Another odd argument for the existence of God is what I like to call “objective beauty,” though the actual argument might be called the “argument from beauty.” Not sure.

While not normally phrased in the form of a logical argument like it is in the Wikipedia article I linked above, you do get the sense from religious people that this is a reason they believe. How you normally hear it phrased is something like “Works of art like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Bach’s music could not have been done without faith in God. Not only are these works a testament to the greatness (and existence) of God, but if we take God away we will lose this part of us and regret it.”

Right away you can see that there is a major assumption that is not necessarily granted. If you argue this, you are assuming that these works are not only recognized as beautiful, but are actually thought of as beautiful by anyone who sees them. (To deny this is to deny that every person has a “God shaped hole to fill” and opens up a whole mess of problems.)

Next, it just simply asserts that these works could not have been created without faith in God. First, which God? Could a Muslim or Hindu do similar things? Second, why? Did they take so much time that only a very devoted person could do them? Or is there some physical impossibility that requires a miracle from God to overcome to create these works? Needless to say I am very skeptical that these could not have been done by heathens.

I think it is possible to refute this argument simply by invoking this quote from Christopher Hitchens: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” If they actually try to use the aforementioned works as evidence, you need only say “but I don’t find those works incredibly appealing,” provide a work that is better that was made by a nonbeliever, or do as I am about to do and provide an explanation for why we might think these are beautiful. An explanation that does not invoke God, to be more specific.

Say we grant the assumption I mentioned earlier, that all people find those works of art appealing. What could be the cause of this? Since it is Song Sunday today, I’d like to introduce “Exhibit A” as part of the evidence I will use in my argument:

So fun to watch 🙂 That was the Axis of Awesome, by the way.

Now, what do we know about those songs? Well, they were all popular at some point in time. They are also all composed of the same four chords, as the band demonstrated. Might I go so far as to also say that while the songs are “good,” they did not require as much talent in composing as their popularity would have you believe?

How can we explain this? Is this, like Dante’s Divine Comedy an example of divinely inspired beauty? Is that combination of chords a bridge between us and God?

Here’s another example. Call it “Exhibit B.” Apparently if a picture is composed of mostly teal and orange, it looks more vibrant and the colors really “pop.” This fact, from “color theory,” is apparently being taken advantage of in movies nowadays. Here’s a shot from Transformers 2:

Now, let’s go back to our “objective beauty.” Is this color combination divine in some way? You might say no, that’s bullshit, that’s just something they started doing recently.

Oh? What about all these images from that beautiful Sistine Chapel?

There's a little bit of teal/orange going on here.

Eh, quite a lot of teal and orange here.

They even made things more orange-y and teal-y during the restoration!

Good fucking game. Is there anything *but* teal and orange in this painting?

Now, before you run off and tell all your friends that teal and orange are God’s favorite colors, let’s try and find another solution to this problem.

What we’ve seen so far is that you can have popular songs that are incredibly difficult to compose, or somewhat easy to compose. You can have pictures that are vibrant and attractive simply because of the colors chosen, while others are masterpieces having taken years of work.

One thing we can establish right now is that you do not need faith in God to take advantage of the techniques used by Michelangelo or the songwriters who wrote those pop hits. This destroys the second part of the argument right there, but let’s keep going.

We still have to touch on the first assumption made, that everyone finds those masterpieces to be, well… masterpieces. Have you ever noticed how many people hate the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard? In my opinion what we’re dealing with is a similar case of evolved preferences.

Most people like sugary and fatty foods, because that is what our brain craves. Most men like women with big breasts. Most women like men who are fit. Most people hate fingernails on chalkboards. Most people think rape, stealing, and betrayal are bad and loyalty, courage, and love are good. Is it really so surprising that most people like the chord progression in the video I posted? That most people think a combination of teal and orange looks vibrant?

It all has to do with how our bodies are wired. Things like beauty, taste, and annoyances are very subjective (you cannot really argue that vanilla is actually better than chocolate), yet in many cases these subjective desires are manifest in a large majority of people. This doesn’t mean they are objectively beautiful or tasty. It doesn’t mean that there exists a divine composer who implanted a love of harmony and contrasting colors into us when he created us. It probably just means that we all have a lot more in common than we realize.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂