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Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism Paperback – 22 Feb 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 444 pages
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse (22 Feb. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1420802933
  • ISBN-13: 978-1420802931
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 308,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Dr. Richard Carrier is a philosopher and historian with a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University. His work in history and philosophy had been published in Biology & Philosophy, The History Teacher, German Studies Review, The Skeptical Inquirer, Philo, the Encyclopedia of the Ancient World and more. He is a veteran of the United States Coast Guard and emeritus Editor in Chief of the Secular Web, where he has long been one of their most frequently read authors. You can learn more about him and his work at www.richardcarrier.info.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. Williams on 28 May 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have just finished reading the book from cover to cover for the first time, and can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who really wants to get their teeth into Naturalistic philosophy.

Carrier builds a complete world view which he calls 'Metaphysical Naturalism' from the ground up - literally. He begins by justifying seemingly simple ideas such as 'The Meaning of Words', 'Reason', 'Logic' and 'Scientific Method' and progressively builds on these firm foundations with careful reason based on firm evidence.

I cannot think of any aspect of life (or death) which Carrier does not explain at least briefly. The book is also quite long, so I have little doubt he was forced to restrict himself to limited space on each topic. However, he provides a vast selection of recommendations for further reading on every single topic he covers, so in any cases where the reader might feel he didn't cover something in enough detail for their liking, he suggests where to look. This is also his method for citing his references, so the reader knows where he has drawn most of his information from, and where to find out more.

The only section I found a little weak was his section on politics, which contained a few (minor) ideas/comments he didn't justify very well. But that's a very small section, politics is complicated, and he mostly writes from a US-centric view (unlike the rest of the book) which is not familiar to me. So I don't think it's important enough to mark the book down at all. It is quite possibly my own ignorance of American politics which is at fault here rather than Carrier's reasoning.

My only other 'criticism' would be that it is not easy reading - at least parts of it aren't.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rich Wiltshir on 19 July 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Either because he's talking about a conclusiom I reached long ago, or because of my current depressive state, this is the first time I've found little to entertain or educate im any of Carrier's works.

Is this merely evidence that we learn more by reading and viewing works that challenge our views and conjectures? Whay puzzles me most is how folk could have any sence of "goodness" when they're letting religious texts and agents poison the well from which they fuel their morality.

If you're still victim to religious indoctrination or have simpathy for the notion that Abrahamic derived texts are "moral", please rrad this and other works of the excellent Richard Carrier.
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It will take me a while to digest and consider for myself everything that Richard Carrier has to say in this book. It is a comprehensive, coherent, thoughtful, informed and interesting worldview of the universe and philosophy of life. It is deliberately constructed in opposition to supernatural philosophies like theism, in the attempt to show that a naturalistic, atheistic philosophy is not only intellectually valid but valuable as a living creed. A powerful rebuttal to the millennia of prejudice of religions against the life lived without faith in the supernatural.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By lt_zippy2 on 21 May 2007
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This book was great. It was extemely comprehensive and covered just about every aspect of Carrier's worldview from creation, morals, even art and goes about showing how everything within "Metaphysical Naturalism" is supported by scientific evidence. My only negavtive cririsism was it took a while to get going and some of the work on cosmology was a bit beyond the basic and required some effort to get through (which is why it lost a star).

Everything else though was spot on, and while it is not possible to disprove the exstence of god directly he proved that this worldview which rejects and has no need of a god, to be entirely correct and rational. I might agree with elements of his politics but still, read it you may be enlightened.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 71 reviews
187 of 201 people found the following review helpful
Visit to a Well-Furnished Mind 22 Feb. 2006
By David - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Richard Carrier is a graduate student of history (M.Phil Columbia) and a prolific essayist, publishing primarily on the well-known secular website infidels.org. In this book he surveys all that he has come to know and believe, and how he came to know or believe it. Reading it is like being given a guided tour, by a genial and charming host, through a large and well-furnished mansion of the mind.

I purchased "Sense & Goodness Without God" because of an interest in secular ethics. I was disappointed on that account to find that Carrier's discussion of morality -- although it is interesting and enlightening -- occupies only a small part of the book. The many other topics covered justified my purchase, but in order to keep others from being mislead by the title, here is a key quote from the introduction:

"This book surveys my philosophy of life, my 'worldview' ... I build and defend a complete worldview by covering every fundamental subject -- from knowledge to art, from metaphysics to morality, from theology to politics."

That Carrier even owns a complete, personal worldview makes him a rare bird. He rightly faults most of us for spending next to no time thinking through what we know and believe; and for being too willing to settle for the "factory-made" philosophies dispensed under the name of Religion, instead of taking the time to understand the big ideas for ourselves. In effect, this book is his challenge to his contemporaries: agree with me or not, he seems to say, these are topics you need to think through on your own -- and here is how to do it.

You might wonder if any writer can do justice to such a smorgasbord of ideas. Carrier does very well; he is exceptionally well-read, has thought hard on these issues, and clearly explains both the context and his own position on each point. Just the same, this is a survey, and there is much, much more to be said and thought about any of the topics he covers.

Also, Carrier does what so many other secular writers do: spends many, many paragraphs refuting religious ideas and rebutting the Christian philosophers who would deny legitimacy to his positions. The section on Morality, for example, is almost entirely cast as a point-by-point refutation of positions taken by Christian apologist J.P. Moreland. These one-sided debates eat up pages that I would far rather have seen devoted to more detailed exposition of Carrier's own thoughts. Those thoughts are generally sane, well-grounded, generous and reasonable, sometimes surprising, and always worth spending time with.
47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Carrier makes his case without the spite that floods the pages of many of his contemporaries 13 May 2007
By Evan Ducker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Carrier makes a comprehensive case for metaphysical naturalism by doing what few others do: state a position, explain how he himself arrived at the position, and why you should to. While there is some playful religion-bashing going on in certain chapters, he cites his sources and steers clear of the sophistry. While the book is touted as ready for mass consumption, it really is for college-educated readers who can deal with some dense ideas. He begins with a breakdown of his own mode of philosophy and methodology that may go right over the heads of those not familiar with philosophical concepts. But this is all necessary to really understand where Carrier is coming from; it is what justifies his position. You know when he's doing a good job when he makes statements that you don't necessarily agree with but, by defining his philosophy, methodology, logic, and reasoning, the case is airtight.

This book is by no means perfect; Carrier is a bit self-indulgent at times. But the framework of his big arguments and refutations are flawless. When I was thinking, "But wait! What about X? How do you account for that?", out of no where, Carrier provides the answer to the begged question. He has a knack for this that adds an aura of authenticity to the work.

If you are a theist who is fearful of the above, then this book is sinful and dangerous. If you are a theist who is interested in broadening your horizons and challenging predispositions, this book is a wonderful place to start.
109 of 132 people found the following review helpful
Christians Are Running Scared 5 Dec. 2005
By John Walls - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One reviewer tried to deceive Amazon customers, and when I called him on it, he deleted his review. I'm not going to let him get away with that. His name was Noetzel and he claimed that none of the previous reviews actually review the book. But you can clearly see that was not the case. Just look. He also claimed "there's nothing here you can't glean for free on the internet," but as far as I've been able to tell, the content of this book far exceeds anything I've yet to find on the internet. It even contains stuff I've never found discussed well anywhere. This Noetzel character then implied that Carrier "believes the end of religion will virtually eliminate human conflict." I can't speak for Mr. Carrier's private beliefs. But I read this book, and I don't recall a single moment in it when Carrier claims the end of religion will eliminate all conflict. Indeed, when Noetzel even when so far as to equate jihadists with soccer hooligans, I felt like I was being played.

The real kicker is this: I'm pretty sure there are no more than five or six sentences in the entire 400+ page book that even mention "space exploration" or "the elimination of income taxes." So when this Noetzel character attacked Carrier's book for these obscure passing references, I spied someone who's trying to sandbag sales. I recently read a piece that Carrier wrote online demonstrating how another Christian reviewer egregiously lies about the content of his book, with the evident aim of trying to fool people into not reading it--apparently, because the Christians are running scared now. They can't dismiss the powerful arguments of this book honestly, so all they can do is lie about its contents. Dare I say this Noetzel character was one of them? His quick disappearing act suggests he was.

Buy the book and see for yourself. Trust me. It's excellent, well-written, and more comprehensive than anything I've ever seen on any secular worldview. This is the closest thing to a secular bible I can think of, since it covers everything we should believe and why, right down to morals and philosophy of government. Most of all, it will make you think. Time and again while reading it I caught myself chuckling in agreement or saying to myself "Ah! I hadn't thought of that!" That, to me, is the sign of a good book, especially in philosophy. The worst I can say about it is that it drags a bit in chapter 2, but never again after that.

Since Amazon for some reason isn't including the publisher's information for this book like it does for other books, I went over to the publisher's website and grabbed that stuff...

The following material comes straight from the publisher:

About the Book: If God does not exist, then what does? Is there good and evil, and should we care? How do we know what's true anyway? And can we make any sense of this universe, or our own lives? Sense and Goodness answers all these questions in lavish detail, without complex jargon. A complete worldview is presented and defended, covering every subject from knowledge to art, from metaphysics to morality, from theology to politics. Topics include free will, the nature of the universe, the meaning of life, and much more, arguing from scientific evidence that there is only a physical, natural world without gods or spirits, but that we can still live a life of love, meaning, and joy.

About the Author: Richard Carrier is a philosopher and historian studying ancient science at Columbia University in New York, where he received a Masters degree and a Master of Philosophy in ancient history and is working on his Ph.D. He previously graduated Phi Beta Kappa at UC Berkeley. Mr. Carrier is also a professional writer, teacher, and speaker and translates four languages. His articles have been published in Biology & Philosophy, The History Teacher, German Studies Review, The Skeptical Inquirer, and the Encylopedia of the Ancient World. He is a veteran of the United States Coast Guard and served as Editor in Chief of the Secular Web for several years, where he has long been one of their most frequently read authors.

Free Preview (from page 411, which the publisher has on its website for all to see, so I don't see anything wrong with repeating it here): There is one thing I have tried to make clear throughout this book. Metaphysical Naturalism is the only worldview that is supported by all the evidence of all the sciences, the only one consistent with all human experience, the established truths of history, and reason itself. No other worldview, including theism generally or Evangelical Christianity in particular, is supported by any evidence of any of the sciences. The only remotely plausible exception, `fine tuning', is not very convincing evidence for the divine, and supports no doctrine of salvation (see III.3, "The Nature and Origin of the Universe"). Science doesn't necessarily contradict alternative worldviews, for one can adjust most of them to be compatible with almost any evidence. But no other worldview is directly and substantially supported by any scientific evidence, whereas all scientific evidence so far does support Metaphysical Naturalism, often directly, sometimes substantially. Though naturalism has not yet been proved, it is the best bet going.

Even the facts explained by Big Bang Theory are solely and entirely physical and natural. None are facts about spirits or gods or supernatural entities or powers, and the theory does not include any reference to such things. Insofar as anything is left unexplained by it (such as matters of cosmic order or first cause), there is only humble ignorance. Theories are never scientifically established on what we don't know or can't yet explain, but always and only on what we do know and can explain. To argue that science has not explained something, therefore our explanation (whatever that is) must be correct, is not a scientific argument. Such an argument might be good and persuasive, but not because it is scientific-though it may be well supported by science. This is the distinction between science, as a database of facts established by a methodologically sound empirical inquiry, and metaphysics, a speculative enterprise of interpretation and plausible hypothesis formation. You can reject all such efforts to go beyond established science, rejecting all worldviews, or you can adopt the most probable hypothesis: Metaphysical Naturalism.

The title of this book is "Sense and Goodness without God," because Metaphysical Naturalism is full of sense, and encourages nothing but good. Reason and acute thinking are its very bedrock, and the love of wisdom its main driving force. To be wise and practical is our motto. And this worldview provides adequate, if not strong reasons to devote yourself and your life to high moral ideals, to compassion and integrity in the pursuit of happiness. It is thus a good philosophy-good for you, good for all humankind. And all this without recourse to a god. Though we have found no evidence for any god, and no reason to believe there is one, the sense and goodness of our worldview stands as it is even if there is. It stands on its own terms, on reason and fact.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
System philosophy, missed oportunity 9 Sept. 2006
By Christopher Hallquist - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At last, I'm finding time to sit down and write a review of Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness Without God. As I mentioned, further parts may follow; this part is focused on general quality over the specific ideas.

Carrier opens with strong punch: "Philosophy is not a word game or hairsplitting contest, nor a grand scheme to rationalize this or that..." He goes in this vein for several pages, looking at how philosophers have failed to live up to their calling, as well as discussing the connection between philosophy and religion. Most of it hits every bit as hard as the first sentence. Carrier explains that the purpose of the book is to lay out his personal philosophy and worldview in a way that nonspecialists can understand. An admirable goal, and Carrier gets off to a good start in the opening section.

For all the promise in the opening chapter, I don't think this book is going to do much to bring philosophy to the masses. The problem is that Carrier has the ability to produce forceful prose, but isn't able to apply that ability consistently. Most of the first half of the book drags. It's understandable without having a background in philosophy, but many without such a background will have trouble seeing why it matters. One problem is a frequent lack of concrete examples. Take his discussion of method: the only kind of example used is the Cartesian Demon. A far more readable discussion of method can be found in "Why I Am Not a Christian," where Carrier gets in far more examples in less space.

About halfway through the book, however, the quality of writing picks up. I found his discussion of the Rain Miracle (in part IV, "What There Isn't") better than the online version. Among other things, in Sense and Goodness Carrier give the case clear larger significance: "we have a legend sprining up just eight years after the fact, when thousands of eyewintesses were surely still alive... despite these seemingly unfavorable conditions, this legend beat out the truth." Likewise, part V "Natural Morality" soars. Among other things, Carrier looks at the reasons given by J. P. Moreland for theists to be moral, and shows that Secular Humanists have equivalent reasons.

Carrier got one other thing right: not using footnotes, but including bibliographies at the end of each section rather than in the back of the book. This is probably the best way to direct readers to further resources on given subjects. In many cases I have not read all the books he cites, but where I have, I can say that Carrier has made excellent choices.

I should emphasize that while this book may not catch on with the general public, the book isn't a waste for not having done so. It would have been nice to see such a book, but that really wasn't Carrier's main purpose. His main purpose was to lay out a coherent worldview, a worthwhile pursuit. He rightly criticizes modern philosophers for having abandoned system building, and does an excellent job of building up his own system. This is a fine book; I share bookjunkys hope that it will be revised in a more accessible version.
49 of 59 people found the following review helpful
More Excellent Analysis from Richard Carrier! 25 May 2005
By Daithi Mac Gearailt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I have to confess right off the bat that I am a huge fan of Columbia historian Richard Carrier. His essays posted on the Secular Web are some of the best written on a wide range of historical subjects and philosophical topics. His new book, Sense and Goodness Without God is a brilliant addition to an already impressive body of work. Here he takes on the nature of the universe itself and our place in it, and explores the questions all of us have about making sense of morality, existence, and the meaning of life. The range of subjects he covers here is truly astounding, and he delves into them deeply without ever losing his audience with jargon or philosobabble. On top of this, his investigation is informed by a powerful commitment to intellectual honesty, and infused with a rare sense of true love for life.

A remarkable, readable book that I recommend whole-heartedly to anyone interested in the question of finding meaning and joy in life.
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