Thursday, September 27, 2007

Atheism vs. Objectivism

(Richard) "Earnest, what do you mean by your use of the concept 'God?' Are you talking about a literal conceptualizing consciousness with a will and "super powers," or are you talking about the 'moral dimension of reality,' i.e., the 'vertical axis of existence,' as some of the Eastern religions attempt to frame it?" (end quote)

God is rational and a maximally powerful being. (no "superpowers" in the comic-book sense of the term) I was going to write up a long explication, but I found an old commentary on Peikoff from my friend Bill Ramey which should be enlightening:

Realism is the position that reality exists outside of and independent to the human mind. Christianity is a very realist religion, having labeled anti-realist teachings (e.g. gnosticism) as heresy. G.E. Moore, in his summary of realism, includes theism within philosophical realism precisely because it assumes that something exists outside of the human mind.

(Peikoff) "Every argument for God and every attribute ascribed to Him rests on a false metaphysical premise. None can survive for a moment on a correct metaphysics....Existence exists, and only existence exists."

And now we need to ask the question: "What is the nature of this existence?" The hidden assumption in Peikoff's argument is that the universe and existence are one and the same. But this is precisely the contention between theists and atheists. For the last 2000 years, atheists from Lucretius to Peikoff have believed the universe to be self-existing and eternal. Theists, on the other hand, have argued that the universe is utterly contingent and hence requires a cause. Despite attempts by no less than Einstein and Hawking to avoid the implications of a contingent universe, contemporary science and mathematical set theory indicate that the universe is not eternal, self- supporting, or self-sufficient. It had a beginning, and unless we want to hold the irrational position that it came into existence from nothing--a position that Rand called "reification of the zero"--the universe had a cause.

One of the ironies of Rand's critique of Kant is that she did not realize that Kant's attack on natural theology was also an attack upon modern science, because for Kant the universe is not a fit subject for rational or empirical enquiry. The double irony here is that natural theology *always* believed the universe to be a fit subject for rational enquiry and that if we accept Peikoff's argument, the universe is just a brute fact whose origins cannot be investigated rationally. One of the reasons I am a theist is that I reject Kant's anti-realism and his arguments against philosophical and scientific cosmology. Contemporary science ignored Kant and went on to produce stunning results in cosmology--results already known by those "obsolete" ancient and medieval philosophers and theologians.

(Peikoff) "For instance, God is infinite. Nothing can be infinite, according to the Law of Identity. Everything is what it is, and nothing else. It is limited in its qualities and in its quantity: it is this much, and no more.

Nothing can be *actually* infinite, i.e., nothing can exist that would subsume an infinite number of members (for example, a library with an infinite number of books). But it does not follow that nothing can be eternal and maximally powerful, as is God. Moreover, no one has suggested that God does not have a nature but only that God has a maximally powerful nature.

(Peikoff) "Is God the creator of the universe? There can be no creation of something out of nothing. There is no nothing."

Creation ex nihilo only states that there was no matter before the creation of the universe, i.e., there was no material cause. The doctrine does not say that something came from nothing, but rather that God did not create the universe from pre-existing matter.

(Peikoff) "Is God omnipotent? Can he do anything?"

God can do anything that can be done. The usual paradoxes offered to counter omnipotence, such as God creating a square circle, involve incoherent act descriptions; not only do square circles not exist, but the very notion of one is inherently illogical.

(Peikoff) "No reason will lead you to a world contradicting this one. No method of inference will enable you to leap from existence to a "super existence."

Peikoff, Leonard. "God." The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Ed. Harry Binswanger. New York: Penguin-Meridian, 1986. 187

Aside from the wrong implied assumption that theism is some sort of philosophical idealism, Peikoff is committing the stolen concept fallacy. His argument is purely Kantian: one cannot reason from the existence of the universe to the existence of something transcending the universe. But as I noted earlier, Kant's argument would have stunted science had scientists accepted it. Moreover, if the universe had a beginning--and most scientists believe that it did have a beginning--then the only way to avoid inferring the existence of something outside of it is to suggest that the universe came into existence uncaused, i.e., that something came from nothing. Or one could argue that the universe is infinite, but as you said, "Nothing can be infinite."

(end quote)

Unfortunately, Peikoff also makes the key intellectual error of associating the notion of -causa sui- ("self-causation") with the concept of God, a fallacy also committed by Spinoza and Sartre. In orthodox Christian theology, God does not "self-create himself," such a notion is arrant nonsense. Rather, since something now exists, something has always existed, and that always existent- something is God, contra Peikoff. (OPAR, pp. 18-22)

Aquinas's contention is that God exists, not on anyone's "say-so," but demonstrably from the facts of existence. This notion that Christianity is -based- on "faith" as "blind belief without proof" (as opposed to certain Christians mistakenly -affirming- that it is based on such "faith") is exactly the "question-begging" fallacy I object to!

(E.B.) "I suppose the root of my interest in Objectivism is trying to find out how someone like Rand who gives lip service to the greatness of Aristotle and Aquinas can go so horribly wrong as to attempt to marry their philosophical accomplishments to atheism

(Billy) "I would like to know more about what you mean by that, because it’s incomprehensible to me. It’s the word 'marry' that throws me. That has never occurred to me in any way.

I don’t get it, man.

One of Ayn Rand's justifications for propounding Objectivism in the first place was to fight the notion in philosophy that there was no such thing as "objective truth."

She also claimed that you could not "pick and choose" among philosophical premises to make your own "crazy quilt" of philosophy. She called this "crow epistemology" and the "stolen-concept fallacy."

The problem is that she tries to conjoin ("marry") this notion of philosophical objectivity to her militant atheism, which is an instance of the stolen concept fallacy. This is so because to do this atheistic move Objectivists have to resort to skepticism about the human mind's ability to to comprehend the ultimate nature and origin of the universe, just as Hume and Kant do.

2 comments:

Scott Erb said...

Are you saying that any belief that if the universe is temporally limited (e.g., not constant and universal) then: a) something had to cause to the universe to come into existence; and b) that something has to be from outside the space-time universe?

First, I'm not sure how you get from there to God as a rational mind with maximum power. Also, it opens a lot of speculation to about what is outside space-time. If I grant that the universe is not eternal -- that space-time as we experience it had a beginning -- then any concept of what is outside space-time seems unfathomable. Is it a single being? Is it a powerful mind? Or is the attempt to use our words in our limited space-time existence foolish, since an entity (even the term entity would be an inappropriate space-time phrase) misguided? I'm left thinking this leads more to a Plotinus like "The One" which is incomprehensible, super-essential, and indivisible.

I suspect you're right that space-time had a beginning or a cause. But I doubt we can make much headway in figuring out what this cause is, let alone suggest a being with particular human traits (reason and power) would be that thing which caused this world.

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