|Objectivism and Theism:
A Reply to Nathaniel Brandens Lecture
Transcript of the Audio Lecture
(Audio originally produced by Audio Forum, 1975)
|Part 1: Theism in the Light of Objectivist Principles|
|Ladies and gentlemen, in this evenings lecture I propose to consider the relationship between Objectivism and theism.
(I remark parenthetically that I am aware that
I shall begin by stating the positive case for theism as derived from Objectivist principles, and then proceed to an examination of
Three basic principles of Objectivism are the following: First, that man is a rational being, a being with a mind, a reason, an intellect, a consciousness. Second, that there exists an objective reality, a world external to and independent of mans consciousness. Third, that mans mind, mans reason, is an adequate and appropriate instrument for the investigation of reality. It is not, of course, claimed that man is either infallible or omniscient, but only that his use of his reason to explore the universe is right in principle, is appropriate to reality.
Now this claim, which is certainly at the very core of Objectivist philosophy, has some far-reaching consequences. You cannot believe in the mind as an adequate instrument unless you hold certain ideas about how that instrument functions. Thus, for example, in the May, 1963 Objectivist Newsletter, and again almost verbatim in his book The Psychology of Self-Esteem,
Now let us consider the application of this principle, not simply to an individual thought here and there, but to a mans reason considered as a whole. A man has an intellect, a reason, a mind. How did that mind come about? Short of re-incarnation, a theory I believe
It may be helpful at this point to introduce an illustrative example. Suppose that a man is lost in the desert and comes across a pointed stick with a couple of wavy parallel lines scratched on it. He asks himself, How did this stick come to be here? and makes a guess at the answer. Perhaps he decides that the wavy lines were drawn by someone as a symbol for water and the stick placed there to point the direction to the nearest oasis. If he holds this belief, then it makes sense for him to accept the stick as evidence of the direction of the nearest oasis. On the other hand, perhaps he decides that the stick came there by accident, that it fell from the load of a prospectors donkey, or was dropped by a nest-building eagle, or whatever, and that the scratches are the gnawings of animals. Now, this is a perfectly reasonable assumption. What is not reasonable is for him to say, I propose to assume that this stick came here by accident, but I also propose to accept the scratches on it and the direction it points as evidence of the direction of the nearest oasis. Similarly, a man may believe that his thinking apparatus came about by design, or that it came about by accident, but he may not believe that it came about by accident and simultaneously believe that it provides him with any evidence at all about the nature of reality. Just as anyone who accepts the stick as evidence of the location of the oasis has, whether he realizes it or not, logically committed himself to believing that the stick was placed there by design, i.e., placed by a rational agent for the purpose of providing evidence about the location of the oasis, just so, anyone who accepts the Objectivist view of mans mind has committed himself, whether he realizes it or not, to believing that mans mind was designed by a rational agent for the purpose of understanding, of apprehending objective reality. I claim that this rational agent may reasonably be called God, a claim that I shall defend later.
Let us now consider several objections that are likely to be raised against this argument.
Some people say: But why assume more than you need? Why assume that your brain was designed and from this deduce the reliability of your thoughts? Why not simply assume the reliability of your thoughts as an initial premise and go on from there?
To this we may reply: But we do start out by believing in the validity of human reason. There is no possibility of starting out anywhere else. You cannot deduce the validity of reason from other premises unless you have already assumed its validity beforehand. The validity of reason is the necessary first assumption of all argument, or rather, is the only context in which talk about arguments, deductions, and assumptions has any meaning. We do not postulate a designer and deduce the validity of reason. We rather ask, in the context of belief in that validity, which is the only context for asking anything, what beliefs about the origin of mans mind are compatible with that context.
To this our man may say: That is quite reasonable of course, but it doesnt really answer my question. It merely shows that I phrased the question ambiguously. Is the principle that the human mind is an adequate instrument really incompatible with the view that the instrument came about by accident? Consider your stick-in-the-desert illustration. A stick that had fallen by accident could nevertheless point to the oasis. Instead of assuming that the stick was left there to point to the oasis and then following it, why not assume that it accidentally points to the oasis, and then follow it?
Here we see a confusion between two similar but distinct propositions:
Another objection that may be raised is as follows: You have been speaking as if our minds were isolated from the physical universe, as if there were no causal relationship between our minds and reality. If that were so, then one would certainly be hard put to explain how our minds can learn anything about reality without some kind of help, divine help if you like. But in fact, our minds, or at any rate our brains, are clearly part of the interlocking causal network of the world. It is therefore no coincidence if they reflect it, and reflect it accurately at that. You spoke of a stick falling to the ground near an oasis. Now an oasis has no particular causal effect on sticks dropped a mile or so away. But suppose that it were a question of an iron mine and a lodestone dropped by accident. Would it not make sense to accept the lodestone as evidence of the location of the mine? But just as the mine has a causal effect on the lodestone, so the universe has an effect on us.
This sounds promising, but only, I fear, for the moment. It is, of course, perfectly true that the world about us influences us and our thoughts. The question is whether it has any built-in tendency to influence them toward true thoughts. If it does, then
Perhaps the most complex objection we must consider is the Darwinian objection. Someone may say: There is really no difference between this argument and the old design argument. Writers like Paley used to invite us to consider the eye of the mosquito and ask ourselves whether this marvelously intricate mechanism could have come about by accident. If not, then here we had design, and so a designer. But then Darwin showed us that Natural Selection, although it had no conscious goals, acted in a sense as if it did. Mosquitos have eyes that see efficiently, because the ones that didnt have died out. Similarly, men have brains that work efficiently, because the ones that didnt have died out.
I shall refer to the attempt to account for mans reason in terms of Natural Selection as Psychological Darwinism.
What the Psychological Darwinist overlooks is that Natural Selection is concerned only with the physical actions of an organism, and that we are concerned in this argument with thoughts, which are not the same thing. Suppose that some foxes are chasing some rabbits. The rabbits that run slower get caught and eaten, while the faster-than-average rabbits [escape
One reason why many people find Evolution by Natural Selection an adequate account of the origins of mans consciousness is that they have consciously accepted, or, more often, been influenced by, the behavioristic approach. For the behaviorist, thinking simply consists of a certain kind of physical behavior. Awareness of danger is deemed to be identical with avoidance behavior, so that if two monkeys both leap for a tree when a tiger approaches, the suggestion that they may not be thinking about the tiger is meaningless. Thinking the tiger dangerous means (to the extent that it means anything) jumping out of the way. Fear and pain mean exhibiting avoidance reactions. Intelligence means exhibiting intelligent behavior, which in its turn may mean anything from stalking game skillfully to checking the right boxes on
At least in Objectivist circles, one would not expect to find many avowed behaviorists, but when a certain assumption, largely unspoken, pervades much of contemporary writing, many people who do not explicitly accept it may be influenced by it. I believe that the influence of behaviorism is chiefly responsible for the willingness of many people to accept a Psychological Darwinian account of the origins of the mind.
If we distinguish clearly between thoughts and physical actions, we see at once that there is no reason why Natural Selection should be expected to produce thoughts at all, let alone true thoughts.
We may put it this way. Let us suppose that among our remote ancestors there were two kinds of monkeys. Some were conscious and aware of what went on around them, while others had no consciousness at all, were simply complicated physical objects. Again, in each group, some had behavior patterns, based either on reason or on reflexes, which caused them to jump for a tree when a tiger came near. Thus we have aware and jumping monkeys, aware and non-jumping monkeys, non-aware and jumping monkeys, and non-aware and non-jumping monkeys. Natural Selection discriminates between the jumpers and the non-jumpers, eliminating the latter, but makes no distinction at all between the aware and the non-aware. We have the four types arranged, so to speak, in two rows and two columns, but we are interested for our present purposes in the difference between the rows, while Natural Selection is relevant only to the difference between the columns, and, hence, irrelevant to our present concern.
But, it may be argued, surely it is more useful to have true beliefs about the world than false ones, or no beliefs at all.
To this I reply: Not always. I can walk the length of a narrow plank on the ground much more easily than I can an equally narrow one several feet off the ground. If I had to walk a plank over a canyon, my chances of success would be considerably increased by an optical illusion that made the floor of the canyon seem to be only a few inches below the plank. And there are many like me. There is no logical necessity for useful action to be based on true beliefs. If you set out to design a monkey that will jump out of the way of a tiger, there are at least four ways you can do it:MM(1) Mind controlling and informed.
MM(2) Mind controlling but deceived.
MM(3) Mind non-controlling.
MM(4) Mind non-existent.
(1) Mind controlling and informed.
(2) Mind controlling but deceived.
(3) Mind non-controlling.
(4) Mind non-existent.
Now, if you are simply interested in getting certain physical behavior from the organism, any one of these four ways will do, and the survival of an organism depends on its physical behavior, not on its thoughts, except insofar as these affect the physical behavior.
The theory that mans reason, mans consciousness, developed as the result of Natural Selection takes it as self-evident that the ability to reason is conducive to mans survival as a species. But is it? Undoubtedly the Industrial Revolution, the growth of modern science, the whole Western intellectual tradition from Aristotle down, has been a great blessing to mankind. But it is another question whether it has been precisely the sort of blessing that Psychological Darwinism requires. Where Natural Selection is concerned, it does not in the least matter whether the individual members of a species are happy, or wise, or just, or well-fed, or even long-lived. The only question is whether the species survives. And the human species, precisely because its members have minds, has a significant chance of not surviving for another century. I am not joining the ranks of those who wish to repeal the Industrial Revolution, [calling for a moratorium on scientific
Someone may say: But the dangers to the species that you refer to are not dangers that come from mans rationality. They come from his irrationality. We need more rationality, not less. If people would only listen to Ayn Rand, would institute laissez-faire societies everywhere, with a concept of property rights that kept one man from polluting another mans stream without permission, there would be no danger from fallout or pollution or anything else.
This objection confuses two different uses of the word rational. We may say that man is a rational animal, meaning that, unlike the beasts, he possesses a mind. Or we may say that a certain man is being rational, meaning that he is using his mind, that he is choosing to think, that he is, as
As for the other sense of rationality, the simple possession of the faculty of consciousness, apart from how the user chooses to use it, there is no ready refutation of the evolutionary biologist who says, simply, Consciousness is a lethal mutation.
Someone may object: But atomic bombs and the like are a very recent danger. Mans mind evolved over millions of years. During most of those years, it was an advantage to him, in the crude sense of being conducive to the survival of the species. If it has lately become a disadvantage to him, that is irrelevant to the overall picture.
Let us meet that argument on its own ground. Atheism is a philosophical theory, and those who propound it suppose that men are equipped to philosophize. Psychological Darwinism tells us that we can trust a mans reasoning on questions of philosophy because his brain is the product of years of Evolution by Natural Selection, during which Nature shaped that brain into a tool suitable for producing survival-conducive behavior in a primitive environment. The tacit premise is that a tool suitable for producing such behavior is a tool suitable for producing sound philosophical theories, and that the more suitable a given brain is for the one purpose, the more suitable for the other. Now if this be so, then no one should be given a degree in philosophy without passing a Wilderness Survival Test. Disputes between rival philosophical positions should be settled by taking a representative of each (physically matched as far as possible), dropping them without tools or supplies in the middle of the Australian Outback, and seeing who reaches Sydney first. And of course, the reproductive aspect must not be ignored. To a population geneticist, an individual that lives in excellent health to a ripe old age and dies without leaving offspring might as well have died in infancy. Either way, he is a complete genetic failure and, according to Psychological Darwinism, a complete epistemological failure as well. To an Objectivist who is also a Psychological Darwinist, I say: Evaluate the following statement. The best measure we have of any philosophers competence including Miss Rand is the size of that philosophers family. If you mark that statement true, you have repudiated Objectivism. If you mark it false, you have repudiated Psychological Darwinism.
You cant have both.
I suspect that, no matter how many disclaimers I offer, nothing will prevent some of my listeners from seizing on these remarks and saying, Aha! The theist is showing his true colors by disparaging reason! One more disclaimer. I am not disparaging reason. I am saying that its function is not to enable men to survive as organisms, but to survive in the manner appropriate to men. But survival as organisms is all that is relevant to Natural Selection.
Anyone who accepts Psychological Darwinism is saying, in effect, The only important, the only significant characteristic of true thoughts, as opposed to false ones, is that they lead to actions that are conducive to survival. A monkey that gets out of the way of a tiger, a monkey that survives, has passed the only intelligence test that matters. As for the suggestion that his thoughts may be erroneous even though his actions are useful, such worries are either meaningless or irrelevant. In the words of
When a person puts forth a doctrine which amounts to the assertion either that he is not conscious or that it makes no difference to him (and should make no difference to others) whether he is conscious or not the irresistible temptation is to agree with him.
And this is where all forms of Psychological Darwinism, at least in an Objectivist context, get into trouble. If any professed Objectivist undertakes to explain the origin of mans mind by Natural Selection, the first question I have for him is: Do you accept as sound
To my Objectivist and semi-Objectivist listeners, I say: The more carefully and thoroughly you consider Psychological Darwinism, the more obvious will become its utter, complete, and fundamental incompatibility with Objectivism.
Again and again, in Atlas Shrugged and elsewhere, Miss Rand emphasizes the fact that you cannot get positive results by pointing a gun at a mans head and ordering him to think. But the Psychological Darwinists tell us that you can get positive results. They believe that Nature has done just this, and that all reasoning, all thought whatever, is the result of Natures having pointed a gun (or a tiger) at our remote ancestors and ordered them to think.
Further comment seems needless.
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 Gods 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. You then ask me how my professor knows, and I say, He heard it from his 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 thus 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 that 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 mans reason as a suitable instrument for perceiving the nature of reality, this includes perceiving the moral nature of reality. Just as we have seen that God is necessarily omniscient, so that the statements
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
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. In our present context, where God is being considered primarily as the ground of truth and of mans ability to grasp it, the problem is most immediately one of the existence of error. If God has designed our minds to enable us to learn the truth, why is it that our minds sometimes make mistakes?
This question is particularly apposite when directed to those who suppose that if the world is dependent on God for its existence, then the world must in some sense be God, that God is simply another name for the Universe itself, the sum total of reality, looked at in a religious way. This view is called pantheism. Those who take it say that all my thoughts are really Gods thoughts, an aspect of the Divine Mind, and that all my actions are really Gods actions, an aspect of the Divine Activity. This puts them in the position of maintaining either that there is no such thing as a false thought, or a wrong action, or else that the distinction between right and wrong, between true and false, is of no importance on the Divine level. And that, I submit, is an adequate refutation of pantheism. A sound account of mans mind must account both for knowledge and for error. Atheism leaves no room for the possibility of knowledge; pantheism leaves no room for the possibility of error. Only theism, the belief that we are created by God but distinct from God, accounts for both.
But, it may be asked, how does theism account for error. Given that my mind and Gods mind are not identical, if He designed my mind, oughtnt He to have done a better job of it?
This is a special case of the objection: if God is both all-good and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?
Now, you will note that this objection can be raised only against someone who has asserted both the goodness and the omnipotence of God. I have mentioned Gods goodness only parenthetically, and have made no attempt whatever to prove His omnipotence. This is not simply a tactical device on my part to deprive objectors of a convenient statement to pounce on. I do not at present see that the omnipotence of God can be proved from Objectivist principles. As far as I can see, an Objectivist is perfectly free to deny it and still remain a good, sound, rational disciple of Miss Rand. It is necessary to suppose that God is sufficiently interested in us to care whether we think correctly or not, and that he has considerable influence over the forces that brought us about, otherwise our cognitive apparatus would not be a suitable instrument. But it is not necessary to suppose anything much stronger than that. What, you may ask, does not His position as the Being in Whose mind everything is going on make Him absolute master of the situation? Not necessarily. It makes everything absolutely dependent on Him, in that if He did not exist neither would anything else. But it does not follow that it is absolutely dependent on His will. My toothache is dependent on me, in that if I did not exist then neither would my toothache. But it is not the case that if I did not want my toothache to exist then it would not exist. In any case, we see that once we have established the existence of a being with some of the attributes of God, such as that the whole of reality exists only because he exists, and that he is omniscient and normative and timeless, the objections such as the problem of evil have weight only as objections to the thesis that he is omnipotent, not to the thesis that there is such a being at all. But more of this when we get to
Just for the record and to avoid misunderstanding, let me state that if I do not undertake to prove a particular proposition tonight, it does not mean that I do not believe it or that I think there is no evidence for it. Sometimes it may mean that, but sometimes it will mean simply that I do not think it follows straightforwardly from basic Objectivist principles, or that it is outside the scope of this lecture.
In summary, then, to be an Objectivist means to accept, among other things, the assertion that there is an external reality, and that mans mind, mans reason, is an instrument adequate and appropriate to the investigation of that reality. But this assertion is meaningful only in the context of beliefs about the nature and origins of mans mind which are consistent with that assertion. The dropping of that context renders the affirmation of confidence in mans mind meaningless. In the first lecture of this series,
|Part 2: Dr. Brandens Case against Theism Examined|
|I promised at the beginning of Part 1 that, after presenting the positive case for theism on Objectivist grounds, I would examine
Dr. Branden begins by contrasting Faith with Reason, and complaining because Theists rely on Faith, whereas Objectivists regard Reason as the sole basis of
His complaint seems to be that people ask him to believe in God, and when he asks, Why should I? On what grounds? they answer, Dont argue about it. Dont ask questions. Dont think. Just believe.
If it is a lack of argument that he is complaining about, then I have done my best to remedy the deficiency, and I am scarcely the first person to have done so. The fact that the average theist cannot argue the point very well does not prove that theism is irrational. The average college student cannot give cogent arguments for supposing that the earth moves, but
Nevertheless it must be granted that theists, most notably Christians, do talk about the importance of Faith. Are they urging the importance of Unreason?
The word Faith is used in several senses, and in replying to
(1) First, Faith is sometimes used to mean the faculty by which we grasp fundamental postulates or premises of Reason, such as that
Intellect is the simple (i.e., indivisible, uncompounded) grasp of an intelligible truth, whereas reasoning is the progression toward an intelligible truth by going from one understood point to another. The difference between them is thus like the difference between rest and motion or between possession and acquisition.
In most philosophic usage today, the word Reason is restricted to its narrower sense, to mean logical deduction of conclusions from premises. Now when it is so restricted, it is clear that we need another word to describe the process by which we come to accept the premises, or, if we cannot remember a time when we did not hold the premises, our grounds for confidence in them when challenged. To say that, although we arrive at the theorems in geometry by reasoning, we do not accept the postulates on the basis of reason is simply to say that the postulates are not theorems, that premises are not conclusions, that the earliest statements in a proof are not preceded by still earlier statements. Aquinas would have expressed this by saying that we know the Theorem of Pythagoras by Reason, but grasp by Intellect the truth that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. Modern writers do not use the term Intellect here, unless they are avowed disciples of Aquinas. They will say intuition, or instinct, or faith. Now sometimes they do mean that accepting the postulates is not an intellectual matter at all. But quite often they mean simply that the postulates are not arrived at by reason in the narrow sense. Comes now Miss Rand, using Reason in the broader sense, to include what Aquinas called Intellect. The result is that Miss Rand seems to be believing on the basis of reason what others believe on the basis of intuition, instinct, or faith. But before concluding that the difference between Miss Rand and her opponent on this point is substantive rather than terminological, we must find out, if we can, what her opponent means by intuition, or whatever term he uses.
Sometimes her opponent will boldly declare that he accepts the postulates, not because he has any rational grounds for doing so, but because he chooses to do so, by a mere arbitrary act of will. Even here, we must take care lest we misunderstand him. In mathematics, for example, we are almost always concerned with deducing conclusions from arbitrarily adopted premises. We say, Let G be a finite abelian group, subject to the restriction that ... and go on from there. On a more elementary level your second-grade teacher used to say to you things like, Farmer Brown had twenty-three chickens and eight of them died. How many were left alive? If you had asked her, Where did you get that story about Farmer Brown and how do you know that its true? her response would have been that she was making an arbitrary assumption and asking you to consider its consequences. If you had denounced the making of arbitrary assumptions as anti-rational, the atmosphere might have waxed unpleasant. Often, of course, the mathematician will be working from premises that he thinks true. But even when he cares whether Farmer Browns chickens are really dead, he will not call looking at them a logical or mathematical activity.
Even when someone says, My belief that
(2) Faith is sometimes used to mean the adherence to reason as against feeling. Let me give an example. I know of a certain physics teacher who once began a lecture by writing on the board in foot-high letters the words, FAITH IN PHYSICS! The students had been studying elementary mechanics, and all knew that a pendulum bob released from rest at a given height will not swing to a greater height, and could explain why this is so in terms of potential and kinetic energy, and so forth. Now he asked one student to explain this principle to the class, and the student did. Then the professor asked him, Do you believe all that stuff you just spouted about the pendulum? Are you sure its true? The student answered, Yes, of course! The professor then unveiled the apparatus for the day, a large pendulum hanging from the ceiling with an axe-head at the bottom. He stood the student up at one side of the room, pulled the axe up so that the blade just touched his chin, and released it. The blade swung across to the other side of the room, and back again, just barely caressing the students chin. There, now, chuckled the professor. Thats one physics lesson you wont forget in a hurry!
You will perhaps agree that it would not have been surprising if the student had been a bit nervous, or even panicked and dodged as he saw the blade coming toward him. In such a situation, it is very easy to lose faith in physics. But it would not have been reason that took away his faith. The battle is between reason and faith on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.
Now if a man has come to believe in God, there will almost certainly be times when he is in a disbelieving mood. He may be feeling depressed or frustrated, and the world seems so squalid and meaningless that the arguments for belief in God seem abstract and irrelevant. Or he may feel a strong urge to do something that his religious code forbids, or otherwise find that it would be very convenient if his religious beliefs were not true, and so may be disposed to regard them as false, or more probably, to avoid thinking about them.
In this and similar contexts, Christians are accustomed to call the practice of being guided by intellect rather than emotion the virtue of Faith.
(3) Faith is sometimes used to mean gambling on a proposition. For most things, the evidence available to us is less than conclusive. Suppose you are ill and the doctor recommends an operation, but says, I cannot guarantee that it will improve your condition. It may even worsen it.
In this context, you cannot know with certainty or anything approaching it whether you will be better off with the surgery or without it. But once you and the doctor have chosen a course of action, you must act as firmly and decisively as if you were absolutely sure that the choice was the correct one. And so with a good many ventures. You undertake the venture with less than certainty that it is sound, but having undertaken it, proceed as if you knew it to be sound, since anything short of that will certainly be pointless.
(4) Faith may be used to mean trust in a person, trust going, in a sense, beyond the evidence. Let us consider the situation of a young man who is heir to a vast fortune. He meets a number of young women, and finds them very attractive and agreeable. But he is not sure whether they like him, or merely want to get their hands on his money. He dislikes the idea of losing half his wealth after a six-month marriage, and dislikes even more the idea of being had for a chump. No matter how affectionate and sincere a woman may seem, he can never be sure that she is not thinking in terms of alimony and a community-property settlement. So he may resolve never to fall in love. On the other hand, he may say, I know that I am taking a risk. To love is to be vulnerable. I cannot fall in love without the chance of being very badly hurt. But I am willing to take that chance. I prefer it to the alternative of a loveless existence.
Not everyone will find that a reasonable choice. There are people whose greatest satisfaction is being able to say, Nobody ever puts anything over on me. Nobody ever bluffs me out at poker. I call the hand every time. Nobody will ever con me, make me a sucker, induce me into an unmerited trust, play me for a fool. Such a man will die a bachelor and friendless. He will probably also have lost quite a bit at poker. But he has what he says he wants.
Incidentally, if somewhere along the line our man the one who is never conned has gotten married, he will be a jealous husband. It is a matter of plain experience that, if you start looking for indications that your spouse might be up to something, you will almost certainly find them. And once again, you can choose. When you find a couple of ticket stubs lying around, you can refuse to rest until you know exactly who used them. Your spouse, if reasonable, will probably explain in detail, with corroborative evidence, the first few times something looks fishy, but if your suspiciousness gets out of hand, may very well end up saying: No, I will not tell you where I went for lunch today. Either we have a relationship of trust, or we dont. If you trust me, then you dont need to know. If you dont, then nothing short of a full-time detective on my trail would satisfy you, and even then you would begin to suspect the detective of taking bribes. We cant afford a detective, and in any case a marriage preserved on that basis is a marriage destroyed. So, make up your mind whether you will trust me without proof, and then we will know where we stand.
Unfortunately, that is precisely what a guilty spouse, if clever, would say. When you decide to trust someone, you risk betrayal. You cant have it both ways. A warrior, or a mountaineer, cannot be both very brave and very safe. If you are a Christian, you will be asked to put your trust in God. When, from time to time, it looks as if God is double-crossing you, you will be asked to do the equivalent of glancing at a couple of unexplained ticket stubs, tossing them into the waste-paper basket, and forgetting them. Whether you think that reasonable is, in a way, a matter of taste. Which do you dread more: Finding out that a friend whom you trusted has betrayed you, or finding out that a friend who you thought had betrayed you, and from whom you accordingly parted in anger years ago, was innocent after all? There is risk either way.
(5) A fifth use of the word Faith is in the phrase, Justification by Faith, used by
This reminds me of something I should have said much earlier. When I speak of being a theist, I mean accepting the proposition that the Ultimate Designer, as heretofore described, exists. This leaves the question: Shall I become (a) a Jew? (b) a Christian? (c) a Moslem? (d) none of the above? still very much open. And I am not trying to answer it, at least not tonight. I have brought up the subject of Christianity because of
Dr. Brandens opening attack on the concept of God is worth examining in some detail. He speaks as follows: 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
I maintain that atheism is essentially a foreign intrusion into Objectivist thought, and that therefore when
The application of
Next, Dr. Branden attacks the assertion that God is pure
Dr. Branden says that a bodiless mind means an entity aware without any means of awareness, which is absurd. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it is impossible for a mind to be directly aware of a physical situation, that it needs some means of awareness. What follows? In what sense are the sense organs a means of awareness? How is Jones aware that the grass is green? Green light from the grass enters his eye and strikes his retina, which then reacts in a certain way. But how does Jones know what is happening to his retina? Electrical impulses travel along the optic nerve from the retina to the brain. But how does Jones know what is happening in his brain? Somewhere along the line, a physical event, such as a neuron firing, must produce a mental event, such as Joness awareness that the grass is green. If
Dr. Branden says: God is said to be omnipotent. This means that
As for the first assertion, that God has no nature, I think that
Dr. Branden says: If God is omnipotent, then nothing has any nature. I think this is hasty. We say, in
True enough, Dr. Branden might say, but if God might at any moment start picking up paperweights and moving them in figure-eight patterns, then we live in an irrational and chaotic world.
Again, I think thats hasty. I remind you of the parallel between God as creator of the world and a writer as creator of the events in a novel. As regards the contents of Atlas Shrugged, Miss Rand is omnipotent. She can make Hank Rearden and his wife fall madly in love with each other. She can make James Taggart, in the last chapter, throw off his pose of incompetence and come up with a new invention, better than Rearden Metal or the Galt Motor, that will save the world. She can make Dagny Taggart become a fanatical disciple of the Guru Maharaj Ji. All of the characters, all of the events, are utterly at her mercy. Does this mean that the novel must be without plot, without structure, without rationality? That none of the persons in it may be said to have a nature? Does it not rather mean that when we perceive the orderliness and rationality of the novel we are in touch with the rationality of Miss Rands creative imagination? Very well, when we perceive the rationality of the world, we are in touch with the rationality of God.
Dr. Branden says: If God is omnipotent, contradictions are possible. Now clearly, if we define omnipotence as the power or ability to do anything, including the contradictory, it follows that the idea of an omnipotent being leads to contradictions. Since I do not believe in contradictions, I do not believe that God is omnipotent in that sense. When I say that God is omnipotent, I mean that for any
Dr. Branden may complain, But my definition of omnipotence is the correct one, and there is no possibility of discussion if you give words perverse and incorrect definitions.
I ask in what sense
Does omnipotence imply the power to do everything because that is the definition that the man in the street would give? Beware of that argument unless you are prepared to accept the popular definition of anarchy, of selfishness, of morality, and the like.
The relevant question here is surely how theologians use the word omnipotent, and whether they have been accustomed to use it in
In the New Testament (Second
Aristotle (Metaphysics, Becker
A century before Aquinas, St. Anselm wrote his Prosologium, chapter 7 of which is headed, How He [God] is omnipotent, although there are many things of which He is not capable.
The point about contradiction is often worded in terms of altering the past. Aristotle (Ethics, Becker page 1139) approvingly quotes the poet Agathon as saying:
For this alone is lacking een to God,
Eight centuries before Aquinas, St. Augustine wrote (Against
St. Jerome wrote (Epistle 24): Though God can do everything, He cannot make the unspoilt from the spoilt.
This is glossed as: God cannot turn a harlot into a virgin, since the definition of a virgin includes her past history, and a virgin who has been a harlot is a contradiction.
Jewish theologians also concur. Rabbi Moses Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed,
I regret that my limited knowledge does not permit me to produce suitable quotations from Moslem sources. In summary, then, it is
And what of the Bible verse that says that with God all things are possible?
The commentary you will get on that verse depends on the theologian you approach. One answer might be: All sentences beginning God can ... are true, but a string of nonsense syllables does not suddenly become a sentence just because it is preceded by the two magic words, God can. God can do anything, but that is not the same thing as saying that He can both do it and not do it simultaneously. Contradictions are excluded, not because there are any limits to Gods power, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God. You ask whether God can make a round square. God can make any shape at all, but round square is not the name of a shape. You ask whether God can make a rock so heavy that He cant lift it. Now for any
Dr. Branden says that if God is omniscient, then everything must be fated and predetermined, in which case it cannot be changed, in which case God is not
The first is found in Boethius, in the Consolations of Philosophy, and is simply that, as we saw in the first part of this lecture, God is not in time. Spatial and temporal distances are part of the internal structure of the interlocking physical system which we call the cosmos, and do not relate the cosmos to God, who is the creator of the cosmos and its structure. Thus it is not strictly true that God knows today what will happen tomorrow. Gods knowledge is not a temporal event.
Alternately, we may note that Dr. Brandens argument that divine omniscience implies fatalism has no real connection with divine omniscience, and can be stated just as well without it.
One way out is to deny that each bullet does already either have or not have the property of being about to kill that soldier. We may say: At the present moment, the bullet is a potential killer and a potential non-killer, but neither an about-to-be killer nor an about-to-be non-killer. The statement that it will kill is not yet either true or false.
Aristotle (On Interpretation, Becker
Aristotles solution, if we accept it, permits us to say that God is omniscient but does not know whether Jones will steal tomorrow because the statement that Jones will steal tomorrow is in fact neither true nor false, but indeterminate, so that even an omniscient being, especially an omniscient being, when asked about the proposition that Jones will steal tomorrow, would have to answer, not True or False, but Indeterminate. This is not an admission of ignorance, but the correct answer, the only correct answer. It is like the situation in quantum physics, where, according to most physicists, a particle does not have an exact position, and the inexactness is not merely in our knowledge of the position, but in the position itself. Now if this be so, it is clear that not even an omniscient being can be expected to know the exact position of a particle that does not have an exact position. It is like saying that God must know the address of my stockbroker even though I dont have a stockbroker.
A third way of answering
Ambiguous sentence structures like
Armed with the proposition that,
In summary, then, we have three possible answers to the assertion that divine foreknowledge precludes freedom. The first, from Boethius, is that God does not foreknow things because his acts of knowledge are undated. The second, from Aristotle, is that present statements about future choices or their results have indeterminate logical status, and that to know the truth in such instances is simply to know that the statement in question is indeterminate. The third, from Alfred Hitchcock, is that the whole question is a semantic pseudo-problem, an instance of the Doris Day Fallacy.
Dr. Branden says: To gather ones knowledge by a process of struggle and effort is abhorrent to the mystic.... The concept of omniscience is a psychological monument to the mystics hatred of
I am puzzled by this remark. It seems to say that it is unwholesome to dream of anyones knowing things without effort. But clearly this is not its meaning, since that would be an attack on Miss Rand. On
If I were as ill-disposed toward Objectivism as
Dr. Branden says: If God is all-good, then he is not free to be bad, and so His actions have no moral significance, just as the actions of a robot have no moral
By Dr. Brandens definition of free will as quoted above, an agent is free if it can perform actions not determined by antecedent factors or conditions, by forces outside its control. But there are no factors antecedent to God, who has no cause. All his actions originate with him. They are therefore, by
Surely there is a certain perverseness in the suggestion that the more trustworthy, the more reliable, someone is, the less he exhibits good moral character by his trustworthiness, and that someone who can be trusted unconditionally is by that very fact seen to be morally worthless. One is reminded of Professor Peikoffs altogether just strictures against those philosophers who say that the truths of logic and mathematics are void of factual content, and furnish no information except about the speech habits of those who use them. He says,
The quotation, incidentally, is taken from Professor Leonard Peikoffs thought-provoking article, The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy, printed in five parts in the May through September 1967, issues of The Objectivist. I shall cite it hereafter simply as Professor Peikoffs
Just as the philosophers of whom Professor Peikoff complains stand epistemology on its head, so
An alternate analysis of Dr. Brandens assertion is that offered by Negative Theology, of which more later.
Having argued that God cannot be omnipotent, and that He cannot be good,
I reply as follows:
To raise this question implies that there is some better state of affairs than the one we have, such that God, if He is good, would have preferred it, and God, if Hes omnipotent, could have brought it about. Now, does
Obviously the world would be a better place if men chose to make it such. The consistent practice of rationality, justice, and benevolence by all men would considerably reduce the amount of pain and suffering in the world. Shall we say that God ought to have made all men such that they would choose to behave better? But determining men to choose certain things freely is a contradiction.
Shall we say that God ought to have made men without free will, and hence without the possibility of doing wrong? But beings without free will, according to
I do not think that
What about other possibilities? Suppose that God permitted men to choose as they pleased, but intervened to prevent their choices from having any untoward consequences? I cannot see that that involves any real choice at all. It is like having a free election in which the voters may pull any lever they please, but only the lever for the party in power is connected to anything.
Perhaps the complaint is not that people can hurt themselves, but that they can hurt others. We might accept a world in which people suffered the consequences of their own irrationality, but it seems unfair
My first point, then, about the Problem of Evil, is concerned with Free Will. And if this is accepted, the problem becomes less formidable. As
I therefore invite you, faced with any instance of evil, to ask the question: Would this evil still be here if every human had always acted rationally and morally? Only in those instances where the answer is a confident affirmative does the Problem of Evil require a further answer.
Quite apart from the Free Will Argument, it is possible that adversity sometimes builds character, or that a world without pain or danger would be a world in which heroism is impossible. Before dismissing this notion as heartless, I wish that you would try an experiment. Take your copy of Atlas Shrugged, and go through it carefully, crossing out or rewriting every passage in which one of the heroes of the book is described as suffering any kind of physical or mental discomfort. Then read the revised work and form a judgement of the novel as a novel and of its heroes as heroes. The notion that there is no heroism without courage, no courage without danger, and that heroism is a better thing than safety is not merely a notion invented by a handful of theologians to defend the goodness of God with.
Some people say: Admittedly heroism is a good thing, in a world that has pain and danger in it. But it is good only in such a world. Far better to have neither heroism nor the need for it. To excuse pain and danger because they provide the opportunity for heroism is like praising smallpox (an evil), because without it we wouldnt have smallpox vaccine (a good). For my present purposes, it is enough to show that
Heaven, as their dream of a perfect existence, is a place where men will live in total passivity, where no choice, no action, no thought, will be necessary, where everything will be provided for them and everything will be taken care of, where they will experience automatic happiness without lifting a finger, or stirring a single brain cell, which they will no longer have to have. It is the same kind of ideal as the Garden of Eden, which the mystics project as the Utopia man has lost in punishment for the sin of disobedience, for acting on his own judgement.
The question, Instead of giving us the strength to overcome obstacles, why didnt God just give us a world without obstacles? is a possible question, but not for an Objectivist.
Finally, some people say: If creating a world involved the risk of so much pain and evil, a good God would not have created it at all. To this I reply: If you could annihilate yourself and the whole universe by pushing a button, would you? The implied answer of some philosophers is, I would blister my finger pushing that button! But they are not Objectivist philosophers.
To anyone using the Atheist Proof from Evil, we may reply:
Just what is the sort of world that you think a good, omnipotent God would have created instead of this one? A world with no wrong choices, and no volitional consciousness? A world with no possibility of coercion, and no concept of justice or rights, no significant interpersonal contacts? A world with no danger and no heroism? No world at all? Blankout!
Thus far we have considered demands for general improvement of the universe. Some people have advanced demands for particular improvements. They concede that a program to eliminate all evil runs into complications, but they see no excuse for Gods letting certain things slide. Thus, the science editor of the London Daily Worker,
Obviously we cannot undertake to evaluate all arguments of this sort, but I should like to make two general comments on them.
To say that God is all-good does not in any way imply that He regards human comfort as a value to be preferred above all others. We may go further and say that we have no grounds for supposing that He regards human welfare as a value to be preferred above all others. There may, for example, be created beings of volitional consciousness in the world other than humans, and their welfare may sometimes conflict with ours in ways that are not at all obvious to us. And quite aside from Martians, dolphins, and leprechauns, aside from conscious creatures altogether, there may be quite a number of things in the world that God is interested in even though we are not.
We cannot calculate all the consequences of a given action, and may therefore sometimes be mistaken about whether that action would result in an overall improvement of the state of things. If there is anything in the ecology controversy that should be uncontroversial, it is this: that altering the environment often has results that no one on either side anticipated.
And, because we do not know as much about the causal workings of the world as God does, it follows that some things we see will look pointless and foolish to us. If I am watching Bobby Fisher play chess, I expect that many of his moves will look like serious mistakes to me. If after every move, I found myself nodding and saying, Ah, yes! Precisely the move that I would have suggested! I rather thought he would do that! it would be a sign that he was no better a chess-player than I. I am not surprised to find Bobby Fisher a better chess-player than I, or God a better cosmos-designer.
In considering all these points, I ask you to remember that in this part of the discussion,
Dr. Branden says that belief in the goodness of God is immoral, in that it causes us to acquiesce in all kinds of
Next, Dr. Branden speaks harshly about Negative Theology, the doctrine that no predicates whatever can truly be applied to God. He says that in this doctrine we see the real purpose of theism: the hatred of mans mind and the desire to destroy it, to destroy all the cardinal concepts of mans reason, to destroy the base of mans consciousness, the law of identity, and to leave man on his belly as an abject
Negative Theology isnt very popular in my circles, either. However, I am not persuaded that it is as irrational a venture as
Faced with Dr. Brandens complaints that God is not free to be bad, and is not knowable, a negative theologian might reply: You are right in saying that God is not good, since he is not potentially bad. To be wet means to be potentially dry. But there are different ways of not being wet. A shirt fresh from the dryer is not wet because it is dry. A prime number is not wet because the concept of wetness and dryness is not applicable to it. And water is not wet because it is wetness. You might say that none of the three hits the target of being wet, but that the shirt falls short of the target, the prime number is not aimed at the target, and water is the target. Just so, a murderer, a robot, and God are none of them good, but for the same three different reasons.
As for knowing God, of course God is not knowable, not intelligible. He is intelligibility itself, knowledge itself, the source, or ground, or cause, of knowledge and intelligibility in other things. If there were no God, if our minds were the product, ultimately, of accident, then no one could know anything. We believe that God exists, not because we have grasped all the implications of that statement, but because His existence is a prerequisite of our grasping anything. We believe in light, not because we can see it (in fact we cannot), but because we can see everything else.
|Part 3: The Remainder of |
|Up to this point, Dr. Branden has been arguing that theism is meaningless, irrational, immoral, and patently false. He now turns to demolish three traditional arguments for theism: the First Cause Argument, the argument from Design, and the argument from Life.
Before I begin to consider them, I warn you that I am not going to attempt a full-fledged defense of any of them. I consider that I have already given a valid proof, and that one valid proof of a theorem is enough. My only purpose is to show that
The best-known statement of the First Cause is that of
About us we see causal series,
Three questions present themselves: (1) Why must a causal series have a beginning? (2) What does a first cause have to do with God? And (3) Has Dr. Branden refuted this argument?
To the first question, one answer sometimes offered is that action presupposes an entity that acts, and that an intermediate cause does not act; it merely transmits the action of some previous entity. It is a conduit of action, and a conduit, regardless of length, is no substitute for a source. Or again, it is said that an infinite regress of intermediate causes is like an infinite regress of intermediate values. Suppose that a blacksmith says that a hammer is a valuable object because it can be used to make other hammers. We ask him the point of making other hammers, and he replies that their value lies in their usefulness for making still more hammers. We may surely say that unless some hammer has value either in itself or in its use for some purpose other than hammer-making, then no hammer has value at all. A world with only intermediate values is a world with no values. In the same way, a world with only intermediate causes is a world with no causes.
Assuming that Aquinas has proved the existence of a First Cause, what has that to do with God? To this question,
We turn now to
Now obviously Dr. Branden is not talking about Aquinass 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
Consider the concept of dependence. As we see from the discussion of concepts in Miss Rands Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and also in Professor Peikoffs article, this is simply the totality of all things that have causes, that depend for their existence on something outside themselves. Now the most obvious and fundamental property of this concept, this totality, is that it has a cause.
Now the word Universe, which Dr. Branden uses to mean the sum of all things whatever, is also used in a narrower sense to mean the sum of all dependent things. (See Webster, Oxford, Funk and Wagnalls, or the Random House American College Dictionary.) If someone stated the above argument, using the word Universe in its narrower sense as synonymous with Dependence, while
When we say that the spectacular rise in the price of wheat in 1884 was caused by the eruption of Krakatoa the previous year, we mean that the rise would not have occurred if it had not been for Krakatoa. To say, correctly or otherwise, that the Battle of New Orleans would have been averted if Napoleon had been killed by a falling meteorite in 1811 is to speak of an alternate possibility, a situation in which Napoleon is killed by a falling meteorite, and the Battle of New Orleans does not take place. Where such an alternate possibility does not exist, we do not talk about cause. No one asks for the cause of the fact that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other, because there is no possibility of their being otherwise. To discuss the cause
This analysis of causation is it sound Objectivist philosophy? I submit that it is, and offer a few quotations from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal as evidence:
These statements seem quite clear. In each of them, the author assumes that when something is caused, we can without nonsense talk of an imaginary universe in which the cause is absent and the event therefore does not occur. In short, he assumes that whatever is caused could have been otherwise.
Now Professor Peikoff, in the article we have cited, considers what it means to say that some event need not have occurred, or that some situation could have been other than in fact it is. He concludes that the only facts that are not necessary, that could have been otherwise, are what he calls man-made facts, meaning facts that result from, are dependent on, were brought about by, the free choice of an agent of volitional consciousness. He says
As far as metaphysical reality is concerned (omitting human actions from consideration for the moment), there are no facts which happen to be but could have been otherwise as against facts which must be. There are only: facts which are.... MMA major source of confusion, in this issue, is the failure to distinguish metaphysical facts from man-made facts i.e., facts which are inherent in the identities of that which exists, from facts which depend on the exercise of human volition. Because man has free will, no human choice and no phenomenon which is a product of human choice is metaphysically necessary. In regard to any man-made fact, it is valid to claim that man has chosen thus, but it was not inherent in the nature of reality for him to have done so; he could have chosen otherwise....
With these remarks to guide us, let us re-examine the First Cause Argument.
According to Professor Peikoff, whatever could have been otherwise was brought about by the choice of an agent. Please note that when I say choice, I mean free choice, and when I agent, I mean a being of volitional consciousness, capable of choosing freely. We have now an eleven-step argument. This is easier to follow with a blackboard than when its just spoken, but Ill do my best:
Step 1: Let us call an entity temporal if it has a beginning in time, and eternal if it does not have a beginning in time. Then, applying the principle A
Step 2: Dr. Branden, on
Step 3: As we have just seen in connection with the quotations from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, whatever is caused could have been otherwise.
Step 4: As we have just seen from Professor Peikoffs article, whatever could have been otherwise was brought about by the choice of some agent.
Step 5: Since we know that whatever is temporal is caused, whatever is caused could have been otherwise, and whatever could have been otherwise was brought about by the choice of an agent, we may conclude that every temporal entity was brought about by the choice of some agent.
Step 6: Since every temporal entity was brought about by the choice of some agent, and everything is either temporal or eternal, then every temporal agent was brought about either by the choice of a prior temporal agent, or by the choice of an eternal agent.
Step 7: From the previous step it follows that every temporal entity is part of a causal chain that either (a) begins with an eternal agent, or (b) includes an infinite series of temporal agents, each caused by a prior temporal agent.
Step 8: Dr. Branden says, on page 19 of the May 1962 Objectivist Newsletter, There cannot be an infinite series of antecedent causes. We conclude that an infinite chain of temporal agents, each caused by a prior temporal agent, is impossible.
Step 9: Since, as we have noted in
Step 10: In the autobiographical postscript to Atlas Shrugged, Miss Rand says, I was born. We therefore conclude that there exists at least one temporal entity, Miss Rand.
Step 11: Since every temporal entity was brought about by an eternal agent and Miss Rand is a temporal entity, we may conclude that there is an eternal agent whose free choice is, directly or indirectly, the ultimate cause of Miss Rands existence.
And that concludes my analysis of the First Cause Argument in the light of Objectivist principles.
We have not, of course, established very much about this eternal agent, perhaps not enough to justify calling it God. For a full-fledged discussion we should want to consider uniqueness, benevolence, imperishability (whether the eternal agent is without end as well as without beginning), prudence (meaning whether the eternal agent intends all the consequences of its choices, which many agents obviously do not), and so on. But I shall not pursue this line tonight. As I remarked earlier, I have already offered one proof that I think valid. My only concern with the three arguments that
Dr. Branden, commenting on the Argument from Design, says that the alternative to design, or order, is chaos, which is not really an alternative at all. Every conceivable state of affairs exhibits a pattern, simply by being what
Let us begin by distinguishing between order and functionality. When we say that we see order in an object or situation, we mean that we see regularity, predictability, conformance to a structure or pattern. When we say that we see functionality in an object or situation, we mean that we see means-end relationships built into the object, that we can say that some features of the object are for something. A salt crystal exhibits order but not in any obvious way functionality. A watch exhibits functionality, in that an intelligent Martian, looking at a watch, might say, I think I can see what this is for. The hands go around at a constant rate, and the cover is hard so that the hands will not be broken, and transparent so that they can be seen. The geared wheels are there to transmit motion. If they were farther apart they would not mesh and if they were closer they would jam. The function of the spring is ... and so on. Some people object that any conceivable object does what it does, and so may be said to have parts whose function is to do just that. But in practice, the notion of a functional object seems to be clear to everybody, and everyone seems to understand that an organism, any organism, is a functional object in a sense in which not just any object is. Militantly atheistic professors of biology will say things like, Now this organ is a bit of a puzzle. Its purpose has not yet been discovered, without realizing that they have said anything remarkable.
Now a natural thing to say about an object that exhibits functionality is that it probably came about by design, i.e., by someones intention. The Martian examining the watch will say, It looks as if somebody made this to tell time with. The astronomer examining the placing of the stones at Stonehenge will say, It looks as if someone built this to make astronomical measurements with. The man observing the eye of the mosquito will say, It looks as if someone designed this for the mosquito to see with.
One reply to the argument from functionality, with the argument from life as a special case, is not philosophical but scientific. The stronger the case for Darwinian evolution, the more plausibly this explains how the mosquito get his eye, the weaker the argument from functionality, and vice versa. However, arguments for and against evolution (1) require specialized knowledge and (2) can never be conclusive one way or the other. An example of the sort of thing that goes on: The anti-evolutionist says,
A reptile has six bones in each side of his lower jaw. A mammal has one. The standard evolutionist account, based on comparative embryology and the like, is that when reptiles evolved into mammals, three of the six bones moved up and became the bones of the middle ear, two disappeared, and one remained to form the mammalian jaw. It would greatly ease my mind if you would draw me a series of ten sketches or thereabouts, showing the intermediate stages in this development, and how each animal was able to eat and hear, and why each stage was a sufficient improvement on the preceding one to have developed from it by Natural Selection. Never mind going to the museum to look at fossils of the intermediate stages. No such fossils have ever been discovered. But I am reasonable. I do not ask you to show me how it happened just one of the ways in which it might have happened.
If the evolutionist has no plausible reply, then the anti-evolutionist scores a point, which may, however, be taken from him any time that the evolutionist finds a fossil or contrives a sketch. At the end of each round of the debate, we add up the cumulative points on both sides and decide how firmly we will believe or disbelieve the Argument from Functionality while waiting for the next round. The debate is never really over, and it takes a fair amount of study even to keep up with it, let alone to get involved. Currently, I am not involved.
Dr. Branden suggests that we need no explanation for the fact that a given organism has all the equipment it needs for survival, since if it didnt have the equipment, it wouldnt be
This seems hasty. Suppose that we are drilling a tunnel through solid rock, and encounter a cavity or bubble in the rock, completely surrounded by rock until we drilled into it. In the cavity is a man seated in an armchair and smoking a pipe. We say, Good Heavens! How did you get here? This calls for some explanation. He replies, Dont be silly. If I hadnt gotten here, you wouldnt be talking to me. Therefore no explanation is necessary. Would this satisfy Dr. Branden? I doubt it.
The Argument from Life, as
Now the first thing to be noticed about
I do not deny that there are philosophical problems connected with the foundations of statistics. But
Dr. Branden, in replying to the Argument from Life, might easily have invoked Darwinian Evolution. Strangely, he does not. He says, That which happens in the universe happens by necessity, by the intrinsic natures of the entities involved. Whether life is some primary element that has always existed, or whether it arose out of a combination of other elements in a manner yet unknown, is a question really irrelevant to our purpose
I ask you to recall the passage in John Galts speech (Atlas Shrugged, page 968) where he refers to those who deny human creativity: An industrialist blank-out there is no such person. A factory is a natural resource, like a tree, a rock, or a mud puddle. The problem of production, they tell you, has been solved and deserves no study or concern.... Who solved the problem of production? Humanity, they answer. What was the solution? The goods are here. How did they get here? Somehow.
Dr. Branden has no patience with such fools, with those who attribute technological progress to the impersonal forces of history, those who engage in a mean-spirited refusal to acknowledge the achievements of the human mind.
The problem of producing organisms capable of survival, he tells us, has been solved and deserves no study or concern. Who solved the problem? The entities involved, he answers. What was the solution? The organisms are here. How did they get here? Somehow.
The whole of Atlas Shrugged is a refutation of the view that the economy is capable of creating and maintaining itself without reference to mind, but that the ecology is capable of creating and maintaining itself without reference to mind Blank-out!
At this point in his speech,
Peikoff assumes that the two explanations of the overflow of the Nile (1) it overflows because of seasonal rainfall upstream, and (2) it overflows by the will of the god of the Nile are mutually exclusive, rival answers to the same question. I believe that he is mistaken. Let us consider an episode in Shakespeares play, Hamlet. The maid Ophelia, crazed with grief at her fathers murder, climbs onto a tree branch that overhangs the water. The branch breaks, and she falls in and drowns. Let us ask the question: Did Ophelia drown because Shakespeare for dramatic reasons wanted her to die at that stage in the story, or because the branch broke? We see at once do we not? that both answers are true, that we are concerned with two different kinds of causes. I propose to call them empirical and volitional cause. Shakespeare is the volitional cause of all the events in the play. They occur because he wills that they should. But he also wills that they should not be separate, disconnected events, but fitted together into a pattern that exhibits order, regularity, symmetry, structure, and beauty. Once we have become accustomed to the pattern, we may begin to infer some events from others. In a symphony, a melodic fragment or motif may occur several times. Once we have begun to understand the pattern, the structure, of the symphony, we may often be able to guess what note will come next. Similarly, when spring returns, we may say, I have heard this theme before. In about ten days, the Nile will begin to flood. And this is scientific inference, based on empirical causation. But, as we have learned from Professor Peikoff himself just a few minutes ago, the mature Peikoff supplying the corrective to the exuberant over-simplifications of the youthful Peikoff, where there is causation there are real alternatives, and where there are real alternatives there is volitional causation.
Next, Dr. Branden considers agnosticism, and we must pause to make a distinction. He who says, I dont know may mean, I am not absolutely certain. My conclusion is tentative and provisional, subject to revision in the light of further evidence or argument. With this, as far as I know, neither
Insofar as whether a given act is reasonable depends on whether God exists, the question of theism versus atheism cannot be shelved. And a professed agnostic, or for that matter a professed theist, who acts in every way as if God did not exist, has in fact opted for atheism.
Dr. Branden denounces agnosticism as cowardly. He does not, you may note, urge that the arguments for atheism render agnosticism untenable, but supposes for the sake of argument that neither side has any arguments at all. The burden of proof, he says, is on the theist, and if neither side has anything to say, it is irrational not to side with the atheist. 
He then supplies a curious analogy. If someone says that your friend has committed a murder, and he says that he has not, and there is no evidence either way, Dr. Branden says that it is immoral for you to be agnostic on the
Dr. Branden now undertakes to examine the motives behind the mystics views. He says that their idea of Heaven is a place where no one will have to think or make any effort like the Garden of
I reply: Branden is quite wrong about the Christian view of Heaven. Establishing what this view is would take some time, but there is a short standard description of the Garden of Eden, and he ought to have read it. It distinctly says that man was put into the garden to dress it and to keep it. He was also told, before the Fall, to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue
Many people, continues Dr. Branden, turn to religion because they are tired of trying to go it on their own, tired of trying to think for themselves, and want a crutch, something to lean on, someone to think for
He is, of course, quite right. People do often become theists for such motives. But so what? Some people become Objectivists because they find themselves confused about politics, ethics, or other such matters, and long to hear a crisp, clear, confident voice telling them whats what. Miss Rand has a crisp, clear, confident voice. So, for that matter, does
Dr. Branden quotes at length from
As a matter of fact, it only shows that he is a professional orator. In ancient Greece and Rome, when laws were passed and cases were tried by large assemblies, rhetoric, the art of speaking in public, of persuading a crowd, was one that few citizens felt they could neglect. (Socrates was one of the few, and we know what happened to him!) The art was used in areas where we might not expect it. Every top-ranking Athenian surgeon had an orator whom he called in when needed, first to give a speech to the patient persuading him to submit to the operation, and later, when the patient was strapped down and the operation was in progress, a speech inspiring him to bear the pain with courage. The art, at first utilitarian, began to be admired for its own sake. If you want to get the idea, read some of the speeches of Cicero, but remember that in most of them he was really trying to win an argument that mattered.
As the Republic declined, and the Senate became more and more a rubber stamp, rhetoric became more and more artificial. Certain conventional flourishes, certain figures of speech, were valued not as convincing but as ornamental. If your neighbors goat got into your garden, you sued your neighbor, and your lawyer, having almost parenthetically summarized the facts of the case, spoke at length on the sacredness of a mans home and garden, how brave men had since time immemorial risked their lives in defense of their homes and their little plots of ground, how a man tending his garden, seeing things grow under the ministrations of his own hands, felt close to the very secret of life itself. Three hours of this sort of thing was about routine, and no one suggested that he just state his case and sit down. The court, the litigants, and the spectators had all come, expecting a performance, a work of art, and if they had heard a simple direct statement instead, they would have been as disappointed as a Rolling Stones fan who attends a concert expecting three hours of Mick Jagger, and is offered ten minutes of Perry Como instead. Augustine, long before he became a Christian, had reached the top of his field chief professor of rhetoric of the city of Milan, which had replaced Rome as the residence of the Emperor in the West. None of his readers, pagan or Christian, would have thought that Augustine was going overboard in this passage. He was pulling out all the stops, as a good orator should. Turn him loose on the opposite topic, the good side of living, and he will be just as enthusiastic. If
Augustines whole thesis, repeated and elaborated throughout his work, is that the world was created by God and is therefore in essence good. Created agents, by choosing freely and sometimes choosing wrongly, have messed it up, but have created no bad thing. What we call bad things are good things distorted or spoiled but with the good in them still outweighing the bad, still central, whereas the bad is only peripheral. Hence, though we see about us much that is bad (details supplied), we see far more that is good (details supplied), for even in this life, the goodness of God keeps evil from getting the upper hand, and every good man will eventually say, with Dagny Taggart, We never had to take any of it seriously, did
Dr. Branden follows his quotation by saying, The misery of the human situation seemed to Augustine the cardinal and most overwhelming fact of life on
Dr. Branden says the mystics profess compassion for the ills of mankind. But actually, they want to increase those ills, the better to ensnare people. In the nineteenth century, they tried to forbid the use of
I reply: Its fairly easy to make your opponents look silly, if you lump all the people who disagree with you together, and hold all of them responsible for anything said by any of them. Marxists usually do this by calling all non-Marxists (and indeed all Marxists not of the speakers party) Fascists, and then by quoting anybody from Hitler to Gandhi to Bishop Pike to Joe Namath, they can establish the non-Marxist view on a particular question to be anything they please, and then show how sensible the Marxist view is by comparison.
Dr. Brandens remarks on mystics and anæsthesia were of special interest to me, because they reminded me of my own first encounter with Objectivism some years ago, in the person of a street-corner speaker in Berkeley. He said (approximate quote), No man who values his mind, his status as a rational, volitional being, will consent to fake reality in any way. He will never listen to those who suggest that when reality is unpleasant, it is all right to substitute a fantasy. He will never cloud or sully or destroy his mind with alcohol, or heroin, or LSD, or anæsthetics, or tranquilizers. No, not even for surgery. If the objective reality is that a surgeon is making an incision in his body, he will not evade in any way the full conscious awareness of that reality. Pain is a truthful signal that the body is being injured. He will not seek to block or distort that signal, but will integrate it into the context of his awareness that the net effect of the operation is to serve his rational self-interest. (Close approximate quote.)
I doubt that many of his listeners, especially those about to undergo major surgery, were convinced. And yet, I can sympathize with him. He was in a situation where the over-riding question was one of drugs, chiefly hallucinogens. He was under pressure to take a stand for or against them (a moral stand, not a legal one) and to justify it on a broad philosophical basis.
You may remember that the early anæsthetics, especially ether, were first popularized, not as anæsthetics, but as hallucinogens. People took them at parties, sniffed them very much as people now sniff glue. The notion that ether was something used to fake reality already had that context well established before ether came to be used for childbirth and surgery. Even a 1970s liberated woman might think twice about advising a woman to take LSD to help her through labor. (She might even speak up for natural childbirth, with no anæsthetic!) It is, I conclude, not surprising that a few clergymen wrote indignant letters to the Times, to the lasting joy of
For the last hour and more, I have been ignoring the forest for the trees. I have been going through
Ladies and gentlemen, you have minds. You are rational beings. If you are going to trust your minds, if you are going to trust them on a rational basis, you must hold a belief about the nature, the basis, and the origin of your minds that is logically consistent with such a trust. Theism is that belief. I have not attempted this evening to establish anything beyond the basic theist position. But anyone who comes to believe that God exists will not be content, if he is rational, to let the matter rest there. He will want to learn as much as he can on the point, both in terms of truth for its own sake and in terms of exploring the practical consequences for his own actions of this major aspect of reality.
I will suggest two avenues of exploration and then I am done. The first is historical. If, as I have undertaken to show, God exists and is interested in our knowing the truth about reality, then He may have taken steps to show men the truth about Himself. Accordingly, we may begin by asking how people who are theists came to believe in theism. And here it seems clear that the overwhelming majority of theists are Jews, Christians, or Moslems, or at least got their theism from contact with these religions or offshoots of these religions. This does not include all theists. Some philosophers have reasoned their way into theism by arguments like those we have considered or by other arguments. The Zoroastrians of Persia and India appear to be an independent development, and likewise the Egyptian Pharaoh Ihknaton, and the tiny minority of Hindus who are theists rather than pantheists, although in all these cases Jewish, Christian, or Moslem influence is a plausible hypothesis. Then there are the numerous beliefs of primitive tribes scattered throughout the world, often difficult to classify, but often unmistakably monotheistic, and perhaps most clearly so among the most primitive and isolated. But for the most part, theistic beliefs are traceable to Jewish, Christian, or Moslem influence. And these three religions all trace their history back to the ancient Hebrew people. Jew, Christian, and Moslem alike regard Abraham, Moses, and David as among their spiritual forebears. A reasonable place, therefore, to begin looking for traces of God at work, increasing mens awareness of Himself, would be the history of Abraham, Moses, and David, or, if you prefer, the history of the Hebrew people and the intellectual development which resulted in their conviction that there was One God and that He had laid on them the special duty of proclaiming Him to the world.
The other avenue I should like to suggest is that of the artistic and creative imagination. You will see what I mean in a minute.
If we ask a Christian what is the central episode in the history of the universe, the event that most clearly reveals what reality is all about, he will presumably reply somewhat as follows: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down from Heaven to seek out, to rescue, and to claim for His own a number of persons who He intended should form a community united to Him in love. This community we call the Church, or, the Bride of Christ. Having come down to earth, He lived in obscurity for some years, and then began to proclaim publicly the Path of Life. He attracted attention at this point and people wanted to make Him king. He answered, I am not interested in power on your terms. Your idea of power is incompatible with everything I have been talking about. At this point they turned against Him and crucified Him. He received five wounds: they pierced Him in the hands, and feet, and torso. Christians, believing that Christ made the world, find it ironic that those who put Him to death are His creatures, absolutely dependent on Him for their very existence, receiving from Him even the physical strength that enabled them to hammer the nails into His flesh. He recovered from this ordeal, and told His friends that, far from being a victory or near-victory, for the other side, this episode was His own great victory over the forces of evil and death. He said that by confronting Him, and doing its worst to Him, evil had defeated and destroyed itself, that the rest of the battle was only a mopping-up operation.
Let us turn from this to consider the answer that Ayn Rand might give if she were asked to tell us about the event, real or fictional, that sums up her philosophy, her sense of life, her judgement as to what reality is all about. She has in fact done so. We turn to what is undisputedly her greatest novel, Atlas Shrugged, and find the following:
The hero, John Galt, has his home in a mountain paradise, where unethical behavior is unknown, and where joy has utterly triumphed. He leaves that paradise to descend into the squalid, violent, chaotic, and justly doomed world below, in order to seek out and rescue and claim his bride. He lives there in obscurity for some time, and then begins to proclaim publicly the Path of Life. He attracts attention at this point, and people want to make him dictator. He answers, I am not interested in power on your terms. Your idea of power is incompatible with everything I have been talking about. At this point they turn against him. They torture him, using a machine that can be adjusted to torment the left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, torso, or any combination of the five. A touch of irony enters the picture, when the machine breaks down and he tells his tormentors how to repair it. We are reminded that they are complete parasites, utterly dependent upon Galt and his kind for their transportation, their food, their machines, and even for their ability to torture Galt on this occasion. He recovers from this ordeal, and assures his friends that, far from being a victory, or near-victory, for the other side, this episode has been an essential element in their defeat that by confronting him, and doing its worst to him, evil has defeated and destroyed itself, and that the rest of the battle is only a mopping-up operation. I pause to quote the relevant passage from the paperback Atlas Shrugged, page 1072:
A point which must not be overlooked in either account is the role of the Hero as Judge. A Christian might speak as follows: We Christians believe Christ to be the Judge of all men. When we say this, we are not thinking primarily of rewards and punishments, but of judgement as such. When we consider our own judgements, or those of our acquaintances, about ourselves, we hope that the unfavorable judgements are biased, and fear that the favorable ones may be. But eventually, or so we believe, every man will stand before Christ and receive an absolutely correct judgement about himself, which he will recognize as absolutely correct. There will be no room then for fudging or evasion, or for modesty. It will be either the best or the worst moment imaginable.
If we seek a parallel theme in Miss Rands novel, the search is not difficult. One after another, the people who become John Galts friends find their own sight clarified by his clear-sightedness, and in the light of his vision of the world and of them, find understanding of the world and acceptance of themselves. But we are also shown the other side of the coin. People who do not want to understand find that they cannot help doing so. Robert Stadler and James Taggart, brought face to face with John Galt, realize that he understands them, and are driven by that realization to understand themselves. They blurt out how they feel about him, and so are faced with how they feel about life, and reality, and themselves. And under the weight of that knowledge, they collapse.
We see, then, that although Miss Rand is an avowed atheist, her basic metaphysical and epistemological principles presuppose theism, and that her creative imagination is basically Christian. When and whether her consciously avowed convictions about God will come into harmony with the rest of her thought is, of course, anybodys guess. On the one hand, given that irrationality now has a foothold in her mind in the form of her atheism, there is a real danger that the rot will spread that, instead of becoming less atheistic, she will become less rational. To any agent of volitional consciousness even Miss Rand this option is always open. But if she consistently makes it her rule to focus on intellectual difficulties and not to evade them, then we who wish her well have every reason to be confident of the eventual outcome. Once again I turn to Atlas Shrugged for a parallel.
Those of you who have read the novel will remember that when Dagny visits Galts mountain retreat for the first time, she agrees with his ultimate goals but is utterly opposed to his program for achieving them. She refuses to remain there, and returns to her job as a railroad executive, determined to fight to save the structure that Galt is trying to destroy. Before she leaves, Galts friend and hers, Francisco, says to
So long as Miss Rand remains in love with reason, and honesty, and the power of mans mind to recognize the truth, she will not permanently lose her way. And when she does become a Christian, then and not before, she will knew the real answer to the question, Who is John Galt?
[All notes are by the editor.]
* The title refers to Nathaniel Brandens 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, (Gilbert, Arizona: Cobden Press, 2009),                                               
An excerpt from the Branden lecture itself containing the essential argument for free will is available on YouTube. The article in The Objectivist Newsletter is The Contradiction of Determinism, by Nathaniel Branden,
The material in brackets does not occur in the audio version of this essay, but it does appear in the dot-matrix transcript that Kiefer prepared. Its omission from the audio was accidental.
N. Branden, The Vision of Ayn Rand, page 101.
See Note 2.
See Note 2.
The Vision of Ayn Rand, page 102.
Actually the discussion was in the second lecture, and is found
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The material in brackets does not occur in the audio version of this essay, but it does appear in the transcription that Kiefer prepared.
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
In the audio version, Kiefer says predicated. The text in his transcript, however, is correct and appears as shown.
The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alfred
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The citation is from the paperback edition. James seems to be quoting from memory here. The quoted material does not appear in the order in which he quotes it, but it all does appear on the pages he cites.
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The quoted passage comes from
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal. James is citing the paperback edition. The corresponding page in the hardback edition (New York: New American Library)
The corresponding page in the hardback edition
The passages occur in the hardback printing of the Expanded Edition of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology on
Actually, page 944 in the paperback edition.
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
I have followed the dot-matrix transcript that James prepared and kept the word contention. It is clear from the audio that in saying argument, James misspoke himself, but continued rather than correct himself.
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
The Vision of Ayn Rand,
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