January 06, 2015

Common Consent

On Brandon Vogt's excellent Strange Notions, Dr. Kreeft presents the Common Consent Argument for God. This is what he's elsewhere described as a "probable proof".  Put simply, the vast majority of people throughout time and over the earth have believed in an almighty being. Is it more likely that God exists or that the vast majority of people have been wrong about a very important aspect of their lives?

Does this argument prove that God exists? No.

What does it do, then? It makes explicit one of the costs of atheism. To believe there is no God, you must also believe that the vast majority of people throughout history have been wrong about something so important.

One may try to explain away historical belief in God. The people didn't know any better. They were less intelligent or less educated. They were forced into belief or blind to alternatives. They didn't have modern science to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.  Charlatans pulled tricks on simpler people and fooled them into believing.

In these cases, I'm reminded of some debunking shows, like Fact or Faked, that attempt to prove something didn't happen by showing how it could be faked. There's a problem with that approach. Proving that something can be faked doesn't prove that it always is faked. There was fake vanilla in the cocoa I drank this morning; that doesn't prove that real vanilla doesn't exist.

Imagine that I see a black cat in a tree, and later you see a cat-sized black plastic bag blowing around in the same tree. What does that tell us? It tells us very little. I may have mistaken a bag blowing in the breeze for a cat, or I may have seen a real cat. The second viewing provides an alternative explanation but not an ironclad argument.

Likewise, there are some who seek to disprove spiritual experiences or miracles by demonstrating how they can be triggered or faked. While I believe there are fake spiritual experiences and fake miracles, the possibility of fakery doesn't disprove specific cases.  The possibility of people believing in God for poor reasons -- out of ignorance, for example -- doesn't affect whether or not God actually exists.

December 28, 2014

The Argument from Aesthetics

Dr. Kreeft puts very succinctly what he calls the Argument from Aesthetics:
There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
You either see this one or you don't.
He includes this as #17 of the 20 Arguments for God's Existence. It seems to be a popular argument, and I can see why. It operates on a different level than many other arguments for God's existence. Beauty attracts us. Beauty, inside and out, attracts us to people, to places, and to things.

Why do we make things not just work well but look good? Because beauty draws us in. It attracts us to the goodness that is already there. An appliance may work well, but we like it even better if it's attractive -- if it looks good in our kitchen.  A car that works well is a great thing (and sometimes seems like a hard thing to find!), but a car that also looks good is even better. We feel better when our house is clean or our desk is organized. Why? Because beauty draws us in. It leads us toward the goodness of the thing or the place or the person.

Even if we should simply recognize truth, we have an easier time listening to someone when they look nice. So we dress for interviews and speeches. We fix our hair and check our teeth before a date. We make sure our clothes aren't stained and that we smell nice.  Why? Why not just say "I'm a great guy, who cares if I smell?'  Because we do care!

And so this argument takes that same tack. It starts with beauty, and let's that beauty lead us in toward goodness and truth.

While he isn't talking about this argument per se, this idea is explained well by Fr. Barron on Evangelizing Through Beauty. You can be "overwhelmed by the beauty of a place", he says. If you fall in love with the beauty of a story, or a church, or a piece of religious art, you will keep coming back to that beauty. As you come back again and again, you are automatically "exposed to the moral environment and the religious environment" at the same time.

We move from the beautiful to the good to the true in everyday life.  That's how marketing works. Look at this beautiful product. Now, see how well it works. And now, buy one of your own so you can experience it.  Make it part of your life.

Does this prove that God exists? Not in the same way that other arguments try to prove His existence, no. But this argument, in one form or another, has brought people to faith. As a recent example, Jennifer Fulwiler was moved by the beauty of her child to realize that there must be something more. There are stories of people converted by the beauty of a great cathedral. It's one of the most personal of the arguments for God's existence. I wouldn't say that you either get it or you don't, period; but at any given point in your life, you'll either get it or not. You'll either let it in or not.