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The argument from beauty

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The strength of the argument from the universe and its spatial and temporal order to God is increased when we take into account the beauty of that universe. As we have noted, the universe is beautiful in the plants, rocks, and rivers, and animal and human bodies on Earth, and also in the swirl of the galaxies and the birth and death of stars. Mark Wynn comments that nature is ‘uniformly beautiful whereas the products of human beings are rarely beautiful in the absence of artistic intent’. I argued in Chapter 6 that, if God creates a universe, as a good workman he will create a beautiful universe. On the other hand, if the universe came into existence without being created by God, there is no reason to suppose that it would be a beautiful universe. The argument has force on the assumption with which I am happy and commend to my readers that beauty is an objective matter, that there are truths about what is beautiful and what is not. If this is denied and beauty is regarded as something that we project onto nature or artefacts, then the argument could be rephrased as an argument from human beings having aesthetic sensibilities that allow them to see the universe as beautiful. In the latter case, there is certainly no particular reason why, if the universe originated uncaused, psycho-physical laws (of the kind that I shall consider in the next chapter) would bring about aesthetic sensibilities in human beings. But, good though it is that humans should have these sensibilities, it would need to be shown that it would be involved in the equal best kind of act that constituted the creation of humanly free agents to endow them with aesthetic sensibilities.

For not to do would not deprive the universe of a kind of sensibility, since God could himself have it whereas the ability to make significant choices between good and evil is not a kind of goodness that God himself could have. Because the argument from beauty needs, I suspect, an objectivist understanding of the aesthetic value of the universe, in order to have significant strength, and the establishment of such an understanding would require very considerable argument, I shall omit further discussion for reasons of space.32 I should add that this point does not undermine the earlier point that the beauty of the physical universe (whether objective, or subjective in its perception by persons) provides a good reason for God to produce human bodies by the evolutionary route; my point here is simply that it needs much further discussion to show that the beauty of the physical universe provides a positive argument of significant strength for the existence of God.

[Footnotes]

32 An argument to God from the beauty of the world was presented by F. R. Tennant in his Philosophical Theory, vol. 2, The World, the Soul, and God (Cambridge University Press, 1930). There is a good short presentation of this argument and response to objections to it in Mark Wynn, God and Goodness (Routledge, 1999), ch 1. For the quotation from Wynn, see ibid. p. 20.

Source: The Existence of God (2nd ed.) by Richard Swinburne, pp 190-1.