The Argument from
Physiological Horrors
Horia George Plugaru

(2003)
(Exclusive to Positive Atheism)

INTRODUCTION:

Many artists, aestheticians, and philosophers have noticed the existence of extreme ugliness in the world, ugliness that produced in them strong reactions of repulsion and consternation. It is reported that Nietzsche once said: "You cannot love a woman unless you close your eyes in front of the ugliness behind the white skin: blood, veins, fat, mucousities, feces -- the physiological horrors. The lover must ignore, give up the truth. And, for me, a life without truth is a living death!"[1]

The famous aesthetician Karl Rosenkranz writes: "Filth and excrements are disgusting from an aesthetic point of view. When the emperor Claudius, dying, exclaimed: Vae! Puta concacavi me!, his whole imperial majesty is annulled. When Iordan explains in 'Demiurgos', 1852, p. 237 Heinrich's breaking up with Helen by the fact that he met his wife defecating, at the WC, this fact is so gross, vile, shameless that we can hardly understand how a writer with such a good and vast education could become so bad in taste [ ... ]"[2]

What hasn't been done until now however is to examine whether the existence of these horrors is compatible with the supposed existence of the God of theism: A personal and, especially, a perfect creator. Analyzing this matter, I reached the conclusion that the two sorts of entities cannot coexist. Therefore, since the physiological horrors clearly exist, it follows that God does not. In the present paper, I will defend this idea -- in other words, I will present and defend a new evidential argument against the existence of the theistic God.

First I formulate the argument. I then show that it is indeed a new argument against theism. Afterwards, I make some comments on the argument and finally defend it against nine objections.

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THE ARGUMENT FROM PHYSIOLOGICAL HORRORS FORMULATED:

P1: If human beings:

(1) would produce extremely disgusting, abhorrent, horrible, pestilential, totally ugly results,

(2) those results would be due to no fault of their own,

(3) assuming that (some of) those results would help to attain sufficiently important goals, there could be imagined other, much more aesthetic ways to achieve them without anything of importance being lost then they probably are not the creation of a perfect being.

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P2: Human beings:

(1) produce extremely disgusting, abhorrent, horrible, pestilential, totally ugly results,

(2) those results are due to no fault of their own,

(3) even if (some of) those results help to attain sufficiently important goals there could be imagined other, (much) more aesthetic ways to achieve them without anything of importance being lost

Those results are also known as the "physiological horrors": feces, intestinal gases, putrefaction, mucous membranes, perspiration, etc.[3]

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C1: Thus, human beings probably are not the creation of a perfect being. (From P1 and P2 modus ponens).

P3: But theism affirms that a perfect being created human beings.

C2: Therefore, theism is probably false. (C1 and P3)

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IS THE ARGUMENT FROM PHYSIOLOGICAL HORRORS A NEW ARGUMENT AGAINST THEISM?

Three of the most important atheistic arguments are: the Argument from Evil, the Argument from Nonbelief [4], and the Argument from Mind-Brain Dependence.[5] According to one well-known version of the Argument from Evil, God does not exist because there exists in the world much premature death and extreme suffering, which is incompatible with God's supposed loving nature.[6] According to the Argument from Nonbelief, the large number of nontheists in the world is a proof of God's nonexistence. Finally, according to the mind-brain dependence argument, the fact that nothing mental happens without something physical happening is evidence against both the existence of souls and the existence of God, since he is supposed to have (be) a disembodied mind.

Now it is true that the Argument from Physiological Horrors has something in common with the three arguments just mentioned: All four proceed from an empirical observation of certain facts that shouldn't exist in the world were the theist God to exist. However, it is also clear that the Argument from Physiological Horrors cannot be confused with neither of the three because it is not based on the existence of extreme suffering and premature death nor on the fact that in the world there are many nonbelievers and nor on the fact that minds cannot function apart from the physical, but rather on the existence of extreme ugliness in the world -- where "ugliness" is used from a strictly aesthetic point of view.

Some might wonder here whether the Argument from Physiological Horrors is not after all a case of the Argument from Evil. For example, Richard Schoenig (Professor of Philosophy at San Antonio College) wrote me: "The only point that I would raise is whether the Argument from Physiological Horrors is not a special instance of the broader Argument from Evil. The basic idea of the Argument from Physiological Horrors is that there are horrors in this world which we wouldn't expect if there were a Judaic Christian or Islamic-type God. True, the horrors of the Argument from Physiological Horrors are not extreme suffering and premature death, but they are horrors nonetheless and as such must, by definition, bring us some sort of suffering. To experience a rotting corpse, excrement, mucous matter etc. involves more suffering than to experience a bad joke, off-key musical rendition, or food that is not appetizing. The latter are all unaesthetic, but the former are all that plus some element of suffering."

I agree with Schoenig's observation that experiencing physiological horrors causes us some suffering. However, that suffering is irrelevant to my Argument from Physiological Horrors because my argument is based only on the idea that there shouldn't exist unjustified and extreme ugliness in the work of a perfect being. Even if we would have the capacity to recognize ugliness without being affected at all by its presence (for example, we would not lose our appetite after seeing and smelling a corpse in an advanced state of decomposition) we could still use my argument just as well as we can do it now. We could still say: "It is reasonable to think that totally unaesthetic results, results that could be replaced by much more aesthetic ones without anything important being lost, are simply errors and that it would be much better if they didn't or no longer exist. And since unjustified and extreme ugliness exists in this world, it follows that it was not created by a perfect being, since we would expect from such a work not to contain unexplainable and important errors."

It would be like in the case of an art critic who although got used to ugly paintings -- so that seeing them no more affects him in any relevant way -- can still say about author Y of such a bad painting: Y is a poor painter so anybody who claimed Y is a perfect artist, is wrong.

Thus, if the Argument from Physiological Horrors works regardless of the suffering involved in experiencing physiological horrors, it follows quite clearly that that suffering is not the problem and therefore my argument should not be confused with the Argument from Evil.[7]

Besides the three atheistic arguments mentioned above, Michael Martin presented another kind of atheistic arguments which he calls atheistic teleological arguments. [8] These are not as famous as the three above but can be accidentally confused with my new atheistic argument so it is useful to contrast the Argument from Physiological Horrors with them too. As far as I can see, the only one of the aforementioned arguments presented by Martin which comes close in a way to the Argument from Physiological Horrors is what he calls "The Argument From Apparent Fallibility."[9] This argument claims that "in our observation of created objects we sometimes notice what appear to be mistakes and errors. It usually turns out that these are the result of the fallibility of the creator or creators. The universe also appears to have mistakes and errors. If it is a created object, chances are that any and all of its creators are fallible. But if the creator of the universe is fallible, then God does not exist, since God is infallible and the creator of the universe."[10] Like the Argument from Evil, nonbelief and mind-brain dependence, Martin's argument also has in common with the Argument from Physiological Horrors the fact that it proceeds from an empirical observation of certain facts that exist in our world.

However, there are two important differences between Martin's argument and mine. First, by "mistakes and errors" Martin means defects in the functioning of certain mechanisms, like the poor ventilation of a building or the awkward way a trunk is build or that some organisms seem to have no apparent function in the ecological whole. But my argument has nothing to do with such defects. Even if the human body would perfectly work, without ever getting sick, the Argument from Physiological Horrors would pose the same threat to theism: Even if perfect in this respect, the human body makes God's existence unlikely because its proper functioning produces ugliness like physiological horrors. Second, Martin's argument works by way of analogy: Since we know that mistakes and errors in created things are signs of the fallibility of their creators and since our universe appears to have errors, it follows that it too was probably created by a fallible being. However, the Argument from Physiological Horrors is not build on analogy, anymore than the Argument from Evil or the one from nonbelief is. Just as (too much) evil and nonbelief are showed by those to be incompatible with the theistic God's existence, in the same way the Argument from Physiological Horrors argues that aesthetic ugliness is incompatible with the same God's existence.

I conclude that although the Argument from Physiological Horrors is not different in any radically new way from the arguments from evil, nonbelief, mind-brain dependence and Martin's atheistic teleological argument from fallibility -- that is because all of them are "world vs. God's existence" type of arguments -- it is new in a very important respect: It is based on a kind of reality -- extreme ugliness -- on which no other atheistic argument thus far advanced is constructed. The Argument from Physiological Horrors is an independent atheistic argument. Even if all versions of atheistic arguments so far presented would fail, it would still work against theism. A theist who wishes to make her God's existence plausible, is forced to successfully attack my argument as well. This argument inaugurates a new category of atheistic argument(s): The Argument from Ugliness (we could also call it "The Problem of Ugliness").

Now that I have shown that we are entitled to believe that the Argument from Physiological Horrors is indeed different enough from all other atheistic arguments, it remains to be seen whether it is a convincing one. In what follows, I argue that it is.

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COMMENTS ON THE ARGUMENT FROM PHYSIOLOGICAL HORRORS:

Before proceeding to the explanation and justification of the premises of the Argument from Physiological Horrors it may be useful to address the problem of whether is it ethical to write a paper about human feces and the like. Isn't there a taboo against speaking of such things? Couldn't my argument be dismissed right from the beginning on the basis of being shameless?[11]

In reply, I must say I only partially agree with this observation. It is true that since physiological horrors are so disgusting, people don't usually like to mention them but that is only as far as a discussion about them does not have any serious purposes. For example, there is no taboo against speaking about physiological horrors if such a discussion has medical relevance (as in the case of helping people to recognize certain digestive diseases from observing their feces). Speaking about how certain states of decomposition help forensic detectives in catching a murderer is no taboo either no matter how gross the details about the cadaver's state are.

Similarly, since my discussion about physiological horrors is conducted with a serious purpose (trying to show that theism is false) it is not affected by the taboo thing. The readers of the paper who view it as violating an ethical or a common sense principle should keep in mind the difference between speaking about physiological horrors just to sicken people and speaking about physiological horrors with an important goal.

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P1 (which, as I have written above, states that "if human beings:

(1) would produce extremely disgusting, abhorrent, horrible, pestilential, totally ugly results, (2) those results would be due to no fault of their own, (3) assuming that (some of) those results would help to attain sufficiently important goals, there could be imagined other, much more aesthetic ways to achieve them without anything of importance being lost then they probably are not the creation of a perfect being") is based on the following principle:

"From two situations, S1 and S2, where S1 leads to the actualization of the desirable goals D while S2 leads also to D but implies the existence of extremely disgusting, abhorrent, pestilential, horrible, completely ugly entities, we are entitled to expect the theist God to actualize S1, not S2."

Indeed, it is reasonable to think that disgusting and totally ugly results, results that could be replaced by much more aesthetic ones without anything important being lost, are simply errors and that it would be much better if they didn't or no longer exist. Now clearly it is rational to think that a being who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent and, besides all that, is also a great artist is closer to perfection than a being who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent but has no inclination to art whatsoever. But since the theistic God is perfection itself, it follows that he should also be a great artist. This is why it is very plausible to believe that such a being, if he would exist, would actualize S1 and not S2.

David Myers writes:

"If the designer is both omniscient and omnipotent, we would expect a designed structure or system to be such that we cannot imagine how it could be improved. If we discover a structure or a system about which it seems reasonable to say that its purpose could have been better achieved in another way, then a question can plausibly be raised about the claim that the designer is both omniscient and omnipotent."[12]

This quote is important because it makes clear the fact that we should have very high expectations from the supposed work of a perfect being. Indeed, if there are some facts about this supposed creation that we would not normally expect to find and that could be "repaired" without anything important being lost in the way, we are entitled to doubt the claim according to which that work belongs to a perfect creator.

Indeed, if we find in the so-called divine creation horrors like physiological horrors, despite the fact that God could had created humans in another way, without giving birth to those monstrosities and without anything important being lost, it follows that we can deny the perfection of the creator, which amounts to saying that we can deny the theist God's existence.

P1 -- the first premise of the Argument from Physiological Horrors -- is referring to human beings because they are considered by theists to be the center of the divine creation, God's most important creation. The fact that there are such problems in the very center of God's creation is very relevant and important.

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P2(1) states that physiological horrors are "extremely disgusting, horrible, abhorrent, pestilential, totally ugly." The evidence for this premise seems to me quite clear. Thomas Aquinas said that Beauty is "that which being perceived, pleases,"[13] while Matthew Kieran writes: "contemporary philosophers have, following this tradition, defined aesthetic value in terms of our delighting in and savoring an object with pleasure."[14] It is obvious that excrements or putrefaction not only do not please when being perceived, but actually cause strong aversion.

If we would adopt an aesthetic principle proposed by contemporary theists, which states that:

"An 'aesthetic pleasure' is a 'disinterested' pleasure in a fact as and end rather than a means, and is the ground of characteristic behavior on the part of persons experiencing it (e.g. wanting to continue perceiving it, wanting others to perceive it, etc.) [ ... ]To call something beautiful is to demand that other people allow that the aesthetic appreciation of the object in question is morally good (not morally obligatory)."[15]

it would be very hard to see just how or why would someone call physiological horrors beautiful. What possible reasons could one give us to believe that feces, for instance, can be admired for themselves, or that people desire other people to see and/or smell them or that anything morally good could come up from seeing them? Therefore, even according to the theists' own definition of what is aesthetic, P2(1) is correct.

In addition, I have never seen anyone (I am not talking here of pathological cases) who keeps in his/her house pictures of feces, mucous matter or of decomposing bodies as objects for decoration or for any aesthetic pleasure. Also, I have never seen anyone to have in their house pieces of decomposing meat, for example, in order to admire them or to smell them. The very fact that we build such expensive systems of underground canalization in order to not have human excrements at sight; that we bury the dead before they start decomposing and that there is a whole industry which creates products for neutralizing the smell of perspiration is strong evidence for believing that physiological horrors are unbearable, as P2(1) suggests.

These imply that physiological horrors are indeed considered by at least the vast majority of humans to be exactly as P2(1) says.

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P2(2) states that the existence of physiological horrors is due to no fault of humans. Indeed, nobody can control her body so that it won't produce feces or putrefaction, for instance.

A critic objected to P2(2) by saying that humans could control some of their physiological horrors, their perspiration for example. He said that humans could simply choose not to engage in difficult tasks. So it seems that even if God does not like physiological horrors to be produced, some of them are the result of human's free choice. However, his response is not convincing.

First of all, it is clear that humans sweat even when they do not chose to perform tasks like that. If the heat is 35 C, it is enough to stay at home or in a car. Moreover, there are many situations where we are put to serious stress due to no fault of our own: When we are followed by a criminal, remain stuck in the elevator, or intensely wait for a long period of time for the results of a medical analysis, the long period of time being the fault of the doctor who confused your analysis with another's. In addition, there are many individuals who are forced to perform hard physical works for survival due to the geographic location in which they are born or to their limited intellectual capacities, for instance. It can hardly be said that they chose to perform those works.

Second, physicians tell us that in order for our bodies to function properly, we must do many physical exercises. So everyone who wants her body to be healthy, must perform those exercises, and as a result, sweat. Since God presumably wants our bodies to be healthy, why did he created them so that they would produce one of the physiological horrors while we try to keep it healthy? Moreover, the criticism seems to suggest that God wants us to engage in less demanding activities, so that we would not sweat in doing them. But this is implausible.

Finally, even if some physiological horrors could be controlled, it is clear that many cannot be. As I've already said, nobody can control her body so that it would not produce feces or putrefaction. So even if the aforementioned objection would be correct, P2(2) would remain true in important respects.

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P2(3) claims that "even if (some of) those results help attain sufficiently important goals there could be imagined other, (much) more aesthetic ways to achieve them without anything of importance being lost." For example, instead of feces, God could have designed the body of human beings to eliminate beautiful substances which both smell and look good. Instead of putrefaction, the organic body could be decomposed by slowly turning into sand, for example. Or it could slowly disappear, while it would produce a delightful odor.

Now it could be affirmed that if feces and decomposing bodies would look so attractive, then animals and humans would probably consume them. As a result, they would get seriously sick and die. But this response is problematic.

First, God could had created the organic bodies so that they wouldn't excrete dangerous substances and without decomposing in a dangerous way. (This would also have the advantage that food could be more and easily found.) Second, we know that in the natural world, there are many instances of deception.[16] If animals and humans survived despite those deceptions, why should we think that they would become extinct just because of one more deception? It could be replied that even if they wouldn't become extinct, many human beings would suffer and die due to the consumption of rotting meat, for example, a fact which God does not want. But as we know, humans have learned many things during history through the "hard way" and theists like Schleiermacher and John Hick[17] think this is good. Why shouldn't they think the same in case humans learned in the same way that feces and dead meat are dangerous despite their pleasant appearances?

Finally, God could have created the bodies of animals and human beings so that after death they would become very hard. In this situation, humans and the animals to whom consuming corpses would be a health hazard could be created so that their teeth could not chew the dead meat.

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OBJECTIONS TO THE ARGUMENT FROM PHYSIOLOGICAL HORRORS AND RESPONSES:

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The Objection Based On The Beauty Which Exist In The World (Objection 1)

Objection 1: The Argument from Physiological Horrors has no force because even if in the world there exist physiological horrors, there also exists much beauty. This beauty justifies us into believing that physiological horrors are not a (very) serious problem for believing in God's existence.

Response: How much beauty is there in the world is not clear. As Paul Tobin says, "[ ... ] many theists prefer to see the world through their own rose-tinted glasses and forget about its ugliness. There is beauty is nature, yes, but there is ugliness too. And until the ugliness can be satisfactorily explained away, the proof of a benevolent deity is lacking."[18]

There are also dull and boring landscapes, for example, and animals that are not exactly beautiful. The hippopotamus, the rhinoceros or the bat are not really natural beauties. As Joseph Lewis put it, "Is the hippopotamus one of nature's masterpieces? Is its face and form the perfection of beauty and grace? Would you consider this animal a work of living art if you were responsible for it?"[19]

Another suggestive quote is the following, belonging to Bertrand Russell:

"For my part, I am unable to see any great beauty or harmony in the tapeworm. Let it not be said that this creature is sent as punishment for our sins, for it is more prevalent among animals than among humans. I suppose what is meant by this 'beauty' and 'harmony' are such things as the beauty of the starry heavens. But one should remember that the stars every now and again explode and reduce everything in their neighborhood to a vague mist."[20]

It is also important to note that many theists believed for a long time that nature is not beautiful at all. Indeed, the aesthetic appreciation of nature:

"[ ... ] was hamstrung by a religious tradition that saw mountains as despised heaps of wreckage left behind by the flood, wilderness regions as fearful places for punishment and repentance, and all of nature's workings as a poor substitute for the perfect harmony lost in humanity's fall."[21]

In addition, Rosenkranz said that that the very shape of the earth is not beautiful, since it is flattened at its poles, elongated at the equator, and has a most irregular surface. But for a sphere to be beautiful its shape must be perfect or almost perfect. The same aesthetician does not seem to be too impressed by the apparent beauty of the night sky when he writes: "In the case of some admirers of the starry heavens, it slips in a certain illusion of fantasy, due to the names of the stellar images: the Lyre Constellation, the Swan's, Berenices' Hair, Hercules, Orpheus etc. How nice these all sound!"[22]

A somehow similar observation has another well-known aesthetician, Benedetto Croce. He suggests that in cases when we say that nature is beautiful, we are not in fact referring to an aesthetic beauty but more to a practical pleasure. In his words, "'Natural beauty' often means facts of practical pleasure. The one who applies the term 'beautiful' to a field where the eye rests on the green color and the body is moving free, where the tender sunrays caress the body, is not referring to anything aesthetic."[23]

If we add to that the numerous cases of, if not ugly and disgusting, certainly not beautiful animals, like monkeys, penguins, herons -- animals that are more likely funny instead of beautiful -- and the various anomalies and deformities from birth, in the cases of animals, plants and humans, we may conclude that Objection1 is most probably based on an exaggeration: the beauty in the world is not at all that much in comparison with its ugliness.

Moreover, physiological horrors themselves represent an important counter-example to the present objection, both from a quantitative and a qualitative (if I may say so) point of view. If we would gather all matter resulted in history from the excretion (be it only feces and urine) of humans and animals, it would result a quantity of at least the size of the Atlantic Ocean. This would certainly not be a natural beauty, but exactly the opposite.

In addition, it is not clear that the aforementioned beauties are "stronger," more suggestive than the physiological horrors. It is hard to see how could a person admire the night sky when she is near the sight or the smell of such horrors.

But let us suppose that in the world exists only beauty except physiological horrors. This still is a problem for theism. We could still ask: If God was able to create so much beauty in the natural world, couldn't he also create animals and human beings without physiological horrors? At the very least, couldn't he create human beings without physiological horrors, since they are God's most important creation? After all, if humans were God's central creation, it is reasonable to believe that God would especially want not to create them with physiological horrors. The fact that all nature except animals and human beings is beautiful and, in addition, does not give birth to such horrors seems to suggest that humans are not too important for the designer -- in any case, not his central creation. But theism maintains that human beings are God's most important creation.

Another problem would be that since God could not create a completely beautiful world, he seems to be limited in one way or another. As Myers writes:

"[ ... ] the idea that the designer chose goals other than design perfection seems to suggest that the designer is limited: that the designer cannot achieve both perfection in design and another end or set of ends. [ ... ] if the designer is compelled to sacrifice such perfection in order to achieve other ends -- then we have good reasons to doubt that the designer is truly omniscient and omnipotent."[24]

Of course, a critic might affirm that physiological horrors cannot logically be replaced because they necessarily serve a useful purpose. Therefore, not even an all-powerful God could create the world without physiological horrors. However, as I showed in my discussion of P2(3), it is hard to believe that physiological horrors serve such a necessary purpose.

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Objections That Try To Explain and Justify The Existence Of Physiological Horrors (Objections 2-4)

Objection 2: Physiological horrors exist with a reason: To indicate the corrupt and sinful nature of human beings. Thus, since this ugliness serves an useful purpose, God really is justified to create us in this way.

Response: Animals also produce physiological horrors but it is hard to believe that in their case we could speak of a sinful nature.

Putting this response aside, although the bible reminds us repeatedly that human nature is corrupt and sinful (GE 6.5: And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. GE 8.21: The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. PS 38.3-4: There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me. PS 51.3: My sin is ever before me. PS 51.5: Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. PR 20.9: Who can say, "I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?" MT 15.19: For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings. MK 7.21-23: For from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man.) nowhere is it written that physiological horrors are proofs in that sense.

In addition, I have personally never heard a priest/preacher to make reference to physiological horrors in order to point out our sinful nature. This suggests that most theists would reject Objection 2's relevance.

Moreover, why were so many physiological horrors necessary? One of them would seem enough. And why so many physiological horrors are produced so often?

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Objection 3: God is justified to create us with physiological horrors because they serve a purpose which couldn't be attained otherwise. Extreme ugliness like physiological horrors is needed in the world as a contrast to beauty. Without these horrors, people would have no appreciation or understanding of what is beautiful.

Response: First, even if ugliness is needed in order to understand what beautiful is, it is not clear that such extreme ugliness like physiological horrors is needed. As pointed out in response to the first objection, there already is much ugliness in the world without physiological horrors. The proponent of Objection 3 has to explain why isn't that enough. After all, we know that professors who teach aesthetics do not (at least in the vast majority of cases) show their students feces or some other kind of organic horror in order to make them understand what beautiful is nor do they even mention those in their lessons. The same can be said about aesthetics manuals. Yet many of their disciples turn out to be great artists. Moreover, even if we suppose for the argument's sake that we indeed have to observe physiological horrors to understand what beautiful is -- given our present intellectual capacities -- we could ask why didn't God build our minds so that we could recognize the beautiful without seeing these horrors. Surely this is not impossible for an omnipotent deity so why didn't God chose to actualize this possibility? That way God could have accomplished two things he supposingly wants: eliminating physiological horrors from the world and helping us understand what beauty is.

What's more, even if physiological horrors is needed as the present objection claims, the physiological horrors produced by animals is clearly enough in order to make us understand what beautiful is. Why should humans produce physiological horrors as well? And even if humans have to produce them for the reason proposed by the aforementioned objection, why do they do it so often and in such large quantities? And why so many kinds of physiological horrors? Clearly, if God wanted to help us to appreciate and understand the beautiful, a much less quantity of physiological horrors would be sufficient.

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Objection 4: Physiological horrors have a purpose. They are sometimes used in works of art in order to make an artistic point. For example, in the painting "Lazarus' Rise From The Grave" it is suggested the power of life that defeats death: Despite the horrible, decayed condition of Lazarus' body, he comes back to life and so death is most suggestively defeated.

Response: First, even if (some) physiological horrors have some artistic relevance, it is not clear that this is a sufficiently good reason to justify their existence. As I have already said, besides physiological horrors, there exists much ugliness in the world -- although not as extreme as physiological horrors. Such ugliness seems to be enough in order to be used in works of art for artistic purposes.

Second, as Rosenkrantz points out, we must not lose sight of the fact that in the aforementioned painting the stench of putrefaction is not reproduced and that, in addition, in that painting it's not reproduced an advanced stage of decomposition, but only at a superficial one.[25] If we could smell it and if Lazarus' state of decomposition would have been advanced, then very probably all or at least most aesthetic significance of this painting would have been lost. Moreover, it is not clear that if the corpse would not decay in the horrid way that it does, but in a more esthetical way, such artistic points would not be possible. Let us suppose that the dead body would slowly fade away, gradually turning into a kind of anthropomorphic vapor. It seems clear to me that the point expressed in the Lazarus' rise painting could be equally well expressed even under these circumstances. His body could be painted as if it would regain its clear, consistent, material shape and as its pallor and phantomatic appearance are defeated by Christ's' power of life.

Therefore, the present objection fails because it doesn't succeed in justifying the need for physiological horrors.

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Objections That Try To Show That The Argument from Physiological Horrors Presupposes The Existence Of God (Objections 5-6)

Objection 5: The very fact that there exist objective aesthetic values shows that God exists. In other words, the Argument from Physiological Horrors in fact confirms the theistic hypothesis since it affirms the objective existence of esthetical values.

In order to argue that the existence of aesthetic values necessitates the existence of an infinite mind, Williams notes: "Given that beauty is objective, then our judgments about beauty must be measured against some objective standard which the human mind apprehends and employs. This standard of beauty cannot be constituted by any individual finite mental state, or collection thereof, or else it would of necessity be a subjective standard; and objective aesthetic judgments cannot depend upon a subjective aesthetic standard. Therefore, there must exist an objective standard of beauty that is independent of finite minds. However, an aesthetic standard or ideal is not the sort of thing that could possibly exist in the physical world. Therefore the standard of beauty must exist neither in finite minds, nor in the physical world, but in an infinite Mind."[26]

Response: First of all, the fact that there exist objective aesthetic values doesn't mean that it is necessary to postulate the existence of an infinite mind like the theist God's to explain them. After all, the fact that there exist objective ethical truths doesn't lead to the existence of God. According to the Euthyphro Dilemma either something is moral because God commands it or God commands it because it is moral. On the first alternative morality is arbitrary and on the second it is not dependent on God. Theists have tried to escape the dilemma by saying that morality can be grounded in God's own nature, so that right and wrong are not defined by anything independent of God, but nor are they defined by God's arbitrary fiat. But this solution is not very convincing, since the Eurthyphro dilemma can be reformulated in terms of His character: Is God's character the way it is because it is good or is God's character good simply because it is God's character? In the first case there is an independent standard of good. In the second, no matter what God's character is, for example, cruel, it would be still be good.[27]

Similarly in the case of objective values: Are the aesthetic values beautiful because God appreciates them or does God appreciate aesthetic values because they are beautiful? In the first case, what is aesthetic depends exclusively on God's arbitrary decision: If God would want, even physiological horrors would be beautiful which is absurd. In the second, there exists an independent standard of beautiful, to which God himself subscribes. Therefore, objective aesthetic values do not depend on the infinite mind of the God of theism.

It must also be stressed out that there exist theories that explain and justify the existence of objective values without appealing to theism. Plato's objective idealism is such a theory. In his metaphysics, Beautiful is an independent and self-sufficient Idea.

But even if we would agree for argument's sake that aesthetic values are dependent on the existence of a being with an infinite mind, why should we think that this being has all the features of the God of theism? Why should we think that it loves or has a special interest in human beings? Bill Schultz, in his article "At the Intersection of "Metaphysical Naturalism" and "Intelligent Design"[28] suggests that our whole universe can be seen as a work of art, created by a (supernatural) being just in order to admire it. We are but insignificant and accidental parasites, just like the bacteria on the surface of a painting. This view of the creator and of our universe is not only compatible with the existence of physiological horrors, but in fact explains better the presence of the ugliness like physiological horrors: Since the creator of the universe does not care about the insignificant parasites living on his work of art, we shouldn't be surprised if they produce such horrors.

And even if we would agree that humans are special for their creator, it seems that the creator, although omniscient (having an infinite mind) isn't omnipotent, since he couldn't create more aesthetic beings, ones that do not produce physiological horrors. But theism maintains that God is omnipotent.

We may conclude that Objection 5 fails.

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Objection 6: The very fact that human beings are capable of recognizing and appreciating aesthetic values, although from an evolutionary point of view this capacity has little use, shows that they were created by God. Therefore, the Argument from Physiological Horrors in fact confirms the theistic hypothesis since it implies the fact that humans are capable of making aesthetic judgements.

Response: It is not at all clear that humans' capacity of recognizing esthetical values cannot be explained by natural evolution. Contrary to this objection, there are important scientists who claim that imagination and creativity -- central to the artistic act -- had and still have important survival value[29]. But even letting this explanation aside, humans' capability of recognizing and enjoying what is beautiful can be accounted by natural evolution. For example, it is plausible to believe that even if artistic aptitudes have no survival value, they appeared due to the using and development of the brain. Similarly, the physical training done by an athlete with the only goal of winning a contest can be useful to him in other respects, like maintaining her health. Finally, it must be pointed out that natural evolution explains better the presence of physiological horrors in humans. If humans have evolved from lower animals, we shouldn't be surprised to discover such ugliness as physiological horrors. But the presence of physiological horrors is surprising if human beings are the central creation of a perfect being, as theism affirms.

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The Subjectivity Of Aesthetic Values Objection (Objection 7)

Objection 7: 'Beautiful' and 'Ugly' are strictly subjective matters. Therefore, there cannot be constructed an objective argument -- as the Argument from Physiological Horrors is purported to -- on the basis of a subjective judgement.

Response: There already are in philosophy good arguments in support of the objectivity of aesthetic values. For example, Peter Williams presents a good case for accepting the objectivity of these values in one of his on-line articles.[30] The most important objection to the objectivity of values is based on the fact that there is wide spread disagreement about some of the aesthetic criteria. However, this disagreement is compatible with objective aesthetic value. Perhaps some people do not have the qualifications to make a correct identification of the objective aesthetic value. Related to this possibility, Croce writes: "Hurry, laziness, lack of judgement, theoretical prejudices, personal sympathies or antipathies and other such reasons sometimes determine critics to characterize as ugly what is beautiful and as beautiful what is ugly."[31] The same aesthetician suggests another explanation for the apparent disagreement with regard to aesthetic judgements which is compatible with objective judgements about aesthetics. Many pieces of art decay in time, changing their appearance. For instance, oil paintings turn black, statues lose their arms and legs, tradition might change notes in a symphony, printing/translation errors modify poems and so on. What's more, some art pieces can only be understood if we know the social, political and cultural environment in which they were created. Otherwise, we might not see their real significance and erroneously view them as meaningless and ugly.[32]

In addition, the Romanian aesthetician Tudor Vianu suggests another plausible reason to believe that disagreement with regard to the value of some works of art can be explained without turning to aesthetic relativism. He writes: "If taste seems as a strictly individual function [ ... ] this fact is caused by the extra-aesthetic factors which orientated it. In appreciating a work of art we disagree not so much strictly by the way we reflect it but in the extra-esthetical associations and sentiments that it produces is us."[33] By extra-esthetical associations Vianu understands any religious, political etc. significance that an work of art may have. Consider Liang K'ai's painting "Kakemono." Many art critics consider this painting a masterpiece.[34] However, according to Vianu's explanation, since it is a picture of Buddha, many people raised in Christian environments could be tempted to overlook the painting's objective aesthetic value because of their attitude towards Buddhist religion -- which could be one of indifference or perhaps even hostility in some cases.

What's more, there clearly are cases where at least the vast majority of people have the same aesthetic response to a given fact. For example, most of us think the rainbow is beautiful while the physiological horrors ugly and disgusting. This situation resembles the one about moral values. Even if there is disagreement with respect to issues like suicide, abortion, the death penalty, cloning etc there are cases where the vast majority thinks the same: torturing infants and rape are extremely immoral. Since we have good reasons to believe that the objectivity of moral values is not seriously endangered by the wide spread disagreement on some ethical issues,[35] why should we think that the same fact would endanger objectivity in aesthetics?

As Williams sums it up: "To the argument as advanced against objective Beauty I respond similarly that 1) differing subjective opinions about Aesthetic matter does not show that Aesthetic assertions have no objective content, only that people disagree, and 2) no-one disagrees that rainbows are Beautiful."[36]

Let us not forget also that many philosophers believe in the objectivity of moral values. Why wouldn't these thinkers also accept the objectivity of aesthetic ones? After all, many of them emphasize important relations between what is beautiful and what is ethical.[37] Therefore there are good reasons to think that people who already embrace ethical objectivity should accept aesthetic objectivity as well.

It must be also pointed out that in the areas of the history, philosophy and art theory aesthetic objectivity was and still is the orthodox position. As Emmet says, "The view that has been most strongly held by philosophers in the past, from Plato onwards, has been the objective one: that whether an object is beautiful or not is a matter of fact and not a matter of opinion or taste, and that value judgements about beauty are true or false."[38] But even if we would agree, for the sake of argument, that the objectivity of aesthetic values is more problematic than it appears to be, we know that most theists accept this objectivity. Some examples of such philosophers are Winfried Corduan, Norman L. Geisler, Peter Williams, J.P. Moreland, C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne and Keith E. Yandell.[39] So the Argument from Physiological Horrors can and is sufficient to be seen as being addressed only to theists, as an internal critique of theism: You are the ones who accept the objectivity of values, so in case you cannot show how physiological horrors are objectively non-horrific or that physiological horrors are compatible with God's existence, it follows that by your own standards and beliefs your God does not exist.

Finally, if we assume for the sake of argument that aesthetic judgements are simply subjective and an objective argument which is based on such judgements is impossible, theism is again in trouble. Indeed, a very popular argument for God's existence is the one based on the beauty of nature. I have heard Christians who claim that they see God in a flower or in a beautiful landscape. If my two responses above to Objection 7 fail, then so does this popular argument for God's existence, which is still an important victory on atheism's side.

Now perhaps a critic might say that even if aesthetic values are objective, we do not know whether physiological horrors are objectively ugly. Indeed, an anonymous reader of an earlier version of the paper said here: "One objection to the argument that Plugaru seems to have overlooked is that physiological horrors (like evil) might be an illusion. For example, I can imagine some scientists who study 'feces, putrefaction, mucous membranes, perspiration, intestinal gases etc.' contending that when we put aside our unthinking subjective revulsion and view these things scientifically they are actually, indeed objectively, aesthetically pleasing."

This reply however is not convincing. As I see it, when the reader says "I can imagine some scientists..." (s)he is only implying that it is possible that the Argument from Physiological Horrors is unsound. However, it is clear that an argument cannot be attacked only on the grounds that it is possible for it to fail.

In order for this objection to pose a serious threat to my atheistic argument, a critic has to do at least the following:

(a) To give specific examples of a relevant number of scientists (I'd say at least about 33% of the total number of them) who say that physiological horrors are beautiful;

(b) To give us good reasons to believe that at least most of those scientists are telling the truth. Perhaps some of them, consciously or not, are only trying to discredit the Argument from Physiological Horrors so that the existence of their deity is not endangered. We know that such a kind of denial is common even among some scientists. Since our repulsion of physiological horrors is so deep and strong, it seems highly suspicious that some human beings could say that physiological horrors are actually beautiful and so we have reasons to doubt their sincerity;

(c) To give us good reasons to believe that at least the majority of the aforementioned scientists are competent judges of the matter (it may be the case that some of them are so used to getting in contact with physiological horrors that it is not implausible to question their objectivity/impartiality);

Until these points receive a plausible answer, the possibility expressed by the anonymous reader may not be taken seriously.

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Physiological Horrors As Humans' Fault (Objection 8)

Objection 8: The fact that physiological horrors exist is indeed humans' fault. They appeared after Adam and Eve freely decided to sin. God should not take the blame for physiological horrors.

Response: First of all, we don't have good reasons to believe that the Adam and Eve story as it is reported in the Genesis is more than a myth. As Evan Fales says,

"First there is the familiar difficulty that the creation accounts in Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 are contradictory, and specifically, that they conflict with respect to the creation of human beings. Then, there is the generally mythical character of Genesis, and the fact that many of the themes in the first eleven chapters are borrowed from, or influenced by, the myths of other ancient Near Eastern cultures. Further, there is the archaeological evidence which is producing a growing consensus among Biblical archaeologists that the story of the Egyptian captivity and the Exodus are mythical and not historical accounts. All of these considerations undermine the reliability of Genesis as a source of historical information. And finally, there are the manifold problems of interpretation: just what did the author of Gen. 1 mean in saying that we were created in God's image?"[40]

Second, the present objection claims that before the Fall, physiological horrors didn't exist. But nothing in the bible suggests that this was the case. For example, from GE 1:29-30, we understand that animals and human beings still had to feed themselves in order to survive. From GE 2:15 we see that the land still had to be worked in order to yield fruits. Given these important similarities between Eden and our present world with regard to organic life, why shouldn't we think that animals and human beings (Adam and Eve) also produced physiological horrors?

Finally, even if the above responses to Objection 8 fail, we could still ask: why do physiological horrors exist? The essential thing is that after the Fall human nature became sinful. This is by itself a very important and severe punishment for their disobedience. Why did God also punished them with physiological horrors? A morally perfect and merciful God would not give exaggerated punishments.

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The Unknown Purpose Objection (Objection 9)

Objection 9: God has one or more good reasons to create us so that we would produce physiological horrors, but we cannot understand this reason because of our limited minds.

Response: Supposing that theism was true, it would also be possible that God has reasons for not creating humans with physiological horrors, reasons that we cannot understand with our limited cognitive abilities but which could be understood by God. So the possibility of God having an unknown purpose(s) for allowing physiological horrors is counterbalanced by the possibility of God having an unknown purpose(s) for not allowing them. Hence, this objection does not pose any significant problems for my argument. We cannot say whether it is correct, and an objection which we cannot know whether it is correct or not has no strength.

Moreover, God as he is usually defined by theists wants us to believe in his existence. However, physiological horrors represent an obstacle in front of this belief since we shouldn't expect to find such abominations in God's creation. It follows that God should want to make humans understand the reason mentioned in the above objection. An omnipotent being could do this, since there doesn't appear to be anything incoherent with it.

Putting these responses aside, we must ask ourselves what does Objection 9 suggest: That it is probable that God has such a reason or that this is only possible?

In the first case, the objection would be successful only if the arguments for God's existence were excellent. If we would have very convincing reasons to believe that God exists, then maybe we could say in the face of arguments like the one from physiological horrors: "God probably has a good reason to permit this state of affairs." But it is not at all clear that theistic arguments are really that strong. Not even many theists would affirm that they are. As Keith Parsons put it: "Alvin Plantinga expends vast labors of modal logic to argue that theism is no less rational than atheism. Richard Swinburne devotes his enormous expertise in Bayesian confirmation theory to the claim that God's existence is rather more likely than his non-existence."[41] Similarly, if a surgeon loses 70 patients from 100 when statistics show that the success rate is usually 60 patients saved, we would be entitled to say that the doctor has a good explanation for his failures only if we would have excellent proves that he is a good professional. Otherwise, the most plausible explanation would be that the doctor is simply incompetent.

On the other hand, if we say that it is only possible that God has such an unknown purpose to permit physiological horrors, then this objection amounts to saying that it is only possible that the Argument from Physiological Horrors fails. But as I have already said, it is clear that an argument cannot be attacked only on the grounds that it is possible for it to fail.

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Conclusion:

According to theism, God is a perfect creator. If that would be so, then we would not expect extreme and unjustified ugliness in the world -- where "ugliness" is used from a strictly esthetical point of view. Since I have shown in this paper that such ugliness exists, it follows that God's existence is unlikely, even if all other atheistic arguments thus far advanced fail. We may conclude that the Argument from Physiological Horrors is a new and sound argument against the existence of the theistic God.[42]

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Notes:

[1] Irvin D. Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept. (Basic Books, 1992), translated in Romanian by L. Schidu, Humanitas, 1995; p. 304.

[2] Karl Rosenkranz, Aesthetik des HäBlichen. [Aesthetics of Ugliness.] (Köninsberg, Verlag der Gebrüder Bornträger, 1853), translated in Romanian by Victor Ma ek, Ed. Meridiane, 1984, pp. 270-1.

[3] One could also add here horrors like abscesses, many skin and genital diseases, vomiting etc. referring to them only when they appear due to no one's fault (as in the case of a person vomiting after she has unknowingly eaten an infested food and nobody is guilty of the food's infestation). I won't mention them in the article itself in order to avoid confusion between physiological horrors that always appear due to no one's fault and physiological horrors that only sometimes appear without no one's fault. However, the careful reader may also have these latter kind of horrors in mind when reading the rest of the paper. [4] See The Secular Web Library,
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/nonbelief.html and
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/evil.html

[5] See for example Steven J. Conifer's paper 'Mind-Brain Dependence as Twofold Support for Atheism,'
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/steven_conifer/mbd.html
(2001).

[6] This is the version proposed by Theodore M. Drange in his influential book Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998), p.53. Paul Draper proposed another version of the Argument from Evil in his article 'Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists,' Nous 23 (June, 1989), pp. 331-350. However, with only some minor modifications, the arguments I give here to believe that the Argument from Physiological Horrors is different from Drange's Argument from Evil works equally well with respect to Draper's version.

[7] In fact, Schoenig himself has doubts with respect to his objection. He said "This is not a major criticism and, if you are correct, may not be an apt criticism at all, but I thought I'd mention it to you anyway."

[8] Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. (Temple U. Press, 1990), chapter 13.

[9] Ibid., pp. 326-8.

[10] Ibid., p. 326.

[11] It is Michael Martin who suggested -- in private correspondence -- that I should address this issue.

[12] David Myers, 'New Design Arguments: Old Millian Objections,' Religious Studies 36, pp. 141-162.

[13] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, quoted in Norman L. Geisler The Issue of Beauty, (IMPACT-TAPE), side 1.

[14] Matthew Kieran, 'Aesthetic Value: Beauty, Ugliness and Incoherence,' Philosophy 72, 1997.

[15] Williams, 'Intelligent Design, Aesthetics and Design Arguments'
http://www.iscid.org/papers/Williams_Aesthetics_012302.pdf.

[16] See Meyers, p. 157.

[17] I am talking here about the Soul-Making Theodicy. See John Hick, Evil And The God Of Love, rev. ed. (NY: Harper & Rowe, 1977), chaps. 9 and 10.

[18] Paul Tobin, 'Argument From The Beauty Of Nature,'
http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/godother.html

[19] Joseph Lewis, 'An Atheist Manifesto'
http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/lewis/lewis03.htm

[20] Robert Egner, Bertrand Russell's Best. (Unwin, London 1958), p. 33.

[21] Allen Carlson, 'Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature,' Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London: Routledge

[22] Rozenkranz, p.42.

[23] Benedetto Croce, Estetica come scienza dell'espressione e linguistica generale. [Aesthetics as the Science of Expression Through General Linguistics.] (Milan, 1902), translated in Romanian by Dumitru Tranc , (Ed. Enciclopedic , 1971), p.168. The Romanian aesthetician Tudor Vianu has similar observations in his Estetica. [Aesthetics.] (Ed. Pentru Literatur , 1968), pp. 11-14.

[24] Myers, pp.150-1.

[25] Rosenkranz, p. 271

[26] Williams, 'Intelligent Design, Aesthetics and Design Arguments', the section entitled 'Deductive Ontological Aesthetic Design Arguments'.

[27] See Michael Martin, 'Copan's Critique of Atheistic Objective Morality,' Philosophia Christi Series 2, 2/1 (2000): 75-89, the section entitled 'Critique of the Euthyprho Dilemma.' Although there are some other recent theistic philosophers who tried to slip between the horns of the dilemma sketched above, like Robert Adams, 'A modified divine command theory of ethics,'The Virtue of Faith (N.Y.: Oxford U. Press, 1987) or Philip Quinn, 'Divine command ethics: A causal theory,' Divine Command Morality, ed. Janine Idziak (N.Y. Edwin Press, 1979) it is not at all clear that they have succeeded. Their arguments have been criticized by philosophers such as Robert Westmoreland, 'Two recent metaphysical divine commend theories of ethics,' International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 39 (1): 51-31.

I do not wish however to engage too much in this debate since, obviously, a detailed discussion on this topic is beyond the scope of this paper. That is why I prefer to talk here only about the classical formulation of the dilemma and some of the most famous responses to it.

[28] See:
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/bill_schultz/crsc.html
the Section entitled "'Metaphysical Naturalism' and 'Intelligent Design.'"

[29] See, for example, Gregory J. Feist, 'Three Perspectives on Evolution, Creativity, And Aesthetics,'
http://www.apa.org/divisions/div10/articles/feist1.html

[30] See Williams, 'Intelligent Design, Aesthetics and Design Arguments,' the section entitled 'Beauty.' Since his article is readily available for anyone who can access my present essay and since I agree with the arguments Williams presents in the aforementioned section for the objectivity of aesthetics, there is little point for me to repeat his arguments in the body of this paper. The reader is simply instructed to read what Williams has to say on the matter following the link to his article:
http://www.iscid.org/papers/Williams_Aesthetics_012302.pdf.

[31] Croce, p. 190.

[32] Ibid., pp. 193-194.

[33] Vianu, p.335.

[34] See, for example, Heinrich Lützeler, Wege zur Kunst. [Ways to Art.] (Verlag Herder, 1967), translation in Romanian by Dorin Oancea, Ed. Meridiane, Bucure ti, 1986, pp. 50-51.

[35] See, for example, Michael Martin, Atheism, Morality, and Meaning. (Prometheus Books, 2002), pp. 38-9.

[36] Peter Williams, 'A Theistic Account of Aesthetic Value,'
http://www.leaderu.com/theology/williams_beauty.html

[37] Ibid.

[38] E. R. Emmet Learning to Philosophise. (NY: Philosophical Forum, 1965), p. 119. [39] Even if maybe there are theists who do not accept the objectivity of aesthetic values, it is probable that they admit the objectivity of moral judgements. Since I have just indicated how people who accept this latter kind of objectivity could be convinced to also accept the former, it follows that basically all theists should admit the objectivity of aesthetic values. The only exceptions would be theists who do not embrace either objective ethics nor objective aesthetics. Such cases however are only minor exceptions. [40] Evan Fales, 'Plantinga's Case Against Naturalistic Epistemology,' Philosophy of Science, 63, 1996, pp. 447-8. See also Horia Plugaru, 'A New Argument against the Feigned-Allegiance Reply,'
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/horia_plugaru/far.shtml
section 6.1)

[41] Keith Parsons, 'Is Non-Christian Thought Futile?' http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/jones-parsons-martin/parsons.html For numerous professional criticisms of many theistic arguments see the Secular Web's library:
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/arguments.html.
Keep in mind that in order to substantiate my response to Objection 9 all I need to show is that the arguments in favor of God's existence are not excellent, not necessarily that they have zero credibility.

[42] I thank Dr. Richard Schoenig, Dr. Michael Martin, Dr. Theodore Drange and two anonymous readers for their useful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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