Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Without God (IV)

Related to the matter of qualia, which we discussed in the previous post in this series, is the question of beauty, or more precisely, why it is that gazing at or listening to something beautiful should fill us with delight, or even rapture. It's possible, I suppose, to formulate some convoluted ad hoc hypothesis in terms of purposeless physical forces acting over billions of years on dozens of fortuitous mutations to produce response mechanisms to certain stimuli in our neuronal architecture. But why? Why should a sunset fill us with wonder and a mountain range fill us with awe? Why and how would blind, unintentional processes produce such responses? What urgency would such seemingly gratuitous responses have in the struggle for survival that the whole panoply of mutations and selective pressures would be brought to bear to cultivate them?

A simpler explanation for such phenomena, perhaps, is that our encounters with beauty, like our encounters with good, are intimations of God. Beauty is one means by which God reveals Himself to us in the world. Our encounters with beauty are glimpses He gives us of Himself, and the delight we feel in them is a prelude to heaven.

Yet another aspect of the world that is better explained in terms of a theistic rather than an atheistic or naturalistic worldview is our sense that reason is a trustworthy guide to truth. It seems that the atheist has no warrant for this belief. If matter, energy, and physical forces like gravity are all there is then everything is ultimately reducible to material, non-rational particles. If so, all of our beliefs are just brain states that can be completely explicated in terms of non-rational chemical reactions, but any belief that is fully explicable in terms of non-rational causes cannot itself be rational.

Therefore, if materialism is true, none of our beliefs are rational, reason itself is a non-rational illusion, and both truth and the reliability of scientific investigation are chimerical. The atheistic materialist is in the intellectually unenviable position of having no rational basis for believing that materialism, or anything else, is true.

As Stephen Pinker of MIT has said, "Our brains were shaped [by evolution] for fitness, not for truth."

In other words, if there is no God then our reason is a product of evolution, and evolution selects traits for their survival value, not their ability to lead to truth.

Only if our reason is an endowment from a good and omniscient Creator do we have actual warrant for placing confidence in it. We may, if we don't believe that there is a Creator, decide to trust reason simply as an act of faith, but it's very difficult to justify the decision to do so since any justification must itself rely upon rational argument. And, of course, employing reason to argue on behalf of its own trustworthiness is itself irrational.

Thus the theistic hypothesis not only makes better sense of beauty than does atheism, but it's the only hypothesis upon which we can logically suppose that our cognitive faculties are reliable guides to truth.


Why Not Obama?

Hot Air has an excellent "video essay" by two young journalists (plus Ed Morrissey) who work for major news organs and who explore in their piece the qualifications Barack Obama brings to his candidacy for the presidency. The column is well-documented and brings together a number of themes that have caused people to have serious reservations about the man who may well be our next Commander-in-Chief. Their summary provides a good introduction to their case, and I urge everyone who plans to vote on November 4th to read their entire argument at the link.

Here's the summary:

All three of us have written many, many times on all of these issues. Taken individually, most of them would create doubt about the readiness and honesty of any political candidate. Put together as a narrative, we believe this paints the picture of a man who has few real credentials for the office he seeks beyond the Constitutional minimum, and a politician who has succeeded in obfuscating his hard-Left ideology.

Perhaps if Barack Obama had taken more time to build his resum� - especially with executive experience - he might have made a more compelling candidate, and might have demonstrated at least a little of the moderation he has claimed. Instead, Democrats want America to support at once the most radical and least qualified candidate for President in at least a century. They have tried to conceal this with the complicity of a pom-pom-waving national media that has shown much more interest in the political background of a plumber from Ohio than in a major-party candidate for President.

America deserves better than that. Voters deserve the truth from the press, not vague cheers of "hope" and "change" while willfully ignoring or air-brushing Obama's record. We hope to set that record straight with our essay.