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


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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: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #886,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This eccentric, funny treatise on "scientism,"...takes a perverse delight in "nice nihilism." Rosenberg doesn't believe in free will, morality, or secular humanism, and apparently you shouldn't either, dummy...this dismemberment of mainstream worldviews abounds with clever barbs and dry one-liners.” (Village Voice)

“I enjoyed The Atheist's Guide to Reality. Full of daring moves, it takes the sin of scientism as the ultimate virtue. Alex Rosenberg has sheared the nature of things down to the bedrock, and exposed our common vanity.” (E. O. Wilson The Ants)

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.

More About the Author

Alex Rosenberg is the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy (with secondary appointments in the biology and political science departments) at Duke University. Rosenberg has been a visiting professor and fellow of the at the Center for the Philosophy of Science, University of Minnesota, as well as the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Oxford University and a visiting fellow of the Philosophy Department at the Research School of Social Science, of the Australian National University. He has held fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. In 1993 Rosenberg received the Lakatos Award in the philosophy of science. In 2006-2007 he held a fellowship at the National Humanities Center. He was also the Phi Beta Kappa-Romanell Lecturer for 2006-2007.

Rosenberg's books include

The Structure of Biological Science (Cambridge University Press, 1985)
Philosophy of Social Science (Westview Press, 2012)
Economics: Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminishing Returns? (University of Chicago Press, 1992)
Instrumental Biology, or the Disunity of Science (University of Chicago Press, 1994)
Darwinism in Philosophy, Social Science and Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Approach (Routledge, 2011)
Darwinian Reductionism or How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology (University of Chicago Press, 2006)
The Philosophy of Biology: A Contemporary Introduction (with Daniel McShea, Routledge, 2007)
and
The Atheist's Guide to Reality (Norton, 2011).

Customer Reviews

For one thing, Rosenberg doesn't distinguish between scientism and reductive physicalism.
Carlos
It seems likely that he has not thought seriously about what it means when he says, "we interpret," or if he has, he's hoping that the reader won't think about it.
Norman Bearrentine
Since this is a book written for a popular audience, a lot of the arguments are not detailed and some aspects are vague.
R. Albin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 75 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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18 of 21 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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81 of 105 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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77 of 100 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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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By PHILIP A. STAHL on March 25, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Alex Rosenberg's main initial theme (Chapter One: Do You Want Stories Or Reality?) is that we can either maintain ourselves as existential babies steeped in what he refers to as "conspiracy theories" or stories of how the world works, or we can accept that physics (the most perfected and refined of all the sciences) fixes the facts of the world and hence we must follow a rigorous Scientism. Scientism shows that the cosmos is purposeless, and also we are the products of a long, purposeless Darwinian evolution which produced the material brains we have and renders them adaptable to survive in a less than perfect world.

Religion, by contrast, offers essentially fairy stories that try to tell us we emerged by special creation, or are somehow unique beings in the universe blessed with "souls", "minds" and "morals" that put us over all other animals. The capper is that if we choose to believe the right stories (e.g. that a God man can save us) we can earn an everlasting respite up in the clouds somewhere, while those nasty unbelievers will suffer eternal perdition.

Thus, Rosenberg's emphasis is on physics, and how its experimental facts will pave the way for us to satiate our curiosity in the never ending questions asked. However (p. 17):

"We'll have to accept the answers to the relentless questions won't come packaged in a lot of stories"

Fair enough!

As a long time physicist, and having taught basic cosmology courses at the Harry Bayley Observatory in Barbados, I know that most lay folk with spiritual leanings need a "story" to come to terms with the cosmos' origin.
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