Of Gods and Spaticons
I believe there is a weakness in the Objectivist treatment of God and miracles (OPAR p.31ff). Although Peikoff disposes of some ideas of God, I don’t think he really invalidates
the concept per se (metaphysically). The flaw, I propose, comes from an equivocation on the concept of “Universe”.
Let’s leave “Universe” to mean “everything which exists”, and introduce the term “spaticon” (a word coined by a friend in
Australia, standing for “space-time continuum”). Our spaticon is the “universe” we know: the stars, galaxies, the space-time in which we live. A hot prospect is that our spaticon is “finite but unbounded”, that is, it is finite in volume but has no edge (due to the curvature of space). [A useful conceptual analogy to this is to drop one dimension and consider a two-dimensional “ballooniverse” like the surface of a balloon. Its 2-dimensional inhabitants live in a finite but unbounded 2-dimensional universe curved through a 3rd dimension of which they can have no direct experience, but whose existence they can deduce from the geometry of their ballooniverse.]
People, and Peikoff in his argument, naturally tend to equate our spaticon with the Universe. But say for the sake of argument that there are many spaticons in the Universe (like a room full of balloons in the Ballooniverse analogy). The Universe would then be the set of all spaticons and whatever “hyperspace” they reside in.
This has the same metaphysical status as Peikoff’s “puffs of meta-energy” (OPAR p45): its truth or not is a subject for science not philosophy. Metaphysics doesn’t really care either way as long as the universe outside our spaticon is not inherently unknowable, ie, an advanced enough science can detect it (otherwise it would indeed be a meaningless, arbitrary hypothesis).
The relevance to the question of God is that in like manner, God could exist in the Universe but not as part of our spaticon. Then he would have identity and attributes. He could have created our spaticon, without violating the primacy of existence over consciousness: God would simply be a being in the Universe who acted on part of it to make our spaticon. He could even be “omnipotent” with respect to our spaticon (in the sense of being able to do anything he pleases to or in it) though not with respect to the Universe. Thus, the concept of God is not necessarily metaphysically invalid.
Similarly, I don’t agree that miracles are metaphysically impossible. A miracle is something not possible to entities by their nature without the application of external, directed action. A man can fly, by putting him in an aeroplane. A woman could give birth to an elephant (well, a small one!) given advanced enough medical techniques. A virgin could conceive likewise, much more easily. Men are raised from the dead every week these days. Likewise, a God in the universe could do things in our spaticon by the judicious application of force. Indeed, that is the supposed purpose of miracles: to prove the existence of God by accomplishing something not otherwise possible. That is, miracles presuppose rather than contradicting the concept of causality and natural law.
The concept of God still fails dismally, epistemologically. There are after all no valid reasons to believe it, and plenty of valid reasons not to, rendering deistic claims arbitrary (as Peikoff says, quite correctly). However, I think it is important to get the reasons right. Fight religion by epistemology, not metaphysics.
Regarding God and arbitrary claims in general, see my “Third Law of Doubt”:
“For every arbitrary claim, there is an equal and opposite arbitrary claim. These cancel each other out.”
The effect of this law is to force all such things into the realm of evidence. For example, take the claim: “I can’t prove Christianity is right, but you can’t prove it’s wrong, and if I’m right I’m going to heaven!” (a variation on Pascal’s dilemma). The primary assumption behind this can be countered by its opposite: “If there is a God, he must want men to live according to their nature, which means, by the use of their minds. Therefore, in fact he must hate baseless faith and want everyone to live by reason. So he will send all believers to hell, and all who live by reason to heaven. Prove me wrong!” Once someone accepts the validity of arbitrary claims, what defence can he have when they are used against him? He must either evade and go away, or accept the terms or reason and fight on the basis of evidence: a fight he must lose.
OPAR: Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff. Dutton, NY. 493 pp. An excellent treatment of Objectivism covering the basics of the entire philosophy from metaphysics to sex. An academic treatment, suitable for students of Objectivism or philosophy in general, but not for beginners. Available from Amazon. Pascal’s Dilemma: An attempt by the mathematician Blaise Pascal to justify faith via cost-benefit analysis. He argued that belief in [the Christian] God is either true or false. Given the promise of Heaven and the threat of Hell, he argued that if Christianity is true, the benefits of faith are immense, while the penalty of disbelief is horrendous; on the other hand, if it is false, then the penalties for believing it are minor as are the rewards for rejecting it. Therefore, one should have faith, and if one doesn’t, one should act to obtain it. The flaw in this dilemma is that the alternatives offered are arbitrarily chosen and equally dire punishments can be invented for irrational faith, once one allows that arbitrary claims have any validity.
© 1996 Robin Craig