I was stopped cold by a paragraph in Terry Eagleton’s review of Dawkins’s book in the LRB (it’s subscription, so I can’t link to it; a kind reader sent me a copy). I’ll show you why.
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.
Staggering, isn’t it? One suspects – one suspects – that very few of ‘those’ ‘right-wing’ dons had read much Derrida; one suspects, but one doesn’t know, and one certainly doesn’t offer the reader a shred of reason to share one’s suspicion, or evidence that would back it up, but, nothing perturbed, one immediately proceeds to spring off from one’s own unexplained and unargued suspicion to point out that the ‘right-wing’ dons would doubtless be cross with students who hadn’t done the reading. But one has forgotten – how very quickly, in the space of one sentence – that one doesn’t know (or one would have said so) that the ‘right-wing’ dons hadn’t read much Derrida, one merely suspects it. One has forgotten that one doesn’t know, and one blithely proceeds to use the suspicion to bludgeon someone else, as if a suspicion were the same thing as an established fact.
Then he has the brass to call Dawkins bumptious. One suspects that it is not altogether unfair to think Eagleton is a little bumptious himself, and one directs a bumptious and suspicious raspberry in his direction.