Monday, September 7, 2009

\ Rea-dying \


Read since the last update:

Book: Book 27 of '09. Irreligion by John Allen Paulos

In which mathematician and writer John Allen Paulos goes through the twelve main arguments usually presented in favor of the existence of God and efficiently – and humorously – deconstructs each one. I enjoyed this greatly. Paulos' book is concise and well-informed, with numerous allusions to deep theorems in mathematics and computer science, for instance, as well as references to seminal books on the subjects he covers. He condenses a lot of philosophy. At times it feels like there is a little too much glossing over the surface of things, but by referencing other sources, as he does, Paulos at least implicitly acknowledges that he's not presenting a full perspective and offers readers the necessary starting points for their own journeys. The "anecdotal" chapters were as diverting and witty as the argument-chapters; again, at times I wished they'd contained a little more detail. Some of my thoughts on Irreligion are nicely captured in this review, so I won't rehash those here. There's a lot of stuff I've filed away for follow-up, so chances are I'll be writing more about the twelve arguments and related.

I suppose my main contention, and not a criticism of the book's skill or educational value, is that an investigation of the "logical reasons to believe in God" presents its own bias, namely by inclusion of the word "logical." It presupposes that logical reasons for belief are the ones that merit the most attention and, in this instance, deconstruction. But that's favoring logic, not only over illogic, but over what we might term a-logic, that is, cogitation whose central content works via a non-logical framework. It might sound silly, but about the illogical and a-logical reasons for believing in God? Part of Paulos' strategy is to show how several key arguments rely not only on false, or at best, imprecise assumptions, but to illustrate how their conclusions do not logically follow from their premises. He's showing how these are not logical arguments by proving that they are, in fact, illogical (and they can't be both logical and illogical at once, according to their own premises). But to my mind that doesn't demerit them enough! And while he does evaluate four arguments which might be called explicitly illogical or, as he categorizes them, "subjective," it seems to me that a little more clarity might be useful in ascertaining what the intrinsic category-difference is, if there is one, between these and the other arguments. After all, I think it's only fair to expect of a writer who deals with some pretty hefty philosophical issues (and in a few cases proposes his own insightful and, as far as I can tell, original contributions to the twelve counter-arguments) to elucidate why "classical" deductive logic should be favored over other means of arriving at knowledge. Of course, this would require an investigation not only of the nature of knowledge but also epistemology. Paulos does summarize some key results in the former (synthetic vs. analytic propositions, for instance), but I wish he'd addressed this further.

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