Monday, August 8, 2011

36 Arguments for the Existence of God

I got a Kindle for Christmas from my mother-in-law, and have used it with some regularity.  I've found that I'm not prepared to make the switch to that format for books that I'm studying--though I tried one, finding the highlighting and annotating ridiculously cumbersome.  But I've gotten the hang of reading novels on it fairly well.

I just finished today Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God.  It's the story of a psychology professor who became an international sensation with his new-atheist-like book, Varieties of Religious Illusion.  But contrary to the real life new atheists, this guy is dubbed the atheist with a soul because while not believing, he is not dismissive of religion.  We don't get much of the content of his book, but evidently what makes him famous is the appendix to the book in which he lists 36 arguments and the problems with them all.  This appendix is reproduced in the novel, but unfortunately that doesn't display so well on the Kindle--at least it doesn't in the horizontal orientation that I like to read in... perhaps I should check the normal layout... nope, not much better.

There is a debate as part of the story at Harvard with a slick Christian, but most of the religious content centers around the conservative Hasidic community out of which the main character's family came.  Goldstein's own religious background is as an orthodox Jew, but now she's married to Steven Pinker, who if not one of the four horsemen of new atheism, he can certainly run with them.  She herself is a philosophy professor (and has written another book I've read, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel).  So this is pretty sophisticated stuff.  And stylistically, it is interesting: it does not follow a linear development, but keeps jumping back and forth in a way that gives you hints of what has happened and will happen.

It's worth a summer read.  It's probably not going to change anyone's mind on the existence of God, nor is it particularly illuminating on the role that arguments play in religious belief (though it does make some hints toward that).  I like a story with some substance to it.  If you know of others, send them my way.

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