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Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies Hardcover – June 1, 1990
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About the Author
George H. Smith is the author of the world's most popular book on nonbelief,Atheism: The Case Against God, and Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies.
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The essays in this 1991 collection are subdivided into three categories: Atheism; Ayn Rand; and Other Heresies (e.g., "Drug Consumers and Other Heretics," "Children's Rights in Political Philosophy," etc.).
In the opening essay, "My Path to Atheism," he recalls that Rand's lasting influence on him, as well as on thousands of other young people, was "to convince me... that ideas MATTER." (Pg. 30) He states that atheism is "not a belief; it is the absence of belief." The atheist is not a person who believes that a god does not exist; he does not believe in the existence of a god. (Pg. 183)
He rejects the "psychological atheism" of Freud and Feuerbach (i.e., that God is a "projection") on the grounds that they commit the genetic fallacy, which is the attempt to refute a belief through an examination of its psychological origins. (Pg. 185) He also criticizes linguistic philosophy: "Whereas medieval theologians made philosophy into the handmaiden of theology, analysts have transformed philosophy into the handmaiden of language." (Pg. 190)
He criticizes Rand for rarely quoting anyone except herself, and for actions such as criticizing John Rawls' book A Theory of Justice: Original Edition based on a book review, rather than actually reading the book. Smith comments, "Having herself been victimized by such tactics, one would have expected better from Rand." (Pg. 214-215)
Smith's observations are always thought-provoking, and well worth reading for any students of philosophy in general, or Objectivism or atheism in particular.
Smith is unapologetically atheist; belief in God for Smith is simply unreasonable and irrational. Asked to prove the nonexistence of God, Smith's answer is simply that one cannot prove a negative and that the person who asserts the existence of something bears the burden of proof. He asserts that to believe in faith or to rely on faith is to "defy and abandon the judgment of one's mind. Faith conflicts with reason. It cannot give you knowledge; it can only delude you into believing that you know more than you really do. Faith is intellectually dishonest, and it should be rejected by every person of integrity.
The book is a loosely connected series of essays that discuss a variety of Christian and social heresies. He begins with his own philosophic journey to atheism. He is certainly a libertarian, and the essays on public education and the War on Drugs reflect that philosophy. But the reason I began this book was to discover his writing about Ayn Rand. He devotes two substantial chapters to her and the Objectivist philosophy.
Rand evokes fierce passions, both pro and con. "Accounts of Objectivism written by Rand's admirers are frequently eulogistic and uncritical, whereas accounts written by her antagonists are often hostile and what is worse, embarrassingly inaccurate." The situation has been made worse by her appointed heir to the throne, Leonard Peikoff, who has declared Objectivism to be a "closed" philosophy, i.e., no critical analysis will be tolerated; one must accept it as he says it is and that's that. Whether Objectivism will survive such narrow-mindedness remains to be seen. It's a classic case of the true believer "unwilling to criticize the deity. Thinking for oneself is hard work so true believers recite catechisms and denounce heretics instead." Typically, this was contrary to Rand's philosophy of individualism and critical, rational thinking where "truth or falsehood must be one's sole concern and the sole criterion of judgment -- not anyone's approval or disapproval."