I trust we've all had a good giggle at Ken Ham's contention that aliens cannot exist, because we're God's special snowflakes? That's not really the subject of this post, but it did set me to musing. Well, specifically, what set this train of thought in motion was an aside by Jerry Coyne, regarding the contention that the universe might be God's "artwork," in his takedown of Ham's fantasy (and kudos to the Professor for even managing a serious discussion, without once descending into incoherent laughter), along with the statement by Ham himself that "the sun and moon were created for signs and our seasons—and to declare the glory of God." Specifically, it was the bit about glorifying God that struck me.
There is, in the character of almost all performers, musicians, artists, authors and so on, a small child-like longing for acclamation. There almost has to be. For the vast majority who don't make the big time, the monetary reward for the time, the effort, the stage-fright on the one hand and on the other the chutzpah of asking people to pay good money to observe our talents, is trifling. What keeps you going is the buzz; the applause. People liking what you do and appreciating your talent. "The only thing I ever wanted anybody to say is; 'He could really play. He was good'."
All of which, in moderation, is perfectly normal and healthy. But the reason the acclamation matters to the artist is that it's from her peers. From people who are able to judge her work on its merits. Not necessarily because it's from fellow artists in the same field—although that's perhaps the most prized—but because it's from people who, in most other ways, are equal to her. I might be better at making pleasing noises by blowing through a harmonica than you; but you might well be better at painting or maths, at kicking footballs or baking cakes; we are, roughly, on a par. What you're applauding (assuming you are) is that this ordinary person has, for an hour or two, and by dint of talent and effort, risen above the ordinary.
We're all familiar with the stereotype of the tin-pot dictator, wearing the uniform of an army they've never served in, their chest plastered with medals they've never earned, demanding gun-point applause for their mere existence from cowed subjects who must clap and cheer on pain of imprisonment or worse. (Not that it's necessarily an unjustified stereotype, though Stalin was hardly "tin-pot.") No artist wants that. No healthy intellect wants applause and credit for doing things that anyone else could do as a matter of course; for their ability to merely exist; for the ordinary.
A creator-god, should one exist, is, by its very nature, far above human ordinariness, but creating things is, for it, ordinary. It's what it, equally as a matter of its inherent nature, does. For such a being to long for adulation from humble, by its standards less-than-ordinary, beings like ourselves, who cannot be expected to judge the work on its own merits, would be, I suggest, intellectually unhealthy in the extreme.
The speech the dictator just made might have been a beautiful speech. It might have been Shakespeare, Mark Twain and George Orwell rolled into one, delivered by a master orator. Or it might have made GW Bush look brilliant. Unless we are informed peers though, who have had the opportunity to compare Bard to Bush, then any applause we might give is meaningless. And forcing us to give such applause, demanding it of us, is simply vanity-stroking narcissism on the part of the dictator.
This world might be, for all its faults, the best world it is possible for a creator-god to create. Or it might be the worst. Or it might be somewhere in between. Or, for all we know, it might be the equivalent of a child's finger-painting, stuck on some other-dimensional fridge door. The point is, we don't and can't possibly know, or be in a position to judge; and yet applause and acclaim for this artwork is, allegedly, being demanded of us by its creator. Which, if true, leads me to favour the finger-painting hypothesis. Because if longing for earned applause is child-like, then surely the foot-stamping, toy-throwing "You don't love meeee!" demand for unearned applause, is childish in the extreme.
Which leaves us, Gentle Reader, with one quite important question regarding the fate of our universe. What happens to the finger-painting, when room's needed on the fridge-door for next-week's potato-print?
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