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Thoughts on George Smith's "Atheism"?

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I have read it and I just have a couple of things to say about it.

1) George Smith cites Ayn Rand in numerous places in that book but be aware that he has only a superficial understanding of Objectivism. I don't consider Atheism: The Case Against God to represent any part of Objectivism.

2) Smith misses all of the fundamental points that should be covered, e.g., the nature of the arbitrary, existence and only existence exists, etc.

3) Atheism is simply the denial of a certain idea--the idea that there is a god. There is no positive case to be made for atheism. Because of this, I don't think atheism is a ripe enough subject to warrant an entire book. Note that in Objectivist literature, atheism is treated only tangentially and as an outcome of positive aspects of the philosophy.

If you have a particular interest in reading about atheism, then you will probably enjoy the book. Personally, I became bored after the first few pages.

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3) Atheism is simply the denial of a certain idea--the idea that there is a god. There is no positive case to be made for atheism.

If that were true, then atheists would have no grounds to say that God does not exist. They would be right to reject the idea as arbitrary, but they would only be able properly to say, "I don't believe in God," not, "I believe that there is no God." The first statement claims a lack of belief (or a denial of cognitive standing to the idea); the second, a denial (of the existence of God).

Here's an arbitrary assertion, for an example: "An alien civilization on the other side of the universe recently discovered the works of Ayn Rand." It would be ridiculous to believe such a thing, of course. It's arbitrary and shouldn't even be considered. But you wouldn't go around saying, "I believe that no alien civilization knows about Ayn Rand." You have no basis to say that, either.

The existence of a God is different, because a God would contradict known facts of reality (such as the law of identity).

You are correct, of course, that the primary atheistic argument is based on the fact that God is arbitrary. But that's not enough.

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Here's an arbitrary assertion, for an example: "An alien civilization on the other side of the universe recently discovered the works of Ayn Rand." It would be ridiculous to believe such a thing, of course. It's arbitrary and shouldn't even be considered. But you wouldn't go around saying, "I believe that no alien civilization knows about Ayn Rand." You have no basis to say that, either.

I also don't go around saying "There is no God." I never raise the issue.

Of course other people do occasionally and then I treat their assertions EXACTLY the same way you would treat those claims about aliens.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Bowzer:

1) George Smith cites Ayn Rand in numerous places in that book but be aware that he has only a superficial understanding of Objectivism. I don't consider Atheism: The Case Against God to represent any part of Objectivism.
This is incorrect. The fact remains that he was an Obvjectivist but he has since left the philosophy. Of course, anyone who has read his articles and books knows that he is known to defend Ayn Rand but nonetheless he finds her view of the role of government (along with others) to be lacking. I would say that he did not write a book on Objectivism but atheism using many elements of Objectivist epistemology. From what I know he understands Rand very well.

2) Smith misses all of the fundamental points that should be covered, e.g., the nature of the arbitrary, existence and only existence exists, etc.

Of course, he deals with the arbitrary since he targeted the idea of faith. Here he says:

"The argument from design is ultimately an appeal to miraculous causes, i.e., causes that do not, and cannot, occur in the natural course of events. This is why an "explanation" via design is not a legitimate alternative to scientific and other naturalistic modes of explanation. To refer to a miraculous "cause" is to refer to something that is inherently unknowable, and this "sanctuary of ignorance" explains nothing at all. However much it may soothe the imagination of the ignorant, it does nothing to satisfy the understanding of a rational person[from Why Atheism]."

How else did he counter (in his book) the so-called "first cause" argument but by mentioning the idea that the universe (or rather existence) always was. That is, if every thing must have a cause then god cannot be exempt from this rule. If he could be exempt from this rule then why can't the universe also be exempt from this rule.

3) Atheism is simply the denial of a certain idea--the idea that there is a god. There is no positive case to be made for atheism. Because of this, I don't think atheism is a ripe enough subject to warrant an entire book. Note that in Objectivist literature, atheism is treated only tangentially and as an outcome of positive aspects of the philosophy.

I take issue with your claims that atheism is "only tangentially and as an outcome of positive aspects of the philosophy." Atheism is at the very core of Objectivism. All the principles of Objectivist are supposed to be based on reason and are predicated on the view that there is no god. Objectivism says that existence cannot have a cause, reason not faith is man's only way to gain knowledge of existence, every man is an end in himself and not the servant of others (e.g., men, gods).

It is true that atheism is not a philosophy and therefore cannot by itself be a guide to life. But the fact remains that even if atheism is only a negetative view whereas the existence of a god is concerned; that an atheist may endeavor to debunk that claims of those who say god's existence is demonstrable without the use of faith. Since atheism is not a philosophy and man needs principles to live a rational life some have embraced Objectivism. Objectivism presupposes atheism and all it principles are godless. Again, atheism is at the very core of Objectivism and one does not go on a tangent when it is discussed.

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This is incorrect...I would say that he did not write a book on Objectivism but atheism using many elements of Objectivist epistemology. From what I know he understands Rand very well.
Not surprising since, as you say here "It is a pretence to say that Ayn Rand's philosophy as she articulated it is comprehensive," one can pick and choose whatever parts of Objectivism one wishes to suit one's purposes of the moment...of course you would have no objection to his supposed "use" of Objectivism.

Of course, he deals with the arbitrary since he targeted the idea of faith.
Non-scientific and non-naturalistic modes of explanation are not at all equivalent with the arbitrary. You are just supporting my argument against the book by showing how the author lacks an understanding of the real issues.

The infinite regress argument against a first cause is not how one should argue against theism. Once again, this type of argument comes from a lack of understanding of what atheism really is.

I take issue with your claims that atheism is "only tangentially and as an outcome of positive aspects of the philosophy." Atheism is at the very core of Objectivism.
How about backing this up? You show me where Miss Rand ranked atheism because I can't for the life of me find an article along the lines of "Atheism: The Core of Objectivism." In fact, she only even used the word "atheism" about a dozen times so good luck.

All the principles of Objectivist are supposed to be based on reason and are predicated on the view that there is no god. Objectivism says that existence  cannot have a cause, reason not faith is man's only way to gain knowledge of existence, every man is an end in himself and not the servant of others (e.g., men, gods).
Not one single principle of Objectivism is predicated on the view that there is no god. Do you know what the word "predicated" means? Again, show me where in the world you are getting this.
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Bowzer:

Not surprising since, as you say here "It is a pretence to say that Ayn Rand's philosophy as she articulated it is comprehensive," one can pick and choose whatever parts of Objectivism one wishes to suit one's purposes of the moment...of course you would have no objection to his supposed "use" of Objectivism.
I made the comment about Mr. Smith to show that it is because he was a former Objectivist why his views on certain matters seem so fimiliar. I do not appreciate the straw man you have proposed. I never said that "one can pick and choose whatever parts of Objectivism one wishes to suit one's purposes of the moment". I did not say that he used Objectivism, per se, rather I would like to think that he used objectivism. Besides, Rand said that one can pick and choose parts of her philosophy that one agrees with but one cannot then refer to oneself as an Objectivist. Smith does not say he is an Objectivist.

Non-scientific and non-naturalistic modes of explanation are not at all equivalent with the arbitrary. You are just supporting my argument against the book by showing how the author lacks an understanding of the real issues.

Oh yeah? Above you are broadening the scope of our present discussion. We are using the word arbitrary in the scope theistic claims. Such claims concern things "spiritual" generating and maintaining things that are natural. It is through science and naturalistic modes of explanation (reason) that we gain knowledge. Anyone attempting to use a different method is proposing the arbitrary within this context. Are you implying that somebody claiming to be reincarnated is not an arbitrary claim?

How about backing this up? You show me where Miss Rand ranked atheism because I can't for the life of me find an article along the lines of "Atheism: The Core of Objectivism." In fact, she only even used the word "atheism" about a dozen times so good luck.
Objectivism subsumes atheism, it an atheistic philosophy. Ayn Rand not using the word atheism countless times does not negate my claim.

Not one single principle of Objectivism is predicated on the view that there is no god. Do you know what the word "predicated" means? Again, show me where in the world you are getting this.

Predicated on: If an idea or argument is predicated on something, it depends on the existence or truth of that thing.

Core: of central or fundamental importance.

If there is a god then Objectivism is false. I am here refering the concepts of god the are prevalent in the West. Am I wrong?

Fred:

The central core of Objectivism is reason.

Atheism is the only reasonable view whereas the existence of god is concerned.

" I am an intransigent atheist, but not a militant one. This means that I am an uncompromising advocate of reason and that I am fighting for reason, not against religion." --Ayn Rand

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If there is a god then Objectivism is false.

If you think that's true, then you do not correctly understand Objectivism.

If someone could prove objectively that God exists, then every Objectivist would accept that truth. All it takes is sufficient evidence.

But because there is ZERO evidence to support even the theory of the existence of God, Objectivists properly conclude there is no God. Or I should say, that's what I think can be the only rational conclusion. I have heard some Objectivists say that they just "don't know", but if they are to base their decision on what they do know, and on the utter lack of supporting evidence, I think the conclusion that there is no God is unavoidable.

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If someone could prove objectively that God exists, then every Objectivist would accept that truth. All it takes is sufficient evidence.

What evidence would convince you?

If god says that man is not an end in himself but a servant to him; what will you say? If god said that reason is not man's only path to knowledge but divine revelation and intuition what will you say? If god said that man's moral purpose is to make his neighbor happy; what will you say? If he said that he created the universe ex nihilo; what would you say?

Would there still be Objectvist if a personal god existed?

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What evidence would convince you?
The same kind of evidence it takes to convince me, or any rational person, of anything: regular old evidence. :)

There's only one kind of evidence. Scientific, recreatable, demonstrable, rational, etc.

If god says that man is not an end in himself but a servant to him; what will you say?

You mean what would I say, and it's irrelevant. How one would respond if a God popped up and actually demonstrated/proved his existence would of course be a decision for each individual to make. I'd probably say, "Oh. Sorry. My bad." :D

Would there still be Objectvist if a personal god existed?

I don't understand the question.

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Atheism is the only reasonable view whereas the existence of god is concerned.

What does that have to do with your contention that atheism is "the central core of Objectivism"?

You might as well note that capitalism or egoism or romantic realism are the only "reasonable views" and then assert that they are the central core of Objectivism.

Once again the common denominator is: reason.

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If god says that man is not an end in himself but a servant to him; what will you say? If god said that reason is not man's only path to knowledge but divine revelation and intuition what will you say? If god said that man's moral purpose is to make his neighbor happy; what will you say? If he said that he created the universe ex nihilo; what would you say?

That he's a moron and therefore not worthy of his name?

Fred Weiss

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