Peikoff claims that all the arguments for God’s existence contradict the Objectivist axioms:
Is God the creator of the universe? Not if existence has primacy over consciousness.
Is God the designer of the universe? Not if A is A. The alternative to “design” is not “chance.” It is causality.
Is God omnipotent? Nothing and no one can alter the metaphysically given.
Is God infinite? “Infinite” does not mean large; it means larger than any specific quantity, i.e., of no specific quantity. An infinite quantity would be a quantity without identity. But A is A. Every entity, accordingly, is infinite.
Can God perform miracles? A “miracle” does not mean merely the unusual…. A miracle is an action not possible to the entities involved by their nature; it would be a violation of identity.
Is God purely spiritual? “Spiritual” means pertaining to consciousness, and consciousness is a faculty of certain living organisms…. A consciousness transcending nature would be a faculty transcending organism and object. So far from being all-knowing such a thing would have neither means nor content of perception; it would be nonconscious. [OPAR, 31-32]
These arguments against theism are even worse than the rationalistic arguments made on the theistic side, such as the wretched cosmological and ontological “proofs” for God’s existence. They all seek to leverage the scandalous vagueness of abstruse terms to reach conclusions that the premises cannot support.
Two of the three Objectivist axioms are tautologies. The problem with tautologies is not that they are false, but that they are trivial: nothing of any consequence can be derived from them. The tautology existence exists is logically consistent with every proposition about existence, including the proposition God exists.
Peikoff’s first argument makes uses of the one non-tautological axiom, the axiom of consciousness, which claims that “one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.” Rand believed that from this axiom (with assistance from the other two) sprung a further principle, known as the primacy of existence over consciousness. This is a rather incoherent distinction. Since consciousness (as Rand’s second axiom declares) exists, then consciousness must be part of existence. So what then does it mean to say that existence is primary over consciousness? What Rand is really asserting is the primacy of that portion of existence that is not conscious: that is, she is asserting the primacy of matter. Primacy in what sense? Well, here’s where we run into problems of ambiguity. Rand claims that those who deny the primacy of existence believe that existence is “created” by consciousness. Plato, Christianity, and German Idealism are all presented as advocates of this view. Unfortunately, no Objectivist has ever provided any evidence of a genuine platonist or Christian or German Idealist who actually holds that view. Idealists don’t believe consciousness creates existence. Nor do they believe in the primacy of consciousness. What they believe in is the primacy of the contents of consciousness—which is something different. Where those contents ultimately come from is a matter of debate between various idealist factions; but I’m not aware of any faction that declares that all of existence is “created” by consciousness.
When Peikoff declares that God can’t be the creator of existence because existence is primary, what has he established? He’s established nothing. No theist, Christian or otherwise, ever asserted that God created existence. God, it is claimed, created the “heavens and the earth” or the “universe”—which, again, is something different. Since God existed before the creation of the universe, any notion of God creating “existence” is absurd. Peikoff is here playing fast and loose with the term existence, trying to use it as if it were a precise synonym for universe or material world.
When Peikoff declares that God can’t be the designer of the universe, because that would violate A is A, he is once more trying to draw non-tautological rabbits from tautological hats. A is A merely asserts the identity of any specific symbol of consciousness to itself. Objectivists try to extend this self-evident but tautological notion of identity into a kind of declaration of the intelligibility of reality. Things must have identity, or else how could we ever come to know them? This implicit premise of Objectivism, masked by the often repeated mantra A is A, is problematic in several directions. While it is true that intelligibility is a precondition of knowledge, this does not mean that intelligibility is also a precondition of existence as well—not if we wish to be consistent with realism. Realism asserts that material objects have a place, movement, origin and destiny of their own, regardless of what the individual may think or fail to think about them. Embedded in this view is the possibility of both error and unintelligibility. Since the object of knowledge lays beyond the realm of consciousness, the possibility not only of error, but of partial unknowability cannot be ruled out of hand. As Santayana once noted: "There may be surds, there may be hard facts, there may be dark abysses before which intelligence must be silent, for fear of going mad." Although every existent must have a nature, that does not mean that every existent is identifiable to consciousness. Not every aspect of the universe exists for the convenience of our intellects. To think otherwise is to flounder into the morass of idealism.
While implicit notions of intelligibility indicate the essential incoherency of the third Objectivist axiom, even more serious is its lack of specificity. Objects, this axiom asserts, must have identity, but it may be any identity. Therefore no specific identity can be ruled out of hand. For this reason, Peikoff’s is wrong to assume that A is A contradicts the theistic premise of God as a designer. If the universe actually was “designed” by God, then that is the identity the universe manifests—end of issue.
Peikoff next asserts that God cannot be omnipotent because “no one can alter the metaphysically given.” But how does he know this? That statement cannot be deduced from any of the axioms, because the axioms don’t contain any empirical content. If God exists and is capable of altering the “metaphysically given,” then his existence and identity are included in these supposed facts. There is nothing in the Objectivist axioms, if taken in their self-evident sense, that would necessarily over-rule this.
Peikoff’s take on infinity is bizarre. “ An infinite quantity would be a quantity without identity,” he asserts. But here he commits the error pointed out earlier of confusing what is identifiable to the human mind with what exists in reality. On realist premises you cannot assume that everything that exists must be intelligible (i.e., identifiable) to the human mind. It is possible that some things may be unintelligible. Hence we cannot rule out the possible existence of infinity.
Nor do miracles violate the so-called “law of identity.” If nature of the universe is such that miracles are possible, then miracles are part of the identity of the universe. Again, it’s important to appreciate how useless metaphysical arguments are to ascertaining facts of reality.
The final objection that Peikoff raises to theism may be the silliest. If reduced to essentials, it would read as follows: God cannot be purely spiritual because a purely spiritual entities are impossible. And not only that, but since non-spiritual entities lack both the means and the content of perception, they can’t be all-knowing. Yet this all rests of the assumption that only physical bodies can be conscious. While this may be true, it doesn’t follow from the Objectivist axioms. As to Peikoff’s additional assertion—I don’t see what the point Peikoff is trying to make in raising it. On the (gratuitous) assumptions of his own argument, a non-physical spiritual entity cannot possibly exist. But if such an entity is impossible, why is he claiming that this impossible entity can’t also be all-knowing? If it can’t exist, questions about whether it is all-knowing are beside the point. So why bring it up?
Peikoff concludes with the following assertion: “At every point, the notion [of God] clashes with the facts of reality and with the precondition of thought.” For better or worse, Peikoff’s metaphysical arguments only address the second of these two problems, i.e., the preconditions of thought. He doesn’t make a factual case against God. Facts involve presenting evidence, and Peikoff provides no evidence, just rationalistic speculation. Even worse, his “precondition of thought” arguments rest on idealist premises. Reality cannot be solely judged on the basis of preconditions of thought—not unless you assume that all of reality is amenable to human thought. That is an assumption accepted by various forms of idealism. But a realist must recognize the possibility that some aspects reality might be unknowable; and this assumption defeats Peikoff’s “preconditions of thought” argumentation at its core.