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The Atheist's Guide to Reality (2011)
- Here is a list of some of the questions and their short answers (...) The interesting thing is to recognize how totally unavoidable they are, provided you place your confidence in science to provide the answers
- 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!
- What 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.
- If you are going to be scientistic, you will have to be comfortable with a certain amount of nihilism.
- Physics is by no means "finished". But the part of it that explains almost everything in the universe—including us—is finished, and much of it has been finished for a century or more. This includes the physics that we are going to need. Nothing at the unsettled frontiers of physics challenges the parts we're going to make use of. What's more, the physics we need is easy to understand, certainly far easier than quantum mechanics, general relativity, or string theory.
- Why is there anything at all? or as the question is famously put, Why is there something rather than nothing? Physics, especially quantum physics, shows that the correct answer to this question is: No reason, no reason at all.
- A hundred years ago, it became clear that most events at the level of the subatomic are random, uncaused, indeterministic quantum events—merely matters of probability. Locate an electron on one side of a steel barrier it doesn't have the energy to penetrate. There is some probability that the next time you detect it, the electron will be on the other side of the barrier it can't penetrate. But there are no facts about the electron that explain why sometimes it does this and sometimes it doesn't. At the basement level of reality, there are just probabilities.
- the answer to the persistent question, What is the purpose of the universe? is quite simply: There is none.
- Biology is usually a lot more fun than physics. It's a lot easier to understand, and there's sex.
- Biologists have a label for the neat tricks that enable living things to take care of the four Fs of survival—feeding, fighting, flight, and... reproducing. The label for these traits is "adaptation".
- We have to acknowledge (to ourselves, at least) that many questions we want the "right" answers to just don't have any. These are the questions about the morality of stem-cell research or abortion or affirmative action or gay marriage or our obligations to future generations. Many enlightened people, including many scientists, think that reasonable people can eventually find the right answers to such questions. Alas, it will turn out that all anyone can really find are the answers that they like.
- Scientism starts with the idea that the physical facts fix all the facts, including the biological ones. These in turn have to fix the human facts—the facts about us, our psychology, and our morality. After all, we are biological creatures, the result of a biological process that Darwin discovered but that the physical facts ordained. As we have just seen, the biological facts can't guarantee that our core morality (or any other one, for that matter) is the right, true, or correct one. If the biological facts can't do it, then nothing can. No moral code is right, correct, true. That's nihilism. And we have to accept it.
- There is, however, a much more convincing argument that needs to be put on the table before we really begin turning common sense upside down. It is the overwhelming reason to prefer science to ordinary beliefs, common sense, and direct experience. Science is just common sense continually improving itself, rebuilding itself, until it is no longer recognizable as common sense. It is easy to miss this fact about science without studying a lot of history of science—and not the stories about science, but the succession of actual scientific theories and how common sense was both their mother and their midwife.
- Most advocates of the nonphysical self have been happy enough with the immortality payoff not to obsess about the incoherence it carries with it.
- When it comes to understanding the future, history is bunk (...) There is no place history is heading, except toward the maximum-entropy heat death of the universe.
- What we know of physical and biological science makes existence of God less probable than the existence of Santa Claus. And the parts of physics that rule out God are not themselves open to much doubt. There is no chance that they will be revised by anything yet to be discovered. To be sure, there will be revolutionary developments in science. Superstring theory may give way to quantum-loop gravity; exceptions to the genetic code may be discovered; some unique function of consciousness may be identified. But there are some things that won't happen. Purposes and designs will never have a role in physics and biology. Perpetual motion machines and other violations of the laws of thermodynamics won't arise, not even if there turns out to be such a thing as cold fusion.
- The parts of science that rule out theism are firmly fixed. Finally, it's not just probable that God doesn't exist. For scientism, it's as close to a sure thing as science can get.
- If we can't have religion, we need a substitute that is as much like it as science can provide. Enter secular humanism, a doctrine, dare I say, "designed" to do this job. It hasn't worked (...) Scientism recognizes that the ambitions of the secular humanism are unattainable.
- Science can explain why we value things, but the same goes for values we reject as wrong. That's why scientific explanations of what we value cannot justify those values or serve as a basis to enforce them on others. Since science is the only possible source of justification, if it doesn't work to justify values, nothing does.
- When it comes to making life meaningful, what secular humanists hanker after is something they can't have and don't need. What they do need, if meaninglessness makes it impossible to get out of bed in the morning, is Prozac.
- Encyclopedic article on Alexander Rosenberg at Wikipedia