The mistake, as Hume showed so powerfully, was to think that there is any more to reality than the laws of nature that science discovers. (Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p. vi)
Ever since physics hit its stride with Newton, it has excluded purposes, goals, ends, or designs in nature. It firmly bans all explanations that are teleological (from the Greek telos, meaning “end” or “goal” or “purpose” that some process aims at or is good at achieving). (ibid, p. 40)
Putting these two thoughts together leads him to a set of blatant absurdities in his book, and it is hard to see how the modern atheist can avoid them. If one believes that the only things which exist are the kinds of things science studies, one must reject most everything one knows, as Rosenberg spends much time and ink explaining. By the end of the book, he’s concluded that any trust of history, personal perception, language, moral conviction, the principle of causation, or your own thoughts is irrational.
But, in spite of his claims, neither science nor Hume’s philosophy have remotely shown this. Hume, I think, would be shocked to read that line, as he himself didn’t take the position that he “showed so powerfully”. Rather we are being asked to believe that these things don’t exist simply because science “firmly bans” thinking about any alternative to its methods.
Personally, I find this astonishing. While it is scientific to stick to the subject when doing science, many atheists have come to take this stipulation as some sort of unquestionable decree that we reject all other subjects in all areas of life.
Some are even calling this position “the scientific mind”.
Lovers of science should definitely react to the idea that arbitrarily limiting one’s thought is being called “scientific”. But, really, all these atheists have done is point out the basis of naturalism: the idea that we should distrust or ignore any part of our minds that can reach conclusions not covered by science.
Their mistake is failing to see that this is absurd.
Rosenberg makes it makes it here, and it leads him to a host of strange and contradictory statements (which I’ll address in turn). In the end, he’s left rejecting any basis he might have had for trusting science in the first place. But, still, he perseveres–for he understands clearly that to reject the idea that the physical is all that exists is to reject the intellectual foundation of modern atheism.