Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bach's Music Exists, ergo Atheism is False

I've been listening to Bach's Cello Suites a lot lately. I've long enjoyed his Brandenburg Concerti (sorry, but as an Italian I just can't bring myself to write "concertos" ... shudder), but haven't really delved into his Cello repertoire previously. If you're unfamiliar with them, you might enjoy this link (unfortunately with the occasional commercial) with the great Yo-Yo Ma playing several of them (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHzfD6XLK7Q):

This being a Catholic blog, I can't help but point to one of my favorite arguments for God's existence, formulated thus by Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ron Tacelli in their masterful book Handbook of Christian Apologetics:
There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach
Therefore there must be a God.
Dr. Kreeft is right in saying that you kind of get this argument on a "gut level" or you don't get it at all. It really is an enthymeme, an argument with an unstated premise (every argument needs two premises, this one seems to have but one). A fuller argument would go something like:

1. There is great, transcendent beauty in the universe (like Bach's music)
2. Such beauty is impossible in a universe without meaning
3. But a randomly caused universe would have no objective meaning
4. And atheism would require a randomly caused universe
5. Therefore, great, transcendent beauty (like Bach's music) couldn't exist in an atheistic universe
6. So, either Bach's music exists or atheism is true
7. Bach's music exists
8. Therefore, atheism is false
Call it the "argument from aesthetic experience." Note it isn't just that Bach's music is "pretty" that brings us to realize God must exist (Dr. Kreeft, in his new book Letters to an Atheist, points out that "dresses on teenage girls 'pretty'"), nor is it a mere "feeling" that brings us to our conclusion (Kreeft notes standing in a great cathedral doesn't just produce a feeling, rather it gives us concrete "data" something you can see, "with your eyes, your heart, and your mind all working together.") It is that Bach's music and the cathedral (and many other things) are, not "pretty" or "something I'm attracted to", but beautiful that drives us unrelentingly to our conclusion

Gothic Cathedral
How Could an Atheist Remain So, Standing Here?

For the mere existence of such beauty is incompatible with the nihilism that is logically entailed in atheism. In other words, beauty carries within it meaning - objective meaning, but atheism would mean no such meaning (and therefore no real beauty) can exist. Therefore, we can either have real beauty or atheism - not both. When we encounter real, objective beauty in the world, we know that atheism must, then, be false.

Or, as Dr. Kreeft explains the attraction of the fine arts,
They are "signals of transcendence," fingers pointing beyond themselves towards exits from the cave (i.e. this world).... It's not just sentimentalism; it's an intellectual intuition: the music we have in our soul just has to match the music outside our soul. There has to be more.
Not that it's not a great cave. But there has to be more. We see this with most conviction not when we are poor and in pain, when the cave is the smallest and darkest and most uncomfortable. It's precisely at those moments when we feel the cave's greatness the most, when we are most open to the charms and beauties of our physical and emotional universe, that we feel this "divine discontent," this "lover's  quarrel with the world." (Letters to an Atheist)
But maybe Dr. Kreeft and Fr. Tacelli had it right when they didn't bother with such a lengthy attempted explanation of this argument in their Handbook. Maybe it is better to leave it where they did, by simply saying, "you either see this one or you don't."

Tomorrow, we'll look a bit more at those who don't (What to Make of Atheists who Reject the Argument from Beauty).

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