Obliterating Slick's Straw Man
By
Dawson Bethrick

Christian apologist Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry is at it again! His dislike for atheism has compelled him to vilify it again, and unfortunately this "argument" against atheism (if one could call it that) is nothing new or even remotely original. In this "argument," which is the topic of his essay Atheism, Evolution, and Purpose, Slick wants to argue "that God gives us purpose," and "that the best the naturalist [i.e., an atheist] can offer is an illusion of purpose."

 

What is Purpose?

Slick declares (without argument) that "Purpose is indicative of a purpose giver, a designer." How he knows this or why he thinks this, is unstated. But of course the most important question which Slick should be asking at this point is, "What is purpose?" In other words, just as he failed to offer a definition of 'universe' in his version of the "entropy argument" for the existence of a god, Slick fails to offer a definition of 'purpose', a crucial term in building his case against "the naturalist," or any other godless person. Consequently, when Slick attempts to make his case against non-religious people being able to have a purpose in life, we are left wondering whether he knows what he's talking about.

Thus, in order to offer a comprehensive critique of Slick's paper, which is the aim of this paper, we must have some understanding of what is meant by 'purpose' in order to determine whether or not one must hold to a god-belief in order to conceive, pursue and hope to achieve a purpose in life. Since, however, I do not consider myself to be a "naturalist," but an Objectivist, it may be argued that my critique, if successful, may not rescue "the naturalist" from Slick's charge against him, even though it is the aim of my critique to show that one does not need god-belief in order to have a legitimate life purpose. It may be the case that "the naturalist" whom Slick has in mind may hold contradictory assumptions about life, morality, and goals which incapacitate his ability to identify and pursue a legitimate life purpose consistent with those assumptions.

For the purposes of assessing the success or failure of Slick's argument, I take 'purpose' to mean the "conscious goal-orientedness in every aspect of one's existence where choice applies." [1] I choose this definition for two specific reasons: first, I choose it because it is an objectively formed concept according to the epistemological principles of the Objectivist worldview. Since I am an Objectivist and apply Objectivism's principles to my life, it is logical that the Objectivist conception of 'purpose' should figure into a critique of the nature which I have here prepared.

Second, this conception of 'purpose' is of supreme relevance to the topic at hand, namely, whether one requires a god-belief in order to conceive, pursue and hope to fulfill a life purpose. Since human action is necessarily goal-oriented, and since human action is also a product of conscious choices, it follows that the guiding purpose of one's actions in life should take these facts into account. This definition of 'purpose' also precludes holding one accountable for matters where choice does not apply, such as where he was born, how many limbs he has, what color his eyes are, as well as the limitations of his means, ability, etc. when they are not amenable to choice.

Because he is a living organism, man does not have a choice in the fact that he faces a fundamental alternative, namely life versus death. In order to live, man has no choice about the fact that he needs values which make his life possible (e.g., food, shelter, reason, skills, etc.). In order to achieve these values, man does not have a choice about the fact that he must act in order to achieve them, since these values are not automatically given to him by nature. Instead, these values must first be identified, and then the action by which he is to acquire them must be identified and then engaged before he can achieve them. Thus, since life is the goal of man's life actions, to live is his purpose. In other words, man's life is an end in itself.

Contrast living organisms with beings which do not face this kind of alternative (e.g., rocks, mountains, stars, immortal deities, etc.). Beings which do not face such an alternative could not have a need to act, since their existence is not dependent on the achievement of values, as it is in the case of the class of existents known as living organisms. And immortal "God," for instance, since it is indestructible, would have no reason to act. In other words, since it does not face the fundamental alternative life versus death, or existence versus non-existence, God could not have a purpose. No matter what such a being does, it neither advances or undermines its existence. Thus it could have no values, since nothing could be a benefit to it, and it could have no vulnerabilities, since nothing could threaten it. Thus, any action which such a being is said to take, must be literally arbitrary, that is, without purpose, since no goal could be said to direct its actions.

In the opening of his paper, Slick claims that "Purpose is indicative of a purpose giver, a designer." Of course, on this view, there is certainly no compelling need to conclude that the "purpose giver" in question is supernatural or divine in nature, and indeed could be any dictator or slave-driver who comes along and presumes the authority to assign a purpose to someone else's life. Nothing Slick says here rules out this alternative from fulfilling his conception of 'purpose'. Had Slick taken the time to provide a definition of what he means by 'purpose' and had built into his argument the safeguards necessary to preclude the possibility that the "purpose giver" which he has in mind is human (e.g., a totalitarian despot, cult leader, or other charismatic personality) as opposed to divine in nature, this weakness may have been avoided. However, it is noteworthy how many of history's tyrannical rulers have aligned themselves with religion and religious leadership, many of whom have served only to sanction their tyranny. It is not clear that this would concern Slick.

Besides, if it is the case that "Purpose is indicative of a purpose giver," why can't the "purpose giver" in question be oneself? In other words, if purpose requires a person who "gives" purpose, why can't one give himself a life purpose, and why wouldn't thinkers like Slick consider this legitimate? Why could one not be the designer of his own purpose in life? After all, whose life is it anyway? Of course, conceiving, designing and taking the action necessary to fulfill a life purpose is an enormous responsibility, and many people may be so insecure in their potential and ability that such a responsibility is too great for them to accept and face honestly or effectively. Such persons, then, would likely prefer to surrender this responsibility to others, a decision clearly motivated by emotion rather than reason and self-confidence. It is unfortunate to see people do this, as in so doing they simply deny themselves the opportunity of living a fulfilling life. However, since there is, sadly, no shortage of persons who are eager to control the lives of others, there will likely be no shortage of persons who would prefer that people think that they cannot define and choose their own purpose in life, but must sacrifice themselves to the designs and devices of others. This is the realm where religion has its most lethal affects against man.

 

Slick's Presumption of What Atheists Must Think

Regardless of Slick's negligence in offering any definition of the term 'purpose', he does present an argument for his desired conclusion. He prefaces his argument by listing 10 (seven primary and three secondary) positions which he thinks the "atheist point of view" holds.

Those positions are as follows:

  1. The universe exists.
  2. The universe has principles and laws inherent in its properties of matter, energy flow, chemical reaction, etc.
  3. A. Any derivative principles based upon the laws must be consistent with the inherent laws.

  4. These inherent, natural laws cannot be violated.
  5. A. Any apparent violation of these laws is only a display of our lack of understanding of all the laws and is consistent with more complex inherent laws.

  6. Life is the product of these inherent natural laws of the universe. [A] That is, due to the properties of matter and energy, life necessarily arose since we exist.
  7. Life can only develop in harmony with the natural laws in the universe.
  8. Life is limited to and governed by these inherent principles since life is a product of the inherent laws and cannot violate them.
  9. Therefore,

A. Human existence, thoughts, feelings, etc., are merely the end result of the inherent universal laws and principles of matter, energy flow, chemical reaction, etc. that has resulted in life.

I am an atheist, so it is important to me to see where Slick is accurate in his understanding of my perspective as an atheist. [2] And since my perspective is one which is informed by the philosophy of Objectivism, then I will identify the Objectivist positions corresponding to those which Slick lists as I understand them.

Let's look at them individually:

The first position which Slick identifies is, "The universe exists." Of course, who could argue with this? Indeed, Objectivism's first truth is "existence exists" - which is known in Objectivism as the axiom of Existence, and holds that 'universe' is properly defined as the totality of that which exists.

The second position which Slick identifies is, "The universe has principles and laws inherent in its properties of matter, energy flow, chemical reaction, etc." In addition to this, Slick provides what apparently he takes to be a corollary to this position, which is, "Any derivative principles based upon the laws must be consistent with the inherent laws."

Do I as a non-theist hold these positions? Well, more or less, however Slick's statement is potentially open to varying interpretations which may or may not be compatible with my understanding of Objectivism. So I would offer the following alternative: Since to exist is to be something specific, existence is identity. This is the Law of Identity, i.e., A is A, which means that whatever exists is itself, that it has an identity, that A is not A and non-A, etc. In Objectivism, this is known as the axiom of Identity. The corollary to the Law of Identity, according to Objectivism, is the Law of Causality, which is the Law of Identity applied to action. And the reason for this should be clear: since action also exists, action is what it is, i.e., action has identity. Thus, according to these laws, for whatever exists, from the minutest constituent in an atom to the universe as a whole, is what it is and acts according to its nature.

The third position Slick attributes to "an Atheistic Perspective" states that, "These inherent, natural laws cannot be violated." As a corollary, Slick offers the following: "Any apparent violation of these laws is only a display of our lack of understanding of all the laws and is consistent with more complex inherent laws."

Do I as a non-theist hold to these positions? Consider the first: "natural laws cannot be violated." Objectivism holds, as another corollary to the Law of Identity, that contradictions do not exist in reality. In other words, there is no existent which are both itself and not itself, since for something to exist is for that something to be itself.

Does this mean that what may appear to be a "violation of these laws" or contradictory facts must be due to "our lack of understanding of all the laws" of nature? While it may be the case that this in fact is what has lead to our misidentification of the facts, it is most likely the case that some error in reasoning was committed along the way in our inference from what we perceived to what we identified as what we perceived. This may be due to the lack of relevant data, but this data does not necessarily have to be in the form of other natural laws which account for the discrepancy in our inference.

If for example I am attempting to learn a piano piece and someone tells me I am playing it incorrectly (i.e., what I am playing is not how the piece is written, i.e., A vs. non-A), it may be the case that I simply failed to learn the coda section coming before the ending of the piece. Thus, my error is not due to my ignorance of a natural law, but my failure to incorporate a detail which, once brought to my attention, could be integrated with the sum of my relevant knowledge in order to be corrected. In other words, an oversight. Many of our errors in identifying reality are of this type of error in integrating facts already available to us.

An example of misidentifying reality as violating itself due to "our lack of understanding" of certain natural laws, would be in the case of a straight pencil appearing to be bent when dunked into a glass of water. The relevant laws which are not taken into consideration when we might conclude from our perception of the pencil appearing bent are those pertaining to light refraction: light travels at different speeds through different media. With the discovery of such laws, we can know have a fuller grasp of the causal nature of our perception.

The fourth position which Slick attributes to "an Atheistic Perspective" is, "Life is the product of these inherent natural laws of the universe." As a qualification to this, Slick provides, "That is, due to the properties of matter and energy, life necessarily arose since we exist."

Do I as a non-theist hold to these stated positions? In answer to the question, "Where did life come from?" I would rightly answer: from existence. And, since to exist is to be something (Identity), and to be something means that it can only according to its nature (Causality), then it is only logical to infer that life arose according to the nature of those things which made it possible. Since these are natural laws, I hold that this process of life generation, which we'll call biological causality, is and always has been a natural process (as opposed to a "supernatural" process), since it conforms to the laws of nature. Thus Slick's fifth position which he attributes to atheists, that "Life can only develop in harmony with the natural laws in the universe," follows as a corollary to this.

The sixth position which Slick attributes to "an Atheist Perspective" is, "Life is limited to and governed by these inherent principles since life is a product of the inherent laws and cannot violate them."

Do I as a non-theist hold to this position? Since life exists, it has identity (axiom of Identity). Thus, to have identity is to be limited to itself. So, whatever life is, it is itself, and nothing more. But rather than saying that "life is a product of the inherent laws," I would say that life is a product of causal processes which accord with natural laws. This may be a minor difference terminologically, but I find Slick's wording here vague and therefore not optimal.

Now we get to the seventh position which Slick wants to attribute to atheists, which is, "Human existence, thoughts, feelings, etc., are merely the end result of the inherent universal laws and principles of matter, energy flow, chemical reaction, etc., that has resulted in life."

Do I as a non-theist hold to this position? Well, what precisely is it saying? There are a few points of interest here.

One minor point is Slick's use of the word "merely" in the conclusion of his first primary argument. Intimating that man's nature ("Human existence, thoughts, feelings, etc.") is "merely the end result of universal laws," is, of course, to invoke unnecessarily inflammatory language in order to cause distrust of the position he wants to attribute to the "Atheistic Perspective" which he has in mind. But, more importantly, even if it were the case that man's nature were "merely the end result of universal laws," so what? If those are the facts, those are the facts, and inflammatory language will not overturn the facts or undermine their relevance to the topic which Slick is addressing. Indeed, regardless of the "universal laws and principles of matter, energy flow, chemical reaction" from which human nature has resulted, he still has a nature, he still faces a fundamental alternative, and it is still a fact that his actions and choices require an orientation toward chosen goals in accordance to the facts of reality.

 

A Word of Caution

But there is call to add a word of caution here in order to avoid an equivocation which may be coming up. It seems that Slick, in what he attributes to the "atheistic perspective," wants to package-deal the generative processes ("?inherent universal laws and principles of matter, energy flow, chemical reaction, etc?" - later he dubs it "inherent programming") behind man's biological nature with the generative processes behind the operation of his consciousness ("?thoughts, feelings, etc?"), thus denying man's free will. This is clearly an illicit move on his part. Objectivism does not hold that man's conscious experience is guided strictly by "chemical reactions" and the such. While these things certainly affect the brain, they do not dictate what he accepts as truth or what he chooses as his values and purpose. Indeed, I have already indicated the faculty responsible for this by using the term 'chooses' in the last sentence. Indeed, Objectivism holds that man possesses not just consciousness, but a volitional form of consciousness. I.e., he has free will, a self-directing, self-regulating conscious ability to choose between alternatives.

This position is certainly not in violation of any of the prior positions as I have recast them. Indeed, that man possesses a volitional consciousness is in full agreement with the Law of Identity: Man's nature is such that he is consciousness and that he has the ability to choose between alternatives (i.e., his consciousness is volitional in nature). Man's consciousness is also capable of conception, which is a volitionally regulated process: "Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional." [3]

So there is a fundamental distinction between "chemical reactions" which enable the brain to function, and the volitional nature of man's consciousness which enables him to regulate his actions, which must be integrated into any assessment of man's nature with respect to a discussion on the nature of his capacity for purpose in life.

In his argument that the atheist is either not capable of purpose or cannot choose one for himself due to his presuppositions, may apply to certain atheists who, along with Slick's straw man of atheism proper, deny the fact that man's consciousness is volitional in nature. However, this certainly does not apply to all atheists or to all "atheistic perspectives." But, as will be clear in the analysis of his argument which follows, Slick expects all atheists to deny the volitional nature of their consciousness and thus fall prey to the accusation which he has set out to prove, namely "that the best the naturalist [i.e., an atheist] can offer is an illusion of purpose." Since, it will be clear, Slick's argument to this end depends on the failure to distinguish between natural forces such as "chemical reactions" which enable the brain to function, and the specific nature of man's consciousness, his conclusion cannot be sound.

Indeed, look at what Slick wants to argue:

Since the laws of the universe are immutable and cannot be violated, any reason given by an atheist for claiming purpose in existence can be properly attributed to be the result of chemical reactions in his/her brain leading him to say he has purpose.

Does it follow from the assumption that "the laws of the universe are immutable and cannot be violated," that "any reason given by an atheist for claiming purpose in existence can be properly attributed to the result of chemical reactions in his/her brain leading him to say he has purpose"? Indeed, one could only argue this if one assumes that "chemical reactions" are the only form of causality for action. But indeed, Objectivism does not accept this assumption, nor does Slick argue for it. It certainly does not follow from the premises which he offered in his first argument, and on the face of it, this assumption denies the volitional nature of man's consciousness, since it essentially claims that man does not choose what he says, but that his words and convictions are the result of forces beyond his control.

Objectivism rejects such assumptions because they ignore the fact, which Objectivism recognizes, that volition is a species of causality. Peikoff makes this point in his essay "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy":

Because man has free will, no human choice - and no phenomenon which is a product of human choice - is metaphysically necessary. In regard to any man-made fact, it is valid to claim that man has chosen thus, but it was not inherent in the nature of existence for him to have done so: he could have chosen otherwise? Choice, however, is not chance. Volition is not an exception to the Law of Causality; it is a type of causation. [4]

Thus, when one holds that what a person says "can be properly attributed to the result of chemical reactions in his/her brain leading him to say he has purpose," he is essentially denying that man possesses a volitional consciousness and that volition is "a type of causation." Because of this, the Objectivist can rightly reject the first premise of Slick's second argument.

To be sure, discarding belief in invisible magic beings like gods, does not mean that one necessarily denies the volitional nature of his consciousness. Indeed, when recognizes that no gods will replace man's need for values by meeting those means magically or by divine providence, the atheist who is willing to deal with reality on its own terms will most likely recognize the fact that the choice to think or to evade thinking is his, just as his actions are. Indeed, to argue, as Slick does, that the individual who has no god-belief is (or must see himself as) "nothing more than the product of [his] environment and naturals laws," ignores the fact that man is a product of his choices and actions. And while it may be the case that many atheists do believe that they are "nothing more than the product of [their] environment and natural laws," this would simply be an evasion (a vicious habit, no doubt, modeled and taught by religious believers).

However, ironically, assuming we could accept this premise as true, it may actually work against Slick's desired conclusion, which is to show "that the best the naturalist [i.e., an atheist] can offer is an illusion of purpose." For, even if one could prove that the atheist's claim to purpose "can be properly attributed to the result of chemical reactions in his/her brain leading him to say he has purpose" and that the atheist himself "is nothing more than the product of [his] environment and naturals laws," it would not prove that he does not have a purpose. It would only prove that his purpose would not be one of his own choosing. Indeed, it could be that nature has chemically instilled in him a purpose to say this! And if that is the case, then nature itself would be the "purpose giver" or "designer" which Slick has set out to prove exists!

 

Slick's Primary Argument

In his next argument, Slick opens with the following question: "From an atheistic point of view, what purpose does Mankind have for existence?" Of course, this question alone seems to assume that there is a such thing as "an atheistic point of view." But of course this is the subject of great debate. Since I hold that atheism in its broadest conception is nothing more than the absence of god-belief, I also hold that atheism as such does not constitute a positive philosophical doctrine, but a negation or discarding of a particular kind of belief, namely god-belief, i.e., the belief in the existence of god or gods. Thus on the face of it, it is unclear what one could have in mind by "an atheistic point of view." Also, since there are numerous worldviews which dispense with theism (i.e., which are not theistic in nature), and many of these worldviews are mutually disparate from one another, it would not be the case that there would be only one "atheistic point of view," assuming this notion has a legitimate meaning. Indeed, there may very well be multiple "atheistic points of view," and if Slick's foregoing argument considers only one of those viewpoints, whatever it concludes has relevance only to that one view, and potentially not to other such views.

For instance, in second argument, Slick wants to conclude that the atheist, according to his own philosophical presuppositions, does not have free will. Of course, taking this course toward arguing for his final goal that the most that an atheist "can offer is an illusion of purpose," Slick assumes that purpose and volition (i.e., free will) are somehow connected, and that the nature of this connection is that purpose is dependent upon volition. While I certainly do not contest the fact that there is such a dependent relationship (indeed, from an Objectivist point of view, man's life as the guiding purpose of his actions is dependent upon his choice to live), Slick has nowhere made this connection in any of the proceeding. Indeed, since he neglected to define what he means by 'purpose', his reasons for taking this route to establish his desired conclusion is left to the hazards of blind assumption.

The first premise in his argument that the atheist's own worldview denies the volitional nature of his consciousness, states (following from the conclusion of the first argument, namely that "Human existence, thoughts, feelings, etc., are merely the end result of the inherent universal laws and principles of matter, energy flow, chemical reaction, etc. that has resulted in life"):

"The atheist, therefore, is nothing more than the product of your environment and naturals laws." [sic]

Does this statement follow from the assumption that man's nature is "the end result of the inherent universal laws and principles of matter, energy flow, chemical reaction, etc."? Clearly not, especially if a key attribute of his nature is a volitional form of consciousness. But this is precisely what Slick wants to conclude is not the case in the conclusion which supposedly follows from this premise. Is he not then building his conclusion into his argument? Yes, he is clearly doing this, for this premise does not follow from his previous argument's conclusion. It may very well be the case, for instance, that mans' nature is the result of natural (as opposed to "supernatural") forces, but this does not preclude him from having a volitional form of consciousness. Thus already Slick is begging the question.

Slick then wants to argue that, since man

is guided and lead by these Laws and react, plot, hope, and will only in agreement with these Laws? [a]ny purpose thus offered is still nothing more than the product of natural Laws of matter, chemistry, and energy flow. In other words, the atheist is nothing more than the result of naturals laws inherent in the natural universe.

Isn't this essentially the same thing he had stated in his first premise, which was, "The atheist, therefore, is nothing more than the product of your environment and naturals laws" [sic]? Slick seems to be repeating himself without adding new information to further his chain of inference along.

Slick then reasons,

If the atheist admits that his mind is the derivative product of these natural Laws, but that his mind and will have "risen above" these laws and that he is now able to escape the limitations of the natural laws and give himself purpose... Then it can still be asserted that his reasoning is nothing more than the result of chemical reactions in his brain causing him to say and believe this.

Which atheist holds "that his mind and will have 'risen' above'" the laws of nature and "that he is now able to escape the limitations of natural laws and give himself purpose"? Indeed, where is it argued that one would need to do these things in order to "give himself purpose"? As we saw above, if the nature of man, as a product of natural (as opposed to supernatural) forces, is that he possesses a volitional form of consciousness, a recognition which is in nowise incompatible with the non-theistic worldview of Objectivism, then he would not need to "rise above" the laws of nature or "escape the limitations of natural laws" in order to choose his purpose in life. Indeed, as should be obvious from the Objectivist conception of 'purpose' which I have presented above, it should be clear that a legitimate purpose for man - namely, to live his life - takes fully into account the nature of man's being (e.g., he faces a fundamental alternative, his life requires values, etc.) and the natural laws which enable it (e.g., he must act in order to achieve values, his actions must be guided by his choices, etc.).

Thus the principle which Slick provided in his conception of the "Atheist Perspective," namely that "Life can only develop in harmony with the natural laws in the universe," has in no way been violated. An objective conception of man's purpose in life is strictly in accordance with the nature of his being, as I have shown.

Clearly there is a false dichotomy operating underneath the surface of Slick's argument here, namely: either man is a product of nature and natural forces, or he can have the free will needed to choose a life purpose. But nowhere does Slick show these two positions to be incompatible with one another. For he seems to think that, for the atheist to incorporate the recognition that man possesses a volitional form of consciousness, he would have to claim that "the natural laws are not exhaustively known," and, presumably, some law unknown to us is responsible for nature to be able to "produce truly 'free-will' creatures." But why would one need to do this? We already know that man's organism arises from a process of biological causality, and the forces which make this possible are understood by men of science (as opposed to men of "faith" who just want to say "god did it" and leave it at that). Thus it is not necessarily the case that the atheist "is making his point based upon what we do not know about the natural laws," as Slick would like to portray the situation. Besides, Slick does not show that one must have knowledge of all the scientific explanations known to man in order to affirm the self-evident fact that man possesses a volitional form of consciousness. Thus, Slick's attempt to pin "an argument from silence" on those atheists who do affirm this fact, simply misses the point.

Indeed, if Slick had a grasp of rational philosophy, he might see that natural law and man's volitional consciousness are perfectly compatible with one another, since such philosophy recognizes that man has a specific nature, and part of his nature is that he possesses a volitional form of consciousness. Slick nowhere shows otherwise, nor does he show that a volitional consciousness cannot come from nature. Rather, he simply assumes this, as we saw above, and thus begs the question when he pretends to draw this idea as the conclusion of an argument. When apologists like Slick want to ask the atheist where man got this nature, the obvious answers should suffice: from existence. How? By biological causality. Why? Because existence exists.

Slick's Illicit Conclusion

After presenting his chief argument to the effect that, according to an "atheistic perspective," man does not have free will, Slick wants to conclude that "the Concept of 'Having a Purpose' becomes meaningless because [the] atheist has no purpose beyond the programming inherent in himself." And because of this, "he has no independence and no free will." Has he been able to draw these conclusions successfully from the premises he has laid down before this? No, he has not. Again, as I cautioned above, Slick's characterization of the "atheistic perspective" attempts to equivocate his terms (e.g., "chemical reaction") to imply some kind of "internal programming," and thus portray the atheist as necessarily denying man's volitional form of consciousness. What we have here is clearly a straw man in the guise of rational argument.

What is so remarkable is that Slick does not himself recognize that, if it were truly the case that the man "has no purpose beyond the programming in himself," would not constitute an argument against atheism. Indeed, if man were bound to some kind of "programming inherent in himself" which is beyond man's ability to change at will, this would not necessarily mean that "the Concept of 'Having a Purpose' becomes meaningless," as he clearly wants to conclude.

What's ironic is that Slick's straw man of atheism is, to be frank, quite an appropriate picture of what Christianity teaches. Indeed, Christianity teaches that man is born depraved, that he is by nature a guilty, unregenerated sinner, possessing a sin nature which he did not choose, but with which he was conceived and created, and that the purpose of his life has consequently been decided for him by an invisible magic being which could not even know purpose itself (since it does not face a fundamental alternative, as I showed above). Indeed, since Christianity endorses the idea of determinism (cf. the doctrine of "predestination"), Christianity is clearly antagonistic to the fact that man has free will. Thus, if free will is necessary for an individual to have a legitimate purpose in life (as Slick's own argument assumes), then it is the Christian who cannot have purpose according to his own philosophical presuppositions, because according to Christianity man is "predestined" to whatever is God's choosing, and this is an explicit rejection of the volitional nature of man's consciousness.

If Slick responds by saying, "But God gives us a purpose, for He is the purpose Giver," then clearly he wants to argue two sides of a contradiction. Indeed, he identifies it explicitly when he writes, "If there is a God, then I have purpose, since I have a will and my purpose is given to me by God"! For on the one hand, he wants to say that the atheist cannot have a legitimate purpose in life because on his presuppositions he has no free will, which means that having a purpose is dependent upon having the free will to choose it. But on the other hand, he wants to assert the existence of a god which does the choosing for man, thus rendering the concern for free will in his diatribe against atheism completely moot. If it requires a God in order to have a purpose because one must have that purpose assigned to him by a "purpose giver," then why would he need free will? Blank out.

Apparently, Slick has not thought these things through very well, nor has he conducted a very thorough survey of non-theistic philosophies.

Notice Slick's desire to continue straw-manning atheism in his concluding section. He states, "it can still be said that the atheist claim of independence is nothing more than the chemical reactions in his brain." In other words, do not allow the atheist to speak for himself; his position must be misrepresented according to the dishonest theistic ruse of Slick's own devising in order to better knock it down. Here Slick is offering instruction to other apologists, not engaging in genuine intellectual reasoning. But indeed, even if one were to say that "the claim of independence is nothing more than the chemical reactions in his brain," as Slick instructs, it would not follow from this that the atheist in question is not independent. So here we have a non sequitur.

Slick then reasons, "If the atheist says he has purpose not derived from or that is beyond the mere derivation of life from the original, inherent natural Laws, then.... This implies the existence of the supernatural." But how does this follow? Again, Slick offers no reason why "the existence of the supernatural" is necessarily or unwittingly implied by the suggestion that one's "purpose [is]?. Beyond the mere derivation of life from the original, inherent natural Laws." The sky is the limit in imagining what could fit such an open-ended tab!

Thus we have in place of rational argument an enormous straw man which seeks gratuitously to vilify atheism as such, and thus presume upon the corpse of a mock view of atheism so defeated, that theism is the better view by default. It is through a tangle of equivocation, package-dealing, devious sleight of hand, and a gross failure to define one's terms (e.g., 'purpose'), that the religious mind can indulge itself in such labyrinthine confusions. Indeed, there is a better way to think, and a better way to live, and theism can only thwart it, not comprehend it

A Statement on What My Life Purpose Is

Contrary to the atheist at the butt of Slick's straw man argument, I know that I have a volitional form of consciousness, and that I am fully capable of conceiving, pursuing and achieving a purpose of my own choosing. What is that purpose? Indeed, my purpose is to live and to enjoy my life. What makes this possible is my nature as a rational being which faces a fundamental alternative: to live or die, and a single choice: to live. This is a purpose which is in accordance with my nature as a living being. Nothing the theist says can refute this fact, for I am living proof of this philosophy, for I am alive, and living is for me an end in itself. Indeed, let them argue against life as the end and purpose of man's life, and reveal his true colors in so doing!

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Notes

[1] Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 298.

[2] It should be noted that I do not see myself primarily as an atheist. Although I am an atheist as opposed to a theist (since I have no god-belief), I do not hold that my atheism is a primary, but a consequence of my allegiance to reason. Indeed, I see myself primarily as a man of reason as opposed to a man of faith, like Matt Slick.

[3] Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 20; emphasis added.

[4] Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 149.

 

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