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God

Andrew Bissell

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January 25, 2011

Question: Where does God come in the picture?

Answer: Well, if you’re referring to an objective, rational view of the universe as it really is (the perspective Objectivism adopts), God simply doesn’t come in the picture. He does not exist.

This doesn’t mean that Ayn Rand was silent on the subjects of religion, God, and supernatural ideas. Quite the opposite: as a very prominent and influential part of humankind’s effort to understand existence, both historically and in modern times, Rand recognized that religious outlooks were among the most important for her to address and refute.

Most Objectivists recognize that religion may once have held value as a sort of primitive attempt to understand and explain the universe. What is the meaning of life? What is the nature of existence? Do people possess free will? Many of the same questions Objectivists still grapple with today originated during the evolution of the first religious belief systems.

Nevertheless, religion’s time has come and gone. We now have a method for investigating facts that is in accordance with the nature of existence and the need to look for answers in the only place they can be found—the real world. This method is reason, and it is only by the use of reason that we can integrate our observations and sense perceptions into more complex concepts and theories, and achieve certainty in the process. Turning to religion as a way to find meaning and truth in life is like reverting to a geocentric model of the solar system to explain the sun’s movement across the sky.

Notice that in defending the proposition that God exists, most theists resort to advancing some manner of extrasensory information. One never hears, “I know God exists because I have seen him.” Instead, the most common threads of argument are, “I have felt God’s presence in my heart,” or, “I believe in God because I don’t want to face the possibility that this is all there is.” These are both examples of belief based on faith, a method of arriving at “knowledge” that flaunts reality and cites the complete absence of evidence for an idea (such as a supernatural deity) as a good indicator that one should accept it.

One cannot find knowledge about existence by turning away from it. Objectivism holds that our senses (the real, observable senses like taste and touch) are the source of all knowledge. Since a supernatural world cannot be directly perceived and validated, there is little more reason to believe in it than to believe in tiny pink gremlins that live on the surface of Venus. “Just because” is not a sufficient justification.

Religion’s time has come and gone.

In fact, if one considers the matter closely it becomes clear that the idea of God is very much like that of Venus-dwelling gremlins. Just as we could not observe such creatures because of Venus’s dense cloud layers, the definition of God has always been constructed to place him beyond our powers of perception. This is a necessary part of any conception of supernatural beings. After all, if we could see or hear them, it would rob them of their mystique and mystery.

While Objectivists reject arbitrary assertions of the existence of a supernatural realm, we do acknowledge the reality and importance of spiritual values in our lives. Human beings have an intense need for the exultation and reverence we feel in the pursuit of moral ideals. Unlike the religious versions of these sensations, which focus on self-sacrifice and death, Objectivist spiritual ideals are based on the potentials of every living person, potentials that can be realized here on Earth and in this life.

So for Objectivists, God enters the picture as a sort of noble but outdated attempt by human beings to come to terms with a reality that sometimes seemed unpredictable, chaotic, and downright dangerous. In its modern incarnations, this concept is too often a response to delusion and despair, to unwillingness to deal with truths we may find unpleasant, and to disillusionment with a world that has frustrated some of our ambitions and dreams.

The proper composure for human beings is one of willingness to face the facts of reality and to follow them wherever they may lead, confident of our ability to adapt to this world by the tremendous power of our own reasoning minds. This is the spirituality Ayn Rand defined, a spirituality that carries with it a potential for soaring achievements and sublime triumphs, not in some vaguely defined afterlife, but in the here and now.

See also: “ Is Religion Compatible with Objectivism? ” Q&A by David Kelley.