Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
36 Arguments for the Existence of God
by Rebecca Goldstein, Pantheon, 2010
Reviewed by William Watts
Rebecca Goldstein's 36 Arguments for the
Existence of God has a wonderfully misleading title. It is not a
theological treatise or an exercise in piety, but a lively novel.
The main character, Cass Seltzer, is a university professor who has
just published a book entitled The Varieties of Religious Illusion,
which refutes each of the 36 arguments he has identified for the
existence of god. As a result, he gains national fame as the
"atheist with a soul," and is in high demand on the talk-show
circuit. The success of Seltzer's book initiates a surprising
sequence of events, including a job offer from Harvard, the loss of
his long-term girlfriend, and a rediscovery of his Hassidic roots.
While the novel does not affirm the existence of god, it is
nevertheless organized around the 36 arguments Seltzer has
identified, and it has chapter titles such as "The Argument from
the Improbable Self" and "The Argument from Cosmic Tremblings."
This gives the novel a double reference; it moves gracefully
between the mundane realities of day-to-day life and the deeper
questions that lie just beneath the surface. While the novel is
often comic, it provides a serious exploration of the ways in which
religious belief both advances and impedes our search for meaning
and understanding. Goldstein manages all of this with a light touch
and a humanity that leave the reader wishing for more
- Willam Watts is associate professor of English at Butler