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The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions [Kindle Edition]

Alex Rosenberg
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A book for nonbelievers who embrace the reality-driven life.

We can't avoid the persistent questions about the meaning of life-and the nature of reality. Philosopher Alex Rosenberg maintains that science is the only thing that can really answer them—all of them. His bracing and ultimately upbeat book takes physics seriously as the complete description of reality and accepts all its consequences. He shows how physics makes Darwinian natural selection the only way life can emerge, and how that deprives nature of purpose, and human action of meaning, while it exposes conscious illusions such as free will and the self. The science that makes us nonbelievers provides the insight into the real difference between right and wrong, the nature of the mind, even the direction of human history. The Atheist's Guide to Reality draws powerful implications for the ethical and political issues that roil contemporary life. The result is nice nihilism, a surprisingly sanguine perspective atheists can happily embrace.

Editorial Reviews


“... is the work of a well-informed and imaginative philosopher.” — Philip Kitcher (New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

Alex Rosenberg is the R. Taylor Cole Professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Duke University and the codirector of the Duke Center for Philosophy of Biology. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Product Details

  • File Size: 750 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 3, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005LW5JTY
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #425,933 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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63 of 81 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but problematic November 3, 2011
By Carlos
Rosenberg presents what he calls "scientism", building on his previous work on what he calls "the disenchanted naturalist's guide to reality". In brief, Rosenberg describes what the world (including ourselves) looks like from the 'scientistic' point of view. The central idea of scientism, as he presents it, is that "the physical facts fix all the facts": physics explains chemistry, chemistry explains biology, biology explains everything else.

More problematic, perhaps, is his view that if something cannot be explained in terms of biology (chemistry, physics), then it isn't real. What I found disappointing here isn't that view itself, but the absence of arguments for it. For example, he advocates eliminativism about intentionality: that there isn't really any such thing as intentionality or 'aboutness'. But he doesn't argue for this view, from what I could tell. He just stipulates that intentionality cannot be naturalized, and that all the various attempts to naturalize intentionality (or normativity, or autonomy) have failed. He doesn't demonstrate (at least not to this reader's satisfaction) that they have failed. Speaking as someone who favors naturalizing intentionality and agency, rather than doing away with them or endorsing non-naturalism, I was frustrated by the absence of clear rebuttals of the approaches that I favor.

There are, moreover, certain problems in his account of scientism that I would have liked to have seen taken more seriously. For one thing, Rosenberg doesn't distinguish between scientism and reductive physicalism. But presumably one could take one's metaphysics from natural science, and so be scientistic in a broad sense, without taking any position on the reducibility of biology to physics.
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83 of 108 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You are not actually reading a review, and I am not actually writing about anything in this review. That is just an illusion the chemistry in our brains create to animate the falsehood that at least hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection can be blamed for. The physical facts explain all the facts, and in this case they explain how some neurons and synapses in the brain of this reviewer now represent a little bit less incorrect of a state than before. Though common sense would lead me to think that I chose to read this book, a scientistic view requires us to recognize that I could have done no such thing and that the pursuit of improving my understanding of reality is ultimately pointless, at least in the grand scheme of a universe where entropy is always increasing. What was I about to do, oh that's right, go cry in the corner for the rest of my meaningless life. This book is devastating, and I couldn't put it down. No really, I couldn't, I have all the free will of a banana slug.
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82 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Guide for the Reality-Driven Life! September 24, 2011
By CKent
After The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, and God is not Great, I thought there was not much more to say about Atheism.

But, as the author says, it turns out that atheism is more just one big No!

It was science that made me an atheist, that and the problem of evil, for course. And this is where the Atheist's Guide comes in.

What it shows is that by driving to atheism science drives us to a lot of other powerful, unexpected, and important insights about reality too: For example, there's the fact that what Darwin discovered comes right out of physics. The book explains why there isn't even any room for stupid design, let alone intelligent design in the process that makes things look like God put them together.

I wasn't sure I'd be able to live with the author's Nice Nihilism till I got to the last chapter and realized that science makes my politics unavoidable. The road from the biology to the politics goes right through neuroscience, history, economics and the humanities. What a ride!

I was really surprised, as an atheist, after reading The Atheist's Guide I really do end up enjoying life more.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely, insightful, and to the point April 30, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Most of the books by atheists such as Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, seem to be addressed mainly at theists. If you have abandoned religious superstitions you may find their texts somewhat repetitive and perhaps a tad unnecessary. You already know that there is no supernatural domain, no gods, no angels, no demons, no ghosts, no miracles, no soul, no afterlife, no easter bunny, no tooth fairy, etc, etc. It was high time somebody wrote something on atheism for the non delusional, ie, something on atheism for atheists. Alex Rosenberg explores the epistemological, ontological and ethical consequences of atheism. The result is a fascinating book. In the process, he manages to redeem two all-too-often maligned words: scientism and nihilism. Strongly recommended.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much Ado About Nothing October 31, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I am an atheist; I don't believe in the supernatural; science is my guide to reality; and I believe morals are a biological/cultural phenomenon with no ultimate justification. Given all that, you'd think Rosenberg and I would have a lot in common, and we do, but he is stuck in an extreme version of the idea that "physics fixes all the facts," (Kindle Locations 3859-3860) which leads him to some shaky and valueless conclusions.

Most of the book hinges on the idea that our thoughts are not "about" anything. On that basis Rosenberg concludes that we don't have purposes; that we don't think about the past or make plans for the future. (Location 2704) He admits that these claims are outrageous, recognizes the need for compelling arguments if we're to be convinced of them, and spends three chapters trying to make his case, starting with this example:

"Suppose someone asks you, "What is the capital of France?" Into consciousness comes the thought that Paris is the capital of France. Consciousness tells you in no uncertain terms what the content of your thought is, what your thought is about. It's about the statement that Paris is the capital of France." (Locations 2809-2811)

"It's this last notion that introspection conveys that science has to deny. Thinking about things can't happen at all. The brain can't have thoughts about Paris, or about France, or about capitals, or about anything else for that matter. When consciousness convinces you that you, or your mind, or your brain has thoughts about things, it is wrong."(Locations 2816-2818)

He goes on to propose that if we know that Paris is the capital of France, then there must be neurons in our brains that encode that information.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars The fifth fundamental force: smugness
Apparently, the key to an atheist's enjoyment of life is trading in one's "illusions" for a big heaping helping of philosophical sloppiness. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Jim Rockford, P.I.
5.0 out of 5 stars The best kind of philosophy - challenging, exhilerating and...
The Atheist's Guide to Reality is challenging, exhilarating and downright uncompromising in its central thesis - a reductive ontology that charismatically and stridently proclaims... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Eron
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on reality and finding meaning in life!! Read it at...
Every once in a while something comes along that brings absolute clarity and focus to one’s life! For me, Alex Rosenberg’s, “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying life without... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars read it
poorly written... but makes so much sense.. It can change your life... did mine...
Published 2 months ago by sankirk
2.0 out of 5 stars A Critical Book Review on The Atheist Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life...
God does not exist. Physics is the only reality. There is no purpose in life. If these statements are true, why try our hand in life? Read more
Published 4 months ago by George Paz
1.0 out of 5 stars Darn
Pretty disappointing. Not very worth the read.
Published 5 months ago by Fat Friar 16
2.0 out of 5 stars uniformity of nature(the future will be like the past
This book was the same as any other book on atheism; it was full of assumptions and no basis for science or knowing anything at all to even make the claims Alex does. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Stephen Hoagland
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
tells it like it is
Published 8 months ago by Robert Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recommend this erudite and accessible book for anyone who...
Bold, witty, and entertaining, are not typically words that come to mind when describing a book about the nature of things in general. The atheist's guide to reality is all three! Read more
Published 9 months ago by yehuda
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A surprising journey, truly life changing.
Published 9 months ago by Edward A. Downe
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More About the Author

Alex Rosenberg

When he's not writing historical novels, Alex Rosenberg is a professor of philosophy at Duke University.

Alex's first novel, "The Girl From Krakow," is a thriller that explores how a young woman and her lover navigate the dangerous thirties, the firestorm of war in Europe, and how they make sense of their survival.

He is working on his second novel, a murder mystery set in Oxford and London in the 1950s that takes the reader back to before, during and after the second world war in New York.

Before he became a novelist Alex wrote a large number of books about the philosophy of science, especially about economics and biology. These books were mainly addressed to other academics. But in 2011 Alex published a book that explores the answers that science gives to the big questions of philosophy that most atheists (and all thinking people) ask themselves--questions about the nature of reality, the meaning of life, moral values, free will, the relationship of the mind to the brain, and our human future. That book, "The Atheist's Guide to Reality," was widely reviewed and was quite controversial.


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