Continuing my perusal of the new Notices of the American Mathematical Society, I came across this review (PDF format) of John Allen Paulos recent book Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up. The review is by mathematician Olle Haggstrom. Paulos’ book has been sitting on my shelf for a while, but I have not yet gotten around to reading it. My impression from flipping through it is that it will provide nothing new to people familiar with these arguments, but provides a decent overview for people only vaguely familiar with them.
Haggstrom’s review is mostly positive. I especially liked this:
I like Paulos’ method, which in most cases makes it evident not only that the stripped-down versions of the arguments fail, but also that no refinement or elaboration will save them from their central shortcomings. Not everyone agrees, however. In a negative review of Irreligion in the New York Times, Jim Holt dismises Paulos as attacking straw men and failing to consider the much more sophisticated arguments embraced by contemporary theologians and philosophers of religion. H. Allen Orr, in the New York Review of Books, files the same complaint against Richard Dawkins’ best-selling The God Delusion. Neither Holt nor Orr provide any specific references, however, so readers are left to search the theological literature on their own. But are the alleged so-much-better arguments anywhere to be found? Frankly I suspect that Holt and Orr simply mistake verbosity for profundity.
My kind of guy! Alas, he spoils the effect somewhat by closing his review with some gratuitous, and deeply silly, slaps at Richard Dawkins. But I want this to be a happy post, so I won’t get into that.
Incidentally, Jim Holt’s review is available here. I had to laugh when I read this:
The classic arguments for the existence of God have few friends these days. Theologians scorn them, insisting that they “objectify” a Supreme Being that can be known only through self-revelation. Philosophers make a parlor game of dissecting their logic.
Someone should tell that to the editors of Christianity Today, who recently devoted a cover story to those very arguments. Looks like they have some friends, wouldn’t you say?