Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Prince Myshkin reviews Richard Dawkins' new book

"I came home in the morning by the new railway and talked for four hours with a man in the train; we made friends on the spot. I had heard a great deal about him beforehand and had heard he was an atheist, among other things. He really is a very learned man, and I was delighted at the prospect of talking to a really learned man. What's more, he is a most unusally well-bred man, so that he talked to me quite as if I were his equal in ideas and attainment. He doesn't believe in God. Only, one thing struck me: that he seemed not to be talking about that at all, the whole time; and it sruck me just because whenever I have met unbelievers before, or read their books, it always seemed that they were speaking and writing in their books about something quite different, although it seemed to be about that on the surface. I said so to him at the time, but I suppose I didn't say so clearly, or did not know how to express it, for he didn't understand."

--The Idiot>, as translated by Constance Garnett

I am quite sure that the God in which Dawkins disbelieves does not exist. I am not as sure -- although it may be true -- that someone believes in that God, and so Dawkins is doing something useful.

But then it is inevitable that our conceptions of the Absolute will fail to actually be the Absolute. The commandment against idolatry is a stern reminder of that. We do not -- cannot -- know as we are "known". Nor are we "known" by a knower like us, or a big invisible all-powerful version of us. I'm not sure how far Dawkins has advance the argument beyond that.

Update: Terry Eagleton makes some of the same points as Dostoyevsky/Myshkin, but in the style of a man trained in Trotskyist and academic-lit-crit polemic.

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