Thursday, April 23, 2015

The atheist aesthetics battleground

While I'm on the topic of aesthetics, I'd like to take a moment to observe that many arguments over atheism and religion are really arguments about aesthetics.

For example:
-Why would a god make this vast universe, just so humans can occupy a tiny part of it for an insignificant moment of time?
-Why would a vast and powerful being care so much about whether people believe him that he'll only perform the subtlest of miracles and then damn you forever when you don't take notice?
-Insert joke about zombie Jesus or Catholic cannibalism.

These are all arguments that religion (Christianity in this case) simply doesn't make "sense", that it's kind of an absurd or ugly way to view the world.  No evidence or reason is really being presented, it's just intuition and aesthetics.

And this is fine, since a lot of the arguments for religion are also aesthetic arguments.  One explicit example is in The Life of Pi, which argues that life is a story and a story is better with God in it.  Or consider the many Christians who say they believe simply because it's what they feel in their heart.  Or consider the portrayal of atheism as sad or rebellious or otherwise something you wouldn't want to be afflicted with for long periods of time.

We can shoehorn these kinds of arguments into rational form, and try to think about philosophical interpretations or concrete evidence.  Indeed, even most rational arguments have some aesthetic element to them, and I don't think there's a hard distinction to draw.  But with arguments that are mostly based on aesthetics, it's easiest to make counterarguments which are also based on aesthetics.  For instance, I might observe that stories with omnipotent deities are not better, and stories with wizards are better.

Personally I don't really like aesthetic arguments over religion, at least not the transparent ones.  I recognize the value of aesthetic arguments, and do not desire for everyone to avoid them, but I would rather avoid them myself.  I just have weird feelings about aesthetics that I'm not sure I can coherently express.  It's fine when atheists argue for the ugliness or small-mindedness of the religious worldview, because I agree with that.  But whenever atheists talk about how amazing the real world is, and how awesome science is, I hate it.  I just can't stomach that level of sincere cheesiness.