Jim Holt mentions that John Allen Paulos considers various arguments for God’s existence. While it is a little difficult to tell where Jim Holt begins and where John Allen Paulos ends, since there is no direct quotation at this point, one point is of interest:
Take the cosmological argument, the first one Paulos considers. It goes something like this. The universe we live in seems contingent. Nothing about it suggests that it exists by its own nature. Therefore, if there is an explanation for the universe’s existence, that explanation must involve another kind of entity — one that does exist by its very nature. Call this entity “God.”
From that barest of sketches, it is obvious that the cosmological argument has some grave problems. For one thing, it takes for granted the dubious principle that everything has an explanation. For another, there is no reason to suppose that the self-existent entity it points to has any other divine attributes, like omniscience or benevolence.
Now, atheists would rephrase the argument to their own pseudo-erudite ends by stating,
…Therefore, if there is an explanation for the universe’s existence, that explanation must involve happenstantial coincidincs — one that does exist by its very nature. Call this “Matter: the eternal and uncaused first cause.”
As to that “it takes for granted the dubious principle that everything has an explanation” this is certainly an anti-scientific-progress statement and yet, actually reminiscent of the atheism promulgated by Bertrand Russell who stated, “The universe is just there, and that’s all.”
I am not certain that it is quite accurate to claim that the cosmological argument simply “takes for granted the dubious principle that everything has an explanation” or that it seeks to determine if it has an explanation and what the explanation may be.
Also, it seems faulty to conclude that “there is no reason to suppose that the self-existent entity it points to has any other divine attributes” since creation ex nihilo is, at least, indicative of: personality or personhood via volition and intelligence which demonstrates the ability to formulate, entertain and carry out a plan, the power to carry out such a plan, timelessness, immateriality, lack of time based restriction, etc.
Apparently, John Allen Paulos’ actual book/arguments deteriorate in typical New Atheist fashion into moking jokes likening the cosmological argument to “a jokey allusion to self-fellating yogis.” Thus, Jim Holt notes,
Like other neo-atheist authors, his tone tends to the sophomoric, with references to flatulent dogs and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ann Coulter crops up in the index, but one looks in vain for the name of a great religious thinker like Karl Barth, who saw theology as an effort to understand what faith has given, not a quest for logical proof.
John Allen Paulos also offers the obligatory qualifier of absolute agnosticism for all,
Paulos concedes that, just as arguments for God’s existence are logically inconclusive, so too are arguments against God’s existence. That means that you can either believe or disbelieve without being convicted of stark irrationality.
John Allen Paulos’ “Irreligious” may be good for a well-within-the-box-group-think laugh but who knows if it is worth anything else.
 Bertrand Russell and F. C. Copleston, “The Existence of God,” in The Existence of God, ed. and intro. by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan, 1964), p. 175
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