Insignificant Figures 2: Design and Cosmic Art

Classic versions of the argument from design usually focus on the mechanisms in the universe, leaving no real place for Creation’s aesthetic facets. But art is often smuggled through the back-door to evade uncomfortable counter-arguments.

Tongue in cheek, Peter Kreeft gives an account of a theistic argument from aesthetic experience:

  1. “There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
  2. Therefore there must be a God.

You either see this one or you don’t.”

Kreeft captures the apparent difficulty of formulating an aesthetic argument. Aesthetics is however used to counter objections relating to the physical insignificance of humans in a vast universe.

Alvin Plantinga claims this a argument is predicated on the assumption of knowledge of the kind of character God possesses. It assumed God would be analogous to a classical artist, who employs his materials in the most effective way. Plantinga instead draws the analogy  to a romantic artist who desires as much as possible of each different object.

Swinburne follows suit and rebuts with the one-liner: “God is not short of paint.” He interprets the meaning of apparent astronomical wastelands as an aesthetic choice, and calls the clashes of heavenly bodies “beautiful”.

William Lane Craig answers the same objection when formulated by Sean Carrol: “Suppose God is more like a cosmic artist who wants to splash his canvas with the extravagance of design”.

In contrast with the functionalistic tone of the teleological argument, it’s defenses become aesthetic in the work of these three (four counting Kreeft) philosophers of religion.

Insignificant Figures?

It is commonplace to gesture to the astronomical distances in the cosmos as an objection to teoleological arguments. This often means the debate slowly degrades into a pissing contest between “physical size” (small) and “spiritual” size.

But apparently the size of the universe does not reveal that we are insignificant. Rodney Holder writes in the Faraday papers:

“contrary to our intuitions, it turns out that the universe needs to be the vast size it is in order for humankind to exist. This is the size which an expanding universe with density close to the critical value reaches in the 14,000 million years which it takes to evolve human beings. In the simplest cosmo- logical model (which is fine for this purpose) the size, mass and age of an expanding universe are connected by a simple formula. A uni- verse with the mass of a single galaxy has enough matter to make a hundred billion stars like the sun, but such a universe would have expanded for only about a month so that no stars could yet have formed in fact. Thus the argument that the vastness of the universe points to man’s insignificance is turned on its head – in reality only if it is so vast, containing a hundred billion galaxies, could we be here!”


Kroitsants: Harry Kroto and the New Atheism

Should there be a Nobel Prize in comedy? If so, Sir Harry Kroto might win a double. Winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the seventies, Harry Kroto has held a number of distinguished positions and has been a strong spokesperson for the new atheism and humanism. On his website, which he designs himself ( i.e. totally determined by simple natural laws) he gives a summary of his Nobel Prize speech. Here is an excerpt of the excerpt:

Read more

Teilhard and the Origin of Life

In The Phenomenon of Man Teilhard de Chardin lays out his theory of different levels of life, which he calls spheres. These spheres are the geosphere or pre-life, the biosphere or life, and the noosphere or thought.                          (Image from Ponyo, Studio Ghibli 2008)

Teilhard was a Jesuit and a philosopher, with a  chief interest in geology. An interesting feature of his work is precisely the connection between the pre-life and the advent of life. Though his science (from 1945) is mostly outdated, his philosophical speculations may well find support from recent research.

Read more

Stephen Law and the Ghost of Anthropocentrism

“Why are we humans so prone to believing spooky nonsense” is the title of Stephen Law’s latest piece in Aeon magazine.

Stephen Law attacks the notion of “invisible person-like beings”. Examples of these are gods, fairies, spirits, ghosts and angels. It is unclear to what extent Law’s article is a critique of mainstream religion. In the second paragraph he uses contradictory ideas of divine beings as proof that there can be no such thing as one. He does not use the same argument with respect to his own hypothesis, i.e. that there are other hypotheses people hold and therefore they must be false. After that jab he does not really mention theism but concentrates on gremlins and the like, occasionally dropping hints at possible analogies with God.

Read more