Nathaniel Branden’s Case against Theism Examined:
God and Infinity
by James Kiefer
Unpublished dot-matrix printout dated June 28, 1980 *
[Editor’s notes are in blue. Readers who prefer to ignore the links in the text, which go to the bottom of the page, and follow the notes on a separate page, may open a separate page with the references here.]
Introduction

I promised at the beginning of this paper [“Objectivism and Theism”] that, after presenting the positive case for theism on Objectivist grounds, I would examine Dr. [Nathaniel] Branden’s arguments and state where, in my judgement, he goes astray. To this task I now turn.

God and Infinity

Dr. Branden’s opening attack on the concept of God is worth examining in some detail. He speaks as follows:

MM“God,” claim the mystics, “is infinite.” What does it mean to be infinite? It means to possess no limits, to possess no specific, determinate, finite number of attributes, no specific particular identifiable qualities. It means to be nothing in particular. But to be nothing in particular is — not to be.

I maintain that atheism is essentially a foreign intrusion into Objectivist thought, and that therefore when Dr. Branden is defending atheism, he does not do so with his usual lucidity. By way of illustration, I ask you to consider what would result if he were to apply to Objectivism the same sort of criticism that he is prepared to use against theism. Let us construct an imaginary quotation for him:

MMLadies and gentlemen, let us consider the first principles of Objectivism, that Existence Exists. Existence, also called “Reality” or “The Universe, ” is the sum of all existing entities, the total of all that is. [01] This means of all material entities — “non-material” means “non-anything you know.” [02] Since a combination of material entities is itself a material entity, we can see that the universe is a material object (together with its attributes and activities). And the first questions one asks about a material object are: “What shape is it? How big is it? Where is it?”
MMNow the universe has no shape. To have a shape it must have boundaries, a surface. But the universe does not.
MMThe universe has no size. To call it infinitely large is not to specify a size, but simply to call it — larger than any size we know or can conceive. [03] To call it finite but unbounded — limited but unlimited — as some physicists do, is no help, even assuming that it can be made to mean something. The one length a yardstick cannot measure is its own length. You cannot specify the size of an object in terms of itself, or any part of itself. It is not informative to be told that the length of a piece of string is twice the distance from the center to one end. The only way to measure the universe is to set a yardstick beside it that is not part of the universe. But there is no such yardstick.
MMFinally, and most crucially, the universe has no location. It makes no sense to ask, “Where is the universe?” If someone were to say, “Last night the entire universe was moved sideways ten miles,” a natural response would be to look puzzled and ask, “Ten miles toward what?” To specify the location of anything is to describe its spatial relations to adjacent objects. But there are no objects adjacent to the universe. Space is in the universe; the universe is not in Space. [04]
MMWe are asked, then, to consider a material object having no shape in particular, no size in particular, and existing nowhere in particular, not in Space. But for a material object, to be nowhere in particular, to be not in Space, is — not to be! We thus see that the fundamental principle of Objectivism, that Existence Exists, is utterly false, unintelligible, and an insult to man’s reason.

The application of Dr. Branden’s atheological style to an Objectivist topic furnishes a striking example of the principle that the Objectivist who sets out to deny theism ends up denying Objectivism in the process.


References
[ Editor’s notes are in blue. Readers who prefer to ignore the links in the text and follow the notes on a separate page, may open a separate page with the references here.]

* The title refers to Nathaniel Branden’s lecture “The Concept of God,” from his lecture series “The Basic Principles of Objectivism.” That lecture is fully transcribed in his book The Vision of Ayn Rand, chapter 4. Partial and perhaps complete audios seem to be available throughout the Internet. See also R.A. Childs, “The Epistemological Basis of Anarchism,” Note 19.

[01] A. Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” 5/10/2b [October 1966] [References of this form refer to The Objectivist Newsletter, so that volume 4, number 3 would be March 1965. After volume 4, the name of the publication was The Objectivist. The page numbers for the latter are those of the original format, not those in the bound volume.] and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 40. [And the reference here is to the original paperback monograph reprinting the articles from the periodical. The corresponding page in the Expanded Edition is 40.]
MM... the meaning of a concept consists of its units.

A. Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” 5/10/2f [October 1966] and IOE 41 [Expanded Edition: 41].
MM... to define “existence,” one would have to sweep one’s arm around and say: “I mean this.

A. Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” 5/12/3b [December 1966] and IOE 53 [Expanded Edition: 56].
MMExistence and identity are not attributes of existents, they are the existents.... The units of the concepts of “existence” and “identity” are every entity, attribute, action, event, or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or ever will exist.

L. [Leonard] Peikoff, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,” 6/6/7 [June 1967] and “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” 98 [Expanded Edition only].
MMAnd since a concept is an integration of units, it has no content or meaning apart from its units. The meaning of a concept consists of the units — the existents — which it integrates, including all the characteristics of these units.

[02] COG [N. Branden, “The Concept of God.” The specific passage occurs in The Vision of Ayn Rand, page 96.]

[03] A. Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” 5/7/5b and IOE 9 [Expanded Edition: 8].
MMObserve that measurement consists of relating an easily perceivable unit to larger or smaller quantities, then to infinitely larger or infinitely smaller quantities which are not directly perceivable to man. (The word “infinitely” is used here as a mathematical, not a metaphysical, term.)

A. Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” 5/7/11b and IOE 21 [Expanded Edition: 18].
MMAn arithmetical sequence extends into infinity, without implying that infinity actually exists; such extension means only that whatever number of units does exist, it is to be included in the same sequence.

[04] N. Branden, “The ‘first cause’ argument” 1/5/19i [May 1962].
MMTime is “in” the universe; the universe is not “in” time.

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