thinking makes it so

There is grandeur in this view of life…

Touched by an angel #7

leave a comment »

I’m afraid we are still on the ‘argument from beauty’ (or the ‘argument from artistic creation’? See Touched by an angel #6).

Seventh in a series responding to John Cornwell’s Darwin’s angel: an angelic riposte to The God Delusion.1

See also: Touched by an angel #1#2; #3; #4; #5; & #6

George’s wager

I’m hesitating whether to grant Cornwell a point or not. In The God delusion Dawkins says:

I have given up counting the number of times I receive the more or less truculent challenge: ‘How do you account for [eg] Shakespeare, then? …But the logic behind it is never spelled out…

And later:

If there is a logical argument linking the existence of great art to the existence of God, it is not spelled out by its proponents…2

Which allows Cornwell to pitch in with:

You don’t seem to have looked very far. You might not agree with it, but here is one example among many of just such an argument – spelled out at length by George Steiner in… Real Presences.

I had assumed Dawkins had meant the argument is never spelled out by the people challenging him personally. But Cornwell could be right. Dawkins could have been making the rather reckless claim that never in the history of the world has anyone ever spelled out the argument from beauty/artistic creation either to themselves or to anyone. Point taken.

Not that Steiner’s Real presences really qualifies as a spelling-out – I mean just going by Cornwell’s account of it. Cornwell quotes its theme as follows:

That any coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning and feeling is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God’s presence… [and] …that the experience of aesthetic meaning in particular, that of literature, of the arts, of musical form, infers the necessary possibility of this “real presence.” [My emphases.]3

Cornwell is good enough to admit that

“Assumption” and “necessary possibility” of God’s presence is not the same as “requiring that God actually exists”. Steiner… is arguing… that there is a connection, by analogy, between authentic original artistic creativity and the idea of the sustaining creation of God in the world. Steiner… is not offering a “proof” for the existence of God. He is talking of the sense of the createdness of the world on the horizon of an artist’s consciousness, and indeed of those who appreciate art… He is… [also claiming] …that a loss of this sense of a wager on God’s presence would likely spell the degeneration and disappearance of art in our lives. [My emphases.]

I have no reason to think Cornwell’s summary is inaccurate. Nor do I have any quarrel with Steiner. I have not read Real presences yet, but I would like to.* I would also like to suggest that on the evidence Cornwell provides, Real presences does not appear to spell out the argument from beauty – nor does that seem to be its intention. As Dawkins presents it in The God delusion the argument from beauty is quite specifically an argument for the existence of God; and we must also remember that the God of The God delusion is quite specifically

a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.4

More to come…

[* I have read it now. If you are interested please take a look at Whispers of the gods #3.]


1 John CornwellDarwin’s angel: an angelic riposte to The God Delusion, Profile Books, London, 2007.

2 Richard DawkinsThe god delusion, Bantam, 2006.

3 George Steiner, Real presences: Is there anything in what we say?, Faber and Faber, 1989.

4 Richard Dawkins, 2006: 2 above.

© Chris Lawrence 2009.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: