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Irreligion [Hardcover]

John A Paulo
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 26 2007
A Lifelong Unbeliever Finds No Reason to Change His Mind
 
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.

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From Publishers Weekly

Few of the recent books on atheism have been worth reading just for wit and style, but this is one of them: Paulos is truly funny. De-spite the title, the Temple University math professor doesn't actually discuss mathematics much, which will be a relief to any numerically challenged readers who felt intimidated by his previous book Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences. In this short primer (just the gist with an occasional jest), Paulos tackles 12 of the most common arguments for God, including the argument from design, the idea that a moral universality points to a creator God, the notion of first causes and the argument from coincidence, among others. Along the way, he intersperses irreverent and entertaining little chapterlets that contain his musings on various subjects, including a rather hilarious imagined IM exchange with God that slyly parodies Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God. Why does solemnity tend to infect almost all discussions of religion? Paulos asks, clearly bemoaning the dearth of humor. This little book goes a long way toward correcting the problem, and provides both atheists and religious apologists some digestible food for thought along the way. (Jan. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“He’s done it again.  John Allen Paulos has written a charming book that takes you on a sojourn of flawless logic, with simple and clear examples drawn from math, science, and pop culture.  At journey’s end, Paulos has left you with plenty to think about, whether you are religious, irreligious, or anything in between.” —Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History and author of Death By Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries

"For years John Allen Paulos has been our guide for reading newspapers, playing the stock market, and understanding what all those graphs and charts and formulas really mean. No one knows how to dissect an argument better than Paulos. Now he has turned his rapier wit to the grandest question of them all: is there a God? Those who are religious skeptics will find in Paulos’s analysis new ways of looking at both old and new arguments, and those who believe that God’s existence can be proven through science, reason, and logic will have to answer to this mathematician’s penetrating analysis." —Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and the author of How We Believe, The Science of Good and Evil, and Why Darwin Matters

"Using the methods of mathematics, reason and logic, Paulos wrestles religious belief systems to the ground and in the process proves he is as good a writer as he is a mathematician. The book is short, to the point and humorous, and God knows, this subject could use more humor."—Joan Konner, Dean Emerita of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and editor of The Atheist’s Bible

"Another virtuoso performance from a master in the use of mathematics to explore the conundrums and mysteries of everyday life."--Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

"John Allen Paulos has done us all a great service. Irreligion is an elegant and timely response to the manifold ignorance that still goes by the name of 'faith' in the 21st century."-- Sam Harris, author of the New York Times best sellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mathematician Cashes in on the New Atheism May 31 2010
By Oliver TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed several of Paulos' previous books, especially Innumeracy but I was more than a little disappointed with this one. It is a very short book, with little or no original thought. I imagine the author purchasing several of the recent books by the New Atheists, reading them over the weekend, then spending the next few days jotting down a few quick thoughts and calling it a book.

There are so many better books on this subject. Try instead any of the following:

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason by Victor J. Stenger

Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating the deity's dozen July 9 2008
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Although titled "Irreligion", this book might be better typified by "Irrational". Paulos lines out the litany of weary old arguments in support of the deity now dominating Western society. Reading them simple, straightforward format, they seem more like excuses than arguments. There are a dozen of them, the Classical, the Subjective and the Psyche-Mathematical. Each has been addressed many times, of course, but Paulos' particular style of wit seems to breathe a new, if transient, life into them. Paulos' examination of each proposal is incisive and devastating, relying on a combination of a mathematician's logic and a showman's delivery.

In his Preface, Paulos states his skepticism emerged at an early age. He hasn't let it rest, working it to confront numerous situations. He early recognised the unanimity of things, which made him feel part of everything. Instead of attributing the universal relationship of matter to the supernatural, he turned instead to wondering why others did. In so doing he's accumulated a number of assertions purportedly supporting the notion of a deity. Each sets a condition, proposes an absurd - if frequently forwarded - supportive supposition to reach an unwarranted conclusion. A typical classic runs:

1. The world in general seems to evidence intention and direction

2. There must be a director behind this purpose

3. The entity directing must be a god, thereby proving its existence.

Paulos notes that the teleological argument goes back to ancient Greece, but is best typified today by William Paley's early 19th Century concept of "natural theology". That the idea remains current is a testimony to the failure of today's education or Western society's loss of a sense of logic.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  69 reviews
116 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brevity is the something of wit--not "soul," though. Dec 28 2007
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What "Irreligion" brings to the table is brevity. Sometimes I wished for a little more exposition, but ultimately I think Paulos's tactic was right on. There's little in "Irreligion" that hasn't been covered (and more comprehensively) by Stenger, Dawkins, Edis, and other science-based New Atheists, but only a convinced atheist is likely to read tomes such as those fine thinkers have produced. A religious skeptic or nominal believer, on the other hand, is not terribly likely to plow through so much material (and in some cases, insulting and excessive snark) as is present in works such as "The God Delusion." But she might find a fast-paced, easily digested little book like this one just the thing to stimulate thought and promote a more rational outlook. Atheists, like theologians, can tend to go on and on, self-importantly. The rare book like "Irreligion" that gets in, makes its provocative points, then gets out is a very welcome addition to neo-atheism literature, not least because of the vivid wit Paulos brings to the subject. I loved his analogy of something to a scholar who had proved that Homer had not written "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," but they were "written by another blind poet of the same name." That's the sort of lowkey humor that makes the subject matter feel brisk and breezy rather than onerous, ponderous, and stale.
221 of 242 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Non-Proofs of God's Existence Dec 27 2007
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For centuries, people who believe in the different gods that people have adopted have insisted that there are good logical reasons to believe in their particular gods. Logic and science can do nothing to disconfirm the existence of these gods, but at the same time, if an attempt at a logical proof of a god's existence is presented, then the proof can be logically examined to see if it holds water. John Allen Paulos has looked at the proofs and finds them leaky. Paulos is a mathematician who has previously told us how a mathematician plays the stock market or how a mathematician reads the newspaper. Now, in _Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up_, he goes for the big game. His book shows the results of his examination of the question that is the first sentence in his book: "Are there any logical reasons to believe in God?" His book is a review of the ways that religious people have demonstrated to their own satisfaction (but not to his) that the existence of God can be logically derived. He has written before on this sort of theme, but his book is an attempt to deal directly with the "inherent illogic to all of the arguments." Jonathan Swift said, "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into", and Paulos acknowledges this: "I have little problem with those who acknowledge the absence of good arguments for God, but simply maintain a nebulous but steadfast belief in `something more'".

Plenty of the arguments for God's existence here are well known; in fact, they are classics, and have been the subject of discussion and refutation for centuries. They may fortify the faith of those who already believe (although Paulos shows that they are untrustworthy fortifications), but again, already believing is the key. Right off the bat is the First Cause argument, presented in Paulos's summary:

1. Everything has a cause, or perhaps many causes.
2. Nothing is its own cause.
3. Causal chains can't go on forever.
4. So there has to be a first cause.
5. That first cause is God, who therefore exists.

It all seems convincing at first sight, and believers who wish to use this sort of thinking as evidence for their beliefs would be wise not to give it a second look. Paulos explains that a big problem is #1 above, which assumes too much. An alternative #1 is, "Either everything has a cause, or there's something that doesn't," and there isn't any way of getting around the truth of that. If everything has a cause, then God does, too, as does his cause and so on forever; and if there is something that doesn't have a cause, there is no reason that this something has to be elevated into the supernatural, for the physical world itself might be the thing that does not have a cause, and that's an end of the chain.

And so Paulos goes on, through this brisk little book which takes on one supposed proof after another: the Argument from Design, the Anthropic Principle, the Ontological Argument, Pascal's Wager, and more. Each of the chapters, most less then ten pages long, dispatches each would-be proof. Paulos has used more logic and less mathematics here; there are no equations in the book, for instance, although there are dips into pure mathematics when discussing such things as probabilities for Pascal's Wager. There is a good deal of humor and wonderfully clear writing. Nonbelievers are probably already familiar with the arguments for and against God's existence, but some of Paulos's counterarguments are novel and all are expressed in a pithy and easily memorable form. Believers ought to enjoy puzzling out the challenges here, and should have a renewed appreciation for the importance of faith, however lacking logical confirmation, as the foundation of their beliefs.
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and witty thoughts of an intelligent writer Feb. 17 2008
By Miro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
To appreciate this book, one must understand what readership it is aimed at. This appears to be the people on both sides of the divide between religious and nonreligious who are neither utterly convinced atheists (although those might enjoy the book as well), nor unquestioning believers. It is for readers who are intelligent and interested in the subject of God's existence or nonexistence, but do not have the time or inclination to immerse themselves in 536pp philosophical books. These people would be most interested in the thoughts of another intelligent person, a person who has spent some time exploring the major arguments, and is capable of presenting them and his conclusions in a clear and concise manner. It is then up to the reader to agree or disagree with the reasoning.
The book would not convince religious people whose minds are closed, even if they read it. It will not convince people who deny the role of reason in the question of God's existence. And it is not a polemic with ivory tower theologians.
This is a gentle book. Paulos does not bring up the horrific facts of the criminal history of religion that Dawkins, Hitchens and others have explored in recent books. He concentrates on a few common arguments for God's existence, and shows how an intelligent person would find them wanting.
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How does anyone disprove Under-the-Bed-Monsters? Jan. 29 2008
By Theodore A. Rushton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Do monsters lurk under the bed?

Paulos is not one to convince a worried six-year-old that no Monsters lurk under the bed. Sure, he could logically and incisively prove Under-the-Bed-Monsters do not exist, as he exquisitely disproves a dozen different beliefs older people use to explain God. His logic, reasoning and explanations are impeccable - - but hollow. When anyone deals with Monsters, Ghosts, Angels or God, they are dealing with emotion rather than logic.

This is a delightful book for those who already know God is false. But it doesn't address the central issue: Why are so many Americans, and especially engineers and technology workers, so committed to God-cults? Why are so many Americans "crusaders" for God, just as so many Moslems are "jihadists" for Allah? In Iran today, there is a separation of mosque and state with each having separate leaders. In America today, a prime requirement to be president is an absolute faith in a close personal relationship with God.

Richard Hofstadter said Puritan resistance to old religious and civil hierarchies in England launched a fervent opposition to all book learning in America. This founding principle of the United States led to the War of Independence, but it has also produced a trend to self-chosen religion instead of what the state imposes. Today's mega-churches, extreme fundamentalism and televangelists are part of a rich American heritage; a direct product of Salem witch hunts, frenzied tent revivals, the fanaticism of radio evangelism and unrestrained freedom itself.

Disproving God is similar to disproving Monsters. If the emotional origins are understood, a parent can comfort such fears. It is the emotional approach to religion which explains why Americans, after rejecting the dictates of an Established Church, are so suscepticle to the dictates of any church - - the more independent in its belief the better - - provided it is of their own rebellious choosing. Paulos attempts to use logic to explain such emotion; religion uses emotion to create its own logic.

Although this is a wonderfully logical rebuttal of current fads about God and fully deserving of its many five-star rankings, a skeptical reader is left with a suspicion that Paulos couldn't calm the fears of a six-year-old who believes monsters do lurk under the bed.

The logic of Paulos is impeccable; BUT, Under-the-Bed-Monsters don't listen to logic. Nor do Crusaders, Jihadists, or many Americans.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Logically Sound March 7 2008
By Robert Carlberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It has been said that "you can't use logic to argue someone out of a position that they didn't use logic to get into," which explains why this slender book is probably fated to remain "de-preaching to the de-converted." Paulos's expositions on the illogic of faith, like his earlier book on math illiteracy, will ring clear to those predisposed to his arguments and fall on deaf ears elsewhere. If your mind doesn't grasp the crystal clear logic of these arguments from the outset, they undoubtedly won't convince you of anything because your mind is not logically organized and you may already believe in all sorts of unsupported propositions. After all, those who have faith in superstitions are open to believing anything.
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