I really, really wanted to like Vincent Bugliosi’s Divinity of Doubt: The God Question when I stumbled across a copy during one of my weekend trips to my local public library. Feeling wildly optimistic, how could I say no to a book about God written by the author of the true-crime classic Helter Skelter? And while most books about the existence of God are by atheists or Christian believers, Divinity of Doubt is one of those rare books by an avowed agnostic. Sadly, after having fairly high hopes for Bugliosi’s 2011 book, I must report that I found Divinity of Doubt to be a huge disappointment.
There’s much not to like about Divinity of Doubt. As part of his quest to find a middle ground between traditional theism and the new atheism preached by Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris, Bugliosi unfortunately pisses away this golden opportunity by resorting to mean-spirited and uncompromising attacks upon his perceived adversaries: whoever he disagrees with, he savagely denigrates. By wandering outside his chosen field of jurisprudence to discuss at length matters dealing evolution, cosmology and mathematical probability (not to mention philosophy and theology) Bugliosi makes the mistake made by many self-assured, intelligent and educated individuals when championing a cause: the mistake of trying to be an expert in fields in which one has insufficient expertise. (For additional reading concerning this intellectual hazard, feel free to check out Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things as well as Voodoo Histories.) To top it all off, not only are his arguments as rambling as they are superficial, but overall his book seems poorly edited. A tacked-on chapter called “Bookends” containing his various thoughts on fate and mathematical probability I found completely pointless and never should have been included in the first place.
As far as any upsides to Bugliosi’s book, I can really only think of two. First, his chapter on the Catholic Church, in which he takes a very critical look at Church dogma and the like (although for understandable reasons will offend traditionally minded Catholics) does make for interesting reading. But to be fair, for a reader to get a well-rounded and deeper understanding of the Catholic Church that chapter should be supplemented with material from a diverse host of Catholic writers such as George Weigel, Gary Wills, Robert Barron, John L. Allen, Thomas E. Woods and James Carroll. Second, if I must commend Bugliosi on anything, it’s that he has the courage to conclude if there is a god, then based on Bugliosi’s interpretation of the evidence that god is probably not all-powerful and all loving. But sadly, those are the only things I might have liked about this book.