Pascal vs. Paulos, Setting the Stage

I recently picked up the book Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God just don’t add up, by John Allen Paulos. Here is basic summary of the work from inside the front cover:

Are there any logical reasons to believe in God? The mathematician and bestselling author John Allen Paulos thinks not. In Irreligion he presents the case for his own irreligious worldview, organizing his book into a series of chapters that refute the twelve arguments most often put forward for believing in God’s existence.

Now, I’ve always heard that you should never judge a book by its cover. I’m not sure that maxim takes into consideration the inside flaps of the cover, because those always seem to sum up the book pretty well. In fact, it seems like you would be an idiot not to judge a book by its cover. Perhaps the saying predates cover flaps. But anyway, for the sake of argument let us assume that the saying still holds true. So in order to give Paulos his due, I thought I would actually read through the book. Here is what I found: this book represents a perfect example of how our value system impacts the way in which we do mathematics (be those Christian values or not).

I thought it would be instructive to examine some of the arguments for God that Paulos interacts with. At some point in the future I might try to post a comprehensive review of the book as a whole, but for now I simply want to focus on some of the better arguments, starting with possibly the best argument (although the ranking of these arguments is in itself another argument): Pascal’s Wager.

We’ll look at this in three rounds:

  • Round 1: An explanation of Pascal’s Wager
  • Round 2: A summary of Paulos’ critique of Pascal’s Wager
  • Round 3: Critique of the critique (A response to Paulos)

Should be fun.


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