Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Won't Be Reading John Allen Paulos's "Irreligion"

Another atheist has written a book against religion. This time it's mathematician John Allen Paulos, and the book is called Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for Religion Just Don't Add Up.'s book description says: "Are there any logical reasons to believe in God? Mathematician and bestselling author John Allen Paulos thinks not. In Irreligion he presents the case for his own worldview, organizing his book into twelve chapters that refute the twelve arguments most often put forward for believing in God’s existence. The latter arguments, Paulos relates in his characteristically lighthearted style, “range from what might be called golden oldies to those with a more contemporary beat. On the playlist are the firstcause argument, the argument from design, the ontological argument, arguments from faith and biblical codes, the argument from the anthropic principle, the moral universality argument, and others.” Interspersed among his twelve counterarguments are remarks on a variety of irreligious themes, ranging from the nature of miracles and creationist probability to cognitive illusions and prudential wagers. Special attention is paid to topics, arguments, and questions that spring from his incredulity “not only about religion but also about others’ credulity.” Despite the strong influence of his day job, Paulos says, there isn’t a single mathematical formula in the book." has a review here.

From the review: "In his opening chapters Mr. Paulos uses simple logic to point up the gaping holes in the so-called first-cause argument. “Either everything has a cause, or there’s something that doesn’t,” he writes. “The first-cause argument collapses into this hole whichever tack we take. If everything has a cause, then God does, too, and there is no first cause. And if something doesn’t have a cause, it may as well be the physical world.”" Well, this ignores the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which is, arguably, the strongest first-cause argument. KCA says that everything that begins to exist has a cause. If something does not begin to exist it would, ipso facto, not have a cause. But what about the universe? Could the universe be causeless? Not our universe. It began to exist. Could there be an infinite series of universes going back in time? Thus, the entire series could be causeless? Not according to William Lane Craig's KCA, which argues that an actual infinite is impossible because it would lead to absurdities. It looks like Paulos perhaps did not take on KCA or is unfamiliar with it.

A God, argues Paulos, could not be both omnipotent and benevolent. Paulos just re-warms the old Euthyphro dilemma of Plato. It looks like he does not deal with Yale University Robert Adams and divine command theory which avoids the two horns of the E-dilemma.

The nytimes review closes with: "Still, there is something perfunctory and hurried about all of Mr. Paulos’s arguments, which will be shrugged off by anyone who has made the leap of faith into belief, and which will seem obvious to anyone who is already a proud heathen. Indeed, the reader finishes this volume with the suspicion that it was a rushed and cursory project, turned out quickly in an effort to catch the coattails of Messrs. Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris."

Looks like, with all the really good books to read, I won't be reading this one.