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Atheism and the Problem of Beauty

Beauty

A lot has been said about the “problem of pain.” Why, if God is both loving and all-powerful, is there still suffering in the world? The question is a challenge for Christians, as for all theists.Christians have some sense of why a loving God would permit suffering. It's easy enough to see that love is a good (the highest good, even), and that love requires free will. And it's just a small step from there to see how that free will could be used in some dastardly ways. Likewise, it's clear enough that a loving God might permit His creatures to suffer, in certain cases, for their (our) own good.

This answer to the problem of pain is sensible, but not satisfying. There's no shaking that there's still something out of whack, something not quite right about this world. Christianity hasn't been shy about this point. The whole doctrine of the Fall is that things aren't how they ought to be, and how we're the ones who screwed them up. You can read that story in Genesis, or watch it on the nightly news.

And there's no shaking the sense that we don't have a full explanation. But again, Christianity acknowledges this from the outset: when Job complains about his problem to God, he's not given an answer; rather, he's basically told that there are things going on that he can't begin to comprehend. In the Cross, we get a fuller picture: God doesn't just acknowledge suffering, He takes it on, and we're given a tiny glimpse into the mysterious relationship between love, vulnerability, and pain. But there's still so much that we don't understand. And the Christian answer seems to be: that's the way it's going to be, this side of heaven. The answer is unsatisfying, but it seems to me that it's meant to be. This ground is well-tread, and others have addressed the problem of pain much more eloquently and exhaustively.

But today I want to look at another problem that doesn't get much attention: the “problem of beauty.” It's a problem, not for believers, but for non-believers: if there isn't a God, how can we account for all of the joy and beauty in the world? More specifically, how can we account for all the joy and beauty that doesn't have any evolutionary benefit? I really like the description of the problem given by Joanna Newsom, in a discussion about an album that she wrote shortly after the death of her best friend:

“The thing that I was experiencing and dwelling on the entire time is that there are so many things that are not OK and that will never be OK again,” says Newsom. “But there’s also so many things that are OK and good that sometimes it makes you crumple over with being alive. We are allowed such an insane depth of beauty and enjoyment in this lifetime.
 
It’s what my dad talks about sometimes. He says the only way that he knows there’s a God is that there’s so much gratuitous joy in this life. And that’s his only proof. There’s so many joys that do not assist in the propagation of the race or self-preservation. There’s no point whatsoever. They are so excessively, mind-bogglingly joy-producing that they distract from the very functions that are supposed to promote human life. They can leave you stupefied, monastic, not productive in any way, shape or form.
 
Those joys are there and they are unflagging and they are ever-growing. And still there are these things that you will never be able to feel OK about–unbearably awful, sad, ugly, unfair things.”

This captures the problem so well, because it anticipates the easy answer: that joy and our love of beauty is some sort of evolutionary benefit bequeathed to us by natural selection.

That answer might sound good at first, but there's no real evidence for it. Moreover, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. After all, we're moved to awe at the grandeur of the heavens: how does that aid the survival or propagation of our species? Often, as Newsom points out, the sensation of beauty draws us away from working and reproducing, leaving us “stupefied, monastic, not productive in any way, shape or form.” Without God, it's hard to give a good account of why we experience this kind of joy at beauty.

At first, it seems like we're dealing with two equal-and-opposite problems: believers struggle to account for all of the bad bits of life, and non-believers struggle to account for all of the good bits. Both of us are placing our trust somewhere. The Christian trusts in the goodness of God and the promise that someday, all of this will be clear; the atheist trusts in the idea that science will somehow solve the problem of beauty, and that someday, all of this will be clear. But these two problems aren't really equal. I think that we can see this inequality in a few ways.

First, they're not equal in size and scope: despite all of the awful bits, life is beautiful. Indeed, one of the very reasons many of the awful bits (like death) are so awful are because they deprive us of life. Thomas Hobbes famously claimed that the life of man in “the state of nature” was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But if life is really as awful as all that, why complain that it's short? It's like the Woody Allen line that “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.” The very fact that we lament the fleetingness of life (our own and others) points to a recognition that life is beautiful. Evil is noticeable precisely because it sticks out: it sharply contrasts with the beautiful background of life that we so often overlook or take for granted.

Second, evil is metaphysically dependent upon good. This is a concept that deserves more attention than I can give it here, and I hope to return to it soon. But I think that I can give at least a sense of what I mean by using a couple of analogies.

We often speak of light and darkness in a dualistic way, as if they're equal and opposite. But they're not: light actually exists in a way that darkness doesn't. In a world without darkness, we could still analyze light and its wavelike and particle-like properties. In a world without light, the very term darkness would be meaningless. We can only understand what darkness is by reference to light, but we can understand light without reference to darkness. The same holds true for  heat and cold. Heat actually exists: it's molecular energy. Cold is just the relative or absolute absence of heat. It's why we can talk about absolute zero: it's an absolute absence of heat. But there's not some maximum temperature where all of the “cold particles” are wiped out.

Something similar holds in discussing good and evil. Much of our concept of evil is tied up in the idea of “something that shouldn't have happened.” But for that concept to make any sense, you have to have at least an inkling of an idea of should, even if only an intuitive one. Evil is a perversion or an absence of good.

One of the clearest ways that we explore this is to understand why intentional evils are done. Invariably - as in, without a single exception - evil acts are done in the pursuit of some real or perceived good. We're always chasing after the good: after pleasure, honor, love, etc. (That doesn't excuse evil actions, obviously: you can't justify torturing the cat for pleasure simply because you did it for pleasure.) This shows that every evil act pays homage, no matter how unwittingly, to good. That's why you can't understand evil without understanding good. But none of this is true in reverse. We don't do good things because we're seeking evil, and we don't need a concept of evil to understand why something is good.

Third, there's a difference in explanatory power. Here, I want to conclude by refocusing on the two specific problems, the problem of pain and the problem of beauty, because it's here that we see the final inequality. The Christian explanation for pain leaves us unsatisfied, and I think that's an appropriate response. For starters, it's not a thorough explanation, nor a specific one: it doesn't explain why this evil thing happened to that person. But despite this, it offers a colorable explanation of the problem. It's clear that there's no logical incompatibility between permitting evil and being good, and this corresponds to our experience of life. We live in societies built on the idea of freedom-expansion, even if that entails the annoyance of people misusing that freedom for stupid or evil ends.

The atheist explanation of the problem of beauty is similarly unsatisfying. But here's the rub: unlike the Christian account of pain, the atheist account of beauty doesn't even advance any colorable explanation. The generally proffered solution, natural selection, just doesn't work here. Nor does it correspond with our experience of life: we don't see a clear correlation (at least, not a positive one) between “I cry at museums” and “I am adept at surviving and mating.”

At the end of a court case, even a well-argued one, there are often questions left lingering: if X is at fault, how do we explain this or that piece of evidence? On the other hand, if X isn't at fault, what about all of these other pieces of evidence? And if God is in the dock, so to speak, these are some of the critical arguments we should expect to see brought up - both in regards to his existence, and his goodness. That's why I think it's important to hold the problem of beauty up, side-by-side, with the problem of pain, weighing them, as if in a balance.

I think Joanna Newsom and her dad are right. While the argument from beauty isn't the only proof for the existence of God, I think it's conceptually sound, and hard to answer. The universe is full of endless delights, joys that we have no right to by nature, and which are presented before us everyday, all the same.
 
 
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Joe Heschmeyer

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Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

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  • Phil

    I think that, in a sense, it could be summed up by saying that from an atheistic point of view, beauty and goodness don't actually exist. Goodness is tied up within the fact that there is a way that things ought to be, and when they are not that way we say they are "bad" or "evil". And something is beautiful insofar as it is pleasing because it points towards what is true and good in some manner. If goodness doesn't really exist, then beauty doesn't really exist either. Some do try and reduce beauty to subjective feelings, which again means that beauty doesn't really exist, its just some arbitrary subjective feeling.

    In that way, an atheistic account of reality will, as Joe explained, come up radically short in explaining normal human experiences of beauty and goodness. (I do think the most damning argument against an atheistic-materialistic account of reality is still the existence of truth, which is why I'm working on an article to discuss this fact.)

    • William Davis

      There is a massive problem with your idea, the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I hate Arabian music, Arabs love it. I like Michelangelo and Leonardo's art, can't stand most "modern art". Some people are the exact opposite. THERE IS NO OBJECTIVE BEAUTY. Without a human brain, there would be no beauty. Your position makes no sense, sorry.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I disagree that there is nothing objective about beauty. It is just that in certain cases a person must be educated to see it and has to develop associations with it. I think that is why you hate Arabian music (that is actually excellent). I hate most modern art because it is actually ugly--on purpose!

        • David Nickol

          I hate most modern art because it is actually ugly--on purpose!

          There is much more to art than whether a painting (sculpture, building, etc.) is pretty or not.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Nah. it really is ugly. And atonal music really does sound terrible.

          • David Nickol

            And atonal music really does sound terrible.

            In general, I don't like it either, but there is more to good music than sounding beautiful. The background music for the shower scene in Psycho is by no means beautiful, but it is certainly powerful and effective.

            In any case, this whole discussion has a serious flaw, and that is that the OP doesn't define the concept beauty or use it in any consistent way.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            We could discuss what beauty in music consists of. There is more than sounding beautiful but the beauty that is there is only possible because of the interplay of harmony and dissonance, all based on natural relationships inherent in nature.

          • David Nickol

            Without disagreeing (or fully agreeing), I would nevertheless say it's not necessary to invoke anything of the supernatural here. Harmonics occurs in nature, for example, in the overtones of a vibrating string. It is not a surprise that it sounds "natural" to the human ear.

            I think this kind of discussion is generally biased toward Western music, but I know very little about non-Western music.

            You seem to imply elsewhere that a failure to appreciate non-Western music is due to a lack of familiarity with it and knowledge of it. The same could possibly be said of atonal music. If you grew up listening to it, it's quite possible you would appreciate it more. (Although you would probably not consider it beautiful, I suppose.)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            An atonal composer thought that, so every time his newborn baby was about to be breastfed he played her atonal music. Certainly, the baby would associate the pleasure of milk with the beauty of the music. Sure enough, the baby started hating milk.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Who was the composer?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It's an old music major joke.

          • D Rieder

            Were you showing that house as a demonstration of something you find "ugly?" If so, it didn't work. I find that house completely beautiful because it seems efficient, clean and serviceable. What is the problem, exactly?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I would submit that people can only find certain things beautiful (modern architecture, atonal music, abstract art) on a kind of faith based a theory that tells them it is beautiful.

          • D Rieder

            "on a kind of faith based a theory that tells them it is beautiful."

            I'm not quite sure I understand all that, could you clarify?

            It sounds like you are saying one can't have a real attraction to atonal music, for example, without some special indoctrination that it is good. Is that how you meant it to sound?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes. That is what I am saying. If someone has to explain to you why something is art, beware.

            For example, http://www2.mcachicago.org/exhibition/s-m-l-xl/

          • D Rieder

            But no one has to explain to me why I find an efficient clean cut building beautiful or that atonal sounds are beautiful. Why do you imagine someone had to "explain" it to me?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Do we need an explanation like this:

            During the 1960s, many sculptors abandoned the use of the pedestal, placing their artworks in the same physical space as their viewers. This democratized approach to the role art plays within a museum, gallery, or home continues to the present day, with contemporary artists self-consciously creating works that interact with audiences. S, M, L, XL highlights four works that reflect this artistic attitude across five decades. Small, medium, large, extra-large—each work is increasingly ambitious in scale, and each offers visitors a slightly different experience of sculpture and space to, as it were, try on for size.

            The exhibition’s title alludes not only to a common system of labeling clothes, but also to a 1995 book by architect Rem Koolhaas that explores scale in a variety of guises, from the intimate to the public, the social to the environmental. The first sculpture is the unassuming Portal (1964), by Robert Morris, which presents one of the most basic architectural forms: a post-and-lintel doorway. Visitors can walk through its unusually narrow space, but only the most slender can fit through. A second Morris work, Passageway (1961), similarly invites visitors into a narrow, spiraling hallway that eventually becomes impassable. The third work, Blue by Franz West (2006), also utilizes a spiral form, but it rewards viewers entering its circular space with a seat. Completing the group is an enormous sculpture by Kris Martin that expands to fill whatever space in which it is placed. Made of a decommissioned hot air balloon and a powerful electric fan, T.Y.F.F.S.H. (2011) pushes its organic form against the rectilinear boundaries of the museum.

            Taking sculpture off the pedestal, this exhibition offers four ways of relating to the size, scale, and scope of the world around us.

            For something like this:

            https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Raphael_-_The_Miraculous_Draft_of_Fishes_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

          • D Rieder

            Still not getting it.

            I repeat, Why do you imagine someone had to "explain" it to me for me to enjoy atonal sounds. Would you stop wondering how I could like it if I didn't refer to it as music and just called it sound and liked it all the same?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you said you liked the sounds I would not have any problem.

            Let me ask you this. If you listened to ten pieces by that same composer played by the same guitarist, could you really distinguish one piece from another?

          • D Rieder

            Why do you think it is that you have such a distinct dislike for atonal music to the point of almost seeming incredulous that anyone could find any of it it at all pleasant? I'd say that 99.999% of the world more or less agrees with you. So what do you imagine is the basis for, in general, humans preference for tonal music vs atonal music?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Good question. I think that harmony in the widest sense is built into the physics of sound. Composers who work in the classical tradition of Western music (from Gregorian chant right up to Howard Shore film scores) and popular music composers as well, to name two, play around within the natural parameters of sounds and their interrelationships, including dissonance and resolution.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you had enough classical guitar chops, you could produce crap like that all day long just by screwing around. Compare that to this: This piece starts somewhere, goes somewhere, and ends when it gets there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSECkRnpsDE

          • D Rieder

            I agree that classical guitarist is playing beautifully.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't mean to sound like a crab. I'm happy that abstract artists, atonal composers and performers, and whacked-out architects can earn a living.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There are so many great classical guitarists today--maybe twenty times more than when I was studying in the 1970s--but I think this woman Anna Vidovic is both the most musical and has the most flawless technique.

          • D Rieder

            But, regardless of how beautifully I think she plays, as I listen to ten samples by the same guitarist, I can't really distinguish one piece from another!

            See? One has to be trained..conditioned...in classical guitar to actually appreciate the differences. As best I can tell, all the pieces could be part of one long piece or many more little pieces.

          • Loreen Lee

            It is hard to see the math in twelve-tone music, because it's a kind of (forget term, the chaotic type of government that is below democracy in Aristotle. maybe we would call it anarchism today.

        • William Davis

          Lol, you might be right. I haven't put but so much thought into it, trusting intuitions can be a problem, that is the "beauty" of debate ;P

          • Loreen Lee

            Perhaps intuition is distinct from imagination, and in some cases the combination is warranted and at other times it is not. (As in the case of pure intuition or judgment).

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Ugly things can be beautiful as well.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ugly things can be interesting but it is incoherent to say they are beautiful, unless you are talking about something that is ugly and beautiful in different ways.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Art that captures something about the essence of the human experience I would call beautiful. Ugliness can capture that essence. .

      • Phil

        Hey William,

        Would you hold that there is nothing actually beautiful about Michelangelo's and Leonardo's art itself?

        • William Davis

          That's an interesting thought. The flip side is the question of whether or not the painting would still be beautiful if no humans existed. I think the philosophy of beauty does warrant more scrutiny, I've always taken the subjectivity of beauty for granted. That's the "beauty" of debate :P (and clearly some people do not find debating beautiful ;)

          • Phil

            I agree that the study of beauty is a very interesting, and a complicated, one. I think when it is all said and done, we have to say that beauty exists somehow in the external object, but we also can't say that everyone sees beauty in the same way (so subjectivity enters in). This would be the metaphysical truth about beauty, which I think is relatively straight-forward. I think beauty becomes most complicated when defining what beauty actually is. Some would point to something merely being pleasing to the senses, while others would also point to the other transcendentals of truth and goodness (like myself).

            In regards to whether something is still beautiful if no humans existed--as long as the Pieta is still the same Pieta, then I would say it is still absolutely beautiful. That there are no humans simply means that there are no humans to appreciate and point out the inherent beauty of it.

      • Loreen Lee

        Kant identiied a true 'sense' of beauty with the wonderment that 'everybody else 'ought' to see the beauty in this as well as me'. What an assumption. I don't think it applies to pleasure/pain/art aesthetics, as much as to the moral principles of good/evil distinctions. But maybe it also happens in reverse, people not particularly concerned with their pragmatic pleasures of self-interest, and people egotistically believing that surely everyone will appreciate their art work. Life/love is indeed very complicated! (And that's only two of the six or more categories of 'beauty')

      • albert321

        But without God there woul not be a brain,sorry.

      • Reuben Andrew Herrle

        You missed the point. Whether there is actually objective beauty or not is irrelevant. (Although, I would argue that there is, but that's another conversation). The fact that humans consider certain things beautiful is not evolutionarily advantageous. How can natural selection explain beauty when so often our astonishment with it can work against our survival?

        • Luke

          How can natural selection explain beauty when so often our astonishment with it can work against our survival?

          Beauty does not work against survival. When survival is on the line, no one stops to take in the view.

          • Reuben Andrew Herrle

            This isn't limited to immediate life-or-death situations. Why do we think it's worth it to spend money and time to travel and gaze at natural beauties when we could use those efforts instead to sustain and maintain our surviving and thriving? That's the tough questions we all have to consider.

          • Luke

            Why do we think it's worth it to spend money and time to travel and gaze at natural beauties when we could use those efforts instead to sustain and maintain our surviving and thriving?

            Probably because we can. Survival is not an issue for those who can afford to take vacations.

        • William Davis

          Not everything that has evolved is advantageous, some things are side effects of advantageous things, and some are clearly both advantageous and disadvantageous, depending on the situation. A good example is the gene for sickle cell anemia. If a person has two copies of the gene, they get the disease, which is clearly disadvantageous for survival. One copy of the gene, however grants near immunity to malaria. In places where malaria is common (something that is highly lethal, but we have fairly effective medicine for it now), there is a high instance of the sickle cell anemia gene for obvious reasons. Places where malaria is nearly unheard of, it almost doesn't exist. Clearly disadvantageous things can evolve.

          The perception of beauty can affect unity in a tribe. The oldest human structures contain mostly paintings and carvings, some of these predate writing, gobekli tepe, for example goes almost back to 10,000 B.C. The temple came first, then the city, so therefore the evolution of religion predates civilization. The two are somehow related in the mind but unraveling the mysteries of this connection is going to be very difficult. Sumerians invented writing, so it looks like the invented Western religion, but it could have been their predecessors, the lack of written word makes it impossible to tell. Most hunter gatherer religion is more based on animal spirits and such. The authority of the Sumerian Kings "descended from heaven" and they even anointed their kings with oil, at least by the Epic of Gilgamesh. The main story comes from the creation epic Enuma Elish, where their creator deity Enki, was responsible for creating the other gods, who had to serve Enki and farm for him. These gods tired of the labor, so they created created humans out of clay to do the work for them, to be slaves for the gods. Ninti, who's name means nin(lady) - ti(rib or life) also healed Enki's rib during the creation epic, her name was a joke because it could mean "Lady of the rib" or "Lady of Life". Eve's name means life, and the days of creation in Genesis seem to be a condensed version of the tablets of Enuma Elish. The story of the flood comes from Sumeria as well, but the gods brought the flood because humans were making too much noise and the gods couldn't sleep. There are many more connections, but you get the point.

        • William Davis
        • Marc Riehm

          Yeah I suppose a few proto-humans lost their lives with jaws agape at some beautiful sight.

          But evolution is not all about the individual staying alive long enough to have offspring and raise them. It is more complex. Evolution favours any genetic trait that confers survival on the genes. This can be individual, or it can be group.

          Consider social animals: they improve their survival skills via group behaviours. Herding animals. Wolves. Bees. Us. So any traits that improve social cohesion will improve survival, and the genes that underly those traits will be naturally selected. Music? Art? They help the group survive and they help the artist breed more prolifically ;), passing on the gene.

          Consider birdsong: the proto-canary certainly didn't sing like the modern canaries. The song evolved. And the more catchy - the more "beautiful" - the more it would appeal to prospective mates. Beautiful singers bred better.

          Same is true for birds or animals with magnificent mating displays. From a purely utilitarian perspective, they're useless. The bright colours might even attract predators more. But they improve mating odds. And so beauty develops.

          Perhaps along the way a few peahens were distracted by the peacock's mating plumage, and failed to notice some danger, and so were preciptously removed from the gene pool. But more peahens were seduced than died, and so beauty propagated.

  • Mike

    "the atheist trusts in the idea that science will somehow solve the problem of beauty"

    But say that it does "solve it" assuming that's even theoretically possible, when it does, then what? So it reduces it to a complex interaction of chemicals in our brains and links that to our reproductive fitness, and explains everything exactly. And then what? Do we start working on a pill to administer to everyone? Is this the logical thing to do?

    Seems to me that if that's really all there is to beauty then yes we administer the pill to everyone especially the poor and try to fix our problems that way. If God doesn't exist i can't see anything "wrong" with that.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I'm not clear on why beauty is only a problem for atheists and that the only explanation from that "camp" is evolutionary advantage.

    If we can explain rationally what beauty is and why we enjoy it, I think it would be equally acceptable to anyone who values rational insights.

    Clearly there is something in human nature that responds to beauty and that response must be a both a physiological and rational one.

    • Mike

      I think it might be bc Beauty is often associated with something transcendent something immaterial about reality; it points to something beyond the senses which for most atheist positions is reduced to chemicals in brains.

      • Loreen Lee

        You got it, I believe, according to Kant's Power of Judgment. He relates in one classification both beauty and the sublime to the sapient faculty, the ability to place particulars within a universal context, (not always successfully) The sublime (yes and the ridiculous) he particularly features as the experience of such 'power' that it is associated with such universalizations as God is 'Great'.
        So, beauty is also associated with' order, in contrast and in association with the law of reason and truth. Kant's analysis of beauty, by the way is restricted to considerations of 'natural beauty'. The aesthetics in philosopher's following him dealt more specifically with art, making very different 'distinctions' (probably because these were concerned with the pleasure/pain context, rather than the good/evil context which is the category related through 'truth' 'law' 'reason' to Catholic' Natural Law or Kant's Categorical Imperative.

    • Doug Shaver

      I'm not clear on why beauty is only a problem for atheists and that the only explanation from that "camp" is evolutionary advantage.

      It's not. That bit about evolutionary advantage being the only way atheists can explain anything is a pure strawman.

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        Speaking of straw men, I never said that evolutionary advantage is "the only way atheists can explain anything."

        I said that for the problem of beauty, "evolutionary benefit bequeathed to us by natural selection" was the "easy answer," but didn't have much explanatory power.

        • Doug Shaver

          I apologize for misrepresenting your argument.

          However, an evolutionary answer is not easy unless it is easy to defend; and, whether it's easy or difficult, it's irrelevant to your argument if no one is offering it. I have never seen anyone even attempt to argue that beauty exists because of natural selection.

          What natural selection could explain is why we regard certain things as beautiful. I think we will have such an explanation eventually, but I don't expect it to be easy to come up with.

  • David Nickol

    The antithesis of beauty is not pain or evil, it is ugliness. The antithesis of pleasure is pain, and the antithesis of good is evil. Heschmeyer seems to use beauty in too broad sense, in my opinion, to make much of an reasoned argument for his point, which seems to be that the positive far outweighs the negative, and consequently there must be a God. It seems to me that "the positive outweighs the negative" is a purely subjective judgment. I would certainly have to say that it does in my life, but it is a judgment I wouldn't want to make for, say, a child caught up in civil war in Syria.

    I am still trying to figure out the connection between ebola and free will.

    • Mike

      How could there be free will if once a person got ebola they were cured of it miraculously every time? How could we say we are free if every time someone was about to be infected by some rare virus it was miraculously eliminated or transformed into something benign? How could we be said to have free will if as we aged and our organs began to fail God fixed them on the spot every time?

      Say if you wan to do something risky, could you? If there's nothing risky about climbing a mountain or drinking dirty water, can you be said to be risking something by doing it? Seems to me that we wouldn't be free to use our intellect to weigh the risks bc the risks wouldn't be there.

      I think you're right about natural evils that they are not in any way caused by our moral actions but it seems to me they are a necessary part if our moral actions can be said to be moral at all.

      • William Davis

        How could there be free will if once a person got ebola they were cured of it miraculously every time?

        Show me one person who used their free will to "choose" to catch ebola, then we can talk further.

        • Mike

          Show me one person who "Chose" to breath, get hungry, feel the urge to reproduce, sense, hear, imagine we can talk still further ;).

          • William Davis

            Fair enough. Since none of us chose to be born, there is no free will, because we were left out of the most important decision of all, whether not to exist. We can take to this to absurdity pretty quick, lol ;)

          • Mike

            I agree; look when you ask anyone why they'd risk "forcing" life on their kids when they know 100% certainty that life is full of pain and sorrow but also the opposite they don't know what to say except that they RISK IT ALL for LOVE. i know that can sound trite but i've yet to hear a better answer and i think that that's exactly why God chose to "force" life on us; he risked it all knowing that we could grow up to be little annoying atheist know it alls and reject him like so many teenagers reject their parents.

            No risk no reward; God took the ultimate risk and now we fault him for it and yell "why'd you create me in the first place, i did NOT ask to be created, take your gift and shove!"

            At least that's what makes sense to me but having kids helps to see the general idea.

          • Loreen Lee

            I was 'taught' when studying Buddhism, to take on the responsibility of accepting 'the mother' a kind of generative conception similar, interestingly to the Virgin in Christianity. For me this was particularly difficult for personal/domestic reasons. But the value of the lesson was that we can indeed learn to regard the contingent as 'necessary'.

      • David Nickol

        How could there be free will if once a person got ebola they were cured of it miraculously every time?

        What has the existence of diseases got to do with free will? While I can't say how far back in the history of life the ebola virus goes, we know that bacterial and viral diseases (and cancer) predate the existence of human beings. It seems to me it is easy to imagine a world in which there are no horrible diseases (or any diseases) and in which free will exists.

        "Such-and-such has to be so or else there could not be free will" seems to be an all-purpose response of apologists, and yet it is rarely adequate. In Catholic belief, angels had free will. Some chose to be loyal to God, while others rebelled. Angels don't get diseases or harm each other physically, and yet Catholics believe they had/have free will.

        • Mike

          It has everything to do with it; why stop at ebola and viruses? Why not bacterial infections? Why not deadly insects? Why not no pitbulls? Why not no sharp teeth or no animals bigger than a furr ball?

          Angels don't have material bodies like we do but if they did they'd have material "issues" to deal with too.

          • David Nickol

            Human beings would still have free will without viruses, bacteria, venomous insects, and snakes. You have not made any connection at all between these things and free will? When small pox was eradicated, did human free will diminish?

            I believe that traditionally, the Christian argument was that all of these things (bacteria, viruses, etc.) were the result of original sin. But since we know they all existed prior to human life, how can that be? And of course had Adam and Eve not sinned, it seems to be Catholic teaching that they would have been exempt from disease and even death. But they still would have had free will.

            You have not made any kind of argument at all for why viral or bacterial diseases are in any way necessary for free will.

          • William Davis

            But since we know they all existed prior to human life, how can that be? And of course had Adam and Eve not sinned, it seems to be Catholic teaching that they would have been exempt from disease and even death. But they still would have had free will.

            If you read Genesis, it does not say that at all. Man got kicked out of the Garden of Eden to PREVENT him from eating of the tree of life, i.e. to prevent him from getting immortality. There is no indication he was ever immortal, as far as the curse, let's look at what it says, Genesis 3:

            “Because you have done this,
            cursed are you among all animals
            and among all wild creatures;
            upon your belly you shall go,
            and dust you shall eat
            all the days of your life.
            15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
            and between your offspring and hers;
            he will strike your head,
            and you will strike his heel.”

            16 To the woman he said,

            “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
            in pain you shall bring forth children,
            yet your desire shall be for your husband,
            and he shall rule over you.”

            17 And to the man[b] he said,

            “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
            and have eaten of the tree
            about which I commanded you,
            ‘You shall not eat of it,’
            cursed is the ground because of you;
            in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
            18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
            and you shall eat the plants of the field.
            19 By the sweat of your face
            you shall eat bread
            until you return to the ground,
            for out of it you were taken;
            you are dust,
            and to dust you shall return.”

            The INCREASE in pain from childbirth is consistent with evolutionary theory, larger human brains led to harder and premature births. Notice it is an increase...that means there was pain in childbirth BEFORE the curse.

            Adam did NOT get cursed. the ground did so he would have to work harder. Man never farmed until the beginning of civilization, that is what this is about. The Sumerian creation myths said man was created to a slave to the gods, since they were tired of plowing the fields themselves (their gods had to eat and sleep). Of course man had to work until he died, but there is no indication that was part of the curse, man just escapes the curse once he is back in the ground.

            Besides, if man did not already have a sin nature, why would he have sinned in the first place? If I take my kids, put them in a room by themselves, and tell them "There is one candy in the middle table, don't eat it, I'm leaving" what do you think they are going to do after a while? Eat the candy, duh, it is just the way kids are. God didn't know this was going to happen? Yeah right.

          • David Nickol

            I largely agree, but the Christian interpretation of Genesis—ignoring the text, in my opinion—is that death entered the world because of Adam's sin. There is no sign in Genesis that Adam and Eve were originally intended to live forever, but as I understand the Christian interpretation, it claims they would not have died had they not sinned.

          • William Davis

            Sure. The problem I have is that if God was involved in writing the Torah, and the Christian view of Original Sin is what happened, why would God not have put that in there. So much of the Bible reads very different from why orthodox Christianity says it does. Perhaps I am just naturally a heretic ;)

          • Mike

            If there was no natural evil free will would be compromised bc we have BODIES bc we are not just "minds" like angels, with that comes natural decay bodily deterioration and viruses and horrible evils. (perceived by us bc we know good from evil unlike the animals which don't)

            The aggregate death rate is 100; in the west we replace certain evils that are deadly in remote parts of asia only to be done in by prostate cancer or whatever else is more prominent in the west. The moral seems to be to not just try to eliminate natural evil but to also some how reconcile yourself with it - if the deadly spider won't get you the cardiac arrest will.

            My understanding is that w/o osin we would have simply not been as bothered by the natural evils and wouldn't have seen dying as the end but simply the end of this part of our lives; like the animals who don't worry about retirement or death we would have been in an innocent state free to explore use our intellect and will but wouldn't have looked on death as "the end" as we tend to now.

          • David Nickol

            If there was no natural evil free will would be compromised bc we have BODIES bc we are not just "minds" like angels, with that comes natural decay bodily deterioration and viruses and horrible evils. (perceived by us bc we know good from evil unlike the animals which don't)

            Why should viral or bacterial infections or cancer come simply as a result of having physical bodies? Some day far in the future, all those things will possibly be eliminated or easily dealt with. Will that diminish human free will?

            God giving human beings physical bodies is supposed to be a good thing, not a bad thing. And in Catholic belief, there will come a time when all those who are saved will have "glorified bodies" not subject to disease or injury. Would it be your argument that after the Resurrection of the Dead, human beings will cease to have free will?

          • Mike

            The aggregate death rate i predict will be 100 when the day comes that all the natural evils like deadly bugs and viruses have been eliminated.

            It is GOOD! Matter is very good! We're not buddhists or Manicheans. No we will have free will always but we will probably see no reason at all in rejecting what is good for us.

            PS i think all will have "bodies" not just the "saved".

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Seems to me that being magically cured of ebola would certainly give someone much more ability to exercise free will. With ebola, I'm stuck in a hospital bed, or worse. Without ebola, I can go skiing, ride a bike, see a movie, or even slay in bed all day if that's what my will desires. Not being sick or dead certainly frees up a lot of possibilities.

        You may be right that eliminating all ills may prevent someone freely exercising risky behavior. I think it is impossible to truly have a complete and exhaustive ability to do anything your will desires. But eliminating disease would seem to free up a lot more abilities than the converse.

        • Mike

          The problem seems to be the AMOUNT of natural evil; likewise on the atheist worldview the problem seems to be the GRATUITOUS nature of some beauty and the sheer incomprehensibility of the saints and love in general.

          But imho the fact that there is BOTH seems to point at least to beyond this world of the 5 senses.

          If reality and we were really just some accident on this tiny planet then i'd expect more "normal" levels of BOTH evil and good so the strangeness is that there is "too much" of both or both don't seem to "fit in" somehow with the rest.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            How did you determine what "normal" levels are and that in this world we have "too much"?

            Why does evil and beauty point to something beyond the 5 senses? It seems to me that both are experience by the senses.

            Regarding gratuitousness - the same could be said for natural evil and this is the point I was making with ebola. Getting ebola limits someone's free will far more than curing all ebola. Which makes it gratuitous.

          • Mike

            I didn't determine it; alot of ppl seem to point it out: atheists that there is too much evil for god and christians that there's too much good for no god.

            They are both experienced by but both can not be accounted entirely via naturalism as they both have immaterial aspects which naturalism does not account for.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Sometimes the experience of beauty inflicts both pleasure and pain, joy and sadness.

      Think the crux of JH's argument is not that God must exist because there is more positive than negative in our life but that beauty seems to be gratuitous.

      • Mike

        Plus can't there be beauty IN pain and IN sadness, depending on the circumstances like if say an innocent convict is in pain and sad then can't an experience of his pain and sadness or perhaps the dignity of suffering 'though it' be beautiful?

        I remember watching dead man walking and thinking there was something beautiful about their relationship even though it was one full of pain and sadness.

    • William Davis

      Natural selection and evolution explain ebola quite nicely. The best explanation I've seen for sexual reproduction (as opposed to cloning) is that the recombination of dna helps protect a population from being overtaken by a parasite. If we were all clones, a parasite that could kill one, would kill us all. Genetic diversity is therefore a survival mechanism. Some insects and other species combine cloning and sexual reproduction, these insects often have few parasites. Virus's are functionally parasitic, and tend to mutate to be less fatal over time (like the flu). Highly fatal viruses often "burn themselves out" and die off because they have killed all the available hosts. We are witnessing ebola evolve into a less lethal, but more spreadable strain. How people can deny evolution and be rational at this point is beyond me.
      Why would God create the universe in such a way that life could evolve? Excellent question. If God "thinks" it is pretty clear he doesn't think in straight lines like we do. Maybe God did not know what he wanted, and the universe is made to express possibilities. Maybe the universe is just the necessary expression of possibility, and that is enough in itself. We are here to give the universe meaning.
      When it comes to beauty, the argument here makes not sense. Beauty is CLEARLY subjective, hence the expression "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". I hate Arabian music, and rap, some people love it. I think hubble's picture of a galaxy or nebula is more beautiful than manmade art, some people could care less about such things. I thought this was obvious...

      • Mike

        No one on here is denying anything about the general theory of evolution.

        WHAT you find beautiful is subjective THAT we all find some things beautiful is objective.

        Most atheists find nature very very beautiful, numinous even.

        • William Davis

          I didn't say you were denying it, I was just noting that evolution explains this very well. Free will isn't involved. It is one of those things that just is.

          • Mike

            Evolution explains beauty? How?

          • William Davis

            I was using evolution to explain ebola, not beauty. But now that you bring it up...When I was 18, by far the most beautiful thing in the world was a beautiful woman. As my testosterone level is a little lower now, there are some other things that can compete. Evolution has obvious explanations for "beauty" in sexual attraction, but the beauty of a sunset is a little different. Here is a good article on the evolution of beauty and sexual attraction.

            http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21589845-what-makes-beautiful-visage-and-why-may-have-been-discovered-accidentally

          • Mike

            Some ppl find their spouse beautiful even more beautiful when they are old and not sexually attractive and wrinkly.

          • William Davis

            Sure, at that point they are looking at inner beauty, not outer. "Beauty" can be highly ambiguous.

          • Mike

            No it's still Beauty: Inner Beauty, Outer Beauty...modified but still Beauty.

          • William Davis

            So there is no difference between intellectual beauty (i.e. beauty of a person's mind or personality) and physical beauty? Strange view you have there

          • Mike

            both can be beautiful i'd say; they both possess some beautiful feature.

  • Doug Shaver

    More specifically, how can we account for all the joy and beauty that doesn't have any evolutionary benefit?

    For us atheists who do not think that everything must have an evolutionary benefit (which is most of us), that is not a problem.

    • Mike

      So it's just a fluke? Seems like a big fluke doesn't it? I mean think of all the art, architecture, Helen of Troy, romance and on and on and on? Just a fluke?

      If not a fluke, then what?

      • I think the phrase would be "glorious contingency."

        • Mike

          A "numinous and glorious contingency"...DAMN that sounds biblical if anything does!

      • cminca

        The Parthenon has an evolutionary benefit?

        • Mike

          Maybe it's just a fluke too?

          • cminca

            Actually Mike--I responded to the wrong comment.

            I need YOU to answer the evolutionary benefit of the Parthenon.

            I agree with Doug--

          • Mike

            I don't think there is an evolutionary purpose to the Parthenon i think it has more to do with immaterial things like intellect and pride.

          • cminca

            You don't think the Parthenon is beautiful?

          • Mike

            Not from an evolutionary pov.

      • William Davis

        Romance has an evolutionary benefit. There are some schools that think "romance" could have actually led to increased intelligence, because you have to smart to "woo" a woman, and what man want's to marry a nitwit. They compare it to the evolution of a peacock's tail. Can't prove they are right, but if they are good thing we select for brains and not tails (or maybe we do both:P) There is beauty in both the mind of body of a mate.

        • Mike

          You mean sex not romance; we don't need all the "trivial bs" as some see it (mostly modern feminists) to copulate and reproduce and have more kids than the other guys. Romance helen of troy Aphrodite etc. even basic human sexual etiquette is very inefficient in reproduction if the goal is just evolutionary advantage.

          • William Davis

            A peacocks tail is extremely inefficient and a big attraction for predators, yet it still exists, it was sexually selected because female peacocks like it? Why do female peacocks like it? Maybe just because other peacocks do. We are now entering game theory. A human female that does not want romance is a rare creature. Women could be priests and had important roles in society in many pagan cultures (greek, sumeria, Egypt). It was Judaism, and then Christianity that dismissed romance, but they couldn't keep it down for long thankfully. The Jewish/Christian view of sexuality is incredibly flawed and was always doomed to be rejected.

          • Mike

            The christian view of sex is sane.

          • William Davis

            I didn't say it was insane, I said it was flawed. It is based on asceticism for the most part. I prefer the path of moderation, engaging in pleasure but not letting pleasure control me. I am also careful to engage in pleasure that doesn't have negative side effects (like adultery), and hurt other people.

            I found this on the evolution of beauty, was quite interesting:

            https://www.ted.com/talks/denis_dutton_a_darwinian_theory_of_beauty

          • Mike

            no asceticism in christian sex...you can do it as much as you like...with your wife or husband.

          • William Davis

            This was written around the time of Christ:

            The Roman Cornelius Tacitus described a hunter-gatherer tribe in first-century Lithuania, as astonishingly savage and disgustingly poor. They have no proper weapons, no horses, no homes. They eat wild herbs....The women support themselves by hunting, exactly like the men....Yet they count their lot happier than that of others who groan over field labor.[3]

            —Tacitis, Germania (circa A.D. 100)

            Study hunter gather bands. This is how we evolved, we did not "evolve" in civilization. These bands operate very differently from "civilized" people.

      • William Davis

        You have to admit, when you look at the cosmos, the idea that human life is a fluke is pretty reasonable. If God made the universe for anything, he made it for stars and galaxies. We are beginning to find black holes in the center of galaxies, so maybe the whole thing is about black holes. Maybe to God, the most beautiful thing in the universe is a black hole, and poor us, we can't even see it because it draws light in. Maybe it is something only God can see and appreciate, making it very special. The normal laws of physics to not apply beyond the event horizon. I agree with God, galaxies are incredibly beautiful.

        • Mike

          Galaxies don't know they're there we do; the sun doesn't know you exist you know it exists.

          If galaxies had personalities you'd have a stronger case.

          • William Davis

            I'm not following. Why would God care about personalities? Because people do? God isn't a person, so that is a bad assumption to make. If God cared about personalities, he would have sent a dolphin, chimpanzee, canine, feline, ect. messiah. All of these species have personalities too.
            If I'm building something, I build more of what I care about, but building something always leaves debris. We are such a small percentage of the matter of the universe we can't even put a number on it. That is a very hard fact to just ignore in the modern era (Catholics used to believe the earth was at the center of the universe).
            I don't like the idea that we may be God's "debris" but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

          • Mike

            bc personalities are the only 'things' that are not mechanical/predictable - you would not marry a robot no matter how advanced it was.

          • William Davis

            We're talking about God, not me? Why are you confusing God with people. Does God marry?

          • Mike

            yes god is married to the church your protest - ant background may make it hard for you to see the classical understanding of God...anyway have you ever thought about becoming Catholic?

          • William Davis

            Sort of. I just don't want to be a hypocrite because I don't believe Jesus was God. I agree with much of Christian philosophy, however, especially when it comes to ethics (sexuality aside). I don't think this is enough to be a Christian.

          • Mike

            i think he was and i want to believe as much as i can that he was, in any case i want God to be like him so maybe that's enough for me; christian sex ethics will never and was never and isn't meant to be popular it's meant to be prudent and moral but that's another discussion.

          • William Davis

            Off topic, I've recently got banned from an atheist site for speaking my mind, at least it isn't letting my comments post. I guess I'm an atheist heretic, and was "excommunicated" from their site. Ironic isn't it?

          • Mike

            imho the atheists that i've known personally have been some of the most arrogant intolerant ppl i've known...their intolerance of opposing views was big reason for my political switch from left to right but that's another topic.

            plus let's face it many many atheists are just rude and mean and basically just make fun of their opponents, which is what i used to do to.

          • William Davis

            I've met some good atheists, so I don't want to completely stereo-type. Usually dogmatic people (no matter what they believe) don't have a very good understand of the "other side". Anytime there is an argument, there is usually a point on both sides.
            That said, Daylight Atheism seems to have a real attitude problem. Why not argue without being intolerant?

          • Mike

            there's ppl of good will and courtesy in everything but i live in a very lefty city LOTS of yuppie atheists who sneer at traditional christians so my sample has been not representative although personally i think atheism is itself by 'nature' not a joyful philosophy it's despair dressed up imho.

          • William Davis

            Atheism can be positive if you avoid nihilism. Atheism demonstrates possibility, that meaning is our domain, and we can make it better if we admit we are creating this, and not resting on ancient views. I am more than willing to give credit to ancient views where it is deserved, but I think we can continue to improve and do better, especially if we have a greater understanding of causation. I think the givers of "divine revelation" understood it may be necessary to lie for the greater good, but I think this has become a problem now. I don't think Jesus and Paul lied, they were genuine believers. We know there were liars in the new testament though, just look at all the forged letters from Paul and others.

          • Mike

            i used to think that; that if atheism is true and there is no meaning to existence than the meaning is to infuse meaning into it to invent meaning; that was my cultural atheist phase i call it; then i realized that if we're all just inventing meaning then there's no wrong and no right and if that's true then we're just pretending we're not nihilists so i tried christianity and it stuck.

          • William Davis

            Sure. There are also a ton of Christians who sneer at Atheists. Arrogance transcends beliefs about God, and I'll be the first to admit I can be arrogant at times. I at least TRY to keep my ego in check :) My goal is to figure out what makes people and society tick, an honest debate can be very helpful in reaching that end.

          • Mike

            I agree but honestly in my exp. the christians i've known have not been rude or made fun of atheists BUT we are a small quiet minority here so the dynamics are different than if we were the majority in power.

            Honest respectful debate is what we're missing in the west MOST OF ALL!

          • William Davis

            I grew up around fundamentalist Christian and all they did was make fun of non-Christians and condemn them to hell. Maybe fundamentalism is the problem, both Christian and atheist. I think we've finally found something we truly agree on :)
            My "suffering" at the hands of Christians has made me a better person, but it doesn't make everyone a better person. There is also a ton of suffering that doesn't help anything, that is the problem with Christian explanations of suffering, but I just got done talking about something we agree on, so'll I'll stop :P

          • Mike

            Being a closed minded ideologue is bad all around but then again that's a tautology.

            Suffering to me is a huge practical problem but intellectually it's a strong indicator there is a God but you already knew that.

          • William Davis

            Btw, the atheists there didn't seem to appreciate the fact that I was defending Christianity and it's role in evolving the modern conscience. Before Christianity, no one cared about anyone except for their immediate family members or tribe. We have to thank Christianity for many things we take for granted in the modern era. People often don't want to hear the truth, no matter what "side" they are on. Christianity gets a lot right. My job here is to criticize Christianity, if I'm on an atheist site, I criticize atheist for "unreasonable" criticism of Christianity (like Christianity is the source of all evil, that assumption on the part of some atheists is pretty ridiculous).

          • Mike

            amazing to me how atheists can even use a word like evil if there is no god of any kind.

      • Doug Shaver

        Then rainbows. Rainbows are beautiful, and they existed before there was any life, evolved or otherwise.

        • Michael Murray

          You think they are good now. You should have seen them before The Fall. There is no comparison. They were simply divine.

        • Mike

          If a rainbow appears in the sky and no one is there to see it is it beautiful?

          • Doug Shaver

            In a universe without sentient creatures, beauty would be meaningless. The concept would not exist.

          • Mike

            So does that mean that things really aren't beautiful only that we think and label them as beautiful but in actuality nothing is beautiful in itself/by itself?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't know what difference it makes. When I look at certain things, I have a certain experience. I identify that experience by saying, "Those things are beautiful." The experience is real enough, whether or not anything we should call beauty exists independently of the experience.

          • Mike

            Ah i see, i think there is beauty apart from molecules in brains.

          • Doug Shaver

            I used to think so, too. I have appreciated beauty no less since I stopped thinking so. If anything, I find things like colorful sunsets and sunrises even more awesome than I used to.

          • Mike

            Don't take this the wrong way but that makes it sound like you believe in magic...that you are being hypnotized into "seeing" beauty where there is none by an arrangement of molecules that "magically" have this effect ( i say magically bc as you know catholics believe that matter is NOT dead but per Aquinas infused with properties/forms right from the beginning by God which eliminates a pagan sort of magic in which every different thing is "animated" by a different "god" or piece of magic.)

            It's like if two hydrogen and 1 oxygen "turns into" water it does so bc there is a sort of VLOOK UP table if you're familiar with excel which "tells" the 2 hyd. and 1 ox. that "if you ever find yourself in this position you should look up what corresponds to this position and do that".

            BTW i know i think exactly what you mean by "just leaving God out of it" but see i tried to do that before but i couldn't "sustain" it; it was as if the more i contemplated it the more that my brain told me "look for pattern, look for agency, look for god".

            Now am i being fooled by my mind? or am i doing that subconsciously, telling my mind to tell me to "look for god"? or do i not have a choice in the matter? Well i realized that the best explanation was that there was a reality to which my intellect my mind was responding, not the other way round, not that my mind was tricking me but that those things were really there, really beautiful whatever.

          • Doug Shaver

            BTW i know i think exactly what you mean by "just leaving God out of it" but see i tried to do that before but i couldn't "sustain" it; it was as if the more i contemplated it the more that my brain told me "look for pattern, look for agency, look for god".

            That's cool. It worked the other way for me. I tried to keep god in it, but I could not sustain my faith. The more I contemplated it, the more my brain told me, "You have no good reason to think that way."

          • Mike

            I think i know what you mean; i think that alot of what determines faith is somehow something beyond "the evidence".

          • Doug Shaver

            That's what I couldn't figure out: If there is no evidence for a belief, then what else could there be to justify it? Just putting a label like "faith" on the whatever-it-is didn't do the trick for me.

          • Mike

            I'd say that all the "scientific" evidence there is could be interpreted both ways but i know what you mean.

            I know atheists maintain that they can "impose" meaning, so i guess what i did was "imposed" a meaning that i found most likely to be true which was Christianity generally and the church specifically.

            But i've always thought "the evidence" really could be interpreted both ways whereas it looks like you don't think that in which case the issue can not be resolved in my way.

          • Doug Shaver

            I know atheists maintain that they can "impose" meaning

            I've known a few who maintain the contrary.

            But i've always thought "the evidence" really could be interpreted both ways whereas it looks like you don't think that in which case the issue can not be resolved in my way.

            It is a fact that people interpret the evidence both ways, so it would be silly of me to say that it can't be done. The most I could say is that it shouldn't be done.

          • Mike

            Well, thx and good luck.

  • Natural selection would interpret beauty within a needs-based aesthetics. So-called "gratuitous" beauty, seems to me, results when extrinsic value pursuits reward us as intrinsic value-realizations, in other words, when we experience "means" as novel "ends" unto themselves because "rewarding means" convey a great deal of adaptive significance for survival and reproduction. Colorful feathers in birds, for example, play a role in mate selection. The colors tend to be correlated with a given species' primary food sources. Thus the avian adage must be: "The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach."

    Natural selection's descriptions speak to a different explanatory layer of reality than a/theological interpretations. Furthermore, I don't place such a/theological stances in competition evidentially because, at best, such conversations can traffic only in tautologies that get bolstered by intuitions and weakened by counterintuitions, in other words, at a very weakly inferential level, where nothing's ontologically decidable.

  • Mike

    "Through no fault of our own, and by dint of no cosmic plan or conscious purpose, we have become, by the grace of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life's continuity on earth. We have not asked for that role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.

    —Stephen Jay Gould, A Glorious Accident, 1997"

    This sounds like a sermon on beauty.

    • David Nickol

      This sounds like a sermon on beauty.

      First, Gould doesn't mention beauty. Second, he was an atheist. Heschmeyer, you, and others are writing as if beauty had no specific meaning but could be used as a label to affix to anything a person considers positive or good. For example, Heschmeyer says, "[D]espite all of the awful bits, life is beautiful." Exactly what does that mean? Is beautiful used in the same sense as in, "What a beautiful sunset"? Or, "What a beautiful scientific theory"? Or, "What a beautiful death"? If Hugh Hefner said, "Life is beautiful," would he mean the same thing as Heschmeyer?

      • Mike

        I don't know but what i mean when i think of beauty is something poetic something transcendent it moves my "spirit" or touches some "deep deep "part of me some part that cares not for money or success or pride or vain glory or "me" but that feels like i am almost stepping outside my self into some "holier" realm..something like that.

        I wonder what the etymology of the word is and how it got its connotations.

      • Doug Shaver

        If Hugh Hefner said, "Life is beautiful," would he mean the same thing as Heschmeyer?

        It doesn't matter. If you and I are talking about beauty, we need to agree on what we mean. Whatever Hefner or Heschmeyer might mean would be irrelevant to our discussion.

  • David Nickol

    It’s what my dad talks about sometimes. He says the only way that he knows there’s a God is that there’s so much gratuitous joy in this life.

    Perhaps Joanna Newsom's dad should have said there so much gratuitous joy in his life. He was speaking only for himself—or at least he should have been. There are plenty of people in the world who have short and/or miserable lives. According to WHO, 3000 people commit suicide every day. Watch the news about war-torn areas in the world like Syria and see how many children a wounded and killed every day.

    One of the arguments made here recently is that there just has to be a God and an afterlife, otherwise there would be no justice for those who suffered at the hands of others in this life, since so often those who inflict the suffering do not pay a price in this life. I don't know how that can be squared with the idea that the good far outweighs the bad. If the good outweighs the bad on average, that means for some people it does, and for others it doesn't. That still raises questions about the goodness of God.

  • cminca

    Your question:

    "More specifically, how can we account for all the joy and beauty that doesn't have any evolutionary benefit?"

    A couple of specific answers:

    "A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multicoloured arc. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow

    Moonlight is the light that reaches Earth from the Moon, consisting mostly of sunlight, with some starlight and earthlight reflected from those portions of its surface which the Sun's light strikes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonlight

    The Rocky Mountains were initially formed from 80 million to 55 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny, in which a number of plates began to slide underneath the North American plate. The angle of subduction was shallow, resulting in a broad belt of mountains running down western North America. Since then, further tectonic activity and erosion by glaciers have sculpted the Rockies into dramatic peaks and valleys.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Mountains

    While that only took about 5 minutes to do, I don't have time to go through each and every item in the universe that someone could consider beautiful.

    • Mike

      Could someone consider killing innocent ppl beautiful?

      • George

        Is there such a thing as innocent people in christianity?

        • Mike

          Aren't all ppl innocent until proven guilty?

          You didn't answer my question.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I didn't understand Joe's question to be literally why do those things we call beautiful exist. Rather, I think he was asking why do we find them beautiful.

      Sexual desire obviously helps the human race continue, so selecting for sexual desire is understandable. But how does finding the Rocky Mountains beautiful fit into natural selection?

      • cminca

        Kevin--

        "But today I want to look at another problem that doesn't get much attention: the “problem of beauty.” It's a problem, not for believers, but for non-believers: if there isn't a God, how can we account for all of the joy and beauty in the world?""

        He is claiming that a rainbow, moonlight, and the Rocky Mountains cannot be beautiful unless we believe that God created them.

        I don't think I misinterpreted the issue being raised.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't see it that way. I think he is asking about the origin of beauty. But to ask about the origin of beauty you have to ask about the beholder of the beauty, since the apprehension of beautify is in the beholder. So his question is, I think, why do we find things beautiful?

          He is making the argument that natural selection is not an adequate explanation for us finding many things beautiful. Whether a particular person finds something beautiful is independent of what he things about the existence of God.

          So he is NOT claiming that those things cannot be beautiful if we don't believe that God made them. He is claiming that natural selection can't explain our apprehension of beauty.

          • cminca

            So the argument is:

            A rainbow is beautiful.

            A rainbow is not necessary for natural selection.

            Therefore--God.

            Really?

      • Doug Shaver

        But how does finding the Rocky Mountains beautiful fit into natural selection?

        Why does it have to?

  • David Nickol

    [T]he atheist account of beauty doesn't even advance any colorable explanation. The generally proffered solution, natural selection, just doesn't work here. Nor does it correspond with our experience of life: we don't see a clear correlation (at least, not a positive one) between “I cry at museums” and “I am adept at surviving and mating.”

    This strikes me as very naive and wrongheaded. Being moved by great paintings in a museum has very little to do with natural selection. Human beings didn't evolve to appreciate great paintings. The following is no doubt vastly oversimplified and crude, but I would say great painters (or composers, sculptors, etc.) determine (more or less intuitively) how to stimulate and exploit human perceptions as they evolved, largely (presumably) for purposes other than which they evolved. You might say, "Music was made for man, not man for music."

    A very crude parallel might be to raise the question why people break under torture. Did natural selection cause human beings to evolve in such a way that they would break under torture? Of course not. Torture is a human invention designed to exploit the human reaction to pain, and music and painting are human inventions designed to exploit the human reactions to such things as rhythm, symmetry, color, pitch, and so on.

    Also, it is mistaken to believe that atheists attribute everything to natural selection. Culture is something quite apart from natural selection. The great achievements in human civilization (agriculture, domestication of animals, writing and reading, mathematics, and so on) are achievements of human culture, not of natural selection.

    • William Davis

      Also, it is mistaken to believe that atheists attribute everything to natural selection. Culture is something quite apart from natural selection. The great achievements in human civilization (agriculture, domestication of animals, writing and reading, mathematics, and so on) are achievements of human culture, not of natural selection.

      Well said. I actually think Christian is pretty awesome, I just think WE made it. I am philosophically a Christian in many ways, but I'm also a Buddhist and a humanist. Can't we transcend tribalism (Christian exclusivity is a form of tribalism in my opinion) and acknowledge there is truth to be found from all types of people and all branches of knowledge?

      I have a TON in common with "post-theistic" Catholics I've met, I have more in common with them than most atheists. Let me believe what I'm pretty sure is the truth, that we believe in the God we IMAGINE, not the God that is really out that we simply cannot comprehend, and get on with the work of post-theistic philosophy. The God we imagine has the power to shape human culture and physical reality in that it affects what we think and do. THIS is the power of God, it is one and the same as the power of belief. I don't think this kills the religion, the religion will only die if can't adapt to a changing world. Idea selection is very real, and works way faster than natural selection ever has. Lately idea selection has been occurring at a breath-taking rate, largely thanks to information technology, I think.

      • "Well said. I actually think Christian is pretty awesome, I just think WE made it"

        I think this is a more reasonable position that God is just a delusion. The trouble is the idea that WE made Christianity is not that plausible. That is especially if you think it didn't come from Jesus. A Christian community gullible enough to believe any miracle story out there yet brilliant enough to compose the parables and manufacture the idea of strength through death and resurrection. Yet confused enough to think some poor rabbi is actually God.

        • William Davis

          Christianity evolved over time, just as all cultural phenomena evolved, even human life itself. I can walk you through the evolution of western theology if you are interested, of course it would be an outline you can use for your own research. (Don't want to waste my time if you are uninterested)

          • Actually the evidence shows a huge transformation right around the time of Jesus. People try and stretch out the timeframe but it does not really work. You can find all the major teachings of Christianity very early. You also find a consistency of teaching across a very large area. Not what you would expect from a rapidly changing religion. Then you have to explain why everyone pointed back at this Jesus guy as the source of their wisdom.

            So I would be interested to see your outline. My expectation would be that many dates would get pushed back. I would also wonder about wasting time if you are not really open to evidence.

          • William Davis

            I try to be open to evidence, that is the beauty of debate, letting the other person point out what you might have wrong. My opinions have been altered by discussion, and I've very good at admitting when I'm wrong this is part of the process of learning. I've met post-theistic Catholics on atheists forum and we agree on so much. Atheist's tendency to dismiss religion is deeply flawed in my opinion. I am genuinely interested in the actual truth, and have my ego invested in that, not some preconception. Interpretations of evidence tend to be highly divergent, and always tilted by the bias you bring to the table. (We simply cannot help but to bring at least some bias to the table, it fundamental to the human brain, but recognizing that fact does help ameloriate the effect of biasing on interpretation). Sadly I forgot I've got to take the kids to grandma's, I'll try to get back to you a little later (rushing never results in a good conversation). Take your time getting back when I do post. Thanks for being interested in what I have to say :)

          • Sounds good. I don't have a ton of time so I will have to respond to you more slowly. Especially if I have to dig up some data for you.

          • Doug Shaver

            You can find all the major teachings of Christianity very early.

            Yep. You can even find them before there were any Christians.

        • Doug Shaver

          The trouble is the idea that WE made Christianity is not that plausible.

          I've known Christians my whole life, and for part of my life I was one of them. It's about the most plausible idea I've ever come across.

    • So you thing there is no such thing as beauty? Just someone taking advantage of you defective brain? Shakespeare, Mozart and Rembrandt were not in pursuit of artistic greatness. They were just pushing other people's buttons for money. What about guys who don't make any money at it?

      • David Nickol

        You write as if you have some kind of chip on your shoulder.

        So you thing there is no such thing as beauty?

        What in the message of mine to which you are responding would lead you to that conclusion? I made an admittedly strange comparison between torture and art, but did that lead you to the conclusion that I think there is no such thing as pain and torture?

        Just someone taking advantage of you defective brain?

        Did I say anything about a defective brain? My point is that the human brain evolved with various capacities that set it up as capable of having something we identify as an esthetic response. Humanity did not evolve an esthetic sense in anticipation of rectangular oil paintings in a certain fairly standard range of sizes. Rather, artists developed the art form of painting because it could exploit (in a nonpejorative sense) the human capacity for an aesthetic response. And of course it is not all a matter of biology and natural selection. It is also a matter of culture, which has little or nothing to do with natural selection.

        Shakespeare, Mozart and Rembrandt were not in pursuit of artistic greatness. They were just pushing other people's buttons for money. What about guys who don't make any money at it?

        As a preliminary, what works of Shakespeare, Mozart, and Rembrandt do you find the most beautiful? Did you pick those three because you personally have a powerful esthetic response to some of their works? Or did you choose them because our current culture holds them in high regard?

        Where in my comments did you find an implication that great artists are just money-grubbing button pushers? Perhaps it was because I said

        . . . .great painters (or composers, sculptors, etc.) determine (more or less intuitively) how to stimulate and exploit human perceptions as they evolved, largely (presumably) for purposes other than which they evolved.

        That was in no way an attempt to imply that painting, composing, or sculpting consists of a set of cheap tricks to exploit (in some reprehensible way) human reactions to sound, rhythm, light, symmetry, and so on. When I first came to New York, almost all of my friends and acquaintances were art students and/or aspiring painters and sculptors. I have seen firsthand what motivates creative people, and I certainly wouldn't try to explain it away as some side-effect of evolution. People here keep forgetting that what shapes humanity now is largely culture, and I think theists vastly overestimate what they think the explanatory power of evolution/natural selection must be for atheists, which is not to say there aren't people (both atheists and theists) who go overboard trying to explain everything in terms of evolution.

  • David Nickol

    Often, as Newsom points out, the sensation of beauty draws us away from working and reproducing, leaving us “stupefied, monastic, not productive in any way, shape or form.”

    Yes, with all the beauty in the world, how can people possibly find any time for sex?

  • David Nickol

    Someone needs to explain, I think largely for the benefit of the theists here, exactly what natural selection is alleged to be responsible for and what it is not. For example, natural selection had nothing to do with the Parthenon or the Pietà!

    • Doug Shaver

      Exactly? The scientific jury is still out on that one. Biologists have a good general idea, but for a lot of the particulars, there is no consensus yet.

  • Krakerjak

    There is virtually no evidence that artworks activate emotion areas distinct from those involved in appraising everyday objects important for survival. Hence, the most reasonable evolutionary hypothesis is that the aesthetic system of the brain evolved first for the appraisal of objects of biological importance, including food sources and suitable mates, and was later co-opted for artworks such as paintings and music. As much as philosophers like to believe that our brains contain a specialized system for the appreciation of artworks, research suggests that our brain’s responses to a piece of cake and a piece of music are in fact quite similar.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-neuroscience-of-beauty/

    https://www.ted.com/talks/denis_dutton_a_darwinian_theory_of_beauty?language=en

  • Krakerjak

    It is too bad that two persons cut from the same cloth try to dominate the whole conversation in tandem. That is not very conducive to attracting participants to the discussion.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      What are you taking about?

  • This argument from beauty and/or joy is very weak. I think it is saying that, the experience of enjoying something one considers beautiful or experiencing joy to the extent humans do, is impossible if no god exists, people do experience joy and beauty therefore a god must exist.

    It is a deductive argument and it fails because it is by no means established that our experience of beauty and joy requires a god. I think it is entirely plausible that we evolved the cognitive ability to find persons, food and environments appealing. For example, we find other humans beautiful, generally those we which to mate with OR those who we would want to see propagated. Humans tend to find their own children most beautiful, and children and other healthy examples of people who look like them beautiful. We tend to find unhealthy, diseased and deformed humans less attractive. All of this makes sense in terms of evolution. We can even see our images of beauty changing over time. Historically, people with a few extra pounds were considered the most attractive, as thinness was much more associated with poverty and poor health. We seem to have swung the other way. But of course to the theist, this gets very complicated, is my attraction to certain women god-given beauty appreciation or devil caused lust?!

    We can say the same thing with respect to other aspects of beauty, certain landscapes are more attractive to us because they are more safe. Generally we like broad landscapes, big views from secure vantage points. Environments where we can see predators, or escape up a tree. We evolve preferences for foods, these and other things become beautiful.

    When you think about it beauty makes perfect sense as an evolved capacity, as do our primary emotions of fear, shame, anger and joy and sorrow. Of course these, like everything about humans developed before our current mental capacity, with 250,000 years of social development obviously, tendencies we evolved to generally favour health, reproduction, safety, competitiveness and so on are mingled in now with millennia of social development.

    And it goes without saying that none of this is scientifically demonstrated. Evolutionary psychology is a rather new field. (I believe Steven Pinker did write about how beauty likely evolved in The Blank Slate). But it is inherently plausible! Why do we often get feelings of awe and appreciation, that are mysterious to us? Because along with other mammals we evolved massively powerful instincts. Does a beaver think out a building plan for a dam and a lodge? Maybe, maybe god gave beavers this capacity. Or maybe they evolved to feel good by certain very specific circumstances.

    I think it is inherently plausible and quite probable that our capacity to appreciate beauty serves an evolutionary purpose, and it doesn't matter that we feel it now for all kinds of things or to extents that are not directly tied to reproduction or security. It is easy to see how these experiences could be a function of an evolved capacity.

    • Krakerjak

      Double Upvote.

    • You just need to understand that this is 100% faith. There is no evidence. There isn't even any plausibility to those who don't need to believe this to save their metaphysical theory. Given the choice between believing Jesus is God or believing all the beauty of the universe is pure accident I find the former not only a better thing to believe but an easier thing to believe. Both are impossible in their own way. It comes down to a choice. What do you want to believe about the word?

      • Doug Shaver

        I will not accept that the truth must be what I want it to be. I've been there and done that, and the consequences were nasty.

  • By contrast, the problem of suffering has enormous problems. No omnibenovolent omnipotent being would allow any unnecessary suffering. It appears to me utterly I plausible that all the suffering that seems so incredibly unnecessary and unjust is ultimately necessary to some divinely good purpose.

    I'm sure people have posted Stephen Fry's recent theodicy issue. For this to be true, God must have an all good reason for not preventing Ebola from evolving. Or a plant who's sting is so painful that people are know to commit suicide within moments of exposure. Consider lightning, god is not constrained by any other natural order that requires a universe in which random bolts of electricity cause fires, kill children and for centuries damaged and burnt the cathedrals and churches we built to his honour. He could have designed a universe with no lightning. No disease, no earthquakes and tsunami. God invented nature, he is not a servant to it! He could have created a universe in which the only suffering occurred due to human decisions. Would this deprive us of free will? How? Did he deprive his disciples of the free will to not eat by feeding them with miraculous loaves and fishes? By curing the sick?

    And what is the problem with abridging people's free will by saving them from disease and disaster? What would it prove that he exists meaning people are no longer free to believe in him or not? If that is the case, you must acknowledge that god would not leave the world in a state of affairs in which his existence could deductively be established. If indeed the apologists we hear from are correct, and the arguments here are truly demonstrative that god exists, has not god taken away our free will to disbelieve in him? Or is it only ok to prove he exists by erudite philosophy and an understanding of the a theory of time?

    Evolution seems a very plausible explanation for our experience of beauty, "you wouldn't understand" is not a plausible answer to me as to why an all good being who loves us would let so many millions of us suffer and die for no apparent reason.

    • William Davis

      I wish Christians such nonsense explanations of suffering, at some point it must become immoral, because it trivializes the pain many people experience, it lacks Christian compassion.

      If we actually think the universe is "created", I've already made the point on here that God must have a thing for galaxies, not people. The amount of matter that humans make up is such a small percentage of the universe you cannot put a percentage on it. I can sympathize, I think galaxies are beautiful too.

      I get really annoyed when Christians try to invoke Original Sin as well. It isn't in Genesis.

      Man got kicked out of the Garden of Eden to PREVENT him from eating of the tree of life, i.e. to prevent him from getting immortality. There is no indication he was ever immortal, as far as the curse, let's look at what it says, Genesis 3:

      “Because you have done this,
      cursed are you among all animals
      and among all wild creatures;
      upon your belly you shall go,
      and dust you shall eat
      all the days of your life.
      15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
      and between your offspring and hers;
      he will strike your head,
      and you will strike his heel.”

      16 To the woman he said,

      “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
      in pain you shall bring forth children,
      yet your desire shall be for your husband,
      and he shall rule over you.”

      17 And to the man[b] he said,

      “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
      and have eaten of the tree
      about which I commanded you,
      ‘You shall not eat of it,’
      cursed is the ground because of you;
      in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
      18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
      and you shall eat the plants of the field.
      19 By the sweat of your face
      you shall eat bread
      until you return to the ground,
      for out of it you were taken;
      you are dust,
      and to dust you shall return.”

      The INCREASE in pain from childbirth is consistent with evolutionary theory, larger human brains led to harder and premature births. Notice it is an increase...that means there was pain in childbirth BEFORE the curse.

      Adam did NOT get cursed. the ground did so he would have to work harder. Man never farmed until the beginning of civilization, that is what this is about. The Sumerian creation myths said man was created to a slave to the gods, since they were tired of plowing the fields themselves (their gods had to eat and sleep). Of course man had to work until he died, but there is no indication that was part of the curse, man just escapes the curse once he is back in the ground.

      Besides, if man did not already have a sin nature, why would he have sinned in the first place? If I take my kids, put them in a room by themselves, and tell them "There is one candy in the middle table, don't eat it, I'm leaving" what do you think they are going to do after a while? Eat the candy, duh, it is just the way kids are. God didn't know this was going to happen? Yeah right.

      What's more, Genesis is clearly based on Sumerian/Babylonian mythology. Here's a quick link if you interested (there is actually much more connection than what this site goes over, it just hits some of the highlights)

      http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/babylonian.html

      • Loreen Lee

        Yes. Is there a possible contradiction between will and reason, in that the will is alleged to be free, yet the reason is restricted with respect to 'knowledge of good and evil'. There is more in this than I have yet been able to analyze. There is also implied, I believe the requirement to take on some kind of responsibility, as within but perhaps not exclusive to normative thought.

  • It bears repeating that the reason Job suffered was not some "only-god-could understand the inconceivable reasons" God dodges the question when Job asks, but the reader of the book of Job is given more information. God is proving a point to someone, who as far as I can tell, is the devil. That is the direct reason that Jobs family is killed he is impoverished and smitten. The story would work just as well, if not better if these things just happened to him, and when he asks God says, I'm sorry Job, I understand what you are feeling and unfortunately, as you are not "pure being" itself, you cannot conceive of the reasons this HAD to happen to you, which one day I will reveal and it will be glorious. Meanwhile here is your family back, I preserved them and will restore you because of the faith you have shown in me.

    Rather, the story is the devil says I bet that guy would disavow you if he suffered. god says do your worst. The innocent family die, forever, and go where, purgatory? When Job asks why he is not told about the wager, or that this was done so the story could be told for millennia. God basically reprimands him for the audacity in even asking the question.

    Sure if you interprets this story through the lens of "everything god does is good... Somehow" you can rationalize this, just like the murders in Exodus, the rules about stoning people to death, the genocides, asking Abraham to sacrifice his son and so on. But the plain reading for anyone who has not been told since birth that god is always good, they are what their plain manning implies.

    God created the world, his authority comes from his enormous power, he wants only your worship, your foreskin, the odd barbecue and he will kill you for being what he considers audacious, for example daring to touch the ark of the covenant when it was about to fall on the ground, looking at a city he is destroying, letting him harden your heart and not let his people go, and so on

  • Marc Riehm

    And from the get-go, we have statements like this: "it's clear enough that a loving God might permit His creatures to suffer, in certain cases, for their (our) own good." Right, cases like childhood leukemia, I s'pose.

    • We all sin. We all die. Is that inherently implausible? If not, then is the problem just that some die younger and some die older? Would a good God give each person exactly the same number of days of life? I don't see why he has to. He does not give everyone the same IQ or the same musical ability. Why shouldn't some have shorter lives and others longer?

      • Marc Riehm

        Your answer is facile. The OP implies that suffering is caused by an individual's transgressions. You imply the same. That doesn't hold much water in the case of mortal infant disease.

        • It is not just the individuals transgressions. Sin has consequences not just for the sinner but for everyone else.

          • Marc Riehm

            At course that's the Chistian doctrine - the sorry doctrine of collective punishment. Of, "take it out on the babies".

          • So your original post was a misstatement of Christianity. A straw man fallacy. Are you saying "take it out on the babies" is now correct Christian doctrine? Can you point me to some Christians that teach that?

          • Doug Shaver

            Can you point me to some Christians that teach that?

            If Christians can't see the logical implications of their teachings, that's not the skeptics' problem.

          • Marc Riehm

            No, please go back and read my original post and my first follow-up to you. I pointed out that the author and you both implied that an individual's suffering was a consequence of his or her own sin. And you did not dispute that. I did not misrepresent Christian doctrine; you did.

          • If you said that then you did misrepresent Christian doctrine. If we only suffer for our own sin then Jesus would have never suffered because He is sinless. In fact, the bible clearly talks about the sins of parents visiting the third and fourth generation.

          • Marc Riehm

            The bible is ambiguous in that regard, and, were there a god, I would prefer that he did not act like a bully and feudal lord.

          • Doug Shaver

            Sin has consequences not just for the sinner but for everyone else.

            When we make mistakes, we're usually not the only ones who suffer the consequences. That is contingently unavoidable. I don't see it as logically necessary.

          • It is not a question of whether it is logical necessary. It is a question of whether the existence of that principle proves God is not good. Not that it violates your sense of goodness.but that it violates any possible sense of goodness.

          • Doug Shaver

            What principle? Just because X happens doesn't make X a principle of any kind.

          • If something happens consistently then it can be called a principle. We all suffer might be called a principle. Does that principle of the world make it illogical to believe that this word was created by a good God? If it is logically necessary that would imply a negative answer. Yet the converse is not true. It might not be necessary but still be something God chose to allow to exist be for some reason.

          • Doug Shaver

            Our mistakes do not consistently make other people suffer. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.

  • Marc Riehm

    The whole doctrine of the Fall is that things aren't how they ought to be, and how we're the ones who screwed them up. You can read that story in Genesis, or watch it on the nightly news.

    Or we can read about how we evolved, which ties us to basic drives like lust and the possibility of violence and hunger for power, the consequences of which we watch on the news, and we could acknowledge that part of our heritage, and continue to find ways to manage it, but perhaps without recourse to superstition and fantastic belief.

    • Why manage it? Why would we suppose there is a higher good we can achieve by getting beyond our lust, violence and hunger for power?

      • Marc Riehm

        On one level, for the same reason that monotheistic ethics were developed in the first place: social control and stability.

        On another level, Do Unto Others.

        • But why? Why develop monotheistic ethics? Why do unto others? Maybe if you can get some consideration in return but what if you can't?

          • Marc Riehm

            I am an atheist and I don't hit my wife. I do my best to treat others well for the obvious and simple reason that it will benefit me socially. And of course we humans is social critters. It doesn't take a god to teach us to do that. And if you think it does, you have a very sorry view of humanity.

          • You don't hit your wife and treat others well because it benefits you socially? Really? That does sound like a sorry view of humanity.

          • Doug Shaver

            That does sound like a sorry view of humanity.

            It would be sorrier to think that brutality was socially useful.

          • Cristalle

            > It would be sorrier to think that brutality was socially useful.

            Machiavelli argued that brutality was very socially useful.

          • Doug Shaver

            Why should I care what Machiavelli thought about brutality?

          • Cristalle

            Marc argued as follows:
            "I am an atheist and I don't hit my wife. I do my best to treat others
            well for the obvious and simple reason that it will benefit me socially."
            Machiavelli argues (many people think quite convincingly) that brutality, in many contexts, is socially useful.
            Hence if Machiavelli is right, Marc's argument for treating others well and refraining from brutality (i.e. that it carries social benefits) fails -- at least in certain contexts, and perhaps in many.

            Also, there's a big problem with your statement: "It would be sorrier to think that brutality was socially useful." On the face of it, this is a normative statement -- i.e. it presupposes moral value. To what objective moral standard are you appealing when you say this?
            Or are you making a *factual* sort of judgment here, i.e. you think people that believe brutality is socially useful are stupid or ill-informed? Yet it cannot be denied (just a quick look at history will do this) that brutality *has* been socially useful for achieving certain aims.
            Or is this just a private taste of yours, like hating oatmeal, and though you can't understand how anyone else might enjoy brutality (or the taste of oatmeal) -- well, that's their business?

          • Doug Shaver

            Hence if Machiavelli is right . . . .

            And if frogs had wings . . . .

            I can't be concerned about the implications of Machiavelli being right if I have no good reason to think he was right.

            To what objective moral standard are you appealing when you say this?

            I don't believe there is any objective moral standard. I also don't think this prevents us from having justified opinions about morality.

          • Cristalle

            "I don't believe there is any objective moral standard. I also don't
            think this prevents us from having justified opinions about morality."
            Please elaborate (and in particular, explain what you mean when you write "It would be sorrier to think that brutality was socially useful." Sorry how? By what standard?)

          • Doug Shaver

            Socrates is supposed to have taught that no one knowingly does evil, and he seems to have meant that someone who does evil is mistaken if they think the evil deed will serve their best interests. The way I would rephrase it is that there can never be a conflict between the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. People who are brutalized are not the only ones who suffer. Any society that permits or encourages brutality will also suffer. Its members will not be as well off as they would be if brutality were regarded as intolerable.

          • Marc Riehm

            I posted very hastily there. I treat others well for a couple of reasons. One is simply because I want to increase happiness in the world. I want to be happy, and I want to be surrounded by others who are happy. "Doing unto others" is of obvious benefit.

            Another is certainly for social benefit. We temper our behaviours so that others like us.
            Most of us are taught this by our parents and we continue to learn and refine this as we mature and age.

            And there is of course nothing wrong with that. One might point out that the motivation is selfish. So what? The result is unambiguously good.

            To me, sourcing one's good behaviour in a myth about a deity who wields an eternal carrot-or-stick mechanism is a far sorrier view of humanity. Are we really so brutish that the only thing to make us treat one another well is the threat of infinite punishment?

          • The result is unambiguously good? That does not seem clear to me. It seems to leave the door open to exception in cases where either my selfish good is unlikely to happen or if there is some other selfish good I can get by doing evil.

            So a question like will I commit adultery comes down to how much will I enjoy it and how likely am I to get caught. Yet we want to make the honest promise that we will remain faithful. We don't want to say only if it makes sense from a selfish point of view.

          • Doug Shaver

            Why do unto others? Maybe if you can get some consideration in return but what if you can't?

            Then I'm living among psychopaths, and I'm reduced to doing whatever I must do in order just to survive. Self-preservation is always a morally acceptable option, except in a few of the most extreme situations.

          • Marc Riehm

            As I said above, monotheistic ethics were developed for for social control and stability.

            Regarding Do Unto Others: by and large it works, no? Certainly there are individuals with whom it doesn't work, but it is of course an excellent general principle.

          • Monotheism came from the Jews and later the Christians and even later the Muslims. The believed it based on revelation. It did not come about because it led to better ethics.

      • Doug Shaver

        Why would we suppose there is a higher good we can achieve by getting beyond our lust, violence and hunger for power?

        I have been in situations where those feelings were allowed free rein, and I've been in situations where they were not. I don't need to have any notion of "higher good" to know which I prefer.

  • Michael Murray

    I wonder if the bowerbird thinks God is blue

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwtSLyDCrks&spfreload=10

    That would explain why it finds blue things beautiful perhaps.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      What does this video and your comment have to do with the OP?

      • Michael Murray

        You can't see the parallels ?

        It is supposed to make you wonder if what humans find beautiful might not appear to another species as strange and foolish as the bower birds fascination for the colour blue. It also is supposed to point out that evolution is complicated. It's not immediately obvious why liking blue is an advantage to the bower bird.

        • Cristalle

          I don't see why humans should necessarily be the only beings to whom God gave the capacity to recognize and appreciate beauty... The Psalms contain all sorts of descriptions of the natural world honoring and worshipping God. Why not the bowerbirds?

          • Michael Murray

            Whatever the bowerbird might tell you if he could speak there are perfectly rational and reasonable explanations for his love of blue

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowerbird

            that don't require the additional hypothesis that a supernatural being gave him the capacity to recognize and appreciate beauty. I see no reason that the same is not true for humans.

            Of course it's worth saying I guess that the bowerbird only likes blue things not green or yellow or pink. Just blue. For him the other colours are like atonal music or abstract art or modernist architecture. It seems kind of strange to call that very limited range the capacity to recognise and appreciate beauty.

          • Cristalle

            Sure, it's possible that bowerbirds have no particular aesthetic appreciation for blue and this really is just an elaborate mating ritual. But that was part of the point of the article: it strains credulity to think that (say) Beethoven's symphonies, Michelangelo's paintings and Shakespeare's plays are actually some sort of elaborate mating ritual.

          • Michael Murray

            So a whole article to say yet again to say:

            "surely this is complicated to explain as a result of natural processes, therefore God"

            How many times has that claim been wrong in the entire history of human thought ?

          • Papalinton

            It's called, the 'God-of-the-gaps' manoeuvre. And it remains a favourite but thoroughly misguided 'non-explanation' explanation of religionists including Heschmeyer. He is, however, right on one thing. His theological explanation is indeed 'colourful'.

          • Cristalle

            There are two problems with your argument.
            (1) The things you list (lightning, comets, sunrise) are all physical phenomena. Beauty, and the appreciation/creation of beauty, is not a physical phenomenon; a scientist can't measure the mass or the electrical charge of beauty, and there aren't any lab tests to run for it, either. Beauty is either (seen from the third-person perspective) an aspect of human behavior, or (from the first-person perspective) a subjective inner experience -- and science has had far less success explaining human behavior or (especially) subjective experience, than it has explaining physical phenomena like comets and thunder and so on. (Indeed, some authors such as Edward Feser has argued that this is an inescapable consequence of the scientific method itself...but I digress...)

            (2) The author is NOT arguing, "surely this is complicated to explain as a result of natural processes, therefore God." That would be a case of jumping to conclusions. Rather, as I read it, the argument goes like this.
            - The existence of beauty -- both beautiful things in the world, and our own ability to appreciate, respond to, and create beauty -- demands explanation.
            - Let us examine the two competing worldviews on offer in our society, to see which one gives a more convincing account of beauty -- call them the Mainstream Atheistic (MA) and Mainstream Theistic (MT) worldviews.
            - MA does not give a convincing account of beauty; its main explanatory mechanisms are mechanical physical causation and Darwinian evolution, and we can form no convincing account why mechanical physical causation and/or Darwinian evolution should have instilled in us the capacity to admire Rembrandt paintings, waterfalls, Bach fugues, and Yosemite.
            - MT gives a far more convincing account of beauty.
            - Therefore beauty is *one piece of evidence in support of* MT (which must be considered along with all other evidence.)
            Heschmeyer goes to some lengths to emphasize this last point, devoting his entire final paragraph to it. E.g. "That's why I think it's important to hold the problem of beauty up,
            side-by-side, with the problem of pain, weighing them, as if in a
            balance."

          • Loreen Lee

            Kant, I believe, in his Power of Judgment, has I believe about a half dozen categories of 'beauty'. One of these is goodness which when combined with the intellect (in what ways I can't expand on) perhaps within an interrelationship, to support practical reason, ethical/pragmatic and moral (with consideration of universal/necessary paradigms) choices.
            So pleasure/pain is but another of the six or so categories.
            Wish I could remember all of them by heart. They really give on a lot to think about.

          • Michael Murray

            On the question of the relevant merits of naturalistic versus Catholic explanations of human behaviour I think we might need to just agree to disagree.

            The author is NOT arguing, "surely this is complicated to explain as a result of natural processes, therefore God."

            No of course not. Just like when the guy at the shopping centre sticks out his hand and says "hi mate, got a minute" he's not asking me for money. But if I stop and listen he will.

          • Cristalle

            ...Ad hominem much?

          • Cristalle

            "On the question of the relevant merits of naturalistic versus
            Catholic explanations of human behaviour I think we might need to just agree to disagree."

            Why? Surely there is some objective truth of the matter, and we can figure it out by reasoned discussion? This isn't, after all, merely a subjective *opinion* (like "peas are delicious!" or "peas are disgusting!")
            Also, just to avoid any misunderstandings: I'm not actually Catholic, though I admire the Catholic approach to philosophy and theology. "Theistic explanations" is probably more accurate -- there's nothing in what I've argued that's intrinsically Catholic, after all.

          • Doug Shaver

            (2) The author is NOT arguing, "surely this is complicated to explain as a result of natural processes, therefore God."

            How is he not arguing as follows?

            1. You don't have an explanation.
            2. I do have an explanation.
            3. Therefore, my explanation is correct.

          • Cristalle

            Did you even read the article? Two of the three points of your summary are wrong.

            > 1. You don't have an explanation.
            The entire premise of the article is that materialistic atheism, as an explanation for beauty, is *unconvincing* or *insufficient* -- not that it doesn't *exist*. If atheistic attempts to explain beauty did not exist, Heschmeyer would not have written this article. (Duh.)
            > 2. I do have an explanation.
            Yes, but even more importantly, a CONVINCING explanation (by his reasoning.)
            > 3. Therefore, my explanation is correct.
            Not quite. Try "more plausible" or "more likely to be correct" (and as I mentioned, he devotes the last couple of paragraphs to exploring exactly this nuance which you ignore.)

            Next time, maybe try reading what the guy wrote before arguing about it? It's only polite...

          • Doug Shaver

            OK, lemme try it this way.

            1. Your explanation does not convince me.
            2. My explanation convinces me.
            3. Therefore, my explanation is more likely to be correct.

            That better?

          • Cristalle

            That's definitely better, but I don't see what's wrong with this. It is, after all, how we reason about *everything* (from science to history to philosophy to human psychology to religion...) What other criterion would you have the author adopt? What *can* I refer to, other than my own reasoned judgment about which explanation best fits the facts at hand? Majority poll? Flipping a coin? Going with my "gut feeling"?
            This is how scientific theories are formed: we observe certain evidence and we try to formulate a convincing explanation that fits the facts, and we tacitly assume that theories that are more convincing are more likely to be true. Obviously we're in the realm of philosophy here, not naturalistic science, but I would argue that the same criterion applies: a theory must be convincing. Obviously, you may disagree with the author that the theory IS convincing, but I don't think you can really take issue with his strategy -- unless you have a better one to put forward.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't expect anyone to deny that of which he is convinced, but we can still acknowledge that truth is not determined by the strength of our convictions.

            The likelihood of an explanation's being true must be measured by the cogency of the argument with which it is defended, and an argument's cogency lies in the argument itself, not in whether it changes the mind of any particular person or in how many people find it persuasive. If you regard an argument as persuasive and I don't, then we probably disagree about how cogent it is. You believe the conclusion because you think the argument is cogent, and I don't believe the conclusion because I think the argument is uncogent. Obviously, we can't both be right. However, if you can say "Since I accept the conclusion, the argument must be cogent," I would have just as much right to say, "Since I reject the conclusion, the argument must not be cogent."

            Generally speaking, it is unlikely that you and I as individuals could resolve our disagreement. But in a public venue, what we can do for the benefit of anyone following our discussion is present our separate analyses of the argument at issue to explain exactly why we have reached our different judgments of its cogency.

          • Cristalle

            Agreed -- I think this is a reasonable approach.

          • Papalinton

            Cristalle, 'beauty' is not a fundamental property of something. It is a descriptor, a description, be it an action, an object, a relationship etc etc. It is a visceral response, at either the emotional or psychological level, and indeed even at the physical level. We respond to that which is beautiful through our senses be it touch, sight, sound etc etc. There is nothing especially pertinent about 'beauty' that posits it as some form of intercessory supernatural or divine function, nor any other descriptor we might utilise to characterise such action, object or relationship etc. Whatever you feel or imagine as beautiful is most definitely triggered by a physical neurological response, be it emotional or psychological.

          • Papalinton

            Cristalle, 'beauty' is not a fundamental property of something. It is a descriptor, a description, be it an action, an object, a relationship etc etc. It is a visceral response, at either the emotional or psychological level, and indeed at the physical level. We respond to that which is beautiful through our senses be it touch, sight, sound etc etc. There is nothing especially pertinent about 'beauty' that posits it as some form of intercessory supernatural or divine function, nor any other descriptor we might utilise to characterise such action, object or relationship etc. Whatever you feel or imagine as beautiful is most definitely triggered by a physical neurological response, be it emotional or psychological.

          • Cristalle

            Actually, I can agree with the bulk of what you wrote; it's your last sentence that I really take issue with:
            "Whatever you feel or imagine as beautiful is most definitely triggered
            by a physical neurological response, both emotional and psychological."
            Two problems here:
            (1) This is a statement of faith, not of science. We don't have sufficient neuroscientific data to prove this, and at the moment we don't even know how we'd go about doing so. On what basis can we conclude that our sense of beauty is simply "triggered by a physical neurological response" (and a response to what, exactly?)
            (2) Beauty is a sufficiently powerful force within our lives (for example, many human beings have devoted their lives to pursuing it) that it demands explanation. If one approaches it with the assumptions inherent in an atheistic/materialistic worldview, then it is necessary to show how the causal forces that this worldview acknowledges (e.g. Darwinian evolution) can explain this aspect of our lives and internal experience. If one can't do this in a convincing way, this might be a hint that something is missing within the atheistic worldview.

          • Papalinton

            Cristalle, your Point 1 is not correct. There is significant neuroscientific data that indicates the physical basis for what we experience as beauty.

            From Caltech

            See HERE from Scientist

            SEE HERE from World Science

            From HERE the Oxford Journal

            And FROM CNN HERE

            Your Point 2 about beauty being a force might be OK in discussion with friends but there is certainly nothing at all whatsoever to suggest it represents a fundamental force active in the universe such as the weak and strong nuclear force, or electromagnetism, or gravity etc etc. It is a 'force' in rhetoric, an expression of language only.

          • Cristalle

            The studies you quoted mostly fall into the following formula:
            "When someone perceives X as beautiful, region Y of their brain lights up."
            This is correlation. Correlation is not causation; we don't know whether their perception of beauty caused their neurons to fire, or their neurons firing caused their perception of beauty. It's certainly an interesting result for understanding brain mapping better, but not anything more than that.

            The one study you cite that *appears* at first glance to be slightly more convincing is the first -- the Caltech one. *It* falls into a different formula, namely:
            "If I stimulate region Y of your brain, your perceptions of X are temporarily changed."
            However, this doesn't prove that X was, in the first place, illusory or "all in your head." Compare:
            - "If I hit you on the head, you'll "see stars" (i.e. that are not really there.) Therefore, every time you saw stars before, it was illusory."
            - "While performing neurosurgery on Joe, I poked his brain in a certain spot and he had a vivid memory of his sixth birthday party. Therefore, his sixth birthday party never really happened."
            - "Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia can destroy the brain structures that allow us to do mathematical calculations. Therefore, when we do mathematical calculations, it's "all in our head" and they don't actually reflect any property of the real world."
            So, just like "correlation is not causation", "abnormal causation is not (necessarily) normal causation".

          • Papalinton

            So, in your mind you have a causation for beauty? What is it? I'm all eyes on your rationale in anticipation.

            I have to say your notion of correlation/causation is delightfully misguided and highly interpretive and bears no relevance to the findings underlying the research in neuroscience.

            I'm not sure even you know what you trying to get at with your comment. To overlay some form of enfeebled and clichéd Thomistic interpretation to contemporary scientific knowledge and understanding. While this might score a few points among aficionados of supernaturalism, it really doesn't contribute to the debate going forward nor offers much in the way of a substantive explication of the results of the research findings.

          • Cristalle

            "I have to say your notion of correlation/causation is delightfully
            misguided and highly interpretive and bears no relevance to the findings
            underlying the research in neuroscience."

            ...So please, critique it. Show me exactly where it's "misguided" (regarding "highly interpretive", guilty as charged -- just as all scientists are -- since ALL scientific findings require interpretation!) I'm all ears, if you can offer something substantial.
            Regarding causation, what about the idea that beauty is an objective quality that we perceive (just as we perceive, for example, the truths of certain mathematical statements, or a logical preposition)? Of course, messing with our brain can affect our ability to reliably perceive both beauty and mathematical truths, but it does not undermine the existence of these truths in the first place.

          • Cristalle

            Also, jumping to conclusions just a bit here, aren't we?
            "To overlay some form of enfeebled and clichéd Thomistic interpretation
            to contemporary scientific knowledge and understanding is not a very
            convincing ploy."
            ...How exactly have I led you to believe I'm arguing along Thomistic lines? Just because I'm posting on Strange Notions? (Not that I have anything against Thomistic philosophy, but I actually am not very well versed in it; most of what I argue is simply the result of my own thinking and wondering about things, not some sort of theological or philosophical indoctrination, as you seem to be implying.)

          • Cristalle

            Re Point 2, this is nit-picking. Scientists often use the word "force" in the informal, colloquial sense I've used it: for example, "the forces that drive natural selection". Yet no-one thinks there are "natural selection forces" along with weak and strong nuclear forces, etc. I'm certainly not trying to argue that beauty is a fundamental physical force of the universe; if anything, it is an abstract entity like, for example, the number 3.
            Yet this only serves to reinforce the point that, according to materialistic naturalism, the apparent "force" of beauty in our lives should be explainable in more fundamental ways (i.e. Darwinian evolution.) Yet, as Heschmeyer argues, we have no convincing way to do so -- which suggests our sense of beauty points to something beyond mere Darwinian evolution.

          • Papalinton

            So, how does an abstraction entail a force?

          • Cristalle

            >god-of-the-gaps
            This term gets bandied about rather too frequently by atheists. "God-of-the-gaps" are arguments that fit the following paradigm:
            "We don't know how X happened; therefore God did X."
            Obviously this is bad argumentation. But Heschmeyer is not arguing this; rather, he is arguing (as I understand):
            "The theistic worldview as a whole explains beauty in a more convincing and consistent way than the atheistic worldview as a whole."
            This is not an ad-hoc attribution of X to God for lack of a better explanation; rather, it's an exploration of how well X fits into a *pre-existing* worldview (either theistic or atheistic.)
            Interestingly, atheists use a parallel sort of fallacy FAR more often (in my experience) than theists use "God of the gaps." To elaborate:
            "We don't know how X happened; but it must be explainable by naturalistic, physical causes." (or, sometimes stated as, "We can't explain X scientifically now; but given enough time, we will be able to.")
            ...Surely this is JUST as ill-supported and badly argued as assuming that God did it? Wouldn't a far better approach be to assume NEITHER until we have more evidence on X, or have thought about its implications a bit more? This is, after all, the approach that Socrates himself took, and the approach that scientists are "supposed" to take: get the facts first, THEN draw conclusions. Not the other way around.

          • Papalinton

            No. Your proposition is unconvincing and inadequate. Fundamentally, it boils down to the question, What is it that Heschmeyer alludes to when he claims: "...our sense of beauty points to something beyond mere Darwinian evolution."?

            If and until he can propose and articulate what this 'something beyond' is, it remains unsubstantiated conjecture and a function of wish-listing. Indeed the one thing that can be remarked upon, on the driver behind Heschmeyer's sentiment, is that it is very much an Argument from Personal Incredulity.

            On the matter of 'objective beauty' it is a literary and/or semantic construct, a lexical contrivance. There is nothing objective about beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, singularly subjective. Because a group of people might collectively agree that someone or something is beautiful, agreement does not make that assessment objective. Equally, a very strong intellectual and philosophical argument can be prosecuted that 'objective quality' is nothing more than an oxymoron. The concept of quality is a standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; it is a degree of excellence of something. Therefore an assessment of what constitutes quality is a relative measure, and counterfactual to the idea of something being objective.

          • Cristalle

            Firstly, if you're going to critique Heschmeyer, please critique Heschmeyer -- not my own summary of what he wrote (which may not adequately reflect his views).
            Secondly, he does argue what this "something beyond is." To repeat an earlier statement of mine: "The theistic worldview as a whole explains beauty in a more convincing
            and consistent way than the atheistic worldview as a whole." And this theistic worldview is well-defined within Catholicism. If you have any doubt about that, scroll up and follow some of the links on the menu bar. (Again, though, if you're going to critique him for being imprecise, please quote from his essay itself, NOT from my summaries.)
            Thirdly: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, singularly subjective."
            Prove it. And please show why your argument works for "beauty", and fails if I replace "beauty" with, say, "mathematics":
            "There is nothing objective about mathematics. Mathematics is in the eye of the
            beholder, singularly subjective. Because a group of people might
            collectively agree that something is mathematically true, agreement
            does not make that assessment objective."
            Fourthly, "Equally, a very strong intellectual and philosophical argument can be
            prosecuted that 'objective quality' is nothing more than an oxymoron."
            Meh. This is nit-picking again, but if you really care about it so much, I'll use the term "objective property." Better?

          • Papalinton

            Sorry, Cristalle, you make no sense at all. Comparing Mathematics and beauty is a category error. I do not have the apologetical gift to respond to your nonsense.

          • Cristalle

            Oh, it doesn't take any particular talent to respond to *nonsense*. If my argument contains a fallacy, pointing it out should be child's play, at least for a decent philosopher; that's the nature of fallacies.
            Of course, it's even simpler, though far less dignified, to resort to flinging insults instead.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I can see the evolutionary advantage for me to bond with my newborn child but what is the advantage of my bonding with Yosemite?

          • Michael Murray

            What's the evolutionary advantage of the bower bird liking blue?

            I'm not arguing in any case that there is any evolutionary advantage in beauty. I'm just pointing out that bower birds do complicated things whose connection with evolution is not obvious. Therefore humans, whose brains are much more complicated that bower birds, are likely to do much more complicated things.

            PS: You don't like Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite ?

            EDIT: This is quite interesting.

            http://aeon.co/magazine/philosophy/why-did-we-evolve-to-appreciate-beauty/

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know how to get my head around this.

            I have bonded with the real Yosemite because it seemed to promise me incredible happiness due to its amazing beauty.

            That experience has also filled me with profound gratitude and I wanted to thank someone for it.

            Am I just deluded all around?

          • David Nickol

            Am I just deluded all around?

            Don't be so hard on yourself, Kevin. You aren't "deluded all around." You are just seriously confused. :P

            I would be very interested to hear how your "bonding" with a newborn baby is perceived by you as in any way similar to your "bonding" with Yosemite.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Bonding with one's baby isn't just a choice we make to be a good father based on rational criteria about the nature of fatherhood, although I think that is important because fathers bail all the time from their responsibilities.

            Bonding also has a physiological hormomal basis that changes a man. Of course we don't detect this consciously but we experience it in the love, affection, gentleness, protectiveness we feel and we show to the baby. The baby elicits happiness, joy, and serenity in the father too, at least when he is not screaming.

            When I first saw the High Sierra when I was seventeen (we drove up at night so I saw nothing until the next morning), I was completely blown away by it and said to myself, "Why am I waisting my life down there?!" At that time, I would have "sold everything" to have been able to stay there forever. Something phyiologically had to be going on in me to have those feelings. Why? What is the evolutionary advantage in feeling awe and longing, something I've felt many times looking at my wife, kids, and many beautiful things.

          • David Nickol

            What is the evolutionary advantage in feeling awe and longing, something I've felt many times looking at my wife, kids, and many beautiful things.

            I don't see why you would assume "atheists" must come up with an explanation based on evolution and natural selection for every human feeling. I remember reading recently (although I can't remember where) of someone visiting a mountainous area where he (or she) found the landscape and the view breathtaking, while the people who lived there were not only unimpressed but considered themselves unfortunate because of the difficulty of working the rocky soil there.

            I live in Manhattan and am totally accustomed to the crowding, noise, and so on. On the rare occasions when I go elsewhere (even to another borough) I have feelings of (rather minor) awe when I can see all the way to the horizon without buildings blocking my view of the land and sky. But I can remember how truly awed I was when I first came to New York and walked among all the huge buildings. I used to find it quite exhilarating, not all that different from the reactions you describe at experiencing the High Sierra. (And I stayed.)

            I do not think either God or natural selection in any direct way shaped me to have such feelings. I do think there may be more or less innate reactions to such things as, say, the very large (be they trees, mountains, or buildings) and other qualities or attributes that in part influence our reactions to big cities, mountain scenes, huge forests, and so on.

            Also remember that the natural selection process that formed humankind did all of its major work prior to human civilization. Humans being members of organized societies, with agriculture, government, and so on, were not adapted to this way of life by natural selection. It is ten thousand years or so of culture that we are largely shaped by today, culture that often is in conflict with impulses formed through millions of years of natural selection. There is nothing "natural," for example, about human monogamy. That is cultural (where it is mandated, which it is not in many parts of the world).

  • Krakerjak

    "If there was a first cause/entity that we shall call "pure being" or god for the sake of argument, that brought the initial singularity into existence, said singularity known as the big bang, from which the universe, including humans, evolved and developed, I don't think anyone can mount any credible argument that the human brain, consciousness,and all of it's components along with it's accompanying skills and abilities such as appreciation of beauty, was not part of that evolution."

    If theists want to believe the end results of that evolutionary process to be part of some divine plan, and to to acknowledge that the process actually took place should not really be an insurmountable problem for them. It only becomes a problem, usually accompanied by unbearable cognitive dissonance, when they try to adhere too closely to so called "divine revelation".

    • Kevin Aldrich

      It is not a problem.

      Aquinas wrote in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics: “Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.”

      I'm not sure what the "usually accompanied . . . unbearable cognitive dissonance" due to adherence to divine revelation refers to.

  • Amen, Joe. I tried to say something similar (though not nearly as well as you) on my blog: https://motervation.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/creations-beauty-2/

  • David Nickol

    What is beauty? If I think a certain view is beautiful, and someone else thinks it's plain, and a third person thinks it's ugly, is one person right with the two others being necessarily wrong? Is Yosemite beautiful because God decrees it beautiful, or is it beautiful because God caused it to develop according to some aesthetic standard? Can God change what is beautiful if he decides to?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think this is the same question that divine command theory gets wrong. Good is not good because God says so and beauty is not beauty because God says so. Good is actually good in its nature and something beautiful really is beautiful. Mortimer Adler wrote some good things on the nature of beauty (following St. Thomas' criteria of right-proportion, integrity, and clarity), even why geometry could be beautiful.

      • Doug Shaver

        Suppose you and I both look at something. You say it's beautiful and I say it's ugly. How would you prove me wrong?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I would not try to prove anything. All we could do is have a conversation about it. Like which do you think is more beautiful and why?

          • Doug Shaver

            I would not try to prove anything.

            Neither would I, because I don't think there is a fact of the matter that would constitute a proof. There is a good reason for the cliche that beauty is in the eye of beholder. Beauty, to me, is just whatever it is that arouses certain feelings in me. Other things will arouse those same feelings in other people, and those things are beautiful to those people. It seems to be a strictly relative thing, and I have found no reason to think it is anything more than that.

            When I say without qualification that certain things, such as rainbows, are beautiful, I just mean that practically everyone experiences the same feelings that I do when they see them.

          • Doug Shaver

            Like which do you think is more beautiful and why?

            I prefer the older architecture. I have no good idea why, but I suspect that the complex symmetry and large scale have something to do with it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So do you maybe think beauty has something to do with symmetry--it fact maybe bilateral symmetry?

          • Doug Shaver

            According to some studies I've read about, there does seem to be a correlation between bilateral (and other) symmetries and things that large numbers of people regard as beautiful.

      • David Nickol

        Presumably, even (or especially) for theists, beauty in the physical world is entirely a creation of God. I don't see how beautiful could have existed "before" the creation of the universe from nothing. Beauty, as it is being discussed here, seems to be purely an attribute of physical things.

        In my opinion, as I have said before, the OP confused the issue by saying such things as "life is beautiful." Even if you accept such a cliché, it is still the case, that the word is being used in a very different way than in "the Parthenon is beautiful" or "the view of the mountains is beautiful."

        I am having a hard time imagining how in a purely "spiritual" (that is, nonphysical) world there could be something that is the spiritual equivalent of physical beauty. For theists, morality is in the spiritual realm, so there is no problem when it comes to moral actions by (ensouled) physical beings or spiritual beings.

        By the way, it strikes me that we assume there are two realms in all of creation—spiritual and material. Who's to say that there can't be other creations than the physical universe? Just because we can think of only spiritual and material doesn't mean there can't be something that is neither physical nor material. It seems to me it implies a serious limitation on God's omniscience and omnipotence to assume that when he decided to create, the only option he had was to create matter.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Beauty is a transcendental and is one of the attributes of God, so one of the ways everything in the physical world is an image of God is by means of its beauty.

          Mathematicians speak of the beauty of math. That would be an example of an immaterial beauty.

          The first Christians interpreted "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth" they understood heavens to refer to the creation of the angels. So there is your non-material creation. The human soul is also one of your non-material creations.

          I agree with you that there could be more than material and immaterial universes, but I think those two are the only kinds of realms we can conceive or imagine.

    • Marc Riehm

      Beauty is Combat Rock, by The Clash.

      I dare y'all to prove me wrong.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        That fact that you have to make a dare indicates you know it is not.

        You might like it a lot and think it is exciting and that it conveys some kind of truth but I doubt the band had any interest in beauty and in fact would intentionally do the opposite of what they considered beautiful.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Personally, I prefer London Calling and their debut. :)

  • Rakesh maharjan

    it's so nice wanderful and quite a beautyfull place ,...............

  • Marc Riehm

    In the first place, I'm not sure what makes Joanna Newsom, musician, an expert on evolutionary theory.

    But it is a mistake to view evolutionary pressures as those purely of immediate individual survival and reproduction. Homo Sapiens is only one of many species who act in cooperative and social ways. Propagation of the genes is a group "goal". And so if apprehension and creation of beauty contributes to that goal, evolution will select for it.

    Furthermore, not every product of evolution must be practical (in fact, some are counterproductive). Evolutionary pressure can cause traits to arise which are later co-opted into other traits, which may not yield advantage.

    I'm no expert. However, I can certainly imagine that musical and verbal abilities have some common origins. Verbal abilities are obviously advantageous. But would not musical talent, which resulted in improved social bonding, confer both group and individual advantage? Could that not magnify over time into The Clash (or Beethoven, if your tastes are so [poorly;)] inclined)?

  • Mixo Lydian

    As an atheist I often find religion beautiful, but no truer to objective reality than any other art form.

  • Becky Chandler

    "There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.Therefore there must be a God. You either see this one or you don’t.” ~ Peter Kreeft

    • Mike

      I see it!

  • D Rieder

    I'm not sure if Joe realizes it, but by claiming has no basis for thinking things beautiful without God he is admitting he has no basis for thinking things beautiful...at all.

  • Herb Dulzo

    I feel beauty exists because of God. My Atheist nephew says beauty is perceived. This discussion beats around the bush, how to i respond to his statement?

  • roberto348534

    What does an all powerful sky god have to do with beauty?

  • Steven B

    Wow, that was a good article. I was wondering if you would be able to tell me any books/sources that argue against the Argument from Beauty?