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on September 14, 2015
This book teaches you step by step how to think and process information with reason and the scientific method as your guide to determining what is and what is not reliable information. Makes a great case that fearing judgment day is not the only reason for living a decent and moral life. I couldn't put this book down and found it quite moving. One of my all time favorite books.
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on September 9, 2006
At last, I'm finding time to sit down and write a review of Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness Without God. As I mentioned, further parts may follow; this part is focused on general quality over the specific ideas.

Carrier opens with strong punch: "Philosophy is not a word game or hairsplitting contest, nor a grand scheme to rationalize this or that..." He goes in this vein for several pages, looking at how philosophers have failed to live up to their calling, as well as discussing the connection between philosophy and religion. Most of it hits every bit as hard as the first sentence. Carrier explains that the purpose of the book is to lay out his personal philosophy and worldview in a way that nonspecialists can understand. An admirable goal, and Carrier gets off to a good start in the opening section.

For all the promise in the opening chapter, I don't think this book is going to do much to bring philosophy to the masses. The problem is that Carrier has the ability to produce forceful prose, but isn't able to apply that ability consistently. Most of the first half of the book drags. It's understandable without having a background in philosophy, but many without such a background will have trouble seeing why it matters. One problem is a frequent lack of concrete examples. Take his discussion of method: the only kind of example used is the Cartesian Demon. A far more readable discussion of method can be found in "Why I Am Not a Christian," where Carrier gets in far more examples in less space.

About halfway through the book, however, the quality of writing picks up. I found his discussion of the Rain Miracle (in part IV, "What There Isn't") better than the online version. Among other things, in Sense and Goodness Carrier give the case clear larger significance: "we have a legend sprining up just eight years after the fact, when thousands of eyewintesses were surely still alive... despite these seemingly unfavorable conditions, this legend beat out the truth." Likewise, part V "Natural Morality" soars. Among other things, Carrier looks at the reasons given by J. P. Moreland for theists to be moral, and shows that Secular Humanists have equivalent reasons.

Carrier got one other thing right: not using footnotes, but including bibliographies at the end of each section rather than in the back of the book. This is probably the best way to direct readers to further resources on given subjects. In many cases I have not read all the books he cites, but where I have, I can say that Carrier has made excellent choices.

I should emphasize that while this book may not catch on with the general public, the book isn't a waste for not having done so. It would have been nice to see such a book, but that really wasn't Carrier's main purpose. His main purpose was to lay out a coherent worldview, a worthwhile pursuit. He rightly criticizes modern philosophers for having abandoned system building, and does an excellent job of building up his own system. This is a fine book; I share bookjunkys hope that it will be revised in a more accessible version.
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on May 28, 2017
Brilliant and cogent! Read it carefully and with purpose.
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on March 12, 2014
The good things:
+ The book is well organized on many different topics.
+ The book presents ideas and information that I haven't encountered previously, such as important criteria for the historical method and for trusting experts. Carrier gives some fascinating examples of applying the historical method, too.

The bad:
- If you're not already interested in a philosophical topic that he writes about, Carrier won't try to motivate you to become interested in it.
- There are occasional pointlessly crass lines, like where he compared religious beliefs to blue monkeys flying out of his ass.
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on July 27, 2015
Though I enjoyed the book, the basis for his postulation is far too long and laborious a read.
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Sense and Goodness Without God is an interesting read to a worldview which he describes as his own (Introduction) out of many different versions of Metaphysical Naturalism that could exist. He does a great job overall of presenting his views and reasons why he believes what he believes. He is mainly a philosopher/ historian who is very reasonable and somewhat spiritual and describes himself as a man of faith from experience. He clearly proclaims his passion for philosophy and his firm belief that philosophy is the key to all of human successes and problem solving techniques, which I agree with.

He has a tendency of arguing quite a bit with J.P. Moreland on metaethics that does get quite annoying at times because he wastes some space on trying to hit J. P. Moreland instead of further developing his Metaphysical Naturalism defenses, especially his reasons for why we should not accept any of the theistic defenses such as free will as a coherent solution to the supposed problem of evil and the problem of good. He could have elaborated a little more on this. His Goal Theory is a basic idea that I definitely agree with and encourage but can only expect its failure since very few are committed to informing themselves of the facts and processing accordingly to make scrutinized, linear, pure, clear thinking. He also gives a quick lesson on what makes reliable and accurate history and methods for establishing the historicity of any historians from the past.

Perhaps it was due to the limited space he had to write, but in terms of his defense of science and the origins of the universe by multiverse theory, he does not do a good job in convincing why there would be many universes coming from black holes and why there actually would be infinite universes. His footnotes for the multiverse are helpful though. His defense of the scientific method is the same usual stuff that is found in some theistic and some atheistic literature. The only problem I see with this defense is that on p. 214-216 he makes it seem like all scientists do experiments and research in a fixed skeptic manner where all scientists begin with skepticism when in reality it usually is with a curious and neutral manner that is neither pessimistic or optimistic though it sometimes is optimistic. Sometimes science is treated as somehow special, in that it feels like only a few can reach the status of scientist, which is absurd. The scientific method has its origin in philosophy. So it is philosophy that is the basis of science and also of life in general too. Carrier, however, argues in this book about philosophy and science as separate and not about the latter arising from the former.

I am actually studying to be a Chemical Engineer and for the most part science is just thinking about relationships between stuff in nature. Anyone can be a scientist. In fact, everyone is by definition a scientist (knowledgist) in the same way that everyone is a politician (person of the city) by both by etymological definition. It's just that very few make it a career to live off of. And science is pretty basic and not impossible to do. It may be at times weird, but for the most part it's doable. It really is natural to be a scientist, as if we were made for that. If you can cook anything, then you would be guilty of doing a procedure for an organic chemical reaction(s). Science is really more relaxed and not so strict since we still have a lot to learn and new methods that may be easier to work with may yet be discovered. Also usually people who aren't a part of a field of science treat science as more out there than it really needs to be treated. Luckily Carrier mentions that sciences like zoology, psychology and anything that involves intelligent creatures or is organic is not as clear cut and concrete as the inorganic fields of general chemistry or physics. An example of scientific fluctuations come from medical journals that have a lot of explaining to do for unusual patients and unusual behavior.

Carrier does an ok job of linking the mind or soul with the brain as inseparable, but does not mention that the mind has its control over the brain too. He argues that the mind works by chemical reactions in the brain with other stuff too. But in cases of depression, even with medication, the mind seems to override the chemical reactions and so someone can be under medication but still have a depressed mind set.

I would agree that the mind and brain work together most of the time, but also the mind seems to be immune to chemical reactions in the brain. You can look at a Scientific American article on the mind-brain relationship through depression at

[Please look at comment #1 of this review]

If what Carrier says is true, then the depression that is caused by the mind would be eliminated in nearly all cases since if you prevent some reactions from occurring in your brain, that cause a depression sensation, then you would not be depressed or have sad thoughts since those thoughts would be chemically repressed. This does not occur as much as we want. So the mind does look like it is somehow separate from the brain and yet linked as well . This also explains what Carrier argues in p. 328-329 of people in coma are dormant persons not annihilated persons.

Also as of yet neuroscientists have not been able to find the part or parts of the brain that constitute our Will to do anything. I have not heard of any findings yet thus I must deny a whole mind-brain link as not true unless evidence proves otherwise. Great attempt though.

Here is a simplified Breakdown of the whole book (These are not chapter titles just stuff he discusses... Well some are Chapter titles) :
I. Introduction
Philosophy Awareness
His Autobiography

II. How We Know
Importance of philosophy
Logic and Meaning
Methods of Science, History, Reason, Experience

III. What There is
Worldview
Outline of Metaphysical Naturalism
Nature and Origin of Universe
Determinism vs. Freewill (Libertarian)
What Everything is Made of
Mind / Brain : Origins, Evolution, Functions
Meaning of Life
How We Got Here
Nature of Reason, Emotion

IV. What There Isn't
Paranormal
7 Reasons To Be An Atheist

V. Natural Morality
Secular Humanism vs. Christian Theism
Metaphysical Naturalistic Morality

VI. Beauty
How We Percieve Beauty in Art and Human Life

VII. Natural Politics
An Educated Man's Politics
Richard Carrier's Politics
Secular Humanist Heaven

VIII. Conclusion

Bravo for Richard Carrier. Good introduction to those who are new to one of the religions of atheism or are interested in seeing what other options exist or for those who wish to be informed of the diversity of human thought in terms of belief systems and worldviews. I personally thought it was better than David Mill's "Atheist Universe" which is more amateurish.

Despite its flaws, it a decent book on Atheology.

**Since Carrier talks a little on science and atheism, for a good summary of when modern atheism spawned (17th century, not before), and the relationship it had with science up to this century one can see Oxford and Cambridge's review from the "Investigating Atheism" project under the "Atheism & Science" section online for free.
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on October 7, 2015
Interesting although very heavy reading.
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on December 7, 2008
Too many of the reviewers focus on Carrier's conclusion. Forget Carrier's belief system. That should not be the focal point for reading his book, in my opinion. The most important point that he presents is the methodology for arriving at his conclusion, a methodology that he encourages us to partake of as well.

History has shown that most methods of human inquiry are highly inadequate for providing answers about reality. The only method of inquiry that has allowed us to reach fairly consistent, measurable, and objectively verifiable conclusions about reality is science. Science is certainly not perfect. But it is the only systematic approach to thinking that is both self-correcting and attempts to minimize human errors and biases. Thus, the conclusions that are reached by a proper scientific approach is likely to provide better (and correct) answers to questions about reality than other methodologies. Looked at from this viewpoint, Carrier is merely stating that religion and other faith-based approaches are not sufficiently reliable. In fact, other approaches often contradict what science states on similar topics, such as the origin of species, the probability of miracles, and various metaphysical subject matters. So which approach is most trustworthy or likely to reach a true conclusion (or allow us to correct a mistake in our hypothesis)? Answer: the approach that makes predictions that can be empirically affirmed (or disaffirmed).

You don't have to fully agree with his conclusion - metaphysical naturalism. However, the methodological ladder and systematic approach he presents is very useful for analyzing propositions (truth-claims). Such an approach is (and has been) far more reliable than other forms of human inquiry, especially religion. In my opinion, this is the important thing to walk away with from his book.

I would've given the book 5-stars, except for one complaint. I would've liked to have read more detail; that is, it would've been nice if he elaborated on some of his topics. Nonetheless, it's a great book and worth one's time to read.
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on April 21, 2014
If you are interested in looking at a spiritual life from a non-dualist, non-anthropomorphic viewpoint, this book is definitely worth a read. The beginning is REALLY DRY getting into logic for philosophical thought. It seems this could have been condensed for this book and expanded upon in another. Likewise, Mr. Carrier gets into to societal / political considerations, which seems like a tangent he is much less knowledgeable about and feels a bit like an egocentric liberty he took with its inclusion. In fact, his ego (defensiveness, judgement of "idiots" who don't see the world the way he does or how any "reasonable" person would) was really putting off at times. However, I was able to "take what I like and leave the rest" and found a lot of value in his examination of where science is currently, and how one might draw a philosophical worldview from that information.
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on June 10, 2015
A great explanation of how to live life and make sense of the world if you reach the point of being disillusioned with all of the major faiths. A bit of heavy going through some of the philosophical parts, but mostly well worth the effort. Other parts are just a great distillation of reason and logic that is readily applicable to making our lives better, and our hopes and dreams bigger and better without the intellectual enslavement of religion, superstition, or mindless tradition.
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