The Problem with God: Why Atheists, True Believers, and Even Agnostics Must All Be Wrong (Columbia University Press, 2013)

Prof. Peter Steinberger [political science 1973– ]

By Kevin Myers

What if your opinionated uncle—the one who can only tolerate the blowhards at the Thanksgiving table as long as it takes for the gravy to congeal—wrote a book about God? And what if this uncle was a brilliant and funny academic who’d been thinking outside his discipline for 30 years and decided to commit his thoughts to writing? Then your uncle would be Prof. Peter Steinberger, the book would be The Problem with God, and your Thanksgivings would be infinitely more interesting than mine. 


The premise of the book is that the question of the existence of God is what Steinberger calls a “non-question”—impossible to answer because it’s nonsensical to ask. To seek proof of God is like asking what pi smells like, or whether the internal angles of love have more degrees than the internal angles of a triangle. The word “God,” he argues, is a word void of a concept.

In the second chapter, Steinberger assures his readers that they are not reading a theological treatise, but rather a book that opens the door for all of us to think of ourselves as philosophers in the age-old dilemma of God. It’s written for a broad audience without ever pandering or conceding an inch to those who will surely call him a heretic. 

This book is not recommended for anyone who believes in the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, or Santa (whose existence he debunks—spoiler alert!—in chapter three). With respect to God, writes Steinberger, he is neither theist, atheist, nor agnostic, but rather aproleptic—a term he coined that means “without concept,” and he describes himself as “a committed, dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying aproleptic” at that. 

The book is as funny as it is thought provoking. If you’ve ever seen Steinberger in the lecture hall, it’s impossible not to hear his voice and feel the rhythm of his cadence as you admire the precision of his arguments. As much as anything, the book rails against “mumbo-jumbo,” which he describes as gibberish dressed in its Sunday best, posing as a profound truth. Steinberger says he wrote the book out of gut-wrenching frustration with the mumbo-jumbo that is increasingly used to justify laws, wars, and presidential candidates.


Editor's Note: It took a herculean effort to convince Prof. Steinberger to let us review this book. We’re glad he finally acquiesced, if for no other reason than to provide us some ammunition with which to defend ourselves against dogmatic atheists, believers, and agnostics at our holiday table.