Aren't Objectivists atheists?
No. Most definitely not. Although Objectivists vociferously attack comparisons with religion, I have yet to find a modern Objectivist philosopher who actually says "Objectivists are atheists" in complete candor. David Kelley (he is officially not an Objectivist by the fact that he was "excommunicated") presents the basic and most well-thought through presentation of traditional Objectivist views on (against?) religion in his FAQ. The Randroids (as I prefer to call those who argue based on Rand's authority, as opposed to the force of her logic) can make an argument that Rand viewed herself as an atheist, and therefor all "Objectivism" as defined to be "the philosophy of Ayn Rand" must similarly be atheist. My assertions about Objectivism, however, are based on the Essentials of Objectivism. Objectivists and Objectivism are incompatible with religion as most people understand the idea of religion. That does not mean Objectivists must be atheists.
The term atheism cannot be applied to Objectivism. Atheism, as defined by Webster's dictionary is "a : a disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity." The doctrine that anything does not exist, or we should not believe that anything exists is fundamentally against Objectivism. Objectivism is founded upon the belief that existence does exist, in complete disregard for anyone's belief to the contrary. If there is a deity as a matter of objective fact, then an Objectivist must completely reject atheism. And, since it is impossible to prove the absence of something without complete information, it is incredible for anyone to assert such a doctrine.
Some will assert that the idea of a deity is rationally impossible. This is acceptable to some, but certainly fails the test of Objectivism. Objectivism holds as a fundamental tenet that reality exists in complete disregard to my attempts to understand it. If something is irrational, yet does objectively exist, the fault lies with my logic. Objective reality must be taken as it exists. I do not bother asserting that definitions of deity are so varied as to make the assertion weak, because it is irrelevant to an Objectivist. Even if everyone agreed to the definition of omnipotent, G-d, Creator, etc.; our conceptions would not stand in the face of reality. If G-d exists, He does so independent of anyone's conceptions. Our conceptions must be reformed to account for reality, not the reverse. Someone who will say that quantum physics doesn't exist simply because his mind is incapable of understanding or explaining quantum physics is not an Objectivist. An Objectivist does not base empirical findings on concepts and rationalizations.
Objectivists confronted with these arguments typically retreat to a sort of "agnostic" position. This, however, is also incompatible with Objectivism. An agnostic is defined as "a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as G-d) is unknown and prob. unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of G-d or a god." This is a form of skepticism. Objectivism holds that reality is knowable. We do not believe in the unknowable and certainly do not label ourselves as "those who do not know." Only the broader definition can possibly apply to an Objectivist, but it cannot apply to Objectivism. While an Objectivist might not have enough information to make a determination of any fact; Objectivism should never be painted with the broad brush that it is impossible to ascertain any fact.
The default position of any Objectivist regarding the existence of G-d should be just like that of any scientist confronted with the existence of anything. The default hypothesis is that it doesn't exist. A test hypothesis is that it does exist. Depending on the evidence for the test hypothesis, we can either accept it with a given certainty or reject it. In the complete absence of any evidence, the test hypothesis is completely disregarded. Scientists do not operate on basic assumptions that other dimensions, unknown particles, X-men and space aliens do not exist. They do not accept the assertion until credible proof is received. Should sufficient proof be offered, they operate on the assumption that the test hypothesis is true, unless further research proves otherwise.
The question of what evidence should suffice is epistemological. The literature in Objectivism is not specific to religion and should not be specific to religion.
Theology: Who needs it?
So, let's take an Objectivist who has no information to convince him or her of anything resembling a deity. Religion, as most Objectivists have experienced it, has overwhelming hindered Objectivist values. Why should I care about theology and religion at all? Because it is a question of reality. Reality does not depend on my personal experience. Should I decide to live in my home with a complete lack of international politics simply because international politics is ruled by the irrational? Most of human society is dominated by the irrational, but that doesn't allow me to bury my head in the sand.
An Objectivist lives consciously. An Objectivist is constantly looking to understand his or her surroundings, the reality that comes to bear on his or her life and the fundamental truths of reality. Theology bears on all of our lives, just as philosophy does. In our own rational self-interest, we need to fight the good fight against subjectivist theology. We need to wade through the empirical evidence about our reality with open eyes seeking to know what is true. Most importantly, as a philosophical pursuit, we must know how to react should we be confronted with certain realities. As an Objectivist, would absolute proof of the existence of some greater beings push me into self-sacrifice, worship or slavery? These are not questions that I can simply dismiss. I have a duty to myself to answer them as part of my philosophy.
I do not, however, argue how much of a priority these questions should take. Of course, a person has limited resources, and can only spend so much time dealing with so many things. If G-d doesn't bother me, I don't need to bother Him. If religion doesn't bother me, I don't need to bother religion. But, I doubt any American today can truly say that religion doesn't bother him. Thus, the need to address religion.
I am not addressing the question of "sanction" because it is not specific to religion. I think a rational Objectivist should at least be aware of the differences between different theologies and their definitions, even if s/he doesn't want to provide anyone with sanction.
What does Objectivism have to say about religion?
A lot. From Ayn Rand's own words through the further development of her ideas by various sources. Most specifically, Objectivism rejects mysticism, the supernatural and faith. This is devestating to most belief in religion as it currently exists. The words are often left to incredibly varying and sometimes contradictory defitions. Hopefully, that will be cleared up as Objectivism matures.
I make one reference to Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's magnum opus Halakhic Man, note 4, first printed in Hebrew in 1944.
It would appear to me that there is no need to explain the self-evident falsity of this ideology. First, the entire Romantic aspiration to escape from the domain of knowledge, the rebellion against the authority of objective, scientific cognition which has found its expression in the biologistic philosophies of Bergson, Nietzsche, Spengler, Klages, and their followers and in the phenomenological, existential, and antiscientific school of Heidegger and his coterie, and from the midsts of which there arose in various forms the sanctification of vitality and intuition, the veneration of instinct, the desire for power, the glorification of the emotional-affective life and the flowing, surging stream of subjectivity, the lavishing of extravagant praise on the Faustian type and the Dionysian personality, etc., etc., have brought complete chaos and human depravity to the world. And let the events of the present era be proof! The individual who frees himself from the rational principle and who casts off the yoke of objective thought will in the end turn destructive and lay waste the entire created order. Therefore, it is preferable that religion should ally itself with the forces of clear, logical cognition, as uniquely exemplified in the scientific method, even at times the two might clash with one another, rather than pledge its troth to beclouded, mysterious ideologies that grope in the dark corners of existence, unaided by the shining light of objective knowledge, and believe that they have penetrated to the secret core of the world.
As Rabbi Soloveitchik discusses, these beliefs pervade Christianity and liberal Judaism; basically the entirety of Western religion. But, the fact remains, that they are not integral to religion. Religion implies a relationship with G-d, not the epistemology that supports the belief in G-d. I predict that if the existence of G-d be proven with due epistemological rigor, Objectivism would be a religion. Every Objectivist would relate to G-d as part of reality. Unfortunately, (probably because of Ayn Rand's association of religion with "faith") there is a complete void of serious discussion about what type of evidence would be required and what such a relationship would be.
In closing, I re-assert the following points.
- Objectivists perceive reality as it exists, not as we conceive it.
- Questions of epistemology should not depend on the individual datum to be assessed.
- Objectivists perceive a need to gain as much knowledge and influence over reality as possible and ethical.
I believe, from these points, it follows that Objectivists should involve themselves in questions of theology and religion with true intellectual commitment.