Petersen’s Failed Attempts to Refute Leonard Peikoff: Objection 3
The first entry in this series can be found here.
The second entry in this series (Objection 1) can be found here.
The third entry in this series (Objection 2) can be found here.
Dr. Peikoff’s statements in question can be found here.
Jason Petersen’s response to Peikoff can be found here.
In this entry I will examine Petersen’s attempts to refute Peikoff’s “Objection 3” against theism. In the present entry, we come to certain claims about “God’s nature” as Petersen would have us imagine it. Petersen raises a series of point-missing objections to one of Peikoff’s statements.
In his lecture series The Philosophy of Objectivism, Peikoff is on the record stating the following:
Is God omnipotent? Can he do anything? Entities can act only in accordance with their natures; nothing can make them violate their natures . . .
Answer: Peikoff is confused about the attributes of God’s nature. God cannot violate his own nature. This is not because God doesn’t have the power to do something that his nature would forbid, rather, it’s because God will do what he pleases, and what he pleases stems from his nature (Psalm 115:3). In other words, the way God exercises his power is within the bounds of what he wills and decrees(Eph. 1:11). Thus, Peikoff’s objection is based on a misunderstanding of omnipotence.
One thing that is certain is that Petersen did not learn what he asserts here by means of reason, and he tells us ths explicitly. Later on in his interaction with Peikoff’s statements about theism, Petersen himself states:
One cannot discover the truth of Christianity via reason, sense perception, or experience.
Also, what does it mean to say that whatever “pleases” the Christian god “stems from [its] nature” when its nature is supposed to be infinite? Christian apologists often make a retreat to the notion that their god would not do something because its nature somehow constrains its range of choices and actions. But if its nature is infinite, as Petersen himself imagines his own god to be (see here), then what constraining power could its nature possibly have over itself? If its nature is infinite as well as omnipotent, then its nature could have no constraining function over its choices and actions.
Remember that this is the same god which allowed its own child to be tortured and executed: according to the gospel narratives, Petersen’s god stood by watching everything that was happening to its own child as he was being maimed, beaten, whipped, spat on, and nailed to a cross, and in spite of this injustice it chose not to intervene to protect its own child from his executioners. That’s the Christian gospel mythology in a nutshell. Standing by and watching its own child being tortured to death and not intervening to rescue its child must certainly be something that “stems from its nature,” for the Christian lore characterizes precisely this. Indeed, this is supposed to be a god which “has a morally sufficient reason” for evil (Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 172). This can only mean that allowing evil and even using evil to achieve its ends must likewise be something that “stems from [the Christian god’s] nature.”
So I submit that the appeal to “God’s nature” to answer Peikoff’s objections is just more question-begging smoke and mirrors.
As for Peikoff’s statement, clearly he’s speaking from an objective point of view which is apparently incomprehensible to Petersen. And what’s important to note here is that Petersen’s remarks do nothing to refute anything that Peikoff affirms here. Specifically, Petersen cites no facts which contradict the viewpoint which Peikoff affirms. All Petersen can do is take cover in the imaginary trappings of what is ultimately a subjective worldview.
Petersen probably does not even notice that he is performatively contradicting himself when he affirms his god-belief claims as truths. Specifically, he makes use of the primacy of existence, just anyone does when he affirms something as factually supported, while the content of what he affirms assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. This is like making a statement on the tacit assumption that wishing doesn’t make it so, while the content of that statement itself assumes a metaphysical viewpoint which essentially boils down to “wishing does make it so.” The primacy of existence cannot be integrated with the primacy of consciousness without contradiction. But irrational thinkers don’t like to be reminded of this.
And no, I don’t think Peikoff has misunderstood the notion of “omnipotence” in the least. The storybook examples of the Christian god in action found in the bible make it clear that Peikoff has it right. According to the holy storybook, the Christian god creates the universe by an act of consciousness, assembles the first human from dust, submerges the entire world under a massive flood, stops the sun in the sky, turns water into wine, enables men to walk on unfrozen water, cures blindness by spitting into their eyes, raises dead people from the grave, etc., all by force of sheer will, and these are examples of what Peikoff has in mind when he raises the objection that “entities can act only in accordance with their natures; nothing can make them violate their natures.” Yes, we can certainly read about these things and thereby imagine them happening as we read about them, but we never find this in the real world. We have no alternative but to imagine them. It is all imaginary. It all belongs in the same category as Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz. The believer essentially pretends that what he imagines is real because he has invested himself in it emotionally and resists consistently acknowledging the fact that the imaginary is not real.
Next, we’ll get to Petersen’s interaction with Peikoff’s final objection, and Petersen’s concluding remarks.
by Dawson Bethrick