Bach and the Ontological Argument

There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Therefore there must be a God.
–Peter Kreeft

In the fall of 1977, Voyagers I and II were sent into space, where they are expected to reach the edge of our galaxy. In the hope that someone somewhere would intercept these crafts, a variety of messages were placed on board that would be capable of communicating the existence of intelligence on Earth. Among these was included a short prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach performed by Glenn Gould.[1]

A recent blog review of Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods, in which one version of the ontological argument is critiqued, reminded me of this piece of history. Being a fan of both Bach and Gould, I’m happy that their works were chosen as paragons of human intelligence. However, I suspect even they will fail to convince other species in the universe of our existence, unless that species accepts the ontological argument.

One formulation of the Ontological Argument, of which the Design Argument is a variation, is based on the premise that cause is greater than effect. This is a consensus among ancient Greek philosophers. As Lucretius put it, “Nothing comes from nothing”. Unlike the Christian notion of transcendent God, the Greek notion of God is immanent in, if not identical with, the universe. If the universe is the cause of man with his artistry and intelligence, then it must possess greater artistry and intelligence, otherwise, intelligence would come from nothing, which is an absurdity.

A character in Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods raises an objection, “Am I to admit that the world is not only a living being, and wise, but also a harper and a flute-player, because it gives birth also to men skilled in these arts?”[2]

Personally, I have not experienced any artist whose whole body of work evokes more profound aesthetic feelings than Nature does. Much as I admire the music of Bach, I suspect his music would be quite insignificant compared to the music that permeates the universe, if only one has ears to hear. Here lies the irony: We hope others acknowledge artistry in ourselves, and yet we fail to acknowledge artistry in the universe, from which we draw inspiration.

Nature is pitiless; she never withdraws her flowers, her music, her fragrance and her sunlight, from before human cruelty or suffering. She overwhelms man by the contrast between divine beauty and social hideousness. She spares him nothing of her loveliness, neither wing or butterfly, nor song of bird; in the midst of murder, vengeance, barbarism, he must feel himself watched by holy things; he cannot escape the immense reproach of universal nature and the implacable serenity of the sky.

As though it said to man, ‘Behold my work. and yours.’ [3]

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