The “new atheism” promoted by academics and writers such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens came under fire at a debate in Cambridge.

Terry Eagleton, distinguished professor of English literature at Lancaster University, opened the discussion, titled Responses to the New Atheism. He said that the last time he had spoken at the University of Cambridge’s Great St Mary’s Church was in 1968, during a debate on student radicalism – something, he noted, that we are likely to see a good deal more of.

“Why is God back centre stage again?” he asked. “Just when grand narratives seemed to be over, He’s back in the spotlight.”

It was the events of 11 September 2001, Professor Eagleton suggested, that brought the issue of religion “to a new focus of intensity and politicised the debate, not entirely to its benefit”.

This had led to the erroneous idea that “all faith is blind faith, an abdication of all rationality”. Although he had great respect for “the kind of atheism which costs something, where you knowingly reject something”, he had none at all for easy “off-the-peg enlightenment”.

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