At the age of thirteen, Ayn Rand decided she was an atheist. Her reason: “the concept of God is degrading to man.” One major form of this degradation is religion’s effect on genuine values, including sacred values. This idea is prominent in her early writings and continues to be featured in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, as well as in her nonfiction.
In this lecture and Q&A, recorded at Objectivist Summer Conference 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada, philosophy professor Robert Mayhew examines this aspect of Ayn Rand’s distinctive approach to atheism.
In the introduction to Atheism: The Case Against God, George H. Smith remarks that what he is offering in his book is essentially a “minority viewpoint.” But in his sobering thesis he builds a solid case against some popularly accepted theistic ideas, and therein lies much of the book’s value.
While it may not be possible to persuade those who are deeply religious, anyone else, even those who have mixed feelings on god, cannot come away from this book without reexamining their basic convictions on not just god and religion, but also on issues related to morality.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Smith’s thesis is the broad intellectual territory that he covers while refuting the concept god. Along with religious ideas, the fields that he traverses include science, ethics, epistemology, history, and psychology.
It is noteworthy that he uses “god” with lower case “g” to refer to the generic idea of god. He uses “God” only when he is referring specifically to the God of Christianity.
Smith points out that atheism is the absence of theistic belief and therefore what it represents is not a belief, but the lack of a belief. A person is an atheist, because he is not a theist. The word atheist will not tell you why the person is not a theist, or what else he believes in.
The theists use terms such as “immaterial” or “incorporeal” to explain the attributes of god. But Smith argues that “immaterial” or “incorporeal” tell us what god is not (that he is not made out of any material substance; that he is not physical)—these words don’t tell us what god is. He says that anything that exists must have a specific nature, and it must be created from some material.
According to Smith, the “unknowable” is the central tenet of theism, and that is why it is imperative for the religions to declare war on reason. “If faith is to gain a foothold, reason must be attacked, which brings us to the issue of epistemological skepticism.” The theists are skeptics; they deny knowledge; they believe that facts can’t be known with certainty and it is not possible for men to perceive and understand reality.
But there is a contradiction in the claim that god is unknowable. Smith argues that if god is unknowable, then we can’t know that he exists, but to assert that a god exists is equivalent to claiming knowledge of god. “Insofar as faith is possible, it is irrational; insofar as faith is rational, it is impossible.”
In his critique of the skeptic ideas of the theists, Smith has made a good use of the theory of epistemology that has been proposed by Ayn Rand in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and other works. His discussion of Rand’s theory of concepts and the contextual nature of knowledge is particularly interesting.
The theists often claim that it is the fear of god’s wrath that inspires people to be moral. But Smith says that the concept god has had a disastrous effect on the idea of mortality—it has led to a situation where people think that morality has nothing to do with reality, and that in order to be moral one must shun reason and blindly follow the dictates of religion.
By destroying the idea of supernatural morality, atheism brings morality to the realm of reality, so that the moral ideal becomes reachable to man’s mind. The course of action that a man takes in his life is a matter of his personal choice. If he discards reason in favor of nihilism and pessimism, then the issue is with his own mind. Atheism cannot be blamed for the choices that men make.
The idea that God is a supernatural being with much greater powers than man is soundly refuted by Smith. He asks the readers to consider a hypothetical situation where an alien form of life, much superior to man, is discovered in some other solar system. “These advanced creatures have an immense life span, superior strength, agility and mobility, and a superior capacity for memory and abstract thought. Does it follow, in virtue of these superior capacities, that these creatures should be designated as gods?”
Smith points out that if we refer to these superior creatures as “god,” then we will face a very absurd situation where any creature that is superior to another creature will get designated as a “god.”
He demolishes the standard theistic idea of god being omniscient and omnipotent. He points out that omniscience contradicts the attribute of omnipotence. “If God knows the future with infallible certainty, he cannot change it—in which case he cannot be omnipotent. If God can change the future, however, he cannot have infallible knowledge of it prior to its actual happening—in which case he cannot be omniscient.”
In this context, he also cites the problem of evil. “If God does not know there is evil, he is not omniscient. If God knows there is evil but cannot prevent it, he is not omnipotent. If God knows there is evil and can prevent it but desires not to, he is not omnibenevolent.”
Many theologians claim that there is no conflict between science and religion, as these are concerned with different spheres of human existence. But as science is dedicated to understanding reality, it rests on the premise that existence exists and reality is knowable. Theology, on the other hand, rests on faith; it rejects reason, which is the primary means for understanding realty, and it propagates that what we see as reality is simply a creation of god’s will and it can never be understood. Therefore the conflict between science and theology is irreconcilable.
“Reason and faith are opposites, two mutually exclusive terms: there is no reconciliation or common ground. Faith is belief without, or in spite of, reason.”
Overall, Atheism: The Case Against God is a hard-hitting book against the irrational belief in god. Smith’s writing is clear, colorful, and well organized. If you are person of reason, the book will make you feel good about it.
eason, thinking, and making decisions are all influenced by the information you are surrounded with. Being able to decipher through this information is what builds you into a better thinker. Learn to reprogram yourself with this talk.
In this video, you will learn:
– How to separate fact from fiction in the world.
– How to become a highly intelligent thinker.
– How to succeed in life using your own mind.
Writes Evan Bernick in a review of Tara Smith’s book “Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System”:
…How judges evaluate assertions of government power matters to real people.
A philosopher at the University of Texas who also teaches at the law school, Smith articulates an approach to judicial review that is designed to place government power under the rule of law—to ensure that the government only exercises its power for constitutionally proper reasons and that mere will does not trump individual rights. While there is no shortage of books on judicial review, Smith’s stands out in a crowded field, owing to its focus on the role of epistemology and political philosophy—the Constitution’s political philosophy—in constitutional interpretation and her incisive criticism of the jurisprudential status quo. Smith’s approach holds the promise of equipping judges to gain accurate knowledge of what the law is and to consistently hold the government to the terms of our Founding document. [Taming the Law’s Coercion – Online Library of Law & Liberty]
Of the 1,149 anti-religious hate crimes reported in the United States in 2014, only 16.1% were directed against Muslims, according to the FBI. By contrast, over half of all anti-religious hate crimes were directed against Jews – 56.8%. The fewest, 8.6% of anti-religious hate crimes, were directed against Christians (Protestants and Catholics).
My concern is with individuals more than groups. However, the politically correct – including the current U.S. President and his Attorney General – have repeatedly expressed grave concern over an epidemic of “hate crimes” and prejudice against Muslims, contrary to the evidence of their very own FBI.
They will argue that since the events of Paris and San Bernardino, it’s getting worse. This may be their fear; but shouldn’t their fear first be supported by facts? Or are facts irrelevant when it comes to pushing a particular, politically correct point-of-view?
It gets worse. Eighty-two leading Democrats have cosponsored a House Resolution (H.Res. 569), “Condemning violence, bigotry, and hateful rhetoric towards Muslims in the United States”.
The Resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by Democrat Donald S. Beyer (Virginia) on December 17, 2015 — a mere 15 days after Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook gunned down 14 innocent Americans and wounded 23 in an ISIS-inspired terror attack at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California.
The House Resolution states, “The victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes and rhetoric have faced physical, verbal, and emotional abuse because they were Muslim or believed to be Muslim,” and the House of Representatives “expresses its condolences for the victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes.”
Given that Jews experience 3.5 the number of hate crimes as Muslims, shouldn’t the House of Representatives be advancing a resolution in defense of Jews? It will never happen.
Keep in mind that House Resolutions, while not binding as law, are often introduced as a “trial balloon” for future legislation.
What kind of legislation do the advocates of this resolution have in mind? What would a law against anti-Muslim bigotry even look like?
“Bigotry,” when rationally and objectively defined, is an ugly thing. The basic error of bigotry involves lumping people as a group while evading their individual identities, in order to support or advance an irrationally based prejudice.
By this definition, Islam is a notorious form of bigotry, every bit as bad (if not even worse) than Nazism. The fact that not all Muslims practice it consistently does not alter the nature of the ideology.
However, even when bigotry is rationally defined, it should not be against the law. People are entitled to hold whatever bigoted views they wish, and to express those views on their own private property, airwaves, or websites to any willing or interested parties.
“Stop making it about us versus them.” Those who criticize Islam in any way, shape or form are labeled bigots. Yet what about the advocates of Islam who call anyone who disagrees with them infidels deserving of slavery or death?
People who call you “racist” for challenging the rationality of Islam presume Islam is a racial characteristic. It’s not. It’s a social-political-religious ideology. Islam’s central purpose is to merge church and state according to barbaric and mind-numbingly conservative values about sex, gender, and practices of daily living. These are things leftist progressives claim to oppose, but when it comes to Islam, they sure change their tune.
The only way to fight militant Islam is by championing the causes of freedom, individualism and strict separation of church and state. If we defended these ideals with even one-tenth the intensity with which Muslims attack them, the world would be a much safer and better place right now.
You can follow Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1