W W Norton £17.99
The Atheist's Guide to Reality, By Alex Rosenberg
Get to the point...oh, there isn't one
Sunday 29 January 2012
What's the point of this book?
Of all the groups of people in the world, you'd have thought that atheists need a guide to reality least. Isn't reality the one thing atheists have got nailed down already?
After struggling through this leaden and joyless philosophical discourse, I have to confess I'm not much wiser about its aims. The author is an American professor of philosophy and here he presents a brand of atheism based on the fundamental laws of physics. As he states often: "The physics facts fix all the facts."
I should make clear at this point that I am an atheist and a former physicist, so I'm pretty much Rosenberg's dream reader. And yet, while I didn't necessarily disagree with most of his points, I found his prose at some times smug, at others woolly or lumpen, and the whole book is certainly overwritten.
Rosenberg's atheism, which he calls "scientism", is an extreme form in which the universe has no purpose, nobody has free will, there is effectively no "self" to speak of, and morality is just a construct brought about by natural selection. Fair enough, and at times he argues well to these conclusions, but what he calls a position of "nice nihilism" actually comes across as anything but.
He spends a long time mocking the humanities for being pointless, and holds special ire for secular humanists (including Richard Dawkins) for attempting to replace the solace of religion with the wonder of science. Rosenberg's point is that there's no solace. Considering that one of his central tenets is that everything is meaningless so just chill out, you wonder why he gets so worked up about it.
Rosenberg writes well at times. The section on biology, and his discussion of Darwin's theory of natural selection and its implications, is clear and sharp, as is the next section where he takes those implications and applies them to human neuroscience and the concept of the mind.
But elsewhere he's on shaky ground. He makes unfounded and sweeping generalisations about the power of physics to describe the universe, and gets tied in knots in his section on human morality, going over and over the same ground.
Ultimately, it's hard to see who this book is for. Atheists are already convinced of their world view, and the theists won't be converted. So, a bit like Rosenberg's universe, his book lacks purpose.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist in Russia narrowly misses being hit by car and lorry
- 2 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 3 What are your fingerprint words?
- 4 Gary Lineker involved in Twitter row after presenter rubbishes claims he will be warned by BBC over foul-mouthed tweets
- 5 Pink Floyd new album: Band unveil cover art for first record in 20 years
Downton Abbey fans unimpressed by Kindle sponsorship adverts
Thomas Heatherwick creates gin palace with a fantastical Willy Wonka vibe
Idris Elba 'absolutely' wants to play James Bond
Cilla, episode 2, ITV, review: Sheridan Smith continues to shine
Kendrick Lamar: New song 'i' released on Soundcloud sampling Isley Brothers - listen here
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
Labour Party conference: Ed Balls to set out plan to freeze child benefit to balance books