Thursday, December 31, 2015

Questioning God / Logic's Inadequacy / Beauty's Necessity

This started as a short single sentence in my journal on realizing that beauty clearly exists, and makes no sense without a higher power of some kind. It turned into a long essay that seemed slightly disconnected, and then became three essays that could likely be separated into their own articles, but I keep together as they follow the flow of my mind and then conclude together. I didn’t write this to be a public article, but later turned it into a blog post. There were also some changes I made to the beginning that I did for the sake of clarity that I didn't like, so you can read the original, more poetic version here.


The Questioning of God

Sometimes we doubt God. We aren't sure He's there. We cry out and feel like there's no response.

I won't say there’s no response from God, but I say if there is a response, I'm blind to it. Be that the fault of my own sin, so be it, and I firmly grasp that responsibility. Be it God’s choice, then it is the right one.

Still, this doubt happens. Long I have endured these struggles, and some days I find myself with answers of some sort; other times, not so much. By the fact that I am still here on Earth living, and living by this belief of God, I have endured. This, in itself, could be an answer or miracle.

Today, new thoughts approach. I watch the lead character of The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman as he wrestles with the pain of vagueness from his Christianity, and the fear of meaninglessness without it, as he calls out to God over and over. He asks those tough questions of God I fear to ask, but I empathize with the begging for God to show himself in some way. "Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles?" He expresses the doubt I also feel. Will we be condemned for feeling this doubt, or that we spoke it out loud?

I think not. I recall the glory given in the ancient Church to St. Thomas's doubt. To ask for proof is not an immoral act. To question with the intent to defy God is wrong, but to question with the goal of true knowledge is noble, and judging by the fruit we see that the result was Thomas's declaration of the glorious and saving faith in Christ. I aspire to be a doubting Thomas! Glory to this saint and glory to God!

I would never say nor have I ever believed there is no evidence or little evidence for God. This would be a farce. However, while there are certainly strings of evidence holding the weight of difficulty in such belief, those strings can wear thin and push a person to let go as their arms no longer are strong enough to hold on. The man in the film, really, begs for those strings to be made ropes, and fears that they are not currently strong enough to hold the doubts, for should the doubts conquer and the strings break and the weights of belief drop, no alternative is left but nihilism. He barters with Death for more time, and then spends it on these questions. (This reminds me of an Orthodox answer to the miracle of a preserved life, that it is for more time to repent. Maybe, also, it is more time to come to our needed conclusions?)

The Inadequacy of Logic

I see in this world no plausible explanation for many concepts, such as beauty and love. Some deny that they even exist, or claim them to be mere issues of chemicals, but I have seen, time and time again, that our attempts to only do "reasonable" actions is futile, and am reminded of the necessity of there being innately valuable things in existence, things that don’t require logic to support their value.

We pretend that we have a logical standpoint simply because we can trace an action to something we label a necessity. For example, I eat to sustain my body, and I sustain my body to live. Look how logical eating is! Look at the great train of rationality that solidifies its value as an action! Look at the superiority and safeness in such solid logic! And yet, in this thinking a person relies solely on the presence of logic, without any thought of if logic is truly fulfilled. In this pattern of thinking, we are spiders that know we must have a strong web of logic on which to support us, but the problem is our web is attached to nothing but itself and floats on the wind. We glide along, taking pride in the strength of its fibers and its masterful connection to itself, until we are finally dashed against the rocks. Any person who claims to be rational knows that circular logic is not logical at all, and yet we persist to insist on pure logic, which is by nature circular.

In the example above of eating, and I would argue in most issues where you force a person to the final unconnected web by asking them "Why?" (a question that haunts us all by demanding complete logic), what we find is that we must question living itself. The necessity of living lies at the end of all of our human webs. Why live? As Protestants to Sola Scriptura, the Evolutionists have found many an explanation for their discoveries and desires when sourcing them back to Self Preservation. The problem lies in that foundation itself, for it demands logic as much as everything relying on it. Self Preservation has no explanation; it is assumed to be logical in itself. Something purely assumed to be logical with no support is the fundamental illogic. If it were the fundamental logic, any computer would automatically desire to continue existing. Yet, we must create that idea in a computer like any other. We must tell a computer that self preservation is valuable before it ever considers it important.

So the question is: who told us we were important? Why do certain things in existence pursue a continued existence, while other things do not? The naturalist will act as though there is a clear line, but there is none. All matter, really, should be indifferent to its sustained existence, and it certainly shouldn’t care what form it is in, whether a pile of dust or a human being.

In the cores of our being, though, we all know life has a purpose. We struggle and wrestle to find it, but we all suspect it is there. Even those who take their own lives admit that there is meaning of some kind, for the denial of some kind of meaning is usually what leads to a desire to escape; meaninglessness is at odds with our very being, and thus some cease to be. The real logical conclusion is indifference, and I’ll boldly claim that you’ll find no person who is anywhere near indifferent about their life. They may feel such at moments, but true rationality would be able to escape all sentiment, including that of one’s own existence.

Where does that trail lead us? I believe an important conclusion is that there must be things that are innately valuable. There must be ideas or concepts or principles that are valuable because they are valuable. This would place them outside of science or naturalism, thus being generally avoided by many modern philosophers. But many of the great philosophers knew how important this question of meaning was, and they regularly concluded there was something beyond nature in existence (they just often disagreed on what exactly it was).

Why are we more prone to disregard this topic today, though? A secular book called Education’s End by Anthony T. Kronman discusses this avoidance in our current age:
“The question of what living is for—of what one should care about and why—is the most important question a person can ask. Yet under the influence of the modern research ideal, our colleges and universities have expelled this question from their classrooms, judging it unfit for organized study.”
We have become more entrenched with equipping students to do whatever they so desire, with skills, rather than exploring the meaning of doing or desiring anything. Acting without thinking is just as dangerous as thinking without acting. I believe a large part of this situation lies in the fact that finding answers to these questions limits us, and in our current age we worship freedom, and seek to have it justified. What’s been found is that as soon as these questions are asked, people become limited, so the answer has become to stop asking them at all.

One of the best scientifically oriented movies ever made, Interstellar, discusses the inadequacy of science to explain everything by introducing a conflict between the idealistic scientist Dr. Brand and her skeptical colleagues.
Brand: Maybe we've spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory.
Cooper: You're a scientist Brand.
Brand: So listen to me, When I say that love isn't something we invented, it's observable, powerful. It has to mean something.
Cooper: Love has meaning, yes, social utility. Social bonding, child rearing...
Brand: We love people who have died, where's the social utility in that?
Cooper: None.
Brand: Maybe it means something more, something we can't yet understand. Maybe it's, some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can't consciously perceive. I'm drawn across the universe to someone I haven't seen in a decade who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.
We see portrayed, first of all, an assumption that science is no place for a discussion of love. More importantly, though, this scene appeals to something in all of us that can empathize with what she says, while conveying the absence of a completely scientific answer for the phenomena. This scene doesn’t prove anything, but it certainly asks good, challenging questions. I admire that a movie aspiring to being science fiction, with a large emphasis on science, would propose that there may be a higher state of being than simply what we can scientifically observe in this point in our existence.

One can create clever ways of fitting the universe into a box labelled “science” in theory, making themselves feel validated. In reality, though, even the elements that are purely scientific are infinitely beyond our grasp. If I understood Quantum Mechanics at all, I might give an example from it.

My point in all of this is that logic can only ever be fulfilled by admitting that something exists outside of it. This is not to say that we must be illogical, which I find loathsome as a person fond of logic, but that there must be a third option, nonlogic. Logic even connects with and interacts with nonlogic in a beautiful dance that they were designed to be in.

The Necessity of Beauty

I believe strongly that innately valuable things exist, things that are nonlogical and are impossible to be supported directly by logic (my essay on logic supports them indirectly using logic) yet are valuable. However, what those innately valuable things are is certainly not solidified. One innate value and nonlogic I propose here is beauty.

To define beauty, in my opinion, is one of the most futile quests that could ever be attempted. We can describe it, but a definition is a form of logic, and beauty I believe is nonlogic. The best way to describe beauty is, of course, by direct experience. It can only be understood empirically. Find one of your favorite artistic works, be it film or photo or symphony or fiction or even food, and stop to take it in. Stop a while to think and feel and maybe even describe for yourself the way it captivates you.

That’s beauty. That’s all I can say. I write as I listen to the musical work of Ludovico Einaudi to make sure I am experiencing beauty as I write, engulfed in the full effect.

It’s commonly said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I would say the reality is that there is so much beauty to be admired, but each eye is often so limited to see it. I’ve had experiences that I once thought worthy of being ignored, finding them later to captivate me to breathtaking levels. The flaw lies not in the object, or in the subjectivism of beauty, but in us. Beauty itself requires a journey to truly see. Thus, to expand our sense of beauty requires many journeys.

Logic is something you can concoct yourself. You can be told it, written it, calculate and map it out. Beauty, on the other hand, cannot be given directly. It must be experienced. It can be conveyed only if the giver and receiver are both equipped for the process. It relies on something more than normal rational thought. I would suppose it relies on whatever a soul may be.

I am compulsed to clarify, as in my last essay, that beauty is not at odds with logic. In fact, they can contribute to each other. The expression of logic through a debate can be beautiful by its wit, its clarity, and its accuracy. Beauty can often be consistently pointed to by logic, such as listing the beautiful trait common in a series of films (a logical sequencing), thus assisting a new beauty being created in the interconnectedness of the films.

Upon many years of thought, I would say that art itself is the expression of beauty. Leo Tolstoy disagrees with me, saying art is not beauty but our uniting factor to each other. I would disagree, because even though art unites us, it would render the content pointless as long as it unites us in some way. The content of art is important. If Tolstoy is correct, then if a single piece of art connected us, all other art would lose it’s purpose. And pragmaticism, being a very logical function, seems at odds with beauty. Beauty must be, again, valuable in itself. It’s contribution to society must be itself, for if we look for a logical foundation, we will end up once again in illogical circles.

I could address many great thinkers, such as Oscar Wilde who says the exact opposite of Tolstoy, that art is our individualism’s strongest form. Still, I think beauty and art are so difficult to understand, so widely controversial, because they are unable to be placed under any microscope or be measured in any way. Beauty is outside of our control, and in that way among others, it is beautiful.

Conclusion

In all this, don’t misunderstand me. Beauty and the other nonlogical things are not independent. Beauty does not rely on logic, but it very likely relies on something else, a grander nonlogic, or something that is both logic, nonlogic, and incomprehensibly a step beyond that. What is it then? Or whom? Seeing as beauty seems much more tied with our identity as humans and the reality that we are relational beings, it would make sense that the contingent of beauty is a relational being.

All this writing was to say something to encourage myself, and I hope it may encourage you too. I wanted to say for myself that each day, happy or sad, hopeful or discouraged, that as I see beauty and passion and love around me, as I hear the tones and patterns of music that reach places in my being that I wouldn’t otherwise know exist, as I talk to and touch people who are a depth of being and uniqueness in and of themselves, and I remember how much more is in the world than this, it suggests… nay, it demands that there is someone out of which all of it flows. It was placed here for me to enjoy, for me to take care of, and for me to offer back to it’s source. If I can care so deeply about so much and with such richness as the broken being I am, how much more so does the Source care perfectly, and beyond my comprehension?

4 comments:

  1. You may find Schopenhauers aesthetics interesting https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Schopenhauer%27s_aesthetics

    And
    Kierkegaards Fear and Trembling
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_and_Trembling

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  2. Perhaps the tertium quid is not nonlogic but super-logic, such as the Pre-Eternal Divine Logos.

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  3. What a fine piece of work, Shea. Thanks for sharing these thoughts with everyone. I liked what you had to say about the response/or lack thereof from God, since I've wrestled with the same question off and on

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