Irreligion (48)

Next up is Irreligion by John Allen Paulos. Another apologetics prep related book. I’ve enjoyed his writing previously, especially Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. I thought perhaps this would be an interesting alternative to the major atheist apologetics books. Alas…

Parts of it are boilerplate popular argumentation, but those are the best parts. There’s no real attempt to address serious arguments in their strongest form – a good amount of summarizing (and hence probably oversimplifying) an argument, taking a few pot shots at it in general and off we go to the next one. Now, to be fair, some of the critiques probably reflect more sophisticated and complete ones a reader could find elsewhere, but without that level of focus the arguments remain rather facile.

Other sections are mostly worthless. He argues against the idea that coincidences prove God’s existence and against the Bible code, for example – arguments I don’t think I’ve ever heard used in a serious apologetics context. His argument against miracles is mostly bluster (maybe I’m just cranky today, but it just seems weak). He takes a couple of more contemporary claims, and argue that God’s failure to heal all (and the origin of sickness itself) would also have to be attributed to God. That is – if some things are explicable as non-miraculous, all things are! And then he pulls out Hume’s dicta about the kind of testimony we would need for a miracle (though of course, there has been plenty of discussion about that since then). His attitude toward NT historicity is extremely skeptical – he mentions the obvious “absurdities” of the virgin birth and the resurrection (not a lot of focus on historical evidence here!). He focuses on the Da Vinci Code (he argues that if Jesus had descendants there would be lots of them – not really germane to his topic, I’m sure) and to Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (where his main concern is the absurdity of blaming the Jews for the crucifixion). He responds to Lewis’ “lunatic, liar or lord” argument in a paragraph noting we can’t really know what Jesus said or meant.

By now you get the drift. The redeeming quality of the book is that it doesn’t appear to be as bad as the other one I ordered –  The Six Ways of Atheism (I read through the summary of the arguments and they seem very wrong-headed). Ah well. I’m sure there are Christian “apologists” who are just as bad. I’ll just try to not read them.

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