Richard Swinburne Aesthetic Argument for the Existence of God

Richard Swinburne

God has reason to make a basically beautiful world, although also reason to leave some of the beauty or ugliness of the world within the power of creatures to determine; but he would seem to have overriding reason not to make a basically ugly world beyond the powers of creatures to improve. Hence, if there is a God there is more reason to expect a basically beautiful world than a basically ugly one. A priori, however, there is no particular reason for expecting a basically beautiful rather than a basically ugly world. In consequence, if the world is beautiful, that fact would be evidence for God’s existence. For, in this case, if we let k be ‘there is an orderly physical universe’, e be ‘there is a beautiful universe’, and h be ‘there is a God’, P(e/h.k) will be greater than P(e/k)… Few, however, would deny that our universe (apart from its animal and human inhabitants, and aspects subject to their immediate control) has that beauty. Poets and painters and ordinary men down the centuries have long admired the beauty of the orderly procession of the heavenly bodies, the scattering of the galaxies through the heavens (in some ways random, in some ways orderly), and the rocks, sea, and wind interacting on earth, ‘The spacious firmament on high, and all the blue ethereal sky, the water lapping against 'the old eternal rocks’, and the plants of the jungle and of temperate climates, contrasting with the desert and the Arctic wastes. Who in his senses would deny that here is beauty in abundance? If we confine ourselves to the argument from the beauty of the inanimate and plant worlds, the argument surely works."

And grass is a wonderfull shade of green because…why, it’s so beautiful.

Maybe someone should have told Swinburne that beauty is relative.

Taste, might be relative. Sure, that shade of green is not my favorite due to how i relate to it cognitively. But if there were no such thing as beauty or ugliness in comparison, then we would never experience those things and we would have no concept of those terms. There is most certainly a qualitative aspect of our experience which we describe as beauty or ugly to varying degrees. Beauty may or may not exist concretely in the objects of our experience; but it exists non-the-less and we experience it through those objects.

I think it’s weak and simplistic philosophy to simply say that it’s relative. We might not all like a sad song, but we all recognize when a song is sad. We discover beauty, we don’t invent it.

Seems like a pretty specious argument, not to mention a heavy dose of special pleading. Things are beautiful because God made them that way, but if they’re not beautiful, it’s because some of his creatures made things not beautiful.

He didn’t make that argument. Where does he say that?

“Few, however, would deny that our universe (apart from its animal and human inhabitants, and aspects subject to their immediate control) has that beauty”

Beauty doesn’t exist EXCEPT as we describe our personal and individual experiences. Compare Chinese opera with a Bach cello piece. Or a piece of modern art to an old master. Or the Guggenheim to Bilbao’s cathedral. Or a well hit cover shot to a slam dunk.

What we can say about each of the choices is that we consider one to be beautiful and the other perhaps not. But what we actually mean is that we understand one and not the other. We appreciate one but not the other. And we can appreciate something by reason of our genetic make-up, our upbringing and/or our level of education. All individual matters.

So what you are saying is that should we share a certain genetic make-up and upbringing and know enough about the music or architecture or sport, then we would all rate something equally as beautiful.

And that makes no sense.

That IS his argument!

What we are describing exists in our experience, otherwise we could not describe it. It’s called beauty. The fact that you have an individual preference is neither here or there. In other-words it’s irrelevant. If beauty did not exist you would never experience it. We can all tell if a women is beautiful in comparison to lets say very unattractive in appearance, but we might not have the same preference for that kind of appearance. While someone might not be overall very attractive we might see something in there appearance that is attractive; she may have beautiful eyes. If this experience is completely subjective then you would have to say that the very appearance of somebody is not really as we see them, and a person never really looks the way they do to any individual, which equally makes no sense because that would be to say that we never see the true face of anyone.

So you can’t just say it’s completely relative. There may be some degree of relativity to it, hence preference, but to say it’s completely subjective doesn’t strike me as a well thought-out position.

It really is not.

I just quoted the part of the statement that made that exact argument.

He means if something in your eyes is ugly and in my eyes beautiful then that thing is not objectively beautiful. It is just content of our experience. In reality things are not beautiful or ugly.

If somebody sees something as beautiful and i see the same thing as ugly, it won’t be for the same reasons, in fact most if not everybody identifies rotting flesh as ugly to look at, but a psychopath might like its ugliness for what it means to them and describe that ugliness as beautiful; but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s appearance is disgusting. And neither do i see preference as evidence that all qualitative distinctions are purely relative or that every experience of beauty we have ever had is purely subjective for the reasons i presented in the post that you just quoted

There is no objective way to measure beauty. Things just have specific shape and color. Things in themselves are neither beautiful nor ugly.

Because there are these two distinct senses in which objects can be called beautiful (as admirable and as enjoyable), beauty has both an objective and a subjective dimension. The trouble is that the two dimensions do not run parallel to one another. Much of the confusion that is prevalent in discussions of beauty comes from not recognizing this fact. The person who calls an object beautiful because he enjoys it is often interpreted as meaning that it is also admirable because of its intrinsic excellence or perfection. That individual often misinterprets his own expression of subjective taste as possessing an objective significance that it does not have. (Six Great Ideas, M. Adler)

I disagree. There is relative beauty yes, but there is also absolute beauty in which everybody agrees, like a perfect rose or a stunning sunset.

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There is only relative beauty. A rose in eye of a depress person is not beautiful. A rose in eye of a worm is food. Moreover one who claims that beauty is objective needs to provide a method to measure beauty.

A depressed person is not rational.

A worm is not rational.

All experts in agreement. For instance, a triple play in baseball is beautiful to all those who know the game.

He of course is.

You don’t need to be rational to have a sense of beauty. They are different, rationality and ability to have a sense of beauty.

I hate baseball so triple play.

Depression means overcome with emotion, i.e. irrational.

Then how is that you know the worm does not think that the rose as food is beautiful?

Then you also let your emotion overpower your reason.

The point is that if there is objective beauty then all ought to admire it. As you are not an expert in baseball, we may dismiss your view as irrelevant.

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