Here's a gift idea for the atheists and agnostics on your Christmas shopping list: Alex Rosenberg's The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions.
I'm enjoying it a lot, having bought it at Powell's Books in Portland (best bookstore in the world!) a few weeks ago. Rosenberg, chair of the Philosophy Department at Duke University, is a powerful writer. He is utterly fearless in proclaiming his atheistic thesis.
Here it is in a nutshell, on pages 2-3 of his new book where he confidently answers life's biggest questions in a few words:
Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
Does prayer work? Of course not.
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance!
When happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.
What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.
Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.
Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don't like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.
What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don't look for it; it will find you when you need it.
Does history have any meaning or purpose? It's full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.
Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with.
Standing in Powell's Books, thumbing through "The Atheist's Guide to Reality," what made me decide to buy the book was a positive mention of scientism that I came across in the first chapter.
Almost always this word is used in a perjorative manner. Meaning, scientism is considered a viewpoint that fails to recognize the legitimate limits of scientific inquiry, a reductionist philosophy which ignores aspects of reality beyond the bounds of science.
Appealingly, Rosenberg proudly appropriates this word. He stands tall for scientism, and a scientistic outlook on life.
But we'll call the worldview that all us atheists (and even some agnostics) share "scientism." This is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable way to secure knowledge of anything; that science's description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when "complete" what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today.
We'll often use the adjective "scientistic" in referring to the approaches, theories, methods, and descriptions of the nature of reality that all the sciences share. Science provides all the significant truths about reality, and knowing such truths is what real understanding is all about.
You may not agree with Rosenberg. But if you read his book, I guarantee that he will make you think. He will challenge your assumptions about how the world, and you, are. I'm getting mini-revelations on almost every page.
I'm about to read a chapter that promises a maxi-revelation. Stay tuned to this blog for what it is. Here's a preview that I came across this morning.
Ultimately, science and scientism are going to give up as illusory the very thing conscious experience screams out at us loudest and longest: the notion that when we think, our thoughts are about anything at all, inside or outside of our minds.