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36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
     

36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

3.3 36
by Rebecca Goldstein
 

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From the author of The Mind-Body Problem: a witty and intoxicating novel of ideas that plunges into the great debate between faith and reason.
 
At the center is Cass Seltzer, a professor of psychology whose book, The Varieties of Religious Illusion, has become a surprise best seller. Dubbed “the atheist with a soul,” he wins over

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36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Zuzana More than 1 year ago
First I must say: I LOVED this book. I will not pretend I understood all references to history, philosophy and religion. But it did not prevent me from relishing the story and intellectual stimulation of the book. Obviously, it is a challenging read, but also very inspiring and touching. Great characters, great storytelling. Read the appendix with 36 arguments first, so you can enjoy references to it in the text. Also, the appendix is the reason I want to have this book in my permanent library. It does not matter if you believe in God or not - this book poses great questions for both sides. If I were a writer I would want to write like Rebecca Goldstein.
Edmond_Weiss More than 1 year ago
In 1966, Berkley's Michael Scriven gave the world Primary Philosophy, with one chapter devoted to presenting, in a clear schematic form, about twenty traditional proofs for the existence of God and their refutations. Now, in 2010, the fictional psychologist of religion Cass Seltzer has catalogued 36+ proofs and their refutations-the larger list attributable to the overtime efforts of creationists to flog their intelligently designed dead horse. Professor Seltzer's book catches the wave of the "neo-atheist" best-sellers and catapults him from the suburbs of Frankfurter (read Brandeis) University to the Valhalla of Harvard. Rebecca Goldstein (on whom I've had a slight crush since reading the perfect Betraying Spinoza, even though there's no way I could win her away from rock star cognitivist Steve Pinker) has crafted a novel that explores a few days in Cass Seltzer's life, in which he exults over his academic good fortune and nearly forgets to prepare for the climactic debate with a glitzy theist. (Naturally, this being a contemporary novel, the contemporary narrative digresses into three or four long past narratives, converging on the present.) This "debate"-something like the big sport event at the end of so many movies, with a touch of the "Grand Inquisitor" thrown in-goes to Seltzer. He proves not only that there is no God but, more important, that atheists are just as capable, even more capable, of ethical sensibility and just action as theists. The debate is not quite the very end, however. Ultimately, the novel resolves its longest subplot involving the intellectually gifted son of a Hassidic Rebbe who is lured away from the reservation to study at MIT. In this it is an odd echo of one of the best novels of recent years, Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union. 36 Arguments is a well-made novel by an engaging philosopher/novelist. She has done what many writers try unsuccessfully to do: embody philosophical stances into characters, without reducing the text to dull speechifying. Zoe Heller also does this well in her recent novel, The Believers. Although Goldstein's prose occasionally lapses into Dan Brown territory ('furrowed brow,' "book-lined office"), the dialogue is always crisp and funny. And the satire is hilarious. I expect that nearly every person, institution, and place with a fictitious name can be mapped onto a real entity. I love Persnippity New Jersey and the ridicule of Commentary and the neocons. (Too bad The Forward assigned a neocon to review this book.) Everyone can recognize the oversized burlesque of Harold Bloom (The Perversity of Persuasion, indeed!) I wish I were enough in the know to recognize the whole Waltham-Cambridge-New York ensemble. (Is Cass Seltzer Steve Pinker, writer of popular best sellers on arcane subjects?) And then there's the Appendix, Cass's schematic for the 36 arguments. Although the charm of this book is to show that the non-existence of God (what Scriven called the presumption of atheism) is largely irrelevant to living a good life, the Appendix is nevertheless a superior bit of philosophical pedagogy, and should be required reading for every professor and undergraduate, in every department. And the Internet being what it is, the Appendix will inevitably become universally available. Some day it may even be denounced in religiously-oriented schools, by people who entirely misread her book, much as Spinoza was denounced in the Orthodox school Ms. Goldstein attended
JennBCT More than 1 year ago
Took this book on vacation with me and could not put it down. I appreciated the ideas, the characterizations and the story equally. I am not even close to an intellectual, just a stay at home mom. There were pages that I had to read two or three times to clearly understand the arguments and ideas being posited. That said, loved the challenge. It is not a quick or easy read, but was totally worth the effort, to my mind.
MairL More than 1 year ago
I have rarely given up on a book but this was one. Reviews led me to believe it would be thought provoking; it was mind numbing! The author's style was pompous, with run on sentences and vocabulary that appeared only to be for the purpose of impressing. Sorry, but I cannot recommend this book.
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