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December 03, 2011


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Rosenberg is as arrogant in his certainty as theists are confident in their faith. If he's typical of all atheists, atheism is no more than conversion from one set of precepts to another.

cc, which of the pithy answers that Rosenberg gave to the questions in my blog post did you most disagree with? If you believe that he is "arrogant in his certainty," I assume you consider that much of what he said isn't supported by scientific findings, or good reasons.

Having read most of his book, it sure seems to me like Rosenberg has good reasons for each of his answers. So which answers seemed the most unreasonable to you? I'll be writing another post or two about his book, so if you let me know, I can share his reasons for answering as he did.

Certainty doesn't sit well with me. If science is the ability to demonstrate the truth or falsehood of something, it is no less the ability to admit what it can only hypothesize or suspect.

If Rosenberg is not a physicist, yet he asserts that the discipline of physics has The Answers, he's being as deferential to physicists as theists are to clerics.

When you know God does not exist apart from your need for Him, you don't call yourself an atheist or preach His non-existence. You just live with your need to believe stuff for lack of what you (or science) can demonstrate.

cc, Rosenberg doesn't preach certainty, because he is a science-affirming atheist. Only religious people are certain -- that there is a God, life after death, all that faith-based stuff.

Lovers of science don't "defer" to science or scientists like theists do to clerics. You've got it completely backward.

Scientists always are challenging each other. Rosenberg cites scientific findings to show why he accepts the atheist view of reality, but he doesn't accept what scientists say just because they say it. Again, only religious believers defer to prophets, saints, masters, gurus, and such.

Here's what Rosenberg says:
"Why buy the picture of reality that physics paints? Well, it's simple, really.We must trust science as the only way to acquire knowledge. That is why we are so confident about atheism. The basis of our confidence, ironically, is the fallibility of scientists as continually demonstrated by other scientists. In science, nothing is taken for granted."

What is Rosenberg's view on social sciences? Based on what you posted it seems that he's a nihilist who only buys natural sciences.

pass by, I'm just getting into his view of the social sciences. His take on thinking, intentions, and purposes is persuasive. It's pretty obvious that he views much of the social sciences as woefully misguided, because they don't operate in accord with what modern neuroscience has learned about the human brain.


"Rosenberg doesn't preach certainty, because he is a science-affirming atheist"
I'm sorry to say this sentence is contradictory.

Why not just accept that both parties are as certain and that we'll just have to wait and see. Only in the case you atheists are right, you won't be able to say, you see I told you :)

"Lovers of science don't "defer" to science or scientists like theists do to clerics. "
Do you want to tell me that all atheists understand the quantum field theory intricacies and can solve the field equations? Or do they know explicitly the purported evidence for evolution and can describe how the first cell appeared from the primordial soap and can draw the ancestral chart of humans?

All well and good, but Rosenberg is chair of the Philosophy department, not the science department, which means he has chosen to study philosophy.

Philosophy is about trying to answer, or ask, many of the questions that science does not. Philosophy per se does not require emperical evidence, and in fact many forms, do not even require logic.

I'm also not sure history is as irrelevant as he makes out, for one thing the history of science, shows us time and time again, how theories once held to be true, some even in an absolute sense, were not completely true and had to be refined.

While it is true that we should not impose limits on science, especially if we do not know what those are, it is surely an important enquiry to speculate on what those limits might be, afterall epistemology is a cornerstone of philosophy.

Hullo there Churchless, still articulating the standard metaphysical positions, I see. Perhaps one day you'll even be able to recognize them as such!


In your next post, work with this one,

"What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them."

--Why couldn't a moral difference, not based on religious convictions, be established? Surely, we here could find agreement on something that is clearly good and bad. And, thus create a falsifiable and simple moral ethic.

--If someone desires to be a diehard atheist, then I can see the usefulness of Rosenberg's Guide to Reality

"Rosenberg doesn't preach certainty, because he is a science-affirming atheist. Only religious people are certain -- that there is a God, life after death, all that faith-based stuff."

Go back and read his absolutist statements. He doesn't even bother to qualify them. He KNOWS.

My point is that an atheist is just a convert from one belief system to another; a lateral move rather than a deep understanding of why one believes. Inquiring into the need to believe is far more important than boning up on science and identifying with more rational beliefs.

what about the person who has always been an atheist (never converted)?

Is science a belief-system?

A belief NEVER requires evidence, whereas science ALWAYS requires evidence.

These are completely different claims to knowlege, one is unsupported (unjustified), while the other is supported (justified).

Even if we stretch it as far as possible by conceding that the scientific method begins with a belief (i.e. hypothesis) proposed by some individual. The hypothesis is not science, for this belief to become a scientific theory there needs to be evidence. Moreover, evidence of a particular quality, being both subjectively and objectively verifiable (i.e. repeatable by others).

All science is a claim to knowledge that is justified to the extent of the available evidence, which means it is hardly ever absolutist and constantly being refined as new evidence comes to light.

However, the one difference between science and every other belief or method of insight into reality is that it is based on evidence that is both subjectively AND objectively verifiable. This is why it has become the gold standard for so many and why it has been so successful in replacing superstition with explanation.

cc, I gather you haven't read Rosenberg's book. So take his quote that I shared at face value, because I've read most of the book and can affirm that Rosenberg doesn't accept science on faith, or on blind belief, but because science offers up good reasons, while religion doesn't.

cc, you "know" what you know, or you wouldn't have written your comment. You obviously have a belief system. I do too. We all do. We couldn't function without belief systems. My wife was a psychotherapist in private practice for many years. Once she told me about a client who was so depressed, she couldn't even get out of bed for many hours. Life had no meaning, no purpose.

It isn't beliefs that are the problem. It is unfounded beliefs. Science is great at showing us that many beliefs which seem so absolutely true based on common sense, like that the sun rises and falls each day while the Earth stays stationary, aren't true.

Likewise, the belief that we have a self or soul, that we have access through introspection to how our brains work, that we have free will and can decide what to do without being affected by past experiences and the environment -- science offers up strong evidence why these beliefs are false.

To me, that's beautiful. I don't want to live in illusion.

"you "know" what you know, or you wouldn't have written your comment. You obviously have a belief system."

Yes, and it is that without self-knowledge, the knowledge one acquires from scientists is just an updated, more respectable form of religion.

I don't know if it's possible to function without belief, but I know that if I'm not able to drop or modify a belief in the light of incontrovertible fact, I'm faith-based and not scientific. But incontrovertible fact isn't something that can be transmitted from the scientist to the student. One has to face one's own motives and impulses. We are driven and governed by base, animal instincts, and if we're unaware of how these determine our behavior, what do we really know?

cc, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, evolutionary biology -- all these sciences are learning more and more about how human behavior is determined. So I'm not sure what you're talking about.

Are you saying that it is only introspection, self-awareness or self-knowledge, that genuine understanding of ourselves is obtained? If so, Rosenberg and neuroscience have some persuasive responses, which I'll be describing in my next posts.

Preview: the biggest mistake we make is that "we" are a self, a soul, an independent entity that can pursue "self" knowledge. Where's the self? Science doesn't find one. Actually, neither do forms of spirituality like Buddhism. Yet we believe we have one. That, it seems, is an illusion we have to see through.

Is there a God? -- I would hope that an atheist would say, he/she has 'no' belief in a God. And, such atheist would reserve the right to be wrong.

What is the purpose of the universe? -- Yes, there is no purpose of the universe. However, there may be purpose 'in' the universe. And such person would reserve the right to be wrong.

What is the meaning of life? -- There is no meaning of life. However, there can be meaning 'in' life. And, such person would reserve the right to be wrong.

The term "self-knowledge" doesn't imply the existence of a self. It refers to awareness of the illusion of self and the confusion and misunderstanding that arises because of it.

You're as self-knowledgeable as you care to be, but if scientists have convinced you that you're better off poring over their findings than finding out what you can for yourself, you've just transferred authority from the guru to the scientist.

There is no self to find out anything about itself. There is only what scientists call "consciousness" and what others call "thought". It's an ongoing process that no one can know better than the one doing it...unless one believes otherwise.

cc, the problem is that unaided, self knowledge or introspection only gets us so far. We aren't able to see the illusions that the human brain is prone to without scientific study. Doesn't matter if you're a guru, a master, a sage, a yogi -- your brain is subject to the same illusions.

It's like the familiar sun rising example: no matter how long you examine the sun rising, and cleanse your mind of anything else but that singular experience, you'll never realize that the Earth is moving, not the sun. Only science can prove that.


I could have read your posts and comments as a personal opinion based on personal understanding (as everyone). However, you insist on introducing brain science and neuroscience as if they have a single agreed upon and tested theory of consciousness, while my knowledge is that there are a bundle of contested theories determined more by the school of the beholder than by mere facts.
Therefore, to prove me wrong, I would be grateful if you can explain (here or in another post) your personal understanding of this theory of consciousness.
What is the basis of consciousness? How, where and when did it emerge from/in the brain?
I mean why is there this "subjective" experience whether we call it self or not?
What are the hard facts backing up this theory?
And finally, talking about illusions (and contradictions), how can we know the truthfulness of a theory created by an agent (consciousness) which is an accidental byproduct of a structure (the brain) concerning its status as well as that of its originator?

"We aren't able to see the illusions that the human brain is prone to without scientific study."

Yes, but why not its own scientific study? Brains can be in collegial relationship, testing each other's findings, but is one brain ultimately dependent on another brain to understand how it creates confusion and illusion?

But how can one's own brain be the means for resolving confusion and illusion when it is the very creator such confusion and illusion?

Its an interesting discussion as are CC's comments, but a mind that creates illusion, can only be self-aware by looking at an external reference point, since otherwise its only reference point is its own, which is erroneous.

Is this not the power of critical thinking, in which our thinking gets challenged by the thinking of other brains with different thoughts and perspectives? Is it not the case that while thinking may be an individual effort, human knowledge is only arrived at through a collective effort, which allows knowledge to progress and the errors of individual bias be reduced?

One individual has a particular set of experiences and conditioning. That brain therefore has developed a unique perspective for observing reality, or consciousness. However, other brains challenge the thoughts of our own, they open up new vistas of thought. Moreover, not all perspectives are equal. The chap believing he can walk on water, when others have to constantly fish him out the pond, has absolutely no chance of realising the extent of the errorenous state of his brain. He believes despite a shred of external evidence to support his thoughts.

Hi cc,

Cant wait for your reaction to chapters 7-10. They are the hardest ones to get, but the ones most atheistis and scientistic philosophers are reluctant to argue for, because they are so disconcerting andcounter intuitive.

Alex Rosenberg

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