Objectivism and Theism:
History of the Argument
by James Kiefer
Unpublished dot-matrix printout dated June 28, 1980

[Editor’s notes are in blue.]

I first encountered this argument in the writings of C.S. Lewis. [01] I conjecture that he got it from G.K. Chesterton. [02] It (or a related argument) is used by Sir Arthur Balfour, [03] Descartes, [04] and Locke, [05] and, depending on how much one is prepared to read between the lines, the germ of it can perhaps be traced back to Socrates [06] or to the Hebrew Psalmist. [07]

Darwin uses an odd variation of it. He declares himself impressed by the arguments for theism, but declines to believe on the ground that his mind, being evolved by Natural Selection from that of a beast, is incompetent to judge whether theism is true. (It does not seem to have occurred to him that he could have replaced the word “theism” in this conclusion by “Darwinism” or the name of any other theory whatever. [08])

[Editor’s notes are in blue.]

[01] C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity (Macmillan 1943), page 32. [The Case for Christianity forms the first section of the more generally available Mere Christianity. In the Macmillan paperback the second paragraph of Book II: “What Christians Believe,” in which the argument may be found, is cut short and the argument does not appear all. Accordingly, I supply the missing sentences here:]

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen for physical or chemical reasons to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a bye-product, the sensation I call thought. But if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk-jug and hoping that the way the splash arranges itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I can't believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.

C.S. Lewis, Miracles (Macmillan 1947; 2nd ed. Fontana, Glasgow, 1960), especially chapters 1–3.

[I recommend that readers who want to follow up on the Lewis version of this argument see Victor Reppert, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason (Touchstone Books, 1996).]

[02] I have read the argument in Chesterton (one paragraph in an essay ostensibly devoted to something else), but cannot now find the reference. ???

[03] Arthur Balfour, The Foundations of Belief, London 1895. [Foundations is available in a variety of formats here. One passage that James may have had in mind reads:]

On the naturalistic hypothesis, the whole premises of knowledge are clearly due to the blind operation of material causes, and in the last resort to these alone. On that hypothesis we no more possess free reason than we possess free will. As all our volitions are the inevitable product of forces which are quite alien to morality, so all our conclusions are the inevitable product of forces which are quite alien to reason (page 277).

[04] René Descartes, “Third Meditation,” the last fourth thereof.

[05] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 4, chapter 10, sections 4 and 5.

[06] Plato, Phaedo, 97c-99c.

[07] Psalm 94: 9–10. [Deus ultionum, Psalm 93 in the Catholic numbering.]

[08] Charles Darwin, Autobiography and Selected Letters, edited by Francis Darwin (Dover, 1958; Appleton, 1892), pp. 66, 68.

While thus reflecting, I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind ... and I deserve to be called a Theist.... But then arises the doubt — can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? [This passage is quoted fully in Wikipedia and comes from the Autobiography, in a section subheaded “Religious Belief” (page 61)]

MM... my inward conviction ... that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? [This passage occurs in a letter to William Graham, July 3, 1881, and is reproduced here.]

A version of the argument for free will, on which Kiefer’s argument for the existence of God depends, may also be found in Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Section Three, Ak. 4:448: “Now one cannot possibly think a reason that, in its own consciousness, would receive steering from elsewhere in regard to its judgments; for then the subject would ascribe the determination of its power of judgment not to its reason but to an impulse. It must regard itself as the author of its principles independently of alien influences; consequently it must, as practical reason or as the will of a rational being, be regarded by itself as free....” This argument, as Kiefer contends, implicitly recognizes the impossibility of a mind’s arising out of natural causes.

Another writer has written, “In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche points out that since Darwin we are all committed to the proposition that the human mind is simply the result of nature. In this respect, Nietzsche is anticipating the work of the founding father of psychology, Sigmund Freud. The point, explains Nietzsche, is this: if the human mind is simply the result of nature, then all the thoughts in the human mind must be the result of nature, which implies that all morality, art, religion, and even the quest for truth are chance inventions of nature. We have eliminated God, yet not faced up to the implications.” (Ian S. Markham, Against Atheism: Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris Are Fundamentally Wrong (Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2010), page 33. Markham is the dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal) and professor of theology and ethics. Although no citation to Nietzsche is given in the book, in a message to me, he states that the important relevant passages are Sections 11, 18, and 32. In his book Truth and the Reality of God: An Essay in Natural Theology he further develops the idea that a realist account of truth presupposes the existence of God.

Finally, there is this passage from Nathaniel Branden’s essay “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A Personal Statement”: “I remember being astonished to hear her say one day, ‘After all, the theory of evolution is only a hypothesis.’ I asked her, ‘You mean you seriously doubt that more complex life forms — including humans — evolved from less complex life forms?’ She shrugged and responded, ‘I’m really not prepared to say,’ or words to that effect. I do not mean to imply that she wanted to substitute for the theory of evolution the religious belief that we are all God's creation; but there was definitely something about the concept of evolution that made her uncomfortable.” Is it possible that Rand sensed that if the human mind was rational, it could not have arisen by Natural Selection? possible, that is, without being quite able either to formulate the question or to refute it?

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