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The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  359 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
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 ...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published October 3rd 2011 by W. W. Norton Company (first published September 26th 2011)
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This book argues unapologetically and brazenly for scientism, physicalist reduction, and complete nihilism. There is little nuance here and a flippant dismissal of the humanities as irrelevant because they do not examine their subject matter in scientific terms.

The book is too long, the prose is often stolid and boring, and the examples used are all too well known to anyone who reads popular science books on biology, evolution, physics, and cosmology. There is really nothing new in this book oth
Adam Omelianchuk
Alex Rosenberg's The Atheist's Guide to Reality is a hard-nosed and unsentimental answer to "the persistent questions," the sort of questions that keep one awake at night in a state of wonder or terror. The eminent philosopher of science from Duke University unhesitatingly offers the following answers to these softs of questions:

1. Is there a God? No.
2. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
3. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
4. What is the meaning of life? Dit
Marjorie Elwood
Jul 15, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This was a difficult book to rate since I agree with his conclusions but was unimpressed by his arguments which I found repetitive and impenetrable. He seemed fond of fobbing off the answers of difficult questions on what will be discovered by neuroscientists in the future. I also had questions about the accuracy of some of his facts, as have others, apparently: in the copy I read of the book, there were notes written in pencil by readers who questioned his facts.

There was the occasional (to me)
Bob Pearson
For the first half of this book, Rosenberg seems right on track. No fact that is known about the workings of the universe exists outside the laws of physics. Physics and physics alone explains all that we count as knowledge of the universe. Of course, there are a vast number of things we can't explain about the universe, but so far, every time an explanation has been found, that explanation has come from physics. "Everything in the universe is made up of the stuff that physics tells us fills up ...more
A take-no-hostages approach that I wanted to like but found significantly flawed.

To begin with, take a look at the author's statement in the Preface that the answers to the existential questions "are all as certain as the science on which our atheism is grounded. An unblinking scientific worldview requires atheism." Looks like a circular statement: Atheism is grounded on science which requires atheism.

Toward the end, he distinguishes between the strong view of "fatalism" (e.g. you will eventuall
Jason Mahoney
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A compelling defense of materialism supported by science no tougher than that which you learned in high school. Rosenberg can be a flip wiseass at times, but I say this to compliment him.
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a lot of ways this book is the summation of the 100 plus science, evolution, and philosophy books I've read over the last three years. To understand our place in the universe the author asserts you must let the "physical facts fit the facts". No need to assume any items not in evidence. We don't any where else in life except in the spiritual realm and so why should we accept those premises while thinking about the universe.

To understand the universe and our place in it one most first understa
Todd Martin
I found The Atheist's Guide to Reality to be unbearable (as a disclaimer, I found it to be so pointless I quit about a quarter of the way through, so maybe it picks up later on … but I doubt it).

Rosenberg, a Professor of Philosophy at Duke University, argues that science in general (and physics in particular) is the only true path to understanding the world (a world view he dubs ‘scientism’). Via a series of pedantic and mind-numbingly dull steps he claims to show that:
- Life has no intrinsic m
Jun 26, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Alex Rosenberg is a poor man's Sam Harris, and friends of mine who know what I think about Harris know just how much of an insult this is.

This is hardcore scientism, which then leads to greedy reductionism within the sciences, according to Rosenberg. (All sciences lead to physics.)

Next, the head of the philosophy department of a major university makes half of a hash out of nihilism.

But, wait, it gets worse!

Rosenberg then claims that because introspection about ourselves is inaccurate that that,
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that is NOT for people thinking about whether or not there is a god. The author assumes you already made that decision. As he states "[t]his is a book for atheists." I really enjoyed reading the book, and arguing with his details. If this work has a flaw, it may be that he attempted to do too much with it -- basically covering every major division of basic disciplines (e.g., science, history, philosophy, communication arts), and tries to show how each is affected by the same philo ...more
Daniel Rodger
May 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read and a great example of how to take scientific reductionism to its logical ends. Perhaps a slightly misleading title because it would be better called 'A Guide to Scientistic Reality' since he is more interested is persuading the reader of the truths of scientism and why we should be nice Nihilists.
Al Bità
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Right from the beginning Rosenberg states that his book is only for atheists. He advises the reader that he takes basic atheistic concepts as being just that: fundamental to what reality is all about. Thus: there is no god; reality is what physics tells us it is (there is no such thing as metaphysics — just physics); there is no purpose to the universe; we do not have souls; there is no ultimate purpose to our lives; we do not have free will. The book, therefore, does not argue about these thing ...more
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My mental rating of this book varied greatly as I was reading. The first half was a 4 the middle was a 2 the end was a 3.5 probably. I decided to curve up for two reasons: 1 I agree wholeheartedly with most of the authors ideas. 2 I have to offset the religious people or emotional humanists who will rate this book under what it deserves. The author has some very good ideas about scientism in general but his views on behavior or the study of behavior were so exaggerated I found I had to force mys ...more
Prooost Davis
May 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alex Rosenberg's purpose here is not to convert the reader to atheism; the assumption is that the reader is already there. But those "persistent questions" about Life, the Universe, and Everything (as Douglas Adams put it) remain to be answered. So Rosenberg attempts to answer them all scientifically, and with a great deal of success. There are a few things he says about consciousness and introspection, though, that are very counter-intuitive and hard to swallow. Those assertions (the inner voic ...more
Kevin Jackson
The author starts with two assumptions: 1) Atheism is true (There is no God), 2) physics fixes all the facts (There is nothing more to reality then that which is physical and the laws which govern them). The book does not spend any time defending these two claims (nor is it the goal of the book), but instead describes the reality that stems from the implications of these two claims. If these two claims are correct, the author claims, the conclusions are unavoidable. I tend to agree. However, I d ...more
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well worth reading, despite a rather smug and condescending writing style. This seems a common trait for philosophy professors. I especially enjoyed to discussion on the difference between science and the humanities. It helped me flesh out some ideas that I was having difficulty putting into words.

The most confusing chapter dealt with his explanation of how we don't really think "about" things and the nature of "aboutness". Not sure I see or care what the issue is. The main point is that our b
Mar 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The more I read, especially about free will, the more I realize that the level of arguments presented in this book is inferior. Not their truth value, but the discussion itself. Rosenberg relies on a lot of repetition and does too little to provide supporting arguments and evidence for his view. The best way to see it is to read other books on the topic. Sam Harris, for example, does a better job at presenting the no free will argument, and I've also read good reviews about Daniel Wagner's book ...more
Jul 05, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Provocative, witty and a touch arrogant. The author acknowledges that this book will not convert any believers in god to atheism, but offers a reasonably complete set of rebuttals for atheists. It really isn't designed as a polemic so much as an outline for a philosophy of scientism—faith that science can answer all questions. There is an inherent contradiction in having faith in a philosophy founded upon skepticism that appears to be lost on the author. The extreme determinism that follows from ...more
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, philosophy
This is one of those books like Sam Harris' "Free Will" where I am already there on the premiss, but am challenged on the conclusions he reaches. I'm not sure I totally accept that last 5% but am still thinking about the concepts.

Spoiler alert, the answers are on the back cover:

Is there a god? No.
What is the nature of reality? Just ask physics.
Does the universe have a purpose? There is none.
Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
Is there a soul? Are you kidding?
What about free will? Not a chance!
Andy Brown
Brilliantly argued, and manifestly self-refuting. Rosenberg's introspection has revealed that there really is no such thing as introspection. He chose to tell us that human volition is a myth. I presume he thinks that he has written a good book? Well, there's no such thing as good. Actually, there's no such thing as self either. You can't make this stuff up.
If you want a book that quite unwittingly exposes the bankruptcy of the materialist/scientistic worldview, start here. This book will be fil
Ondrej Havlicek
Apr 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I myself have wanted to write a similar paper (implications of nonexistence of God, soul, afterlife, metaphysical free will & truth of Darwinism etc. for ethics), I was mostly sympathetic to Rosenberg's approach regarding the topic of ethics and nice nihilism. However, I cannot agree with the supposed meaninglessness of intentionality, the self or free will. During the reading of those passages, two titles kept popping up in my mind: The Intentional Stance and Real Patterns. I wonder w ...more
Hariharan Gopalakrishnan
I agree with some of Rosenberg's conclusions and reject the others. But, looking at the larger picture, that doesn't matter. It is the weakness of the arguments that are made to support them (especially regarding scientism, free-will etc.) and the author's insufferable voice and flippant dismissals of other positions that made it impossible for me to continue reading this book.
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rosenberg's main flaw is in his economic ideas. Throughout the book he relies on Darwinism and naturalism to support his arguments. But in economics, he believes that we should artificially help the weak, and redistribute other people's wealth. This makes no sense because our core moralities tell us that we have a right to what we earn.
Otherwise it was a great book.
Łukasz Stafiniak
Dan Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" is a richer and better presentation of the pieces of this book that are right. The parts of this book that are novel are also wrong. But sometimes they are wrong in an interesting way (defense of nihilism, eliminativism about reference), and well enough written to read through.
Noah Richardson
Jul 08, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Don't let the title sway you. Atheists should probably pass this book up. The author's stance that, in a nutshell, atheism's ultimate fate leads to nihilism (no matter how nice the nihilism is), was pretty hard to swallow. I don't forsee a desolate moral landscape in the future.
Brendan  McAuliffe
Reads this backwards, everything was pretty much something I already knew, except for some very ( to me ) interesting questions in the last two chapters. ( Hope I can get his book about economics someday )
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reality...what a concept! This book is not meant to persuade anyone that there is no god. Instead, Rosenberg assumes that the reader is a nonbeliever, who wants to get a better grip on reality. An engaging read that will have your brain working overtime.
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In spite of interesting and provocative insights on ethics and what the author calls "Nice Nihilism", this book is seriously flawed by the smug,fatuous and condescending attitude that he evinces toward any school of thought other than "Science"...
Blake Reas
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, religion
Shows where atheism logically leads (i.e. Denial of consciousness, ethics, reason, and everything else that makes life grand.)
Rosenberg's "nice nihilism" is a littler harsher, boarding on the bleak, than I prefer. But, the book premise is reasoned well and, let's face it, what else is there.
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Alex Rosenberg'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. Alex's second novel, "Autumn in Oxford" is a murder mystery set in Britain in the late 1950s. It takes the reader back to the second world war in the American south and England b ...more
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