Objectivism and Theism:
A Reply to Dr. Nathaniel Branden’s Lecture
“The Concept of God” *
Part Two
An Excerpt
by James Kiefer
 

... Now I come to two objections to the Epistemological Proof, or, as I prefer to call it, the Objectivist Proof, of the Existence of God, which I suspect have been in the minds of many of you since I began to present it. The first is: “If God made my mind, then who made God’s mind? Did His mind come about by accident or design? If by accident, then His thoughts are not evidence of the nature of reality, and by derivation neither are mine. If by design, then you have merely put the problem back one more stage. Are you going to ask us to believe in an infinite series of Gods, each created by the previous one?”

In fact, this is not the line I intend to take. I cannot see that an infinite chain of Gods provides us with any help. Suppose I tell you that there is intelligent life on Mars, and you ask me how I know, and I answer, “I heard it from my professor.” Further questions establish that I am supposing this information to have been passed down from professor to student an infinite number of times. Now quite apart from your doubts that professors have been around quite that long, I think you would find this an insufficient reason for accepting the statement about Mars. You would say that a false statement can travel down an infinite chain just as readily as a true one, and that if each professor is simply passing on, uncritically, what was told to him, then we have no grounds for supposing the statement to be true. I agree. The same thing applies if we suppose that there is one professor who has lived an infinite time and has always known that there is life on Mars. Only a habitual respect for the wisdom of age hinders us from seeing at once that an infinitely old professor could have been wrong all his life just as easily as right all his life.

It would seem that we have reached a dead end. An infinite series does not help, and a finite series leaves us with a problem about the origin of the mind of the top God which is just as pressing as the problem about the origins of our own minds. Was the first mind created by accident or design?

However, there is one context in which the problem does not arise. One thing about which I am never mistaken, about which it is impossible for me to be mistaken, is my sense data at this moment. If someone tells me that there is not really a bug biting the back of my neck, it just feels as if there is, I grant that he may be right. But if he tells me that I am not really experiencing discomfort, it just feels as if I am, then I know he is wrong. If pain is an illusion, it is a painful illusion. The man who says, “I see an elephant in the shrubbery,” is probably wrong. A man who says, “I see red spots in front of my eyes,” may possibly be lying, but he is not mistaken. If he thinks he sees red spots, then he is seeing red spots. Period. To say, “Jones feels a tickling sensation,” and to say, “Jones seems to himself to feel a tickling sensation,” is to say the same thing twice in different words.

Now, I maintain that the only hypothesis about the origin of our minds that is consistent with Objectivist principles is that they were designed, either directly or at several removes, by an Ultimate Designer, whose mind is related to the whole of reality as our minds are to our own sense data. Thus, His judgements about reality are always correct, and there is no need to account for the correctness, any more than there is any need to account for the fact that the number six is such an amazingly close approximation to the number six. It is not just that he is always right. That would be ordinary run-of-the-mill omniscience. What is at stake here is logical or necessary omniscience. To say, “Such-and-such is true,” and, “The Ultimate Designer believes that such-and-such is true,” is to say the same thing twice in different words.

When I started to plan this speech, I made an outline of what in general I wanted to say, and then by expanding some parts of the outline into a verbatim transcript, made an estimate of how long the speech would be. The first estimate was eighteen hours. You will be glad to know that I have made some cuts. One of the things that went was practically everything about ethics. About all I have to say at this point is that when we talk about man’s reason as a suitable instrument for perceiving the nature of reality, this includes the moral nature of reality. Just as we have seen that God is necessarily omniscient, so that the statements “p is true” and “God believes that p is true” are really the same thing said in different words, so the statements “x is good” and “God believes that x is good” are synonyms. We express this by saying that God is normative, meaning that he is the standard of value.

Now to say, “Jones believes such-and-such,” and, ”Jones believed such-and-such yesterday,” is not to say the same thing in different words. Jones may have changed his mind between yesterday and today. Jones is a being with a history. Jones is subject to change. Jones has duration — is spread out in time. If we suppose that the Ultimate Designer is similarly spread out in time, we run into intolerable difficulties. If today he remembers that Napoleon died at St. Helena, but tomorrow forgets this, will the statement that Napoleon died at St. Helena, although true today, become false tomorrow? We are forced to conclude that the Ultimate Designer, whom I will hereafter call God for short, does not have duration. I remind you of Dr. Branden’s remark in this evening's lecture: “Time is in the Universe, the Universe is not in Time.” [See The Vision of Ayn Rand, page 96.  — Ed.] Time and space are not some huge container into which all of reality, every material object, every mind, every entity, must be fitted. They are the network of spatial and temporal relationships that exist among things in this world. A writer, in writing a novel, creates not only characters and events but also their relationships to each other, spatial, temporal, causal, personal. But the framework of the novel, with all the pieces that that framework holds together, is in the mind of the author. The writer, unlike God, does have duration, but not duration in the time-series of the book. One does not ask, “How old was Dagny Taggart when Ayn Rand first got the idea for Atlas Shrugged?

I spoke a few minutes ago of two objections to the theist conclusion, and it is now time to consider the second: the existence of evil....


* Lecture Number Four in the series “The Basic Principles of Objectivism.” That lecture is fully transcribed in Nathaniel Branden’s 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.   — R.N. Neff, ed.

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