By Chet Yarbrough
This is not the story one expects from its title. “36 Arguments…” is about denial, not affirmation of God’s existence.
Rebecca Goldstein writes like Stephen Pinker on steroids. The subtitle of the book might be “The Science of Human Nature denies the existence of God”. Goldstein has done a masterful job of creating “fear and trembling” in believers; i.e. in the opposite sense of Kierkegaard’s meaning of the phrase.
On one level this is a story about a man named Cass Seltzer and his personal (sometimes romantic) relationships. On a second level it is about human ethnocentricity. Characters, including Cass Seltzer, see through myopic eyes based on who they have become and what peer group they belong to. On a third level “36 Arguments…” is about human nature and inheritability. On multiple levels, Goldstein’s writing is about the elephant in the room; i.e. mankind’s belief in a Supreme Being.
The story of Cass Seltzer’s life is absorbing. The women he loves are monumentally independent, fantastically alluring, and maddeningly self centered (as self centered as Cass Seltzer). Each character believes what they believe with conviction that directs their lives.
The introduction of Felix Fidley exemplifies human ethnocentrism and conviction; i.e. a believer that says one way is the only way.
Goldstein cleverly introduces the town of New Walden. Its isolated belief system reflects the heritability of good and bad genetic markers that trap people in worshipful repetition of a population cohort that ranges from imbecility to genius.
A straw man debate is conducted in the next to last chapter that pits Cass Seltzer against an allegedly renowned debater. Seltzer wins the debate and God believers lose. However, the last chapter, 36 arguments for belief in God are stated and refuted.
One doubts Goldstein will change the world with her book but its rational arguments are a big add to the non-believing world’s arguments for a scientific theory of the world that explains everything about everything.
If you are a believer, “36 Arguments…” is a clear explanation of your battleground; it reveals the manifesto, strategy, and tactics of a non-believer. Faith is always a refuge but is it enough? “36 Arguments for the Existence of God” is a fascinating piece of literature.