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In Chapter 5 of OPAR, under "The Arbitrary as Neither True Nor False," Leonard Peikoff addresses the difference of truth and falsehood versus the arbitrary. One particular example he uses to demonstrate the possibility of an arbitrary claim being transferred into the realm of reality and cognition is a claim that God exists held without evidence, making it arbitrary, as opposed to the same idea held on mistaken premises and misinterpreted data, making it a falsehood that can be corrected. To quote directly from the book:

Or consider the claim that there is an infinite, omnipotent creator of the universe. If this claim is viewed as a product of faith or fantasy, apart from any relation to evidence, it has no cognitive standing. If one wishes, however, one can relate this claim to an established context, as I did in the opening chapter: one can demonstrate that the idea of God contradicts all fundamentals of a rational philosophy.

So then, I now offer this hypothetical to precede my question - it is something I have witnessed a number of times before. Let us say that an individual believes that there is a God, in the context of all the complexity that can be seen throughout the natural order of casual relationships in the universe - they cannot believe that such complexity could exist in nature without a designer. One day, a rational individual comes to the believer in God and presents philosophical evidence against God's existence (as Peikoff does in Chapter 1 of OPAR.) The God-believer, who has some relation to reality in his belief that the universe proves God is real, appraises this evidence and sees that it has merit; however, he cannot in his mind get over the complexity of the universe, his original foundation in his belief in God, and he chooses to ignore the evidence offered against God. He has nullified his mind and ignored reality, but he does continue to hold as validation what he believes is evidence for God. In doing so, does he still simply believe a falsehood, or has his idea become arbitrary?

asked Oct 20 '13 at 13:45

AYoungObj's gravatar image


The God-believer described in the question points to evidence to justify his belief. His evidence is "all the complexity that can be seen throughout the natural order of casual [causal] relationships in the universe - [he] cannot believe that such complexity could exist in nature without a designer." As the cited OPAR section explains, the believer's belief is not arbitrary if, in the mind of the believer, it is logically necessitated by evidence.

The question also describes a rational individual who presents counter-evidence in the form of Objectivist philosophy and its irreconcilable incompatibility with the idea of a God. This is powerful evidence for anyone who is already inclined toward rationality and Objectivism's identifications from applying it. However, this evidence doesn't directly address the believer's evidence. A full integration of all available evidence will need to account for the God-believer's evidence in some way, such as by showing why one cannot conclude from it that one or more gods created the universe. And the God-believer will need to explain who created the gods. Presumably they had to be even more "complex" than what they allegedly created. The God-believer will also need to consider additional possibilities besides a sudden creation event occurring by chance, and one caused by a "creator"; in particular, he will need to consider the potential effects of basic iterative processes in nature, repeating billions upon billions of times over many billions of years, with each new iteration building upon the previous ones in accord with natural laws of matter, energy, chemistry, and biology.

The God-believer's argument (as described in the question) expresses what may be termed the "argument from design." That is a very old, long-standing claim in the history of philosophy. For a broad overview of its history and the historical objections to it, refer to the topic of "Teleological Argument" in Wikipedia. Objectivism denies that existence requires a "creator," and points out that existence, not consciousness, is the most fundamental starting point for all of man's concepts and knowledge.

The "argument from design" was one of the arguments advanced by Thomas Aquinas in his attempt to prove the existence of a "God." As Leonard Peikoff explains in "Religion Versus America" (VOR Chap. 9, p. 66):

The five arguments for God offered by the greatest of all religious thinkers, Thomas Aquinas, are widely recognized by philosophers to be logically defective; they have each been refuted many times, and they are the best arguments that have ever been offered on this subject.

The article explains Aguinas' approach and influence further on pp. 72-73:

What—or who—ended the Middle Ages? My answer is: Thomas Aquinas, who introduced Aristotle, and thereby reason, into medieval culture. In the thirteenth century, for the first time in a millennium, Aquinas reasserted in the West the basic pagan approach. Reason, he said in opposition to Augustine, does not rest on faith; it is a self-contained, natural faculty, which works on sense experience. Its essential task is not to clarify revelation, but rather, as Aristotle had said, to gain knowledge of this world. Men, Aquinas declared forthrightly, must use and obey reason; whatever one can prove by reason and logic, he said, is true. Aquinas himself thought that he could prove the existence of God, and he thought that faith is valuable as a supplement to reason. But this did not alter the nature of his revolution. His was the charter of liberty, the moral and philosophical sanction, which the West had desperately needed....

The result, in historical short order, was the revolt against the authority of the Church, the feudal breakup, the Renaissance. Renaissance means "rebirth," the rebirth of reason and of man's concern with this world.

Aquinas did not know that Aristotle and reason would have such an enormous effect. The influence of the church at the time was thoroughly pervasive and overwhelming. Who could have suspected at that time where Aquinas' infusion of Aristotle's ideas (newly rediscovered after being lost to the West for centuries) would lead?

If someone today wants to prove the existence of God by means of reason, honestly and conscientiously -- and regards reason as the method and criterion of proof -- he is in good company philosophically. If he remains fully honest and conscientious intellectually, he will eventually see the path that Aquinas and Aristotle paved.

answered Oct 21 '13 at 23:08

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

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Asked: Oct 20 '13 at 13:45

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Last updated: Oct 21 '13 at 23:08