Monday, January 12, 2015

Science Writer Gets Beauty Wrong and Inadvertantly Gives Us An Argument For God's Existence

His arguments, if you could call them that, that the mathematical beauty of science is something completely different from than the aesthetics found in other fields like art are wholly unconvincing. He doesn't even address some of the most important thinkers who talk about this stuff, like Hilary Putnam or John Polkinghorne. And he fails to address the ways in which scientists use math to analyze what people consider beautiful, which would be central, I think, to making a proposed connection between mathematical beauty and other types of beauty.

At the end of the article, the writer says something so wrong that it is revelatory:
"Beauty, unlike truth or nature, is something we make ourselves.'

Can we just collectively agree that this is a total crock? We find a great many things beautiful that we don't make ourselves. And, additionally, it seems to me that our ability to find human creativity beautiful supervenes on our aesthetic judgments about...everyone say it with me now...nature: yes, very good. I mean how much great art, which we recognize as great art, is about communicating an aesthetic experience that is encountered in nature? A crap ton, that's how much.

This is like the reconstruction of the aesthetic argument one fines in Dawkin's the GOD DELUSION. Which is just terrible. Dawkins suggests we don't need God to explain the beauty of Shakespeare. But who the hell thinks that? What sophisticated theist thinks we need God to explain the beauty of art? None I know of. The argument from beauty runs from the fact that NATURE is beautiful, and beauty implies mind. They don't use God to explain Shakespeare, they use Shakespeare to show that beauty implies mind.

Now I'm not one to take this track. I don't exactly say, okay here is something beautiful and we have to posit a mind to explain its existence. What I appeal to in my argument from beauty is human experience. What is it LIKE when we encounter something beautiful? I suggest it is LIKE we are being communicated to. Experiencing some kind of communication is just what it means to judge something beautiful. And the writer of the article above (rightly, I think) says about the same thing when he says:

"What generally brings a work of art alive is not its inevitability so much as the decisions that the artist made. We gasp not because the words, the notes, the brushstrokes are ‘right’, but because they are revelatory: they show us not a deterministic process but a sensitive mind making surprising and delightful choices. In fact, pure mathematicians often say that it is precisely this quality that delights them in a great proof: not that it is correct but that it shows a personal, tangibly human genius taking steps in a direction we’d never have guessed."

On THIS point, he's correct. We judge something beautiful because we FEEL mind is at work. It is the ability to touch the experience of another, or to hear what another person is saying, that makes something beautiful. But I think it is the acme of absurdity to suggest that we DON'T make the same kinds of judgment about things other than man-made works of art. We do it all the time, when it comes to the natural world. So recognize the truth that negates what the artist gets wrong, and the truth that justifies what he gets right, we ironically get a vaguely formed but I think powerful argument for belief in the existence of God.

For if we experience beauty in this way, and if it is rational to take those experiences as objective, then certainly that implies that it is also rational to believe in some mind that does the communicating. For communication surely implies a communicator.

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