After Cass Seltzer's book becomes a surprise best seller, he's dubbed "the atheist with a soul" and becomes a celebrity. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum, "the goddess of game theory," and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation. A former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. And he is haunted by reminders of the two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his mentor and professora renowned literary scholar with a suspicious obsession with messianismand an angelic six-year-old mathematical genius who is heir to the leadership of a Hasidic sect. Each encounter reinforces Cass's theory that the religious impulse spills over into life at large.
36 Arguments for the Existence of God plunges into the great debate of our day: the clash between faith and reason. World events are being shaped by fervent believers at home and abroad, while a new atheism is asserting itself in the public sphere. On purely intellectual grounds the skeptics would seem to have everything on their side. Yet people refuse to accept their seemingly irrefutable arguments and continue to embrace faith in God as their source of meaning, purpose, and comfort.
Through the enchantment of fiction, award-winning novelist and MacArthur Fellow Rebecca Newberger Goldstein shows that the tension between religion and doubt cannot be understood through rational argument alone. It also must be explored from the point of view of individual people caught in the raptures and torments of religious experience in all their variety.
Using her gifts in fiction and philosophy, Goldstein has produced a true crossover novel, complete with a nail-biting debate ("Resolved: God Exists") and a stand-alone appendix with the thirty-six arguments (and responses) that propelled Seltzer to stardom.
The Argument from the Improbable Self
Something shifted, something so immense you could call it the world.
Call it the world.
The world shifted, catching lots of smart people off guard, churning up issues you had thought had settled forever beneath the earths crust. The more sophisticated you are, the more annotated your mental life, the more taken aback youre likely to feel, seeing what the worlds lurch has brought to light, thrusting up beliefs and desires you had assumed belonged to an earlier stage of human development.
What is this stuff, you ask one another, and how can it still be kicking around, given how much we already know? It looks like the kind of relics that archeologists dig up and dust off, speculating about the beliefs that once had animated them, to the best that they can be reconstructed, gone as they are now, those thrashings of proto-rationality and mythico-magical hypothesizing, and nearly forgotten.
Now its all gone unforgotten, and minds that ...
For a book whose title sounds like an affirmation of faith but whose story is about an atheist refuting the existence of God, reading it is a spiritual experience... Many of the positive reviews laud the wit and entertainment Goldstein provides, but honestly, the breadth and depth of ideas covered require close and thoughtful reading... This novel can be read on a few different levels: a romance, a mystery, an intellectual thriller or a philosophical/religious treatise. In any case, some grounding in science, math and philosophy or at least a willingness to explore those subjects would be helpful.
(Reviewed by Judy Krueger).
Full Review (885 words).
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein received a PhD in Philosophy from Princeton University, has taught philosophy at Bernard College and written five previous philosophically motivated novels. Her most recent book of nonfiction is Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. Bertrand Russell considered Spinoza "the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers."
Spinoza (1632-1677) also figures in 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. In fact, the 35th argument is based on Spinoza's philosophy. Though raised in the Jewish faith and receiving a rabbinical education, Spinoza was expelled from the synagogue at Amsterdam for defending heretical opinions in 1656. He went on to develop his own philosophy, ...
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