Friday, January 20, 2012

The Atheist's Guide to Reality by Alex Rosenburg

Alex Rosenburg's The Atheist's Guide to Reality, is, as its author states, not a book for theists but for those who already "know the truth." However, be warned: this is bound to be a tough pill to swallow, even for some of the most hard-core atheists around.

Like Harris, Rosenburg rejects the idea of free-will, beleiving that all human behavior is predetermined by causal events. Unlike Harris, however, and unlike the majority of unbelivers, Rosenburg truely does reject the idea that objective moral truths can exist.

You read that right.

For Rosenburg, objective morals belong in the same catagory as God, Satan, angels, ghosts, dragons and unicorns. That does not, however, make him a moral relativist, at least in the most common sense of the term. What he advocates is nihilism, the essential menainglessness of life, but he refers to it as a "nice nihilism," and assures his readers that loss of ultimate purpose--and meaning--is not really that big of a deal, anyway.

Why not? Well, basically, human beings, having evolved for "niceness," (which he extraporlates in detail) will simply will not want to relenquish our "core morality." What Rosneburg terms core morality consists of those moral truths that are agreed upon across cultural bounderies. Though Rosenburg doesn't say it outright, this might, in fact be essentially the same as that which contributes to human well-being cross-culturally (not including the particular twists, such as female circumcism, et. al., that are particular to certain cultures)i. e. what Harris considers to be objective moralism. Therefore, we may be able to reach moral concensus on controversial issues by reference to this agreed upon core morality. When it comes to abortion, for example, Rosenburg beleives that there should be no blanket prohibition, but that there are certain times (according to core morality) when abortion should be prohibited, even when the mother insists that it is her "natural right." Natural rights, along with God-given rights, he argues, simply do not exist.

Another thing interesting is that Rosneburg's beleif that all human actions are predetermined has led him to the position that (again in accordance with core morality), in regard to even hienous crimes, prisons should be places of rehab only, NOT punishment. What I find especially interesting is that this is, in fact, a very Christian position, no matter what social conservatives might say. Let's face it--most people who beleive in being "tough on crime" favor draconian tactics, and most especially capital punishment, not so much as a deterant, but as a form of societal revenge. And revenge, according to the New Testament, is NEVER the moral course of action. If indeed we reach the point where prisons truely are instutions for rehab only, we will have made much moral progress. That indeed we HAVE made much moral progress already is a belief also argued by Harris. There have been, indeed, moral peaks and valleys. Those who object are apt to the point to great atrocies of the twentieth century, most notably under the Communist and Nazi regimes. Nevertheless, Harris's reflection on the horrors of racism in the US a century ago, and the fact that they are looked on with astonishment by most of us today, demonstrate that progress has been made and will very likely continue.

And the fact that humans as a species are maturing morally (and by implication, spiritually) offers evidence that there really is a benevolent deity behind it all, guiding humanity along, whether athiests like it or not. The presence of great evil in the world merely shows, and abundantly, that true evil does exists, and we are engaged in warfare, one that hopefully, we are winning.

Another very thought-provoking book.

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