Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc. The new atheists. Sooner or later, I'll read Dawkins and Hitchens' books. I've seen them in many interviews and I've read many of their shorter essays on religion. I don't know anything about Dawkins' actual body of scientific work, but I have read a lot of Hitchens' journalism. Hitchens is clearly a smart man and he is one of the best in his chosen profession.
This being said, the new atheists have waded into deep waters, and their water wings are leaky.
I've been meaning to write posts on this subject for sometime, but have had a hard time putting my thoughts together. So, I'll use Terry Eagleton to give me a running start.
In his review of The God Delusion entitled "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching", Eagleton properly puts Dawkins in his place. Rather than choosing and defending a side on the stupid old atheist/theist continuum, Eagleton simply cuts Dawkins off at the knees by pointing out that one can't set Dawkins' naive scientific matirealism against one of the most ubiquitous and productive forms of human life.
Check out the first three paragraphs, at least.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? 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, 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.