Objectivism and Theism:
A Reply to [Nathaniel] Branden’s Lecture “The Concept of God”
By James Kiefer

(Cassette tape, 168 minutes)
Reviewed by Henry B. Veatch 
(Books for Libertarians, May 1975)

(An audio recording of James Kiefer’s lecture and the transcript are now available on-line.)

From its title one might at first wonder which metaphor might be more applicable to this “reply”: Is Mr. Kiefer’s enterprise the utterly futile one of whipping a dead horse, or is it the rather more tiresome one of merely serving up some warmed-over gruel? Happily, it is neither. And if one imagines that nothing could be more dull and outdated than heavy-handed efforts at confounding atheists with proofs of God’s existence, then let him listen to Kiefer. The Reply is clear, lucid, extremely well argued, and not without an occasional gentle humor, which loses nothing for its being sometimes at the expense of Dr. Branden.

The original setting of the Reply was nothing if not incredible. For what Kiefer apparently undertook to do was to allow a libertarian group first to be indoctrinated with one of Branden’s lectures on atheism, and then as a sequel to the indoctrination, he, Kiefer, calmly but firmly came on the scene and proceeded to demonstrate that for anyone who took the Objectivist principles of either [Ayn] Rand or Branden seriously, it was not atheism that one should come out with, but rather a reasoned recognition of God’s existence! One can only wonder whether under such circumstances Kiefer’s role was more one of a sheep among wolves, or one of a Mephistopheles at a conventicle!

But however that may be, let no one be under any illusions that Kiefer’s performance might have been largely an affair of mere showman’s tricks or of clever rhetoric. Indeed, his resources in the debate were none other than those of knowledge, good humor, and reasoned argument, his procedure being to take up Branden’s arguments one by one, politely exposing them either for their illogicality or for their bias and misunderstanding. Thus, as an obvious example, consider the major arguments that Kiefer puts forward as a proof of God’s existence. He begins by setting forth, by both summary and quotation, Branden’s own most determined and no less eloquent espousal of the doctrine that human beings are free beings, or beings with free wills, just in the sense that they are capable of at least some understanding of reality and of the way things are, and on the basis of such understanding of making intelligent and informed choices. In other words, Branden is not one to have any truck with the usual assumptions of psychological determinism that are so much a feature of our current intellectual scene.

But given such an affirmation of human intelligence and human freedom on Branden’s part, it is not to atheism that Branden would seem thereby to be committed by the logic of his position, but rather to theism and to a reasoned affirmation of God’s existence. Kiefer’s argument in brief is that if, as Branden insists, our human minds are suitable instruments for our knowing something of reality, and if through our ideas we can come to understand something of the way things are, then how is this power and capacity of knowledge on the part of human minds to be accounted for? It cannot be accounted for as having come about by chance or accident, argues Kiefer; rather it is something that could only have been brought about by design. Why? Because if it were only by merest coincidence that our ideas should ever happen to be true, or should succeed in disclosing to us things as they really are, then we should have no reason whatever to rely upon such ideas, or ever follow the guidance of our reason or understanding. Only if our minds are designed for knowledge would there be the slightest reason to suppose that our minds could yield a genuine knowledge. In other words, to invoke the principles of what Kiefer calls “psychological Darwinism,” to suppose that it could well be by natural selection that our minds have become adapted to the purposes of knowledge, just will not suffice. True, natural selection can account for the adaption of various things for various purposes, but never for purposes of knowledge. That is why this argument for God’s existence is no mere revival of the familiar eighteenth-century arguments from design; instead, it is an argument from design confined simply to the case, human knowledge, and the impossibility of accounting for such a knowledge capacity in terms of anything other than design. An ingenious argument, surely, and as far as I know a highly original one as well. But what is especially interesting in the present context is the way Kiefer uses this argument as a means of hoisting Branden by his own petard.

Of course, this particular argument for God’s existence is not the only fruit to be gathered from Kiefer’s presentation. For he considers a great variety of issues — the sense in which God is infinite, the nature of religious faith, the problems of evil, the issue of whether divine omniscience entails fatalism — all of which he handles with unusual skill and plausibility, not to mention a deft turning of the tables on Branden. The whole is no less instructive than it is entertaining.

***

Henry B. Veatch (September 26, 1911 – July 9, 1999) was an Aristotelian philosopher. At the time he published this review he was the chairman of the philosophy department at Georgetown University, the first non–Roman Catholic to hold that post. His books include Rational Man and (with Francis Parker) Logic as a Human Instrument.

Readers sent replies to this review which were published in Libertarian Review, volume 4, number 8 (August 1975). A PDF of those comments is posted here. A PDF of Kiefer’s reply to those comments is posted here.

Nathaniel Branden’s lecture “The Concept of God” is available as chapter 4 of his book The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism. His argument for the existence of free will is found in his book The Psychology of Self-Esteem, chapter 4, section 3, and in The Vision of Ayn Rand, chapter 5. An excerpt from the lecture itself — containing the essential argument for free will — is available on YouTube. See also R.A. Childs, “The Epistemological Basis of Anarchism,” Note 19.


HomeNNNNObjectivism & Theism
Contents of the James Kiefer section 

E-mail Thornwalker at neff@thornwalker.com.

Copyright © 2001–2016 Ronald N. Neff, d/b/a Thornwalker.com

Thornwalker.com is hosted by pair Networks.