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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tragic hero: Laurie Taylor interviews Terry Eagleton

Reading the first sentence of Terry Eagleton's review of The God Delusion in the October 2006 edition of the London Review of Books was not unlike watching a gunfighter kicking over a table of cards in an otherwise well-ordered saloon. "Imagine," fired Eagleton, "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."

There is, then, a fascinating double repression going on in the pages of The God Delusion and Religion, Faith and Revolution. Dawkins, the thoroughgoing scientist, abandons a central tenet of science - testability - in order to proclaim his belief in moral progress, while Eagleton, the thoroughgoing Marxist, is forced to relinquish a fundamental tenet of Marxism - its materialism - in order to find religious ideas of sufficient intrinsic value to counter Dawkins's alleged caricature.

In a last throwaway remark Eagleton told me that he was unhappy that Dawkins had never taken up his invitation to debate the subject of religion. After this attempt to bring their views into some sort of alignment I can't help feeling that another sort of event might be more appropriate, a contest in which the protagonists' insistence on playing by different rules was recognised from the start. How about a match? I can see it now in all its wonderful confusion. Oxford United FC versus Derry Hurling.


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