Re-reading Maurice Cowling's Mill and Liberalism for a couple of things in the pipeline (the Introduction to the 1990 edition is an invaluable summary of what was once the New Right), I am struck by the description of Mill, together with Bertrand Russell and Matthew Arnold, as "the Great Tradition" of English atheism, as precious to atheists as the Great Tradition is to us, and comparable to anything on the Continent.
Well, that was 1963. Our Great Tradition has continued to grow. So has Continental atheism. But to whom do those who looked to Mill, Russell and Arnold now also look? Only Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I have too much regard for the latter's brother to go in with all guns blazing, and in any case he makes less noise than Dawkins, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
But Dawkins is a scientist only insofar as he is the holder of a forty-year-old doctorate. In the intervening period, he has repeatedly published essentially the same work of incompetent philosophy, theology and history. Long after his death, no one will be writing the books on him that they are still writing on Mill, Russell and Arnold.
In fact, what do serious atheist philosophers really think of Dawkins, whose adolescent readers must turn up from time to time in their seminars? A C Grayling, while also not always above cheap and crowd-pleasing shots of historical inaccuracy when writing for the Guardian, has certainly been a reader of this blog in the past. What says he, not so much about Dawkins personally, as about his work and its influence?