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The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions Hardcover – October 3, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


The Atheist’s Guide to Reality will, like the best scholarship and science, remove you from your comfort zone. And that is the only way to gain new and better perspectives on our place in the cosmos.” (Lawrence Krauss A Universe From Nothing)

“For those of us who have pondered what David Hume might have said, were he to have had the benefit of all the scientific knowledge that succeeded his death, Alex Rosenberg’s wonderful new book perfectly satisfies.” (Rebecca Goldstein 36 Arguments for the Existence of God)

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

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (October 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393080234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393080230
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,059,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Menocchio on 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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68 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Carlos on November 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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91 of 118 people found the following review helpful By B. Tipling on October 24, 2011
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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85 of 111 people found the following review helpful By CKent on September 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Norman Bearrentine on 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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