Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up

If you haven’t picked up the John Allen Paulos‘s newest book yet, there’s still time. This book is the latest in the line of books arguing against the existence of God, something that I think is futile, but interesting. When my knitting editor called my attention to this book, my first reaction was “enough already.” But Deb assured me that Paulos was an excellent writer and I wouldn’t regret picking up his book. She’s never given me bum reading advice before, and atheism isn’t one of her regular reading topics, so I figured there must be something to this book. I picked up a copy the next time I was at the local bookstore.

If you haven’t decided whether or not to join in with the reading this month, or if you’re like me and enjoy reading reviews of books that you’re in the middle of, I’d like to draw your attention to some reviews of Irreligion and one podcast, that I’ve mentioned before, featuring the author.

  • Point of Inquiry podcast: “In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, John Allen Paulos explores some classical proof of God’s existence, and why he discounts them. He criticizes some mathematical proofs for theism, including those based on statistics, and explains how free market economics might challenge Intelligent Design theory. He also details why it is important for the non-mathematician to know math, and how mathematics might be beautiful.”
  • New York Times book review: “Clearly, Paulos is innocent of theology, which he dismisses as a “verbal magic show.” Like other neo-atheist authors, his tone tends to the sophomoric, with references to flatulent dogs and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ann Coulter crops up in the index, but one looks in vain for the name of a great religious thinker like Karl Barth, who saw theology as an effort to understand what faith has given, not a quest for logical proof.”
  • Amicus Dei book review: “John Allen Paulos performs a great favor for Christians: he knocks the props from under the classic arguments for the existence of God. You might think that evaluation strange coming from a Baptist pastor, but let me explain.”
  • Feminist Review book review: “If you’re an atheist who’s been bedazzled by the apparent logic of someone’s argument for God’s existence, if you’re an agnostic wanting to explore the issue further, or if you’re a religious person who simply wants to keep an open mind and understand “the other side,” this book is a valuable tool. It summarizes the arguments and then, with brutal logic and rationality, pulls them asunder.”

I have my own ideas about the book and these reviews, which I’ll share during the month. While you’re waiting for your book to be delivered from Amazon or your local library, take a peek at some of these interviews and reviews and let us know what you think.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. “This book is the latest in the line of books arguing against the existence of God, something that I think is futile, but interesting.”

    Why is it futile? Futile in what sense? Besides, I’ve read the book and he doesn’t argue against the existence of god. Like Richard Dawkins, he simply shows how unlikely it is that a god could/would exist in our universe. More importantly, his main intention, which he explicitly states, is to show how the main arguments (even the new ones) for god’s existence using logic are completely wrong. I thought he accomplished his objective excellently.

  2. From the New York Times book review:

    “Ann Coulter crops up in the index, but one looks in vain for the name of a great religious thinker like Karl Barth, who saw theology as an effort to understand what faith has given, not a quest for logical proof.”

    Again, he is showing how logical arguments for the existence of god fail. All of the main logical arguments fail. I think that is what makes this book different. He is not talking about how evil religion is or urging people to be atheists. He is actually quite nice in his approach. He is simply showing how, when theologians widely celebrated attempt to give logical arguments for the existence of god, they fail. This is an awful review that has nothing to do with the majority of the book! I’d like to see a response to the ARGUMENTS! You know, considering what I said above, this review is sophomoric, actually. I think it’s funny that Paulos responded to arguments used in the Catechism of the Catholic church (considered to be more reputable than Ann Coulter in terms of theology), demolishing them and someone like this book reviewer can only see that Ann Coulter’s name is mentioned in the index. The arguments he refutes are actually used by many top theologians. This review is quite similar to the reviews of Harris’s or Dawkins’s books about religion. Richard Dawkins regularly has dialogs with and debates top theologians, yet no one seems to notice. Not only this, but in the book the God Delusion, there mention of theologians and their views. Alright, I need to stop writing now before my head explodes. This is just provoking too much anger.

  3. sturmunddrang, I agree with you that the NYT review sucks. However, I disagree that what theologians think is important. Most people in the pews don’t care about theology, and many find it to be quite distasteful (as I think I mentioned in another comment above).

    My point is just that very few people believe in God because of these types of arguments (apologetics is something people learn about after they are already believers, and it doesn’t change their thinking at that point), therefore they won’t stop believing in God because the arguments are refuted. I have nothing against such arguments, I am just not sure what purpose they ultimately serve. It’s not something that interests me. But then, I was never interested in apologetics when I was a Christian, either.

    I’m more interested in personal stories, what Christians call “testimonies,” but that’s something for another post which I will write soon….

  4. “However, I disagree that what theologians think is important.”

    I never said it was important. It’s important to the reviewer though and countless other reviews of the “new atheist” books for some reason. Considering what you are saying, it’s really just a red herring. It distracts us from the fact that the authors have made good points about religious lunacy. However, I meant that even if you assume that theologians’ ideas are important, the point that Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris or Paulos don’t take theological arguments into account is just false. That said, I think that theology is nonsense. It’s embarrassing to the human race, actually… devoting so much time, money and resources to such things. I agree that what makes most people religious has little to do the logical arguments. However, perhaps taking an approach where you show people how illogical their beliefs are could help them to question why they believe them in the first place. So, even if the origin is not in logical argument, it still might not matter for the few who might be persuaded by logical argument. I tend to think that showing people can be moral without religion is a stronger argument for the general public (as long as you don’t get too much into the technical evolutionary stuff).

  5. I mean, I disagree with the reviewer that theology is important. I don’t think I really disagree with you at all. We just are interested in different facets of the topic. :-)

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