Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If Atheism Was True Then The World Would be Ugly

Everywhere you look in this world you find amazing beauty. Whether you look at the big picture of the universe or smaller picture of the planets or the still smaller picture of the earth and her eco-systems or the many smaller pictures of the various species on the earth or look at the many individuals in the human species or look at molecules and chemicals and on and on. If you just had a big bang what would you get? Would you get Mozart?

I get that when you have something complex like genetic reproduction in place then you can get natural selection occurring based on survivability. But that does not explain why the species that ends up the winner should be at all interesting. I have read that if humans were to create a species that could out-compete existing animal species it would probably be a simple grey goo. Something that could reproduce itself efficiently and eat just about anything but it would be ugly. I can see the point. It is going to be a bunch of engineers that come up with this stuff. It is going to be functional for sure but don't expect beauty. They are not going to come up with a flower let alone the thousands of different flowers we currently have. So if we should not expect something designed by humans to be beautiful why should we expect something designed by natural selection to be beautiful? But that is what we see.

It reminds me of this from Rocco Palmo:
The most distinctive evidence of a new spirit in the documents came a couple weeks back in Tyler. Not in memory has a congregation broken out in laughter during the reading of a Papal Bull, but amid the usual thicket of formality, the inclusion of the see-city's moniker of "The Rose Capital of the World" in Bishop Joe Strickland's Roman mandate clearly tickled the locals (as well as the bishops in attendance), and even brought the normally austere Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ², to crack a smile on reading the line.
What you have is a purely functional document from the pope.  He is appointing a new bishop. But then he includes the one line, "The Rose Capital of the World." It is a little wink. He is saying, "Tyler, Texas, I know who you are and I love you."

My point is that nature is full of those little winks. We have to be really thick to not see them. I wrote before how Dawkins can study bees his whole life and just see bees. Then someone else can look at bees and see beauty and ultimately see God. If it was just bees then it would just be one of those things but it isn't. It is everywhere. There are so many moments of wonder when you study science or history or politics or sports or whatever. That is not even counting human creativity we see in art, music, literature, etc.

36 comments:

  1. You start with the assumption that beauty has to come from God, I just don't see why that has to be true. Why can't those things occur naturally? I find astronomical objects (stars, planetary systems, ringed planets etc) quite beautiful, and they seem to arise out of fairly simple gravitational laws. Why couldn't such a thing arise out of a universe in which there is no God?

    You also make a claim that I find quite curious. You say that if humans created an organism it would be a simple grey goo. I guess implying that humans would create something completely for utility. Yet later on you point out that humans are creative and make art and such. Why couldn't those same humans put their creativity toward their creature?

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  2. Hausdorff,

    Beauty does not have to come from God. It has to come from something that has the capacity to create beauty. You don't get it from a random sequence of events. You might once in a while but you would not get a world packed fully of beauty.

    You seem to create a false dichotomy here. That something that arrives out of laws we understand can't also have a beauty that transcends those laws. A rainbow is a good example. We can write equations and explain how a rainbow appears based on water and sunlight and angles and wave lengths and so forth. But that does not explain why a rainbow is beautiful. Now you can say the rainbow just happens to be beautiful because the equations work out that way. But the equations always turn out beauty. They don't have to except if there is some still deeper truth about the world that means they have to.

    You also make a claim that I find quite curious. You say that if humans created an organism it would be a simple grey goo. I guess implying that humans would create something completely for utility. Yet later on you point out that humans are creative and make art and such. Why couldn't those same humans put their creativity toward their creature?

    We tend to be left-brained or right-brained. The greatest scientists tend to write very bad love poetry. So I would expect the designers of the worlds first manufactured life form to make something truly ugly. Grey goo is not my term.

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

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  3. "You don't get [beauty] from a random sequence of events. You might once in a while but you would not get a world packed fully of beauty."

    I just don't see any basis for this claim. Sure, if God exists I would expect to see a world full of beauty, but I see no justification for the converse. Why couldn't beauty arise naturally?

    As an example, flowers come to mind. As I understand it, they evolved to attract animals which aid in pollination. Flowers which caught the eye of said animals were more likely to get pollinated and therefore the ones that are more beautiful are selected for.

    Also, I like your example of the rainbow, isn't how we see the rainbow quite dependent on how our eyes work? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. If we could see more of the electromagnetic spectrum, perhaps there are other things that we would consider beautiful that are currently not even on our radar.

    Beauty is a bit hard to define as well, it seems that there would always be variation in any environment that could produce intelligent life, in any universe. I wonder if whatever intelligence would emerge there would develop come concept of beauty that would work there.

    Thanks for the link to the grey goo :) reminds me of stargate, I loved those show.

    Wow, I ran off on a couple of tangents there, sorry about that

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  4. Don't worry about tangents. That is what comment boxes are for.

    I just don't see any basis for this claim. Sure, if God exists I would expect to see a world full of beauty, but I see no justification for the converse. Why couldn't beauty arise naturally?

    What does "naturally" means? It means according to what we expect from nature. So it kind of begs the question. What would you expect from nature if atheism was true. My assertion is that it is very different from what I have come to expect from nature based on real world experience.

    As an example, flowers come to mind. As I understand it, they evolved to attract animals which aid in pollination. Flowers which caught the eye of said animals were more likely to get pollinated and therefore the ones that are more beautiful are selected for.

    It is all interconnected. Butterflies and bees are attracted to any bright color. Flowers are way more complex. But utility and beauty go together. The world does not have to be that way. The fact that it is rational and beautiful does not make its beauty less remarkable. If anything it is more amazing.

    Beauty is a bit hard to define as well, it seems that there would always be variation in any environment that could produce intelligent life, in any universe. I wonder if whatever intelligence would emerge there would develop come concept of beauty that would work there.

    That is another question. Beauty seems to effect us very deeply. Why is that? What are we really reacting to and hungering for? You can say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That seems obviously true and obviously false. There is objective beauty yet there is something very personal about the way we relate to beauty as well.

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    1. I see what you mean, from your perspective it is all interconnected, so when we talk about nature God is all intertwined in it. When I said "naturally" I meant just nature by itself with no divine hand in things. But obviously talking this way will hit the same wall, so let's take a small step back.

      Imagine another universe in which there is no God. All we have is a handful of fundamental forces, some matter, and time. Through billions of years that matter coalesces into galaxies, stars, planets, etc. You seem to be arguing that in that universe, beauty couldn't exist. I was basically saying "why not?"

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    2. I would not say there could be no beauty in such a universe. I am just saying it would be rare. Beauty does not just happen from neglect. If it did my son's bedroom would be gorgeous!

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    3. Well, I guess we at least agree that there can be some beauty there. But I just don't see how you can make any kind of a statement about how much or how little beauty there could be in such a universe.

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    4. It is more of an intuitive thing than a precisely quantifiable thing. Still there seems to be a disconnect between cause and effect. I can tell from the quality of some music whether it comes from a toddler or a serious musician. Can I precisely define the difference. No. Does that means I could be wrong? Not really.

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  5. "If Atheism was true then the world would be ugly" does not make sense. Consider the opposite claim to see how incoherent it reads :
    If atheism was false then the world would be beautiful.

    Everywhere you look in this world you find amazing beauty.

    That is a very strong statement. I just looked in my trash bin and I didn't see anything resembling beauty. Some of nature is beautiful and some is ugly.

    Whether you look at the big picture of the universe or smaller picture of the planets or the still smaller picture of the earth and her eco-systems or the many smaller pictures of the various species on the earth or look at the many individuals in the human species or look at molecules and chemicals and on and on. If you just had a big bang what would you get? Would you get Mozart?

    We had a big bang and we got Mozart, so the answer is yes.

    I get that when you have something complex like genetic reproduction in place then you can get natural selection occurring based on survivability. But that does not explain why the species that ends up the winner should be at all interesting.

    Interesting to whom? That statement lacks all context.

    I have read that if humans were to create a species that could out-compete existing animal species it would probably be a simple grey goo. Something that could reproduce itself efficiently and eat just about anything but it would be ugly. I can see the point. It is going to be a bunch of engineers that come up with this stuff. It is going to be functional for sure but don't expect beauty. They are not going to come up with a flower let alone the thousands of different flowers we currently have.

    If a picture of molecules can be beautiful, some grey goo can be beautiful too. Knowing engineers, they probably would consider some grey goo that devoured everything on sight beautiful.

    So if we should not expect something designed by humans to be beautiful why should we expect something designed by natural selection to be beautiful? But that is what we see.

    We like things which our nature draws us to; we are repealed by what is bad for us. It's no more mysterious than a pet dog drawn to good meat and repulsed by the rotten meat. Beauty is no more mystical than 'good' or 'hot' or 'ugly'.

    My point is that nature is full of those little winks. We have to be really thick to not see them. I wrote before how Dawkins can study bees his whole life and just see bees. Then someone else can look at bees and see beauty and ultimately see God. If it was just bees then it would just be one of those things but it isn't. It is everywhere. There are so many moments of wonder when you study science or history or politics or sports or whatever. That is not even counting human creativity we see in art, music, literature, etc.

    Do they look at ants devouring a caterpillar alive and see the workings of your God? Are they awestruck by the beauty of parasites devouring animals from within?

    I find the OP a very strange post. I suspect at it's heart is the claim that beauty in nature points to a loving designer God; but does suffering and ugliness point to an evil God? In other words, if fluffy little bunnies and pretty mountains point to a good God, why doesn't tape worm and disease ridden swamps point to an evil God?

    Beauty does not exist outside the human mind. Beauty and it's associated grammar are just terms humans use to describe attributes we are drawn to as a species. Same with ugliness. It really is that mundane and uninteresting and no argument against atheism.

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    1. "If Atheism was true then the world would be ugly" does not make sense. Consider the opposite claim to see how incoherent it reads :
      If atheism was false then the world would be beautiful.


      You are right, the opposite claim is strange. That is why I didn't make it. Atheism being false implies nothing until you can discern what is true instead.

      If you just had a big bang what would you get? Would you get Mozart?

      We had a big bang and we got Mozart, so the answer is yes.

      You forgot the word "just." We had a big bang. We got Mozart. So was something about the big bang ordered towards Mozart or did we just get lucky?

      If a picture of molecules can be beautiful, some grey goo can be beautiful too. Knowing engineers, they probably would consider some grey goo that devoured everything on sight beautiful.

      Pictures of molecules typically are not actual photos but some model someone has constructed. The structure of a molecule can have an aesthetic beauty. It is just more abstract. If you think grey goo is beautiful then you should stop talking about beauty. An engineer could see beauty in an elegant solution to a design challenge. But that is the point. The world is full of elegant solutions. It does not have to be.

      We like things which our nature draws us to; we are repealed by what is bad for us. It's no more mysterious than a pet dog drawn to good meat and repulsed by the rotten meat. Beauty is no more mystical than 'good' or 'hot' or 'ugly'.

      I would grant you that goodness is just as mystical as beauty. Ugly is just the opposite so sure. Hot I don't get. We understand heat. We can quantify it. We can be too hot or too cold. We can never experience too much beauty.

      I find the OP a very strange post. I suspect at it's heart is the claim that beauty in nature points to a loving designer God; but does suffering and ugliness point to an evil God? In other words, if fluffy little bunnies and pretty mountains point to a good God, why doesn't tape worm and disease ridden swamps point to an evil God?

      I am not defending Christianity right now. I am not even looking at good and evil. I will go there at some point, don't worry.

      Beauty does not exist outside the human mind. Beauty and it's associated grammar are just terms humans use to describe attributes we are drawn to as a species. Same with ugliness. It really is that mundane and uninteresting and no argument against atheism.

      I can see you are not an artist. This strikes me as a religious statement. To assert that great art just tickles the human brain. There is nothing greater than ourselves being connected with. That is something science will never be able to prove.

      I find it reduces art to the level of porn. I think of the music industry and the movie industry trying to find reliable formulas. They seem to think like this. They produce a lot of terrible art.

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  6. Atheists typically do not believe beauty or ugliness exist outside the human mind; they do not believe a God or Gods are necessary for an individual human to find an aspect of nature beautiful or ugly; they do not believe aspects of nature which an individual human finds beautiful or ugly points towards a God(s).

    I see no basis for your claim that if atheism were true the world would be ugly. You have not established that creator God(s) are necessary for a human to find beauty in nature.

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  7. I know atheists typically believe that. I don't find that belief very plausible. Obviously they would not believe anything points towards a God. They are atheists. Believing beauty is all in the human mind is much bigger than that. Where does our human mind come from? From a random process of evolution. So beauty cannot point to anything greater than the human mind and the human mind is not all that great. But there is something about the experience of great beauty that makes that impossible to believe. Until you have an experience like that you won't get it.

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    1. I find the belief that beauty does not exist outside the human mind very plausible. George Santayana put the matter very succinctly:

      "For the human system whiskey is truly more intoxicating than coffee, and the contrary opinion would be an error; but what a strange way of vindicating this real, though relative, distinction, to insist that whiskey is more intoxicating in itself, without reference to any animal; that is is pervaded, as it were, by an inherent intoxication, and stands dead drunk in its bottle !"

      Ultimately, that human beings find certain things beautiful or ugly is not troubling to a naturalists or to a materialist.

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  8. Maggots are ugly...does that disprove God?

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    1. That poses the problem of evil. It is a problem for theists. Just as the problem of good is a problem for atheists. Christianity does have an answer.

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    2. I have 3 questions:
      1. How does maggots being ugly pose the problem of evil?
      2. What is the problem of good?
      3. What is your answer for the problem of evil?

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    3. The short answer?

      The source of evil? Free will. God gives man the freedom to make good and bad choices. That is our dignity as image-bearers of God.

      The response to evil? Wait. God will judge everyone. People are getting away with things now. At the end justice will be done.

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    4. What is the problem of evil? Essentially it is looking at the world and seeing pain and brokenness and wondering how God could allow this. As St Thomas Aquinas put it, does an infinite good not imply that evil ceases to be? Similarly, does an infinite beauty not imply that ugliness ceases to be? The maggot question.


      What is the problem of good? A really short answer

      http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2012/the-problem-of-good.html

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    5. In that case, do we have free will in heaven? If yes then there should be evil there as well. If no then you won't be you in heaven.

      http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/2012/04/am-i-still-me-in-heaven-why-free-will.html

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    6. If your claim is that atheism can't be true because things are pretty, then what's to stop be from claiming that theism can't be true because things are ugly?

      The arguments cancel each other out, even if there weren't other problems with the arguments.

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    7. We will be given over to pure love in heaven. So in pure love we have no desire to do anything but the loving thing. We will be partaking in the divine nature. Does God have free will? Yes. Can He do evil? Yes and no. He will not act against His nature. We will be the same way.

      Understand how radical a change that will be for a person. That is why God does not bring anyone into heaven unless they really show they want it. It is such a total transformation of your most intimate self that to do it against your will would be a gross violation of your person. Even simple consent is not enough. You need to experience some of that transformation on earth and continue to say Yes to it.

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    8. If your claim is that atheism can't be true because things are pretty, then what's to stop be from claiming that theism can't be true because things are ugly?

      You may. I am not claiming a proof for theism. I am just claiming that strict scientific materialism is unreasonable. There could be some ideal of beauty out there and some reason why nature is ordered towards it or at least should be. You don't have to go all the way to God. I am saying if you leave yourself in matter it does not seem to explain beauty adequately.

      The problem of ugly is a problem Christianity does address. That is what the fall is about. God didn't create ugly. So the two arguments are parallel but materialism is simpler and cannot, in principle, have the kind of answer beauty demands.

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    9. The argument is more subtle than the traditional problem of evil. It attacks the roman catholic claim that beauty in nature points to a good god by asking if ugliness points towards an evil god. It's an yes or a no question. Yes, is clearly absurd. No, is an admission that Roman Catholics selectively choose facts to fit their dogma.

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    10. I didn't say beauty points to a good God. I said beauty points to something. Ugliness does not. Ugly can happen anytime.

      One could say that gives us evidence for good and evil but you don't need both. You can have one and the other can exist as an absence of the other.

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  9. By saying that the world is pretty and that this requires a God, you are claiming a proof for theism. I'm just asking you to defend it. So far you can't.

    So the fall brought immorality and ugliness into the word...even though there was already an immoral and probably ugly serpent hanging out before the fall. A fall which you said you don't literally believe in? Can you at least see how a non Catholic would think this sounds crazy?

    And I've heard that God can't act against his nature. So is mass killing in a part of Gods nature or is the Bible wrong?

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    1. Again you are going way beyond the scope of the post. I was trying to show that the world does not look like it should look if atheism was true. The argument did not involve the bible at all. It does not involve God at all except in the most general sense of something supernatural rather than a purely material world.

      I shall try and respond to your questions about mass killings and serpents when I have some time but it is clearly another topic in my mind.

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    2. The fact that the world would be ugly if atheism is true is something you are asserting, not something you are showing.

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    3. It comes from the nature of beauty. Randomness and neglect don't create beauty. If they did we would not hold artists and musicians in such high esteem.

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    4. Everything I've asked and have shown is relevant to the topic of this post. You seemed to want me to point out problems in your arguments and I have done so. If you need more time to research answers, feel free, but know that everything I've commented doesn't come from a counter apologetic handbook, just from up here. *pointing to my head*

      Say no to double standards.

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    5. I don't think so. I think my argument holds up even if there was not bible. I will defend the bible. Don't worry. I just think atheism fails even before you begin to discuss the bible.

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  10. You brought up the fall and therefore the bible when you tried defending your argument. If you didn't want to discuss this you shouldn't have brought it up.

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    1. You are right, I should not have brought it up. I admitted that Catholicism does have to answer the same challenges as atheism to be considered plausible. I was just trying not to go there on this post. I wanted to focus on atheism's failure to meet the tests of plausibility. A Buddhist or a Hindu would make the same negative argument against atheism. Their positive arguments for their religion would be very different.

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    2. Your argument completely hinges on your assertion that beauty has to be created intentionally. This is not something you have proven or even given evidence for. You've just asserted it unless I've missed where you give the evidence.

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    3. Not even just intentionally. It requires a certain type of genius. Something very different from scientific or practical innovation. If you,listen to Mozart you will either get that or you won't. If you don't get it then it is hard to explain.

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    4. Very well, intentionality + genius. The fact remains that you are making a claim, not an argument. Simply saying "listen to mozart" isn't an argument, and neither is saying that I "don't get it".

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