Evidence for Agnostics: Love and Beauty

This is the eighth article in a new nine-part series entitled “Evidence for Agnostics.” New articles in the series will be published each Monday.

Love almost defies definition and description.  For the fullness of love involves so much.  Takes so many forms.  Makes so many demands.  Elicits so many emotions.  Inspires so much courage and sacrifice, generosity and constancy.  Provides so much comfort and consolation, nourishment and encouragement. 

For love delivers so much meaning and purpose to our lives.  Love inspires us to become better human beings. Love informs our aspirations and it compels our development.  Love touches every facet and feature of who we are, what we do, how we think, what we value, why we live.  For the fullness of love knows no bounds.  Such is the truth of love and such is its magnificence and its mystery. 

Love touches and ennobles everything in us and affects all those who inhabit our individual lives.  For the love in us realizes its purpose, not just to those most intimate with us or familiar to us, but even to those far removed from our immediate and intimate personal lives.  Such is the reality of love. 

It is an ideal we all know and recognize.  An ideal we all desire and for which we all seek and strive.  It is a primary principle upon which we all act.  It is an emotion, a morality, a philosophy.  It is a reason for living.  It is a reality of our lives and all the many aspects of our very existence.

And, for even a mildly informed agnostic, it is the biggest problem for their philosophy and their worldview.  Their most difficult challenge and the most relentless threat to the truth of their agnostic beliefs and the legitimacy of their skeptical doubts about God and His existence.  About His nature and plan.  About His proximity to us, His activity in us and His intimacy with us. 

For just as the full reality of reason is not even possible within the parameters of any agnostics’ scientific materialism, so too does the full reality of love transcend the merely physical plane.  For love not only affirms the demise of scientific materialism as an explanatory metaphysic, but it provides a real meaning and morality to human life and experience.  For love is an experience that reaches not just our rational minds, but encompasses, informs and inspires all our other capacities, across the full range of our expansive human experience. 

For love in its fulness is, in many ways, a revelation.  A vision and an encounter.  A state of being, whose intimations are familiar, but whose full reality transcends our anticipations and expectations.  And, it even transcends many of our shared descriptions and our common understandings.  That is why the poets and the mystics come closer to love’s comprehensive realities, than do the philosophers and the psychologists. 

For the fullness of love is akin to an ecstatic and an aesthetic vision; a state of being and an encounter with the transcendent.  For love is more than an emotion, more than an ethical injunction, more than an affiliative attitude or a romantic motive.  This is why Scripture reminds us that “God is love.”  And, this is also why Scripture admonishes us that “my people perish for lack of knowledge.” 

The fullness of knowledge is more than information about God, more than just the theological and moral components of our faith.  For the fulness of this form of knowledge is more than information or ideas.  Much more.  The knowledge of which Scripture speaks is of a deep and rich relational intimacy.  It is the possibilities and promises, the mystery and mystical encounters with God.  The God who is truly there.  The God who is love in its fullness and fruitfulness.  The God who knows us.  And, the God who is intimate with us in an abiding, yet mystical manner.       

For knowing God is more than the mere knowledge of His theological and moral nature.  More than a belief in the philosophical certainties of His existence and His nature.  More than the particularities of His plan and His overall redemptive mission.  For He loves us and He wants us to know this as a factual, regular and intimate reality.  As a deeply personal and profound intimacy.  As an immediate and abiding reality of life in the here and now.

God is a being, a being who knows us and who loves us.  A being who desires our intimacy and who desires to be intimate with us, as well.  A being who loves us perfectly, completely, relentlessly, as only true love can.  For God knows the fullness of His love is the key to our soul, our very being.  The key to our ultimate fulfillment and intimate relationship with Him, now and in eternity.

Just as reason is evidence of the immaterial realities of the cosmos and our very being, so too is love in all its forms and functions.  And, so is our aesthetic sensibilities, our sense of beauty.  For all true beauty is further evidence of the intangible dimension of reality and human nature.  Beauty, like love and reason, is inherent to life and living.  It is not just a matter of personal perception.

This is why when we encounter others whose aesthetic sensibilities are missing or distorted, we often try to explain these deficiencies to them in the hope that they will be able to appreciate or at least acknowledge their misperceptions or omissions.  It is also why we discuss and debate these differences.  For despite some preferential differences in aesthetics that may exist, we know beauty is a real reality, a meaningful and pleasurable aspect of life.

The very realities of love and beauty, in all their many forms and manifestations, are realities of life and living.  And, most agnostics know and value these dimensions of life and human experience, just as they do with reason and life’s meaning and morality.  But, the error they make regarding these intangible crucial dimensions of reality is really an attribution error. 

Many, if not most, agnostics understand all these facets only as matters of perception, a function of personal experience and individual preference, a psychological experience that is a by-product of neural and cranial activity.  They understand love and beauty, meaning and morality as more emotional than factual, more perceptual than actual, though they sometimes admit a degree of correspondence with “human” realities. 

But, these admissions are not on the same plane as scientific certainty, as they define it.  For their primary principle of scientific materialism precludes any such acknowledgement or admission of factual truth to anything that is not physical.  The rest of our human realities, including reason, love, morality, meaning and beauty, are all psychological or mental, emotional or preferential.  All matters of personal perception or cultural norms.  Never matters of fact.

Yet, this very attribution error requires proof.  And, the proof they offer must appeal to reason.  That is how they justify the rigor and relevance of their evidence that everything knowable must be physical, must be scientific.  And, it is just here that their entire argument falters and fails.  And, it does so quickly and catastrophically.

Why?  Because to make their case they must use arguments grounded in reason, replete with reason, reliant on reason.  Their case against all these realities of life cannot be made with the empirical method, not with scientific experimentation, not experimental replication and scientific peer reviews, as all scientific research requires.  For every aspect and stage of scientific investigation uses reason, at least when it is done right. 

This inescapable need for the intangible rigors of reason in science and in mathematics proves the intangible order of reason itself.  And, it proves the sum and substance of a host of intangible realities and truths like love and beauty, meaning and morality, as well as the full factual and intangible nature of humanity.     

As reason and logic tells us and as science demonstrates, you cannot have more in the effect than is in the cause.  The order and power of reason must be explained just as the nature of love, beauty and goodness do.  And, all this cannot be explained by appealing to the physical realities of the cosmos.  For matter and energy are just that – matter and energy. 

That is why if all we are is biochemistry, we cannot know anything.  We can’t even know that we can’t know anything.  For “if all we are is biochemistry, we can’t know that all we are is biochemistry.”  Yet, reason is real.  Intangibly real.  And, with it we can do real science.  This is why the logical principle of the need for evidence is proof of reason’s order and its rules.  And, it is proof of a Divine Order-er.   

So too, with love.  For love is real, just as reason is.  And, both have an order and a content.  And both entail imperatives and injunctions, so we know when we get them right. And, reason and love, along the many other intangible aspects of our human experience are evidence of God’s existence and His nature, His love and His plan. 

And, because of these certainties we can know about Him and can truly encounter Him, not merely as our Maker, but intimately as our Father and as His sons and daughters.  For that is what true love is.  It is a deep and profound intimacy.  A mystical intimacy He desires with us in all the meaningful and mundane realities of our temporal lives.  For He is truly our perfect Father.  And, He wants us to know Him this way, as our personal and perfectly loving “Abba,” as our daddy.   That profoundly.  That mystically.  That intimately.  That lovingly.

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Mr. Cronin has studied on a graduate level in education at Harvard University and at the University of Connecticut, in leadership at Columbia University and in theology at Regent University and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He also writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and appeared on EWTN’s The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi following his 2007 reversion to the Catholic faith from atheism and evangelical Protestantism.

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