The history of philosophy has seen many “theistic proofs” or arguments for the existence of God, dating at least as far back as Plato in the 4th century B.C. Some of the standard arguments reason to God’s existence from apparent design in nature (the teleological argument), human consciousness (the argument from mind), the causal dependence of the cosmos (the cosmological argument), the existence of moral values (the moral argument), and the very concept of God (the ontological argument).
There is another line of reasoning which I believe holds much promise as an argument for theism—the argument from beauty. While aesthetic evidence for God may be presented in a variety of ways, I prefer to appeal to beauty as an argument against naturalism. If successful, such an argument serves, ipso facto, to prove the truth of supernaturalism, which in turn provides strong evidence for theism. Succinctly put, my argument is as follows. According to naturalism, the entire physical world is fully describable in scientific terms (statements about the physical world). However, beauty and other aesthetic features cannot be captured in purely scientific terms. Therefore, it is not the case that the whole of reality can be described scientifically. So naturalism is false.
Here is a modified version of the argument which makes explicit a crucial assumption about the nature of beauty.
1. Beauty is an objective quality in the world.
2. Beauty is an evaluative concept—specifically, an aesthetic value.
3. Therefore, there are objective aesthetic values. [from 1 & 2]
4. If naturalism is true, then there are no objective aesthetic values.
5. Therefore, naturalism is false. [from 3 & 4]
Propositions 3 and 5 each follow validly from prior premises (1 & 2 and 3 & 4, respectively). Proposition 2 is a widely accepted observation about the meaning of the term “beauty”—that to describe something as beautiful is to recognize that it has significant aesthetic value. And proposition 4 follows from the meaning of naturalism, which asserts that the physical world can be completely described in terms of physics (i.e. assertions about physical entities and relationships). Clearly, beauty (and other aesthetic features, such as “ugly,” “elegant,” “insipid” and “poignant”) cannot be physically analyzed. Thus, according to naturalism, aesthetic values cannot be a real or objective quality of things.
So, then, what about the crucial first proposition—that beauty is an objective quality of certain things? What grounds do we have to believe this? In my next post I will defend this claim, but for now it seems that I have at least shown that the naturalist must reject the first premise—and thus deny the reality of beauty. That is, if my argument works, the naturalist must accept the implication that neither the world as a whole, nor anything in it, is beautiful (or ugly) in itself—from artworks such as the Mona Lisa to a Shakespearean sonnet to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos to aspects of nature such as a tiger, butterfly, sunset, or human face. This is a significant—I would say unacceptable—price to pay for naturalism. But, again, as I will show later, even this option is not open to the naturalist.