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Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up Hardcover – December 26, 2007

3.7 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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)
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“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

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st Printing edition (January 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809059193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809059195
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

(My web page is johnallenpaulos.com and my twitter feed is @johnallenpaulos.)

John Allen Paulos is an extensively kudized author, popular public speaker, and former monthly columnist for ABCNews.com, the Scientific American, and the Guardian. Professor of math at Temple University in Philadelphia, he earned his Ph.D. in the subject from the University of Wisconsin.

His new book (November, 2015) is A Numerate Life - A Mathematician Explores the Vagaries of Life, His Own and Probably Yours. Other writings of his include Innumeracy (NY Times bestseller for 18 weeks), A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper (on the Random House Modern Library's compilation of the 100 best nonfiction books of the century), Once Upon a Number (chosen as one of the best books of 1998), and A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market (a brief tenant on the BusinessWeek bestsellers list). He's also written scholarly papers on probability, logic, and the philosophy of science as well as scores of OpEds, book reviews, and articles in publications such as the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the Nation, Discover, the American Scholar, and the London Review of Books and has an extensive web and media presence.

In 2003 he received the American Association for the Advancement of Science award for promoting public understanding of science, and in 2013 the Mathematics Communication Award from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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