50 reasons people give for believing in a god

50 reasons people give for believing in a godThis post introduces the third book in the philosophy challenge that Deena and I undertook last year.

50 reasons people give for believing in a god. ISBN: 978-1-59102-567-2; Prometheus Books; Pages: 330; [Amazon]

by Guy P. Harrison

In the introduction, Harrison says, “This book is not an attempt to prove the nonexistence of gods.” So believers are free to simply read his responses as “Here’s why I don’t find your reasons for belief persuasive,” rather than, “Here’s why you have no justification for your beliefs!” By the same token, non-believers cannot pretend that Harrison’s responses to the 50 reasons are anything close to disproofs of gods’ existence.

So, as an entry in this Truth-Seeker’s challenge, this book may seem a little irrelevant. I can imagine a believer reading it with the same impatience I had reading Letters to Doubting Thomas. Many of the points it puts forward for atheism are answerable by more sophisticated apologetics.

But I think such a response may fail to see the value (and purpose) of the book. Remember Harrison’s disclaimer. He’s not out to soundly disprove the best philosophical defenses of theism. He’s interested in responding, as a regular atheist, to the reasons regular believers give for their belief.

Harrison draws on extensive travel, not only to spice his book with interesting anecdotes from around the world, but to demonstrate that he’s not just setting up convenient straw men to tackle. He really is responding to the reasons most people give for believing. If I, as an atheist, do not understand these reasons and have a quick reply ready, I am unlikely to influence anyone’s belief. And if you, a believer, have not seen the casual atheist reply to some of these claims, you are unlikely to influence atheists’ beliefs. For both of us, seeing these in-the-trenches arguments, presented respectfully and succinctly, may help avoid a certain amount of talking past each other. They may help us see more clearly where the points of difference lie.

I think that, for a challenge that is aimed at non-philosophers, this book maps out some of the important philosophical foothills that we’d need to navigate before we try to tackle the more rarefied heights addressed (I hope) in the remaining books (all of which are written or contain contributions by professional philosophers).

To sum up, this book does not directly tackle the question at the heart of the challenge: “Which belief is most reasonable?”

But to the question “Do people generally believe in gods for good reasons?” then this book makes a good case for the answer “No”. This seems to be Harrison’s project – he is not pretending to be a philosopher. For that reason, and because of the entertaining presentation and many anecdotes from Harrison’s extensive travels, I’m glad we’ve read this book, and glad to have it on my shelf for future reference.



2 Responses to “50 reasons people give for believing in a god”

  1. A new challenge « Friendly Humanist Says:

    […] 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God […]

  2. susanne430 Says:

    Seems interesting! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

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