Philosophy of religion or theology
Look, somebody who thinks the way I do doesn’t think theology is a subject at all. So to me it is like someone saying they don’t believe in fairies and then being asked how they know if they haven’t studied fairy-ology.
Which Talking Philosophy disputes:
So what about this claim? Is it necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational? The answer is that it is certainly arguable that in some circumstances at least it is necessary.
I think it is true that it is necessary to know a fair bit about arguments about God to show that belief in God is irrational; but I’m not sure that means it is necessary to know a fair bit about theology. It has occurred to me that people may be talking about different things in that discussion (it’s a long discussion, with lots of comments). It depends what is meant by theology, perhaps, and what Dawkins understood to be meant by theology when he answered the question.
I’m thinking for instance of that Eagleton review in which Eagleton rebuked Dawkins for ignorance of theology:
Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?…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.
But Eagleton is going back and forth between religion and theology there, and they’re not identical. Grace and hope are interesting subjects, no doubt, but are they arguments for the existence of God? Is Eagleton in fact talking about arguments for the existence of God, or is he talking much much more broadly about just talk about God? And more to the point, what did Dawkins have in mind when he answered that question?
It seems to me at least possible (and in fact likely) that he was distinguishing between philosophy of religion (and arguments for the existence of God) on the one hand, and theology on the other, and taking theology to be discussion of God. If that’s right – I don’t think he does need to know about that in order to show that belief in God is irrational. He needs to know about the arguments for the existence of God, but he doesn’t need to know (I would say) about claims about what God is like (unless they’re part of the arguments for the existence of God). There’s not much point in deep knowledge of claims about what God is like if you see no reason to believe God exists in the first place – is there? In that sense the fairyology simile is a serious comparison, isn’t it?
In short, I don’t think Dawkins was saying he had no need to know about the arguments, but rather that he had no need to know about detailed claims about God’s nature. That seems to me to be a reasonable claim. I could of course be wrong about what he meant though; it’s only a guess.