A Concise Review of a Clump of Matter

August 25, 2012

Just read the book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. It is a clump of matter. The author, Alex Rosenberg, assures it is. Further, as a clump of matter it cannot be about anything, because “one clump of matter can’t be about another clump of matter,” and clumps of matter (or more precisely, fermions and bosons) are all there is (emphasis in original).

This poses a problem for the reviewer. Because the book is about nothing, no statement in it can be said to be true or false.

Perhaps this is good for Rosenberg—if “good” or “bad” had any meaning. But they don’t. Evaluative terms have no meaning. Rosenberg argues for nihilism in a chapter entitled “The Good News: Nice Nihilism.” According to Rosenberg, “Nice nihilism undermines all values.”

One might be tempted to argue that Rosenberg contradicts himself by characterizing nihilism as “good news” and declaring it’s “nice,” as these are blatantly evaluative terms. Nihilism would seem to undermine its own niceness. But as nothing is true or false, perhaps Rosenberg is not worried about contradiction. Or perhaps he has taken some Prozac, a therapy he recommends more often than a pharmaceutical sales agent.

For those of you who think this review is unfair, that’s just your fermions and bosons talking.

This particular clump of matter retails for $25.95.


#1 Russell Blackford on Saturday August 25, 2012 at 8:07pm

You liked it, then?

(I’ve been discussing it, on and off, at Talking Philosophy.)

#2 Ronald A. Lindsay on Sunday August 26, 2012 at 9:15am

Actually, I did like much of what Rosenberg had to say. I’m not a moral realist myself (although I don’t think that commits me to nihilism), nor do I believe in non-natural entities.

The principal problem with the book is that Rosenberg tried to write about the universe, life, death, everything, and also tried to direct this ambitious undertaking at a popular audience. This resulted in him cutting corners, being dismissive, and at times, unduly scornful. The weakest chapters in his book are the ones dealing with intentionality. I understand why he’s concerned about this: he doesn’t want to give a foothold to non-natural objects. But at least arguably there are ways that science might accommodate intentionality. Explaining that, however, would require a much more careful analysis than he could provide in a book of this type.

I’ve read your post at Talking Philosophy. As usual, it’s a good one. I have been thinking of commenting, but just haven’t found the time.

#3 Jack Maginnis (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:07pm

That particular $25.95 clump of matter had a causal effect on my brain, and yours I daresay.  The causal effect on my brain was to rearrange synaptic wiring creating the subjective experience of understanding better the illusory nature of subjective experience.  It also caused a subjective experience of gratitude to the primary locus of the causal effects that brought the book into being, one Alex Rosenberg, for his unblinking account of the facts of human nature.

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