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by Amir D. Aczel

Pub Date: April 15th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-223059-1
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Mathematician Aczel (A Strange Wilderness: The Lives of the Great Mathematicians, 2011, etc.) debated atheist Richard Dawkins in 2010. Here, he presents his arguments, and prominent atheists, Dawkins above all, do not come out well.

Aczel wins the rematch by the infallible technique of misstating his opponent. Science cannot “disprove” anything; only mathematicians do that. Scientists gather evidence and weigh it. While evidence (i.e., arguments) favoring God’s absence exists, in the end, disbelief is a matter of opinion. However, there’s no denying that the “new atheists,” like other pugnacious militants from the tea party to Islamic activists, favor vivid arguments that stretch the truth. Aczel sets them right in a series of earnest essays stressing that both science and religion are laudable institutions that deserve respect. One chapter summarizes archaeological evidence for many biblical events. In another, the author emphasizes that scientists understand the universe’s evolution but not its origin, so they cannot rule out a Creator. Throughout the book, Aczel quotes many experts in a variety of fields, including Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, French mathematician Pierre Simon de Laplace and American physicist Hugh Everett. Few show much concern over the question of God’s existence, but most have no objection to it. Having been burned too often, theologians rarely invoke the 19th-century argument that whatever science can’t explain provides evidence for God, but Aczel relies on it. His prime example is the mind. “[T]he emergence of consciousness and symbolic thinking remain one of the most formidable hurdles in the path of atheism,” he writes. “We have no good explanation of how [they] came about. These may well be divine gifts.”

Aczel dislikes atheists and often descends to their derisive debating points (e.g., religions sponsor charities; atheists don’t), but he skillfully combines his specialty and good science to support, without actually proving, the existence of a Creator.