“The world is charged with the grandeur of God”. Discuss.
Before discussing this statement one must determine what “grandeur” actually is. The dictionary definition is as follows:
1. The quality or condition of being grand and magnificent
2. Nobility or greatness of a character
So grandeur in universal terms of definition is the seeing of something to be largely beautiful and wonderful. It is defined as the state of being impressed, usually attributed to nature e.g. a view that takes our breath away, however it can be applied to some human actions. For example Martin Luther King’s impassioned speech for black civil rights could be seen as an act of grandeur.
Using the first definition, one could determine “grandeur” in the world in aesthetic terms such as the setting of the sun and therefore our judgements of it are subjective. If one can have differing opinions about beauty then surely God cannot have created grandeur, as everything God does is perfect? If it were perfect then one would have to find it beautiful, as it would have no flaws to make it undesirable.
Many people would universally attribute the grandeur in the world around them to God. However, how can the term be so universal if each individual has his or her own ideas about beauty? For example an architect may find a certain building to be beautiful whereas an environmentalist may prefer the sight of an oak forest. So how can a universal definition be applied to something that most find subjective? Views on beauty have changed both historically and temporally. Even a brief study of Aestheticism shows this.
Marcia Eaton also once said, “works valued almost universally in one place or time loses their status when moved spatially or temporally” . This emphasises the inconsistency in grandeur once again as when something is moved out of its time it can sometimes lose its appeal. Our perceptions can therefore change rapidly and if we cannot define beauty as being one universal thing then surely we cannot have all been created by one God as we do not all share His ideas about what grandeur actually is. However many would argue that our innate capacity to appreciate grandeur is evidence enough for a God in itself.
Furthermore different people will respond differently to things in the world due to their preconceptual knowledge and perceptions. Some cultures such as the mursi women grow up believing that lip plates make a woman more attractive and beautiful, whereas those in the western world would see this as an imperfection. Therefore the idea of a God creating this magnificent world “charged with grandeur” is weakened by the inconsistency in appreciation of beauty. Kant would support this view that aesthetic judgements are based purely on our subjective responses and feelings. On the contrary, one such as Tennant could respond again with the view that our mere capability of appreciating grandeur supports the existence of God.
Wisdom’s parable of the gardener strengthens this idea as he tells of two men that have different views about the origin of a garden they stumble upon. Applying this to the real world, one could interpret that we merely see what it is that we want to believe. Therefore if one believes in God then they will want to attribute the grandeur in the world to Him without considering other possibilities such as chance. They would hence agree that God could be the “undetectable gardener” who created and is tending to the world and the beauty within it. However, in the case of the second gardener there is the unavoidable issues of “weeds” or imperfections in the world such as poverty and death which must allow room for the view that the world could infact have occurred by chance as surely an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God would not be capable of creating such a place? Can we then conclusively say that God has charged the world with grandeur? Does it come down to faith alone? Science and Dawkins would argue that grandeur is coincidental and here only by chance and the workings of natural law. This would explain away all the imperfections in the world; yet without all this evil’ would the concept of grandeur even exist? This raises the age-old question of good and bad counter balancing each other and the ancient concept of karmic opposites bringing harmony. E.g. without sadness would we be able to feel happiness? Perhaps the bad is part of God’s overall scheme of allowing us to appreciate grandeur. Swinburne outlines this idea in his argument for higher goods. He maintains that various evils are necessary for higher order goods. This existence of natural evil gives humans the opportunity to be at their best.
Many philosophers have supported the view of the world having been created with this grandeur for a purpose as far back as Xenophon and Paley with the design argument. Kant, in aestheticism, incorporated his own idea of grandeur called the sublime. Objects of the sublime create awe due to their size, force or transcendence and can be manmade as well as natural. Even though these things may not seem very pleasing on first impressions, it is the effect they have on us that creates the feelings of grandeur. It is only once we have the bigger picture, and have experienced things that are not full of grandeur that we can understand how magnificent these things are.
Kant also said that the beauty of the world is orderly and full of grandeur and that hints towards the possibility of a designer. He said that one cannot say that “X is beautiful” and therefore “X fulfils a purpose” as there is no evidence to support this. This same idea can be applied to the terms “grand” and “grandeur”. Just because something shows grandeur it cannot be said that this thing or “X” fulfils a purpose intended by a designer. One of the main arguments that theists use to prove the existence of God is that He is the designer of the world but just by saying grandeur is beautiful and magnificent it does not mean that it fulfils a purpose. Therefore it cannot be God, or any designer, that created the world. Thus meaning that the existence of grandeur in the world does not account for the existence of God and the world is not charged with the grandeur of God. On the other hand, Susan Sontag claimed, “One doesn’t need to know the artist’s private intentions. The work tells all”. Therefore the existence of beauty shows us that this was the intention of the artist, or God, and that was to create beauty in the world despite the reasons for this intention.
However the language of the statement also has a major influence on the interpretation. The statement is one of a synthetic nature meaning that no detailed explanation of the meaning can ever prove the matter one way or the other. Not everything can be checked and verified yet it still has a basis in observation. This is logical positivism and the meaning of a statement is the method of verification. Those statements with no means of empirical verification are meaningless. AJ Ayer would agree that if one says “the world is charged with the grandeur of God” then there is no empirical evidence that can be offered to show it to be true or false and therefore it is meaningless.
AJ Ayer also used the emotive approach where there is the belief that we use language to express our own emotions and preferences, rather than to describe the external world. In other words, what appears to be a statement about objective and external realities are infact, according to Ayer, subjective and open to personal interpretation. Any attempt to define beauty or grandeur and secure a term that is fluid and dynamic in its use is misconceived and unachievable.
Conclusively one cannot possibly attribute grandeur to either God or scientific approaches such as chance or evolution. If one takes Paley and Xenophon’s arguments to be true then one can indeed infer a designer that created the grandeur we see in the world around us as well as everything else. However there is a considerable amount of evidence that would cause dispute including that of Hume. Using the form of Occam’s Razor he claims that one needn’t explain apparent grandeur through God all you need is a grandeur-producing being, which could quite as easily be chance and that this is infact more likely due to imperfections in the world. Furthermore if we do accept that God did create grandeur in the world then surely one would have to agree that God Himself is a being of grandeur and therefore we could ask what was it that created Him?