Nathaniel Branden’s Case against Theism Examined:
The First Cause Argument
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Unpublished dot-matrix printout dated June 28, 1980 *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.]

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.

Dr. Branden’s Version of the First Cause Argument

The best-known statement statement of the First Cause Argument is that of Thomas Aquinas. It may be summarized as follows:

MMAbout us we see causal series, with Z caused by Y, Y caused by X, and so on. But Aristotle has show that a causal series must have a first member. (See Aristotle for details.) Therefore there must be an entity A which causes something but is not caused by anything. Such an entity we call a First Cause [01]

Aquinas then considers what the properties of a First Cause must be, and concludes that there is only one First Cause, and that it is good, wise, etc. — in short, that it is God.

We turn now to Dr. Branden’s refutation of the First Cause Argument. He summarizes the argument as follows:

Since everything in the Universe requires a cause, must not the Universe itself have a cause, which is God? [02]
He then accuses its adherents of two fallacies: (1) they forget that if everything has a cause, then God must have a cause, (2) they forget that, since the Universe is the sum of all that exists, it can have nothing outside itself, and so can have no cause outside itself.

Now obviously Dr. Branden is not talking about Aquinas’s argument at all. Aquinas never assumes that everything has a cause, only that at least one thing does. He does not conclude that there is an entity A that causes the Universe, only that A causes something and that there is nothing that causes A. And of course the two fallacies that Dr. Branden complains of correspond to nothing at all in Aquinas. We must conclude that Dr. Branden has somewhere encountered a quite different version of the argument, and I now conjecture what that version is. [03]

MMConsider the concept of Dependence. This is simply the totality of all things that have causes, that depend for their existence on something outside themselves. [04] Now the most obvious and fundamental property of this concept, this totality, is that it has a cause. A is A. Existence exists. Consciousness is conscious. Dependence depends. [05] Depends on what? On something other than itself, on Independence, Autonomy, Self-reliance — on the First Cause.

Now word “Universe,” which Dr. Branden used to mean the sum of all things whatever, is also used in a narrower sense to mean the sum of all dependent things. [06] If someone stated the above argument, using the word “Universe” in its narrower sense as synonymous with “Dependence,” while Dr. Branden understood it as synonymous with “Existence,” then his analysis and rebuttal would be dead on target as applied to the argument he thought he was hearing, but completely irrelevant to the argument the speaker intended.

(It is not unusual for a word to have a broader and a narrower meaning. Miss Rand sometimes uses the word “animal¸ to include man, [07] and sometimes to exclude him, [08] sometimes using both meanings in the same paragraph. [09] And thanks to the context her meaning is invariably clear. I fear it never occurred to most theists that, when they speak of God as the Creator of the Universe, someone might suppose that the word “Universe” is here supposed to include God.)

When the difficulties of communication are cleared up. Dr. Branden’s, two objections simply vanish And what he would have said to the cleared-up argument, we do not know. Therefore, if we wish an Objectivist-oriented analysis of the First Cause Argument, we must construct it ourselves. 

[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] T. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (or Summa Theologica) 1a.2,3.

[02] N. Branden, “IAD: The ‘first cause’ argument” 1/5/19c-k [May 1962] [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. “IAD” was a department of the two periodicals: the “Intellectual Ammunition Department.”]

[03] What follows is adapted from the argument of Duns Scotus, Opus Oxionese, I. Dist. II, Q. I.

[04] A Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” 5/10/2b [October 1966] & Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 40. [The reference here is to the original paperback monograph reprinting the articles from the periodical. The corresponding page in the hardback printing of the Expanded Edition is 40.]
MM ... the meaning of a concept consists of its units.

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

MMA. Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” 5/12/3b [December 1966] & 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.

MML. [Leonard] Peikoff, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,” 6/6/7f & IOE 98 [Expanded Edition only]

[05] A Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” 5/12/5b [December 1966] & IOE 55 [Expanded Edition: 59].

[06] See Webster, Oxford, Funk and Wagnalls, or the Random House American College dictionary.

[07] A Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” 5/8/4g [August 1966] & IOE 27 [Expanded Edition: 24].
MMThe definition of “animal” (in general terms) would be: “a living entity possessing the faculties of consciousness and locomotion.”

MMA Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” 5/10/6f [October 1966] & IOE 45 [Expanded Edition: 47].
MM... man is classified biologically in several subcategories of “animal,” such as “mammal,” etc.

[08] A Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” 5/7/9b [July 1966] & IOE 20 [Expanded Edition: 16].

[09] A Rand, “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” 5/10/5g [October 1966] & IOE 44 [Expanded Edition: 45–46].

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