Both have an air of achieving their arguments by some sleight of hand: in Dennett’s case by ignoring or being ignorant of more complex theological constructions of God that arose in the twentieth century, and in Dawkins’s case by playing up the pseudo-religious elements of a movement such as Stalinism in order to back away from the fact that it was consciously humanist and atheist.
More importantly, neither seems willing, or perhaps able, to give much thought to the gap that exists between those who live within the world of science and the production of original knowledge, and the vast majority within modernity who inhabit a world the understanding of which is closed to them and which seems to consist of large impersonal forces beyond their control.
The energy of the fundamentalist Christian revival has created its own momentum, moving into the cultural life of social groups and classes that would hitherto have been uninterested in it.
On campuses, where secular humanism — or plain apathy — would once have been the dominant attitude with regard to religion, it is the Christian youth groups that are drawing large numbers of followers.
Its popularity in areas of Africa and Latin America could be seen as a function of uncompleted modernisation — in the case of Africa, it could be regarded as a bridge to secular modernity out of animist traditions.
It was assumed that the future of modern societies was that seen in northern European ones: a steady decline in active church participation even among those who defined themselves as believers, and the rise to unquestioned centrality of a humanist model of society and a mechanical model of the universe. First in the United States, and more recently in other parts of the world, religion has re-entered major areas of social and political life in a manner that few imagined possible, even during the conservative social revival of the 1980s.
Recently, UK PM Tony Blair got into the act, suggesting that God — rather than the world or the voters — would judge him over his actions in Iraq: a sign of the degree to which the US-style prophetic voice is moving into other societies.
In Australia, it is visible in the success of the Hillsong and other churches, which are able to draw not only thousands of people to their events and conferences, but also to make it prudent for politicians such as Bob Carr to appear on their stages.
Thus, in the US, the battle to keep creationism and intelligent design out of school science curriculums has been a massive one, joining tens of thousands of activists, academics, parents and politicians together — because it was a struggle against active and willful ignorance.
The attempt to advance a positive humanist view of social life and collective action has been far less succesful, because it is necessarily inchoate without a radical political form.