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Irreligion Paperback – 2 Jul 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Hill & Wang; 1 Reprint edition (2 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809059185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809059188
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 519,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"He is as sure-footed as a tiger as he prowls through the theocratic landscape pouncing on sloppy thinking. To a large extent he succeeds in demolishing the arguments of believers." "--The News & Observer "(Raleigh) "Paulos . . . knocks the props from under the classic arguments for the existence of God . . . Written with a charming skepticism that is not off-putting or arrogant." --"Amicus Dei"

About the Author

John Allen Paulos is a professor of mathematics at Temple University. His books include the bestseller "Innumeracy: Mathematical" "Illiteracy and Its Consequences "(H&W, 1988), "A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market," and "A Mathematician Reads the Newspapers."

Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Allen Paulos is not alone in having been intrigued by "questions of existence and belief" since childhood, but few of us will have feigned belief in Santa Claus in order to protect our parents from our "knowledge of his nonexistence". Unsurprisingly, Paulos suspects he has "an inborn disposition to materialism" (the "matter and motion are the basis of all there is" and not the "I want more cars and houses" kind). Don't let this put you off if you think there must be more to the universe than atoms and energy. While his opening question - "Are there any logical reasons to believe in God?" - will make some wretch or reach for the remote, curious atheists and theists will find "Irreligion" irresistible.

The book is organized into three parts: first come four classical arguments for God's existence, then four subjective arguments, and finally four "psycho-mathematical" arguments. It's worth emphasizing that these are arguments in the grown-up sense of offering reasons or evidence in support of a conclusion, and not simply statements of personal opinion. You're meant to take them seriously, to be prepared to change your mind if persuaded, and, if you disagree, to offer reasons why. Faith so often "wins" because it avoids the hard work of argument and plumps for wishful thinking to get to where it wants to go.

Each argument is clearly laid out, premises and conclusions enumerated and simplified so we see exactly what's going on. (This admirable quality, the will to explain and not obfuscate, is more often found in scientists and novelists than in theologians or pedlars of new age quackery, who cater for and prey upon the ignorance of those who "are more impressed by fatuous blather that they don't understand than by simple observations that they do".
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Format: Hardcover
Although titled "Irreligion", this book might is 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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Format: Paperback
It is always good to see scientists, academics and intellectuals stating boldly and clearly the reasons why they do not believe in what most of us have been told we must believe in: a personal God. It is a shame that more do not do so. So that is the one point which, for me, counts most for Paulos's book. He has had the courage to publicly declare that he's an atheist and that theism is unreasonable and illogical.

The main reason that I give it only three stars is that it left me feeling unsatisfied. Now this may well be because this is an area in which I have read considerably and I may be unfairly comparing it to other books on irreligion.

It is important to clarify something: despite its title this book is not really about religion but rather the inadequacy of the arguments for belief in God. (By contrast, "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins is possibly more about religion than about the latter. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is a far more enjoyable read.)

The arguments do indeed seem very inadequate, so much so that one gets the sense that Paulos didn't have to think too hard to dispose of them. One is left wondering, "Is this really all that theism has going for it?" Unfortunately I think it is - those of us who would like to believe in an omnibenevolent deity are unable to do so for this very reason.

Anyone who takes the question of God's existence seriously should read at least one book of this kind. In that respect, this short book is as good as any.
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