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#622 Some Objections from Ayn Rand

March 18, 2019

Hi Dr Craig. I firstly want to say that I'm looking forward to you speaking at my school in May! I've been studying the philosophy of Ayn rand, in particular, her atheism. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find apologetic responses to her work and her objections to christianity. I have encountered two objections that objectivists give that seem flawed, but that I'm having trouble getting my head around. (1) in one of Rands novels, she says that if she were a Christian, she would be indignant that the perfect man (Christ) sacrifices himself for lesser humans. She thinks that to sacrifice yourself for a lesser man is the root of all evil (altruism). (2) one of her life long friends and disciples Leonard Peikoff has objected that a proof of God would be fatal to him since it would inevitably limit God. (3) she claims that Adam and Eve were punished for exercising the greatest virtues of reason and self interest. How ought we respond to these objectivist objections?


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Dr. craig’s response


We’re really looking forward to our English Schools trip May 16-25, which will take us to Wellington, Harrow, Eton, Bedales, and Winchester, capped off by Oxford University. Do introduce yourself personally when we come to your school, Amos!

Ayn Rand is not a philosopher who commands a great deal of attention among professional philosophers, though she has a sort of cult following in popular culture. I myself have not bothered to study her and so will respond simply to your objections as posed.

1. Indignation that the perfect man (Christ) sacrifices himself for lesser humans. What’s wrong with altruism? Why not sacrifice yourself for a lesser person? Is there an argument here, or just huffy indignation? The only argument here that I can imagine—apart from the atheist’s belief that he should place self-interest above everything else and so not sacrifice himself even for a more worthy person than himself—would be that if someone’s life is to be sacrificed, it ought to be the less worthy person who is done away with rather than someone of greater value. Otherwise one is giving up a greater good for a lesser good, which is wrong. Even if we say that all men are equal in value in virtue of their being in God’s image, still Christ, as God, is of greater value than human persons. Therefore he ought not to give up his life for others.

Now this raises all sorts of questions, but to mention just one point: Christ does not cease to exist when he dies on the cross. Rand is assuming a naturalistic point of view and assuming that death marks the end of human existence. The end of a good man’s life is therefore the end of all the value he has. But on a Christian view Christ exists following the death of his mortal body and, moreover, he rises from the dead to eternal life. So the good of his life is not lost but preserved. Moreover, by giving his life for others, Christ achieves their redemption so that they, too, might come to know the incommensurable good of a relationship with God and eternal life with him. So by giving his life for others, Christ brings about a great gain in goodness.

2. A proof of God would be fatal since it would inevitably limit God. How? How could my having an argument for the existence of an independent reality, say, zebras, limit zebras in any way? They exist and are what they are wholly independently of whether I have any evidence of their existence. So with God. One might say that a proof of zebras would limit zebras in the sense that I come to know something of their nature, e.g., that they are equine animals and not a mountain range or a pop band.  But that sense of limiting them places no limits on the zebras themselves but merely on my conception of them: it serves to make my conception more accurate, more in line with the way the world really is. That’s good! Similarly, we want to know if a metaphysically necessary, uncaused, eternal, morally perfect Creator of the universe exists, and having evidence of that fact will be a great boon to us.

I strongly suspect that the real reason Peikoff thought that a proof of God would be fatal is because it would limit him (i.e., Peikoff)! Once you have good reason to think that God exists, then you know that it is not you who are on the throne, as Ayn Rand would have it, but God.

3. Adam and Eve were punished for exercising the greatest virtues of reason and self interest. That’s just a misreading of the story of their fall in Genesis 3. They were punished for disobedience to God’s command. God prohibited eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They ate it anyway. They thus rebelled against their Creator and lawgiver and so deserved punishment. Of course, we might wonder what is bad about the knowledge of good and evil, such that God would prohibit it. Unfortunately, Genesis doesn’t define what “the knowledge of good and evil” means, which has led to lengthy debate among biblical commentators. I think a clue may lie in the Hebrew conception of knowing as inherently experiential. For example, “Adam knew his wife” is an idiom for having sexual relations. So we’re probably not talking here about just head knowledge of good and evil, but experiential knowledge. Experiencing evil is a bad state of affairs and ultimately self-destructive. God doesn’t want us to have that sort of knowledge and so proscribes the fruit of the tree which symbolizes such knowledge. In any case, since God’s commands constitute our moral duties, even if God had issued an arbitrary command like “Do not step outside the Garden of Eden,” to cross that line would be disobedience and therefore sin.

- William Lane Craig