good virtues? You note that people evaluate these memes and pass them on – but if Dennet is right, people…are themselves in large measure the creation of memes… How clever of some memes to team together to create meme-evaluators that favor them! Where, then, is the Archimedan point from which you can deliver your benediction on science?'”  [TPV, p.232]

  35. Dominic, 2:46 am, December 6, 2006

    It’s a bootstrapping problem. There isn’t an Archimedean point (or what Dennett would call a “skyhook”): you have to get to enlightenment rationality from unreasoning brute persuasion, via sophistry, in much the same way as you have to get from single-celled organisms to killer whales via trilobites (or whatever), without the assistance of any teleology. Hey, I’m not saying it’s a <em>good</em> metaphor…

  36. Dominic, 2:50 am, December 6, 2006

    I’m starting to see words enclosed be <em> tags actually in italics, it’s scary. Interesting to note that one of the intermediate stages in the bootstrapping of scientific rationality is, apparently unavoidably, religion. Where else could the notion of an internally self-consistent and rationally ordered universe have come from?

  37. caleb, 5:06 pm, December 6, 2006

     so we’re to take it that none of you is willing to read eagleton’s review of dawkin’s book then?  you all seem to be discussing something quite different

  38. Alex_dyad, 5:15 pm, December 13, 2006

    Come back AC Grayling – let your flabby quasi-logical positivism be carved open by our incisive postmodern thought. I pretty much agree with caleb about the amount of people that have read the article. Aquinas was barely mentioned and neither was Marx. his point was basically this:  1. Dawkins knows nothing of contemporary philosophical theism or theology – true. 2. He reduces all believers to simplistic fundamentalist – true 3. reason != scientistic – also true 4. god is not a scientific hypotheisis or a person as such- true (he could have mentioned that Dawkins is the mirror opposite of creationists in believing this) 5. All religious people and social hope they bring is bad in Dawkins – true. I could go on but it is late. As among the only person here who has read Dawkins, Derrida and a shed load of contemporary theology (other than Adam) I can safely say that Eagleton’s review is pretty damned on the money about his book and other than the intervention of Grayling, we should all say so.   Here is the question as I see it: how much recent theology and the work of Jacques Derrida have you actually read Mr Grayling? If the answer is more than I think your response will be (none) and you are relying only on third party hearsay then how do you consider yourself a thinker of any kind? 

  39. mark k-p, 10:27 am, December 14, 2006

    I did in fact read Eagleton’s piece, and it is up to its neck in Aquinas. The fact he doesn’t break off his Catholic address to mention St Thom every time he invokes one of his doctrines is neither here nor there. Once again, I can only register my surprise that Eagleton’s sermon is being taking seriously. Sure, all of the above(obvious, banal) points are made, but within a stew of fallacies, poor argumentation and dewy-eyed re-statement of RCC platitudes. Dawkins’ all-too evident overstating of his case oughtn’t to be used as a defence of theism. And, it’s all too true, Marx – and Marxist ideas – hardly feature at all in Eagleton’s polemic.

  40. Codisdead » Blog Archive » Public intellectuals vs open discussion, 5:24 pm, December 18, 2006

    […] Then somebody blogged about it, and A. C. Grayling weighed in. I found it interesting to see how he dealt with the constraints of online socialising: a savvy person would perhaps have toned things down for fear of being called an obvious troll. […]

  41. Doris BT, 12:36 am, December 21, 2006

    Dawkins’ argument against religion is inconsistent as well as ill-informed. On the one hand he argues deductively, as a rationalist: science has the capacity to answer all the questions about the universe which used to be answered by faith in God; it is no longer rational to believe in God since, although one cannot prove a negative, all the scientific evidence is stacked against the existence of God; therefore those who continue to believe in God are willfully irrational. For a committed scientific rationalist, this argument does not need bolstering by any empirical evidence. Even if it could be shown that belief in God produced a high strain of altruism and benevolence in the human species, if scientific rationalism is the best possible belief system (the one true faith), then it would be better to be an evil rationalist than to be a saintly fool. Thus Stalin and Mao deserve greater respect than William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King, and, if we want to deny this, then we must do so by showing that Stalin and Mao were irrational, not that they were morally wrong. But Dawkins also argues inductively – i.e. he claims that religion can be shown empirically to be a malign force in human affairs, that it is morally bad and ought not to be allowed to exist in any form. But, if he wants to pursue this line of argument, Dawkins should be more scientific in his analysis of the evidence. Religion (a term so broad that it is virtually meaningless, but that’s another issue), has undoubtedly been used to justify much that is violent and destructive in the world, but so has scientific rationalism – back to Stalin and Mao. Religion has also inspired great acts of goodness in the world, as have science and reason. In fact, if one were to be rigorously scientific in mustering the moral evidence for and against religion and for and against science, it is hard to see how one would ever arrive at a clear conclusion as to their positive or negative value. As one contributor suggests, dividing the issue between religion = bad, science = good, doesn’t help any of us in our quest to make meaning in a complex world. (New paragraph)  There have been several references to Eagleton’s Catholicism in this website. I found his review rather woolly and preachy, but I think he is right in identifying Dawkins as typical of a certain kind of north Oxford conservative – not a radical thinker but a narrow-minded conformist who displays remarkable ignorance and willful distortion of the facts in his treatment of religion. Dawkins is the product of a certain kind of Protestantism which views all religion as fundamentally explanatory and moral in purpose – in this he sings from the same hymn sheet as evangelical creationists – and if it can be shown to be neither a good explanation nor a good moral force, then it should be done away with. But Catholic Christianity is not reducible to explanations and morals. Like many religious traditions, it includes a myth which seek to give poetic expression to a faith that we originate in and are held in being by a creative and loving mystery manifest in but not reducible to the material world. Catholicism does not have a literal approach to scripture, and it has always been rather bad at fostering good middle class morality such as Dawkins seems to approve of. In its vigorous devotions, its incarnational theology and its aesthetic and sensual extravagances, Catholicism expresses something of our human response to a cosmos that is wondrous in its complexity, and yet in which we find ourselves as conscious beings haunted by the mystery of being, tormented by our capacity for terrible acts of violence and yet desiring of goodness, beauty and truth, and capable of imagining that there is more to us than the time and space of our material existence. (New paragraph) Anti-religious polemicists such as Dawkins and Grayling seem wedded to the disturbing illusion that if only we could get rid of religion, there would be fewer problems in the world. But history suggests that it is a small step from wanting to get rid of an idea or belief to wanting to get rid of the people who hold it, and that is why their hostility to religion is at times as terrifying as any religious fundamentalism or repressive ideology. Those of us who belong to religious traditions must confront bigotry and extremism and take seriously the many moral failures of our traditions and the challenges posed by the rapid development of science and technology. But scientists have a similar responsibility to put their own house in order. I look forward to the day when Dawkins turns his attention to his fellow scientists and asks why so many of them end up in the pay of arms manufacturers and multinational pharmaceutical corporations. In the meantime, I wish he would be a little more rational in his critique of religion. 

  42. zube, 11:27 am, December 22, 2007

    Its interesting that the concern that Catholic spokespersons recently expressed about Blair’s recent conversion to Catholicism was not the fact that he helped initiate an unjust, cynical war killing thousands of innocent people but rather his position on abortion- as if to suggest that this is the sole humanitarian issue facing mankind today.
    In so far as Grayling et al. attack this level of ethical thought emanating from official religion, the attack is thoroughly justified.
    Its when he makes the further point that a scientific metaphysics is all that humans need in order for them to solve all of their problems that his position becomes problematic. There are many profound philosophical debates such as those begun by Mcdowell’s mind and world about the disenchanting effects on human freedom of a dominant scientific paradigm. or the concerns of thinkers such as Adorno about how the rationality of the enlightenment could turn into forms of domination.
    It seems to me that it is in such debates that are of philosophical interest since the rise of fundamentalist religion is a symptom of the underlying malaise which these debates are attempting to grapple with

  43. gurgySuergo, 1:56 am, October 19, 2008

    How are you ?
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  44. householdsoviet (Antisocial Capital), 3:19 pm, June 21, 2011

    @AC_Failing the original public intellectual troll. Proof from back in 2006 (scroll down for his trolling comments) http://t.co/IOkKYZb

  45. householdsoviet (Antisocial Capital), 3:20 pm, June 21, 2011

    It's nice to know Grayling takes the high ground: Derrida "had a dishonest mind" whatever that means http://t.co/IOkKYZb

  46. AC_Failing (AC Failing), 1:13 pm, June 23, 2011

    In yr lefty blogosphere, trollin' yr not-so-famouses http://bit.ly/jF1R5J #nch

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