Objectivism & Theism — Part 2: The Anti-Theistic Argument from Supernature

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This first anti-theistic argument I’d like to consider is the argument against the possibility of the supernatural. Call this the anti-supernatural argument. Virtually every theist would agree in claiming that God is a supernatural being. Therefore, if the supernatural is truly logically impossible, then a supernatural being like God could not exist. 

So why should we think that the supernatural is logically impossible? Why should we think that any and all claims about the supernatural are necessarily irrational, from the get go? 

The Objectivists have an argument. You can find various versions of it throughout Objectivist literature, but Leonard Peikoff provides a succinct version of it here:

What is meant by “the supernatural”? Supposedly, a realm that transcends nature. What is nature? Nature is existence—the sum of that which is. It is usually called “nature” when we think of it as a system of interconnected, interacting entities governed by law. So “nature” really means the universe of entities acting and interacting in accordance with their identities. What, then, is “super-nature”? Something beyond the universe, beyond entities, beyond identity. It would have to be: a form of existence beyond existence—a kind of entity beyond anything man knows about entities—a something which contradicts everything man knows about the identity of that which is. In short, a contradiction of every metaphysical essential.1

Peikoff’s argument is based on the following operative definitions: (i) Supernature is that which transcends nature; (ii) Nature is that which exists and has identity. Utilizing those two operative definitions, his argument may be summarized as follows:

  1. If something is supernatural, then it is not natural. (premise)
  2. If something is not natural, then it does not exist. (premise)
  3. Conclusion: If something is supernatural, then it does not exist. 

The argument seems to be pretty straight-forward. If the premises are true, then the concept of supernature seems to be in some pretty big trouble. And each premise is true—individually. But that’s the problem. The premises are only true (or potentially true) if taken individually. They are not, however, true if taken together. That’s because there is a sneaky little equivocation going on between the two premises. The equivocation is on the term, “nature.” 

In premise 1, the meaning of “nature” is not the same as the meaning of “nature” in premise 2. I’m not aware of any serious theistic philosopher who would use the definition of “nature” from premise 2 in describing what he affirms by “supernature” in premise 1. Even if you could find some who do affirm that meaning, this argument would only be relevant to the theism espoused by those theists, and it wouldn’t have anything at all to say about the more rational forms of theism which would draw a distinction between the two meanings of “nature” in the two premises above. 


What is the distinction? When the theist affirms the existence of something which transcends nature (i.e., the supernatural), he does not mean something which transcends existence. Rather, he means something which transcends the material world. He is using the term “nature” to refer to the entire material world—not to all of existence, as such. When this meaning of “nature” in the concept of “supernature” is understood, Piekoff’s argument from above no longer works. You get the following:

1) If something is supernatural, then it is not material. 

2) If something is not natural, then it does not exist.  

I’ll stop the new argument there because it is clear that it can’t get off the ground. There are no common terms between premise 1 and premise 2. Thus, there’s no argument. The only way to generate a new argument with common terms would be to bring in the following assumption in place of premise 2: The material world is all that exists and has identity. This allows for common terms between the premises and generates the following new argument:

  1. If something is supernatural, then it is not material.
  2. If something is not material, it does not exist. 
  3. Conclusion: If something is supernatural, then it does not exist. 

This argument is a vast improvement to the original. It is valid in that if the premises are true then the conclusion definitely follows. And unlike the original, there is no equivocation in terms between the two premises. The only question remaining is: are the two premises true? 

Well the supernaturalist provided the first premise through the refined definition of nature above. So that one shouldn’t be objectionable to him. 

The second premise, however, is an entirely different story. The second premise is nothing more than a blatant denial of the existence of supernature. To say that the material world is all that exists is to say that nothing immaterial exists—that nothing supernatural exists. But the whole point of the argument is to conclude that supernature does not exist. You can’t start with your conclusion in one of your premises. That begs the question. As it stands, this new argument basically says, “We know that supernature does not exist because nothing supernatural exists.” This, of course, is circular and irrational. 

No matter how you slice it, the Objectivist argument against supernature doesn’t seem to hold any water. It either commits the fallacy of equivocation, or it commits the fallacy of begging the question. Either way, it is fallacious. So, there can be no a priori objections to theism on the supposed ground of the logical impossibility of supernature from Objectivists. 


  1. Peikoff, Leonard. The Philosophy of Objectivism Lecture Series, Lecture 2. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/supernaturalism.html


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