These God Pundits Can Give You a Splitting Headache
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I listened to this argument at least five times and at the end still had absolutely no idea what the hell Eagleton was talking about. I thought at first he might be saying that faith does not require certainty, but then again nobody who wanted to say that would bother with all that extra verbiage. Anyway this is the kind of stuff that permeates Eagleton’s work: a lot of masturbatory semantics and naked goalpost-moving buried in great gnarled masses of old-world sneering and unnecessary syllables.
Eagelton’s main idea, the one trumpeted by Fish in the Times, is an even sillier piece of syllogistic sophistry than his “God isn’t like the Yeti! We’d be able to see a Yeti!” trick. The basic premise goes something like this:
Reason dismisses faith because faith lacks the certainty of knowledge.
But, reason alone has been proven to be completely inadequate to solve the problems of the world, and has proven especially feeble at providing man with the answers to his questions about the nature of existence.
Therefore, reason was wrong about faith.
The whole premise recalls Woody Allen’s famous syllogism: “Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Therefore, all men are Socrates.” And…well, I’m not going to get into this too much, because taking an axe to some soggy old Catholic academic is beginning to feel wrong somehow. But something tells me we’re going to be hearing more of this rhetoric, if for no other reason that whenever money gets tight and the times get nervous even intellectuals will suddenly start talking about God. You see this same phenomenon played out on a more crude level in Southern fundamentalism, where the megachurches are smart enough to send their missionaries to rehab centers and prisons and everywhere else you find people stumbling, confused, and vulnerable to a soul-snatching out of their various existential car wrecks — and now that 21st century capitalism has hit the wall and yuppies everywhere are flying through the windshield into debt and foreclosure, the God-hawkers will show up here, too, to argue that where materialism and science have let your postmodern liberal self down, religion comes ready with answers.
Fish/Eagleton spell out the failures of science and materialism as follows:
Science, says Eagleton, “does not start far back enough”; it can run its operations, but it can’t tell you what they ultimately mean or provide a corrective to its own excesses. Likewise, reason is “too skin deep a creed to tackle what is at stake”; its laws — the laws of entailment and evidence — cannot get going without some substantive proposition from which they proceed but which they cannot contain; reason is a non-starter in the absence of an a priori specification of what is real and important, and where is that going to come from? Only from some kind of faith.
First of all, why is that no professor alive can make it ten feet from his front door without sticking an a priori into a sentence? Is there some kind of subterranean lair where academics are beaten with whips and clubs until they learn to write alliterative book titles (”Pus, Primates, and Pessimism: Jane Goodall’s Descent into Septic Shock”) and lard up perfectly good sentences with epistemological catch-phrases? Weird. As for the actual argument, it’s the same old stuff religious apologists have been croaking out since the days of Bertrand Russell — namely that because science is inadequate to explain the mysteries of existence, faith must be necessary. Life would be meaningless without religion, therefore we must have religion.