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The Non-Existence of God: An Introduction 1st , Kindle Edition
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So before I had even reached the first page, my heart had sunk and I anticipated finding this book well beyond my abilities. However it is such a well written book that, much to my amazement, I found that I could generally follow the arguments.
The first nine chapters are essentially devoted to the arguments which theists have put forward to prove the existence of God. Nicholas Everitt considers all of these in what he considers to be their strongest form and all of them are found to be wanting.
In some respects, the tenth chapter struck me as quite pivotal. It considers 'Prudential Arguments.' The author concludes that there can be consequences of belief which would justify a believer retaining their beliefs or even give reasons for someone to adopt beliefs. Of course this has no bearing on whether the beliefs are true or not and most people do not just want to believe for pragmatic purposes - they feel the need for their beliefs to be true. This approach would put the believer in a potentially awkward situation where they would need to isolate themselves from any arguments which could threaten their beliefs.
The later chapters advance the arguments which atheists have put forward for the non-existence of God. The counter-arguments are also considered.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
I like the book. It was easy to read nevertheless the complex and some time hard to follow arguments. According to others reviews the book has not all the "right" arguments or the more accepted. I can't judge that But I can say that It is a open minder book. It present many of the arguments/propositions/"proves" in a general and clear view that can help to many people to see or at least to "think" in the subject in a most rational and logical way.
It is true that is open to reader accept some of the argument although the intention of the book was in many, if not all the cases, to prove the failure in the argument pro-god. The point is that Everitt does it without critics, in a fair way, and probably in an easy way to understand for many people in most part of the book.
Definitely this book is not for fanatics, but It can be for a religious person with an open mind.
Everitt sets up no straw men. He fairly presents what are generally considered to be among the best contemporary theistic arguments available and systematically dismantles them. Throughout he also considers possible theistic rebuttals to atheistic critiques and exposes their impotence. This well-written and carefully argued book is highly recommended to both theists, who wish to challenge their faith by the fire of reason and to non-believers, who will gain greater sophistication in their arguments for the non-existence of God.
Now the not so good news: Everitt's treatment of the arguments for the existence of God is not particularly sophisticated, and in places he fails to engage with some of the most important recent work. This comes out very clearly in chapter 6, where he discusses arguments to and from miracles. He mentions neither David Johnson's work Hume, Holism, and Miracles (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion) nor Robert Fogelin's A Defense of Hume on Miracles (Princeton Monographs in Philosophy). He mentions but fails to engage with John Earman's book Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles, a significant omission since Earman's work is inter alia a sustained and sophisticated critique of the conclusion Everitt takes Hume to have established -- that even in the most favorable circumstances possible, it would not be rational to believe that a miracle has occurred. (Everitt, p. 116) The chapter on miracles has no discussion of Bayes's Theorem and the role it plays in contemporary reconstructions of the argument from testimony to the miraculous, though Everitt has (very gingerly) introduced a bit of Bayesian reasoning on p. 77 in his discussion of Swinburne's cosmological argument.
The presentation of Hume's argument against miracles follows J. L. Mackie's presentation in The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God, stressing the claim that if the overall evidence makes it rational for us to believe that a putative event M was a violation of the laws of nature, then that same overall evidence makes it irrational for us to believe that M actually occurred. (See p. 117.) Everitt shows no awareness of the problems lurking here. It is not clear how the inverse claim should be construed (is it the claim that P(M violates the laws of nature) = 1 - P(M actually occurred)? or that for all E, if P(M violates the laws of nature|E) > P(M violates the laws of nature), then P(M actually occurred|E) < P(M actually occurred)? or ... ?); and under almost any interesting construal it stands in need of argument that it never receives. Everitt asserts without argument that if a miracle is a violation of a law of nature it is maximally improbable (p. 115), showing no awareness of the long history of criticism of this claim from the early 1700s onward.
Everitt's attempt to give a fourfold classification of concepts of miracle is another place where deeper engagement with recent work, e.g. Robert Larmer's Water into Wine?: An Investigation of the Concept of Miracle, would have helped him to focus the discussion. Some accounts deserve to be taken more seriously (and understood more fairly) than they are. Ironically, one of these is an account proposed by J. L. Mackie, which Everitt (p. 119) misunderstands and therefore dismisses out of hand. Other, less plausible proposals get nearly equal time. These latter are not exactly straw men, for Everitt does try to find people who have defended them. But those familiar with the field are likely to think that they deserve more neglect than Everitt has given them.
The chapter on the ontological argument is another place where Everitt's presentation is light on detail. There is no discussion of Kurt Godel's ontological argument, for example; and even the versions discussed are mostly informal, verbal versions, though for the discussion of Hartshorne's version he cannot avoid a few lines of modal logic. Here I am more sympathetic to Everitt, since I think that the ontological argument fails in all of its forms. But even the criticisms he levels against Plantinga's formulation, for example, do not do full justice to the subtlety of the argument.
The chapters that attempt to show the incoherence of the traditional concept of God are, on the whole, quite weak. Everitt argues, for example, that Big Bang cosmology shows that past time was finite, and he concludes from this that God, conceived of as an eternal being, cannot exist, since (according to Big Bang cosmology) nothing has had infinite duration. Neither the premise nor the inference is backed by a compelling line of argument. Everitt is following the lead of others and should not shoulder full blame for this particular weak argument. Still, it is a bruised reed for atheism to lean on.
Perhaps the worst chapter in the entire volume is chapter 11, on Arguments from Scale. Everitt urges that the sheer age and size of the universe as revealed by modern astronomy provide evidence against theism. The argument depends entirely on the premise that "humans are the jewel of creation" -- by which Everitt means at least that if God exists, we would expect every aspect of the created universe to be "on a human scale" both temporally and spatially. (p. 215) This claim, however, reveals nothing except the poverty of Everitt's theological knowledge. The whole argument was effectively buried by Thomas Chalmers in his Discourses on the Christian revelation viewed in connection with the modern astronomy (1817). It is painful to see a contemporary author trying to resurrect it in the service of infidelity.
The concluding chapter attempts to draw together the various lines of argument, and naturally the strength of such a summary depends in part on the success of the arguments preceding it. But in this case there are other reasons to be dissatisfied with Everitt's own attempt to sum up his case. He makes some needless and baffling claims, e.g., that one can have empirical disconfirmation for a self-contradictory proposition like (p & ~p). (See p. 304.) Worse, he fails to see how different theistic proofs with somewhat different conclusions may be coordinated in an overall cumulative case for the existence of God, an epistemological issue discussed with great subtlety and finesse by Richard Swinburne in The Existence of God. Of course, Everitt thinks that the arguments are all failures, or at least that they are all very weak. But his substantive evaluation, even if it were backed up by better argument, should be distinguished from the structural question of how a cumulative case is constructed -- not only in religion but in almost any field. Everitt's treatment of this important topic is disappointingly weak.
In fairness, it is very difficult to write a book of moderate size on this vast topic. Mackie's book, for all its flaws, remains the classic treatment of its size. For anything even approaching a full-scale treatment of these issues from the side of unbelief, one needs a work three times as long like Jordan Howard Sobel's Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God. But Sobel's book is really written for the professional philosopher who is familiar with modal logic, probability theory, and transfinite mathematics. Everitt's book is not, and for that very reason it is both vastly more accessible and vastly less powerful than Sobel's. Each work has the defects of its qualities.