Jonathan Rowe wrote to Clayton Cramer that he “believed that the Constitution’s text was sacrosanct and that it and the Declaration of Independence contained principles that were ‘objective, ascertainable, and timeless.’” Cramer wrote back “Objective, ascertainable, timeless principles—why, if you weren’t an atheist, you would be sounding downright Christian! This is the core conflict going on in our society right now, between a Platonic notion of universals, and an Aristolean [sic] view that is skeptical.”
This is a remarkable misstatement, and not only of Platonism versus Aristotelianism. First of all, does Cramer really imagine that Aristotle did not believe in timeless, objective, ascertainable truths? Can he back that assumption up with even a single passage from Aristotle, or from his intellectual progeny, such as Ayn Rand? Even Harry Jaffa admits that
the proposition that all men are created equal implies an understanding of...the distinction between the human and the subhuman on the one hand, and of the human and the superhuman on the other.... Whatever one’s beliefs as to the existence of Divinity, it is evident—or self-evident—that no man possesses that power or wisdom which we suppose that God—if He exists—possesses. While not supposing for a moment that the Founders did not believe in the actual existence of God, their assumptions about Equality—which include assumptions about the subhuman and the superhuman—are independent of the validity of any particular religious beliefs.
Harry V. Jaffa, Equality as A Conservative Principle, in Harry V. Jaffa, How To Think about The American Revolution 13, 42 (1978) (emphasis added).
It is common enough for Christians to assert—without the slightest intellectual foundation, but with much vanity—that morality itself requires a god. But not even most Christians of whom I’m aware would claim that only a Christian can believe in timeless, objective, ascertainable truths. Albert Einstein was not a Christian, yet he believed that the principle of relativity was a timeless, objective, ascertainable truth. Indeed, Plato was not a Christian, yet he believed in timeless, objective, ascertainable truths.
But what Cramer is trying is the same slight of hand which Christians have been playing for centuries—to say that principles, ideas, and hence morality, love, and so forth, must be mystical, and that atheism leads by necessity to moral relativism. Unfortunately, many philosophers on the rational side of the spectrum have actually agreed with that, and have allowed their skepticism to slide into a rejection of all principles. This leads to a false dichotomy that Rand described as the difference between “mystics of spirit” and “mystics of muscle.” Although they differ in some ways, they share the same fundamental error: the notion that principles, and especially ethical principles, are supernatural, rather than a natural aspect of the human mind.