One problem that Objectivism runs into right from the start is the near universality of religion. We find it nearly everywhere, even among isolated peoples. If religion were merely a product of premises, we would expect to find more variety in the world at large, as some cultures would choose religious premises and hence become religious, while other cultures would choose non-religious premises and hence become secular. Moreover, since religion (at least according to Objectivism) is "irrational," and since the irrational is impractical and even "evil," we would expect non-religious cultures to have a competitive advantage over religious cultures, so that over time, the non-religious, through a kind of natural selection, would triumph over and replace the religious. Oddly enough, this has not happened.
There is one major exception to the universality of religion: contemporary Europe. Soviet Russia and communist China could also be seen as exceptions as well, except for the fact that religion was brutally repressed in those countries, and that communism itself is a sort of secular religion. Europe, however, is one example that might fit within Rand's theory. The problem is, it might not fit. There may exist special circumstances in Europe which enable the natural proclivities toward religion to be supressed. After all, if Europeans have chosen non-religious premises, there must be a reason for this. While Objectivism often ignores the whole issue of why individuals in a special set of circumstances might choose one premise rather than another, it nonetheless would appear an important question to address if one is interested in discovering the truth of the matter.
In the United States, religion still remains a fairly strong force. More than half of Americans attend church at least once a month, and more than a third attend church once a week. Over three-quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Nonetheless, 20% of Americans never attend church, and another 25% "seldom" attend church. Oddly, church attendance rose in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but returned to pre-9/11 levels within two months. This suggests that religiousity increases, not as a result of any inexplicable or causeless acceptance of "religious" premises, but because many (perhaps even most) people are hardwired to turn to religious constructs when they feel seriously threatened. It might very well be that Europe is predominantly secular and non-religious because Europeans are wealthy and they feel safe. Take away the wealth and the safety, and Europe would return to religion (or the secular equivalent thereof).
Further evidence that a proclivity towards religion is a built-in feature of many individuals can be gleaned from an experiment devised by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Subjects were offered $2 if they would sign a peice of paper that said: I, ______, hereby sell my soul, after my death, to Scott Murphy, for the sum of $2. Below the signature line was the following: This form is part of a psychology experiment. It is MNS a legal or binding contract, in any way. Despite the non-binding nature of the contract, many of Haidt's subjects refused to sign the paper:
Only 23 percent of subjects were willing to sign the paper without goading from [Haidt's assistant Scott Murphy]. ... A few people confessed that they were atheists, didn't believe in souls, and yet still felt uncomfortable about signing.... People felt like it was ultimately their own choice whether or not to ... sign the paper, so most subjects seemed comfortable saying, "I just don't want to do it, even though I can't give you a reason." [The Righteous Mind, 37-8]
If this evidence is evaluated in the context of what psychologists already know about the human emotional system, it testifies strongly in favor of the thesis that there exist innate drives in many people that predispose them toward extra-empirical/religious beliefs. Given the widespread, nearly universal belief in mythical entities, it's difficult believe that there is nothing innate behind it all: because even if belief in myths arises from the acceptance of some premise, the fact that nearly everyone has accepted that premise provides strong indication that a natural proclivity exists behind the whole business. For if there were no natural proclivity, how does one explain why so many accept that one premise, regardless of culture, circumstances, or exposure to contrary premises? Man tends to be a myth believing creature. If he rejects one set of myths (say, religious myths), instead of eschewing all myths, he adopts a new set. If he doesn't believe in God, he believes in "the people," or "the ideal man," or "Nature," or "the environment," or "reason," or "progress," or "love," or some other myth comparably fanciful. If he claims to believe "only in science," further investigation will show that it is not science per se that he believes in, but a mythical version of science: "Science" with a capital S. As H. L. Mencken noted, "The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind."
The fact that an atheist feels uncomfortable selling his soul (via a non-binding contract, no less!) shows the power of the innate drives. Despite all the reconditioning in a predominantly secular educational system, these propensities still persist. Many people have a desire to hold something sacred, no matter how trivial. Rand held her "ideal man" as a sacred object, the holiest of holies, and resented any work of art which, like the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, laughed "at everything about man." Yet Rand's conception of the ideal man is every bit as mythical as the most extravagent theological absurdity. It is a religious sensibility applied to a non-religious object. It demonstrates that even Rand suffered from an innate drive to believe in mythical representations.