How the Claim "God Exists" Contradicts Itself
by Anton Thorn
In a recent letter which I wrote to a visitor to the Objectivist Atheology Website, I made the following point:
The claim that a god exists is self-contradictory. To claim that god exists, you must both assume the truth of the primacy of existence and deny it at the same time. When you say "x exists" (where 'x' is some entity, attribute or relationship), you are assuming that it exists independently of consciousness, which means: You imply the primacy of existence principle. But when you say what exists is a form of consciousness which creates existence, then you assume explicitly the primacy of consciousness principle, which contradicts the principle of the primacy of existence. In this way, the claim that god exists must be rejected as a falsehood. Either way, existence exists, and your god is out of a job.
To those who are not familiar with Objectivism, this passage may create more questions than it is offered to answer. Therefore, to expound on the issues involved, I have written the following paper. The purpose of this paper is to establish the facts that the claim that god exists is self-contradictory, and therefore that every argument for god's existence contains its own refutation.
So I begin with the following question: How does one show that the claim "God exists" is self-contradictory?
I show this to be the case by exposing how the claim "God exists" must assume two contradictory ideas. Those two ideas are: the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness.
What are these two ideas?
The Primacy of Existence Versus the Primacy of Consciousness
There are two fundamental facts which any philosophy must identify and integrate at its foundation in order to make that philosophy rational and relevant to human life. Those two facts are the fact of existence and the fact of consciousness. These two facts are implicit in all thinking, all knowledge, and therefore all processes of reasoning and argument. They are inescapable and fundamental. But they exist in a particular relationship, and whether or not a thinker understands the proper relationship between existence and consciousness has complete influence on the validity of his thinking and the soundness of his verdicts.
The relationship between existence and consciousness is the chief concern of the issue of metaphysical primacy: what is the proper relationship between existence and consciousness? That there is a relationship between what exists and our means of awareness of what exists, is self-evident in every conscious action. But it is easy for some thinkers to confuse their proper relationship. We identify the nature of this relationship in terms of metaphysical primacy, and that is why the issue of metaphysical primacy is so important to philosophy: to identify in explicit terms what holds metaphysical primacy, existence or consciousness. Primacy is the state of ranking first, or the state of holding a position of priority. Does existence hold primacy over consciousness? Or, does consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over existence?
The primacy of existence is the principle which identifies the fact that existence exists independent of consciousness. What does this mean? This means that whatever exists, exists independent of our awareness of it. Existence exists, and whatever is, is what it is, regardless of our thoughts about it, regardless of our desires, regardless of our wishes. The statement "wishing does not make it so" expresses the gist of the primacy of existence quite appropriately: it recognizes that our wishes cannot "pull rank" on the facts of reality.
Some thinkers who are new to Objectivism, or desire deliberately to misrepresent it, often take the primacy of existence principle to mean that consciousness is independent of existence. But this is not what the primacy of existence principle states. To say that existence exists independent of consciousness is not to say that consciousness is independent of existence. This latter position, which careless critics of Objectivism like to put into the Objectivist's mouth, is self-contradictory, since it implicitly affirms that consciousness exists.
It should be borne in mind that it does not follow from the fact that A is independent of B, that B is also independent of A. Here is a good example of what this means: a child is financially dependent on his father, but the father is not financially dependent on the child. Or conversely, a father may be financially independent of his child, while his child is financially dependent on his father. The independence of one does not necessarily imply the independence of the other. Below I present some reasons why consciousness must presuppose existence.
The primacy of consciousness, however, is the reverse of the primacy of existence. This view essentially holds that existence is dependent upon consciousness. It holds that facts are facts, only because we want them to be facts. Truth is, on this view, whatever we choose it to be. If one does not like something, one can dismiss it and say "I don't like reality, I prefer my fantasy instead," and assert one's emotional excursions in place of knowledge of reality.
It should be obvious that these two basic views of reality are not only contradictory to one another (the both cannot be true), but that they also cannot be integrated together into a cohesive whole (because they both cannot be true). A truth and its contradiction cannot both be true, nor can they be integrated without contradiction. According to Objectivism, the primacy of existence principle is absolutely true. It is the fundamental principle of all truth. When one says something is true, he necessarily implies that it is the case apart from his own consciousness, i.e., apart from his desires, apart from his assent, apart from his feelings. When one makes a statement about reality, such as "the earth revolves around the sun" or "Sydney is a large city in Australia," he implicitly recognizes that these trues obtain whether he knows them or not, whether he likes them or not, whether they are emotionally comforting or not. In other words, according to the primacy of existence principle, the contents of our consciousness have no bearing on the factuality of a truth.
Moreover, according to Objectivism, the primacy of consciousness view of reality is absolutely false. It is false for two reasons: first, it is false because it denies and contradicts the primacy of existence principle, which Objectivism holds to be absolutely true. As we saw above, the primacy of existence principle holds that existence exists independent of consciousness, that things are the way they are apart from what we think, feel or desire. But the primacy of consciousness is the opposite view, that existence is derived or produced by consciousness, or that consciousness in some way dictates reality (reality being defined as "the realm of existence"). In no uncertain terms, the idea that consciousness creates reality or that consciousness holds metaphysical primacy in some way over existence, diametrically contradicts the primacy of existence principle.
Second, the primacy of consciousness view is false because it commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. The fallacy of the stolen concept occurs when one asserts a concept while ignoring or denying its epistemological roots. By assuming that consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over existence, one asserts the concept 'consciousness' while ignoring or denying its epistemological root, which is the concept 'existence'. Why is 'existence' the epistemological root of 'consciousness'? Because consciousness is consciousness of something, which means: consciousness is consciousness of that which exists, i.e., of existence.
Why Consciousness Presupposes Existence
There are three different reasons by which we can determine that consciousness presupposes or depends on existence. First, consciousness depends on existence because consciousness itself exists, consciousness is real and it has identity. The identity of consciousness is that it is conscious of that which exists. But wouldn't this mean that consciousness itself can therefore be its own object? Yes, it can, but only as a secondary object. Consciousness directed toward itself is called introspection. It is by a process of introspection that we identify our feelings, our moods, the process of reasoning which we followed in order to arrive at a particular conclusion, etc. But a "consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something."  So one must be conscious of something outside himself before he can identify that he is conscious and consequently turn the focus of his awareness inward to review the contents of his consciousness. Without consciousness of that which exists, there is no content to begin with. In this way, consciousness can be its own object, but only as a secondary object.
Second, consciousness depends on existence because consciousness implies that there is a means of awareness. The means of awareness is sense perception. Sense perception is an automatic, organic process with a neurological basis, including sensory organs, a neurological network and a brain. Without either of these, an organism could not be conscious and could have no conscious contact with reality. But because these organs and network exist, consciousness is possible to an organism. Therefore, consciousness necessarily implies - and is dependent upon - their existence.
Third, consciousness depends on existence because consciousness exists for a purpose. The purpose of consciousness is to enable the organism which possesses consciousness to survive. In other words, the purpose of consciousness is to enable an organism which possesses it to function according to its identity, i.e., according to what it needs in order to exist. Some may twist this to mean that existence depends on consciousness because the existence of the organism depends on its conscious functions. One could make an argument for this point in the sense of biological success, but not in terms of the metaphysical relationship between existence and consciousness, which is the topic under discussion. Here we must emphasize the facts that an organism is not conscious unless it first exists (since conscious functions develop as the organism becomes more mature, especially in the case of higher primates and, of course, humans), and that an organism does not come into existence because it is conscious, i.e., existence does not follow as a consequence of possessing consciousness. Fundamentally, to say, because an organism could not survive, and therefore exist without consciousness, that existence must consequently be dependent upon consciousness, would also ignore the fact that an organism which possesses consciousness is not a dichotomy of body and consciousness, but an integration of body and consciousness. 
How the Claim "God Exists" Contradicts Itself
Below I have prepared two short arguments whose grand conclusion is that the claim "God exists" contradicts itself. I show this to be the case by demonstrating successively how such a claim affirms both the primacy of existence principle (argument #1), which is true, and the primacy of consciousness view of reality (argument #2), which is false. Since the single statement "God exists," I argue, affirms a truth (the primacy of existence principle) and its contradiction (the primacy of consciousness view of reality), such a statement is necessarily self-contradictory.
The first argument shows why the claim "God exists" implicitly affirms the primacy of existence principle:
Premise 1: The action of asserting that something exists in reality, assumes the primacy of existence principle.
Why? Because when one asserts that something exists, he assumes that it exists independent of his consciousness. If he expects others to accept what he claims as a truth corresponding to reality, then he assumes that it exists independent of their consciousness as well. The primacy of existence principle is the recognition that existence exists independent of consciousness, and it is necessarily implied when one asserts anything said to be true of reality.
Premise 2: The claim that god exists asserts that something exists in reality apart from one's consciousness.
Theists who claim that God exists do so with the assumption that God exists independent of their own consciousness, and of the consciousness of other men. The frequently heard "God exists whether anyone likes it or not" conveniently shows us that the primacy of existence principle is more than implicit in the theist's claim that God exists.
Conclusion: Therefore, the action of asserting that god exists assumes the primacy of existence principle.
Thus we should recognize that, the assumption that the primacy of existence principle is valid is implicit in any claim that something exists, even in the case of the theist's claim that God exists.
Now we come to the content of the claim that God exists, and here we will see that this claim necessarily affirms the primacy of consciousness view of reality:
Premise 1: Any notion which directly asserts, or entails the assumption, that existence finds its source in a form of consciousness or that existence is in some way dependent on a form of consciousness, necessarily commits itself to the primacy of consciousness view of reality.
Why? Because the view that existence finds its source in a form of consciousness, or is in any way dependent on a form of consciousness for its existence or identity, necessarily assumes that consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over existence, that existence is dependent on consciousness.
Premise 2: The notion of a god asserts that existence finds its source in a form of consciousness, or that existence depends on consciousness for its identity.
Why? In the book of Genesis, we find the religious doctrine of creation. This doctrine holds that god commanded - i.e., desired or wished - the world into existence. "God spoke, and the universe came into being," claim theists. The ultimate source is thought to be conscious in nature, namely the omnipotent will of a supernatural universe-creating, reality-ruling conscious being. The universe, that is, the sum total of existence, is thus thought to be a product of a form of consciousness.
Similarly, the religious doctrine of miracles holds that consciousness has the power to alter or revise the identity of that which exists, specifically to turn A into non-A, or to have A act as non-A. In Exodus 3:1-3 we find the miracle of a bush which is burning, but which is "not consumed" (i.e., not destroyed) by the fire which burns it, and it speaks also; in John chap. 2 we find the miracle of Jesus transforming water into wine by an act of will (i.e., by form of consciousness); and Matthew 14:22-33 (and parallels) we find the miracle of a man walking on water. In each of these instances, and in many, many more instances of miracles in the Bible and other "holy" books, the objects in question become something they are not, or behave contrary to their natural identities, and these contradictions are made possible by the overwhelming influence of the ruling consciousness' will.
Conclusion: Therefore, the notion of a god necessarily commits itself to the primacy of consciousness view of reality.
The primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness are contradictory to one another. In other words, they cannot both be true. And here we see precisely how the claim "God exists" is an attempt to integrate both contradictories into a whole.
Thus, while the action of claiming that god exists assumes that the primacy of existence is true (since the believer is not claiming that god is simply a figment of his own imagination - he is saying that god exists as something independent of his mind, "God exists whether I like it or not"), the content of the claim that god exists necessarily expresses the primacy of consciousness view (since god is said to be a conscious being which creates existence and alters the identity of objects by an act of will, i.e., by a form of consciousness).
Thus, the claim that god exists assumes both the primacy of existence (performatively) and the primacy of consciousness (notionally) at the same time. Since these principles are contradictory to one another (they both cannot be true), the claim 'god exists', since it assumes both, is necessarily self-contradictory. 
Thus, the theist literally checkmates himself.
These are reasons why the claim 'god exists' cannot be accepted as knowledge of reality. Contradictions simply do not exist in reality. Other reasons include the fact that god-belief include the fact that god-belief has no tie to reality - i.e., one cannot reduce the idea of a god to the perceptual level of awareness, which is the base of our consciousness (all legitimate ideas must reduce to the perceptual level of awareness), and the fact that one cannot arrive at the conclusion that god exists on the assumption of the primacy of existence principle (a principle which is unavoidable, even when one attempts to deny it).
If a single claim can be shown to contradict itself, as I have shown to be the case with the claim "god exists" above, then, once this inherent contradiction is recognized, one can show how such a claim contains its own refutation. What is that refutation? The refutation of a claim which contradicts itself is any process by which its self-contradiction is exposed. Commitment to a god-belief thus implodes upon itself. For those who encounter stubborn theistic apologists, the only process thus needed is theArgument from Existence.
 Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 933.
 For a thorough analysis which bolsters these last two points, I recommend Harry Binswanger's book The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts, published by the Ayn Rand Institute Press, Los Angeles, 1990, 236 pages, plus notes and author index.
 In my essayThe Issue of Metaphysical Primacy, I provide a simple diagram which shows how this performative inconsistency results from claims such as "God exists."
© Copyright by Anton Thorn 2002. All rights reserved.
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