There always seems to be some misunderstanding between atheists and theists. In a recent article For the Beauty of the Earth, I wrote of the sense of awe and how it was evidence for the existence of God. It was a presentation of the argument from aesthetics for God’s existence.
It’s premises were as follows:
Premise # 1) Awe is a sense and longing for something (aesthetic, wonder, and eternality) which is greater than oneself and exists outside of oneself;
Premise # 2) all people experience awe in some fashion;
Premise # 3) the sense and longing for awe is only present because the transcendent satisfaction of awe exists;
Conclusion: a transcendent satisfaction (God) for beauty, wonder, and purpose exists.
In an article written by Tania Lombrozo cited by Tri Cities Atheists Society, named Awe, With and Without the Gods, the author makes the mistake that so many atheists make in regards to our arguments of transcendence. To sum it up, the main thrust of what she says is that atheists can experience awe the same as theists. In other words, a belief in God does not exclude someone from experiencing awe.
Obviously, if you notice premise # 2, you will see the mistake that Lombrozo and others make. Apologists are not saying that only theists can experience awe. In fact, the argument is that all people, regardless of their belief about God’s existence, experience awe! That’s the point. Because all people experience awe, awe must be transcendent; therefore the source of awe is transcendent.
Lombrozo not only misses the point, she accidently proves it. Her efforts to prove that all people, theists and atheists alike, experience awe, have proven premise # 2, thank you very much.
To explain awe, she cites a 2003 paper written by psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, in which they assert that awe may be characterized by two features described as vastness and accommodation.
Vastness is the experience of features of the universe which are so large in size that we may have a difficult time comprehending them.
Accommodation is the modification of a person’s mental structure so as to make sense of vastness.
In other words, when someone experiences awe (incomprehendable vastness), they must modify their mental structure (what they believe about that vastness) to deal with it’s incomprehensibility.
This may or may not lead to a belief in God to accommodate for the uncertainty a person experiences when faced with this vastness. Depending upon the tolerance of uncertainty, a person may choose to embrace God or science. Supposedly, a person who embraces God is embracing ones ignorance, while a person who embraces science understands that scientific theory offers structureandpredictability. Both are supposedly in search of agency and order to deal with the uncertainty.
Awful or Awe-filled?
I would like to simply list a few of the problems with Lombrozo’s article:
- As already stated, all people experience awe. No one believes awe is only experienced by theists.
- Vastness is not awe. Awe may include but is not limited to the experience of vastness whether actual or metaphorical.
- This view of awe does not take into account other sensory experiences like beauty, aromatic, musical, or touch and it does not take into account emotional awe experiences like love.
- It is a false dichotomy to say that either one adheres to science because it confronts mystery and therefore tries to understand it while another who adheres to theism merely embraces uncertainty.
- Structure, predictability, agency, and order all point to the existence of a Builder, Natural Law Giver, Organizer, and Agent.
Reality makes its point
As Greg Koukl likes to say, they keep “bumping into reality”. Over and over, those who would use reason to disprove God continually bump into reality. You can’t argue morality without a moral lawgiver. You can’t argue agency without an agent. You can’t argue order without design. And you can’t argue aesthetics without an artist. No matter how you maneuver your argument, eventually, you bump into the truth.
I would challenge these folks to engage the argument, not a misrepresentation of it and not the person who presents it.