“All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.” – Cecil Francis Alexander1
“Indescribable. Uncontainable. Who put the stars in the sky and You know them by name? You are amazing, God.” – Chris Tomlin2
The Fine-Tuning of the constants and quantities of physics show that God is a spectacular engineer. He set up the Strong Nuclear Force, The Weak Nuclear Force, The Electromagnetic Force, Gravity, The Expansion rate of the universe to very precise values to allow the universe to develop life.
But, God is not merely a great engineer. He is a masterful artist as well. Who could contest that we live in a beautiful universe? Who hasn’t been in awe looking up at a starlit night on a warm summer’s eve, or enjoyed looking the array of yellow, orange, and red of the trees in autumn? Who doesn’t enjoy the beauty of flowers and flower beds? This is a beautiful world.
In this blog post, I will argue the beauty of nature is as much of a pointer in the natural world to God as the origin of the cosmos and the fine-tuning of its physical laws is. I will present a logically valid syllogism pointing to God as the reason why beauty exists, then I will address objections that atheists have typically given against this argument.
The Argument from Beauty can be formulated as follows:
1: If God does not exist, objective beauty and human perception of it would not exist.
2: Objective Beauty and Human perception of it does exist.
3: Therefore, God exists.
This is a logically valid syllogism since it follows the rule modus tollens. If the premises are true, so is the conclusion. Before we look at the premises of this argument, let me define what I mean by “objective”. When I say that something is “objective”, I mean that it is what it is regardless of what people may think about it. That Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election is an objective truth. By “Subjective” I mean a truth that is dependent on people’s’ opinions. For example, whether or not you think Hawaiian Pizza tastes good is dependent on your personal preference.
Premise 1: If God Does Not Exist, Objective Beauty and Human Perception Of It Would Not Exist.
If atheism were true, we would not expect objective beauty to be a feature of reality. At the very least, we would not expect objective beauty to be something we humans are universally able to perceive. This is because on atheistic evolution, we are merely the products of a Darwinian process. This process, sans God, would only produce in us abilities to do the following: flee, fight, feed, and reproduce. Anything that does not contribute to fleeing, fighting, feeding, or reproducing would be a superfluous feature in the struggle for survival.
The ability to recognize objective beauty is not required for the survival of any species and is, therefore, highly unlikely to be produced in an atheistic evolution. However, ability to perceive objective beauty is exactly what one would expect if we were created by a God who values beauty.
Think about it: Why would a blind, evolutionary process develop the ability to appreciate the beauty of sunrises, sunsets, flowers, and classical music? According to the theory of evolution, natural selection preserves traits necessary for survival or are beneficial to the organism in some way. Hence, if a mutation in an organism causes them to run faster, fight harder, find food easier, and so on, natural selection will preserve this mutation and it will be passed onto the next generation of animals. However, there’s is nothing inherently advantageous to recognizing the beauty of sunrises, sunsets, flowers, etc. Animals who find sunrises, sunsets, and flowers to be hideous shouldn’t have any trouble surviving in their environment than the ones who find them beautiful. Animals who cringe at the site of a starlit night shouldn’t be at a disadvantage. In fact, everything we find beautiful, we could find to be either ugly or at least aesthetically neutral, and we’d be able to get along just fine. The extent of our ability to recognize beauty in the universe is vastly greater than is needed for us to recognize a fish as food, or a grizzly bear as a threat.
However, if God crafted this world, and He made us in his image with the intention of having us “walk in his footsteps”, so to speak, in comprehending His handiwork in the cosmos, then our capacity to perceive the beauty of nature can be reflection of the intentional creative activity of God as a Cosmic Artist.
Now, granted, some mutations in the evolutionary process are neutral. That is to say that they are neither harmful nor beneficial, so natural selection could still pass a mutation on even if it made no difference in the struggle of survival either way. Nevertheless, it would be implausible to think that our ability to recognize objective beauty in so many different areas of life should just so happen to come about by chance and be passed on along the homo sapien lineage. The Beauty of Galaxies, The Beauty of Nebulae, The Beauty of Novae, The Beauty of the Stars, The Beauty of the Earth from Space, The Beauty of the Moon, The Beauty of the Oceans, The Beauty of the Seashore, The Beauty of Sunsets, The Beauty of Lakes, The Beauty of Mountains, The Beauty of Streams, The Beauty of Waterfalls, The Beauty of Autumn Trees, The Beauty of Flowering Trees, The Beauty of Flowers, The Beauty of Animals, The Beauty of Birds, The Beauty of Fish, The Beauty of Butterflies, The Beauty of Snowflakes, The Beauty of Gemstones, The Beauty of a baby’s laughter… why should we believe our ability to perceive beauty in ALL of these areas developed through evolution by sheer chance?
Yes, neutral mutations can be passed along lineages, but the acquisition of neutral mutations needed to produce recognition of beauty in so many of the aforementioned areas seem extremely unlikely.
Premise 2: Objective Beauty and Human Perception Of Objective Beauty Does Exist.
This premise is likely to be the more controversial one. We have all heard the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. In fact, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has become such a well known and overused phrase that most people just take it as a given. What “is beautiful” is taken to be akin to what “tastes good”. There is no objective answer to either. We will call this “Aesthetic Relativism”.
Premise 1 stated that if God does not exist, objective beauty would not exist and our ability to perceive it certainly would not. However, does objective beauty actually exist?
In his book Does Beauty Point To God? John M. Kinson lists several reasons to think that the answer to that question is yes.
1: Universal, Time-Tested Appreciation Of Many Works Of Art.
In a blog post on this subject, Jim and Amy Spiegel write;
“An argument for aesthetic objectivism appeals to the universal, time-tested appreciation of many works of art. Educated people will agree, as they have for centuries, that Shakespeare’s King Lear is a great play, that Handel’s Messiah is an excellent piece of music, and that Michelangelo’s David is a superb sculpture. How do we explain this consensus of opinion among intelligent connoisseurs of art, except by acknowledging that the tremendous aesthetic qualities of these works are public facts? If aesthetic relativism is true, then the convergence of opinion by hosts of art critics is mere coincidence. There just happen to have been similarly positive responses to these artworks across cultures for hundreds of years. But, of course, this is absurd. So aesthetic objectivism must be true.”3
2: Everyone Knows Leonardo Davinci Paints Better Than A 4-Year Old
“First, consider the implications of aesthetic relativism when it comes to comparing works of art. My four-year-old daughter, Maggie, loves to draw, and on our refrigerator there are several samples of her recent work, including a crude drawing of three horses. It is rendered entirely with a pink marker, and the horses have rectangular bodies and triangular heads. So, we might ask, how does Maggie’s Three Horses composition compare, in terms of aesthetic quality, to, say, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? Is one of these works superior (i.e. more objectively beautiful) to the other? Not according to aesthetic relativism. Remember, on this view no work of art can be objectively superior to another, because the relativist maintains that beauty is entirely relative to individual or cultural preference. So if I happen to prefer Maggie’s Three Horses to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, then the former is superior to the latter for me. Or if a given culture—because of, say, a prevailing fancy for the color pink—preferred Maggie’s drawing, then Three Horses would be superior for that culture. In neither case could it be said that the Da Vinci painting is aesthetically superior to Maggie’s drawing in an absolute sense. Such a relativist view contradicts common sense. Obviously the Mona Lisa is superior to Maggie’s line drawings, regardless of how fond I might be of my daughter’s efforts. But the only way this judgment can make sense is if beauty is an objective fact, not merely a matter of individual or cultural preference.”4
3: Beauty has a “Guiding Power” in science.
John Kinson then proceeded to demonstrate how science has had a history of selecting theories deemed by researchers to be more mathematically beautiful (“elegant” to use their terminology) over ones seemed less “elegant”. The more elegant ones eventually turned out to be true and the most supported and the less elegant ones turned out false and least supported. Scientists preferred the elegant theories over the non-elegant ones, and it just so happened that further research produced evidence that confirmed these theories.
Kinson quoted well-known scientists to show how beauty, and the recognition and preference for it, lead to true scientific conclusions.
“You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity” – Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize Winning Physicist.5
“In Science, one trait of beauty is an elegant simplicity…Einstein’s theory of gravity possesses this grace and propriety, whereas competing theories do not and so they are not taken seriously.” – Thomas Dubay, PhD in Education, science/theology writer)
“in physics as in mathematics, it is a great beauty if a theory can bring together apparently different phenomena and show that they are closely connected; or even different aspects of the same thing” – Sir George Thomson, Nobel Laureate, Physicist.6
Nobel prize winner, James Watson (co-discoverer of the molecular structure of the DNA double helix) speaks of how beauty guided his team when looking for the structure of DNA. These science dudes attempted a plethora of structures for DNA, but none of them were feasible. After much research and brain wracking, Watson and friends eventually thought of the double helix structure. James Watson wrote “…we had lunch, telling each other that a structure this pretty just had to exist”. Watson and friends proceeded to match the mathematical structure/molecular structure to X-ray data, and BOOYAH! They had a match!7
Werner Heisenberg said the truth of his theory of quantum mechanics (in the scientific community) “was immediately found convincing by virtue of its completeness and abstract beauty”.8
John M. Kinson argues
“And so, when we find that a principle like the “guiding power of beauty” appears to work again and again (in science), this is indication that there truth to the concept that there REALLY is a quality of beauty that objectively exists out there in much of physical reality (and that this beauty is not merely an artificial construct of our minds that is a projection of something fictitious “that really doesn’t exist” onto the universe.”9
Indeed, If all beauty were subjective, the “guiding power of beauty in science” as Kinson calls it would be absolutely astonishing! How could mere subjective tastes lead to so many accurate scientific discoveries? This would be analogous to using your subjective sense of taste to determine which foods are healthy for you. Imagine you think all vegetables are delicious and candy tastes yucky. On this basis, you conclude that vegetables are good for you and candy is unhealthy. Later, you do research into what vegetables and candy are made out of, and you also run experiments on people, separating them into two groups (one that has a vegetable-heavy diet and the other, a candy based diet). Your experiments showed that those who had a vegetable-based diet were in far better health than those who ate candy as regular meals.
Now, I don’t know of anyone who finds all objectively healthy food delicious and all objectively junk food yucky, but the point is this: if you found that your delight in food more often than not corresponded with the level of healthiness of that food, you would most likely not conclude that “taste is in the tongue of the eater”. You would conclude that a matter of taste is not “a matter of taste”.
The fact is; our subjective preferences do not always line up with reality. We typically find junk food appealing, for example. The examples of the scientists mentioned above scientists followed their sense of aesthetics, and made the discoveries of the double helix structure of DNA and quantum mechanics. In Does Beauty Point To God? John M. Kinson lists several other scientific discoveries that were made based on the starting point that the scientists doing the research found the equations or formulas beautiful. I can’t bring myself to believe that mere subjective preference would have such power in guiding people to true conclusions.
4: I Don’t Like It, But I See The Beauty Of It
This is not a point made by Kinson. This is a thought of my own. I remember various times being able to recognize beauty that I did not like, such as in certain musical genres like opera or rap. Although I personally don’t care for opera singing, I can still tell when someone is singing well in these genres and when they are singing badly. In other words, I can recognize whether an opera singer’s singing is “beautiful” or “ugly” even though I wouldn’t care for that specific type of singing in either scenario. If musical beauty were subjective, why is it that I can recognize beauty even in areas that are not in accord with my own personal tastes?
I want to stress that I’m not saying musical taste is objective. It clearly isn’t. Rather, it’s that even when music doesn’t suit my personal tastes, I can still judge whether it’s good music or not. I’ve watched America’s Got Talent on NBC for years, and I can recall several instances thinking of some particular singer or other performers, “While that isn’t my thing, this person is very good at what he does and therefore should be given all Yes’s by the judges”.
5: The Great Cloud Of Scientist Witnesses To The Beauty Of The World
In the chapter called “Beauty and Science”, John Kinson lists a plethora of quotes from scientists to show that the objective beauty of nature is recognized by many, many well-known scientists in a variety of different fields. Such scientists include Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, Stephen Weinberg, and Michael Faraday. Here are a few examples.
Henri Poincare (physicist, mathematician):
“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing”.
Marie Curie (physicist, chemist, Nobel Laureate):
“I am among those who think that science has great beauty.”
(in Eve Curie Labouisse, Eve Curie and Vincent Sheean,
Madame Curie (1937), 341)
Murray Gell-Mann (physicist, Nobel Laureate):
“The beauty of the basic laws of natural science…”
(Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1969),
in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1969 (1970))
Albert Einstein (physicist, Nobel Laureate):
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true … science.”
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
That such a long list of testimonies to the beauty of nature exists in the scientific community indicates that beauty is something that is actually there, objectively. At the end of the chapter, John Kinson says
“Bottom line: We have seen numerous quotes above from a variety of scientists who confirm that science is permeated with beauty (and the universe is permeated with beauty), This near-universal recognition by scientists of the beauty in science (and of science) and of the beauty is similar to and consistent with the The Guiding Power Of Beauty In Science.” 10
Kinson went on to say: “The existence of this beauty in science and ‘The Guiding Power Of Beauty’ in science indicates that there exists an objective ‘quality of beauty’ in our physical universe, irrespective of the presence of any human observers.”11
Conclusion: Therefore, God Exists.
Given the truth of the two premises, the conclusion logically and necessarily follows. Now, let’s first examine objections atheists have lodged against this argument in an effort to undermine its conclusion.
Objection 1: Sexual Beauty Can Be Explained From A Purely Atheistic Perspective. Sexual Beauty Exists To Incite Animals To Engage In Sexual Intercourse.
Answer: Even if that were true, there are many non-sexual areas of beauty that don’t in any way contribute to homo sapien survival, such as the elegance in mathematics, the beauty of a starlit night, the beauty of the trees turning color in the autumn, the beauty of landscapes, and others. Why should a purely purposeless and random process give us the ability to recognize beauty in these areas? So, the existence and recognizability of sexual beauty would, at most, be the only kind of beauty explicable within an atheistic framework.
Moreover, as John Kinson points out in the chapter titled “Sexual Beauty”, the most beautiful human women are ironically the ones who have the fewest number of children while the less attractive women tend to have more children. This is not what atheistic evolution would predict.
Objection 2: Examples Of Non-Sexual Beauty (e.g Butterfly Wing Patterns, Peacock Feathers, Sophisticated and Beautiful Ornamentation Of Plumage and Feathers In Birds) Aid Survival And Therefore Are Explicable In A Purely Evolutionary Framework.
Answer: While this is true in a few cases, like the patterns of a butterfly’s wing, in several cases, such beauty would actually reduce survivability. This is because bright ornamentation makes the creature more visible to predators. The tail of the peacock makes it more difficult for it to escape predators. It can even get its feathers caught in bushes in its attempt to get away. With the caveat that the feathers on a male peacock aids reproduction since peahens prefer that sort of thing, one should point out that atheism is impotent to explain why evolutionary processes gave the peahens the ability to prefer what rational and intelligent beings consider to be beautiful.
Moreover, this objection would, at most, explain the existence of these instances of beauty. It would not account for homo sapiens’ ability to recognize that such structures are beautiful.
The beauty of various flowers has been attempted to be explained by Atheistic Evolutionists by saying that insects are attracted to flowers because of their beauty and this leads them to pollinate. Pollination is good for the ecosystem and therefore, the beauty of flowers can be explained in a purely evolutionary framework. But is it really reasonable to attribute the shared opinion of humans and bugs to evolution? For one thing, insects have tiny brains, so it is unlikely that they would have any sense of aesthetics at all. Secondly, even if insects needed to find flowers beautiful in order for pollination to take place, why is it that humans recognize the beauty of flowers as well? We humans don’t pollinate! Why did humans evolve the ability to recognize floral beauty when it does not contribute to our survival?
One could see how insects would need to see the beauty of flowers, but humans?
Objection 3: Does Beauty Aid In Survival We Are Not Aware Of?
After writing a blog post reviewing John Kinson’s book (the material of which heavily influenced the content of this chapter), someone posted in the comment section on Facebook,
“Perhaps beauty aids survival in less obvious ways. Looking out from the top of a mountain or viewing the stars at night might very well improve my mental health. I love camping and hiking in the mountains and feel much better mentally after being in nature. Of course, there are probably other variables in play there.”
First of all, Notice the “Perhaps” in the cited response above. This is not a rebuttal, but merely a hand-waving conjecture. The problem with hand-waving conjectures is that there are no ways to test it or falsify it. So, there is no rational warrant for us to accept such conjectures as true.
Secondly, might every single instance of objective beauty in the world aid survival in some way? Perhaps, but it seems extremely unlikely. The burden of proof is on the one who thinks that the beauty of galaxies, nebulae, novae, the moon, autumn trees, sunrises, sunsets, lakes, glaciers, caves, rock formations, animals, gemstones, rainbows, snow covered mountains, solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, the artwork of Michelangelo, the Aurora Borealis, every field of flowers on Earth, a baby’s laughter, the music of Bach, the music of Beethoven, the music of Michael J Cohan, the various patterns on butterfly wings, the beauty of birds, the beauty of flowering trees, the beauty of oceans, and the beauty of seashores are all required for homo sapiens to survive.
Undoubtedly observing beauty in nature is soothing to the soul, and undoubtedly beauty has a positive effect on our minds, but is every single instance of recognizable beauty required for us to have soothed souls and improved mental health. It seems that could be accomplished by far few examples of beauty than the overwhelming list we have.
Objection 4: Hidden Mathematical Beauty
The person who brought up the objection in the previous subsection brought up this objection as well;
“A lot of mathematical beauty is hidden behind the notation. I just finished a graduate course in differential geometry (the math physicists use) and there is a huge difference in how it was formulated 200 years ago vs. now. It used to be a very clunky subject with complicated and difficult to understand formulas. ‘Modern’ differential geometry looks much simpler and more elegant, but that is because mathematicians have introduced notation and definitions to hide the ugly math behind.”
I asked Kinson about this over Facebook to see what he had to say about it, and he responded
“That is fine. Just goes to make the point that there is real OBJECTIVE beauty (elegance etc) in Math. And it turns out that there is Real Objective Beauty in the Physical Laws that govern the Universe. Those go to support the Abductive Argument for the existence of a MIND that created the universe, a MIND that appreciates and enjoys Beauty.”
Objection 5: A Lot Of Your Arguments For Ontological And Epistemological Aesthetics Rely On Darwinian Explanations Being Invalid, Yet You Are A Theistic Evolutionist. Aren’t You Being Inconsistent?
First of all, This isn’t really an objection against the argument itself, but rather on the consistency of the one defending it (i.e me). If you reject the argument because you think I’m holding to 2 inconsistent positions, you’d be committing the ad-hominem fallacy (i.e rejecting an argument because of some property of the person making it). If you want to really see how invalid this approach is, consider the fact that I’m reiterating arguments made by my friend and fellow apologist John M. Kinson. While I think universal common descent has a lot going for it, Kinson does not. Kinson made these arguments in Does Beauty Point To God? And I just happen to agree with them. Kinson is an Old Earth Creationist. He affirms the commonly accepted age of the universe and Earth but rejects large scale evolution. The arguments given in defense of premises 1 and 2 are either good or bad regardless of whether they’re said by Kinson or myself.
Secondly, want to point out that these criticisms of Darwinian Evolution only apply to evolution when view through the atheistic worldview. I think Theistic Evolution (a.k.a Evolutionary Creationism) avoids these criticisms. One could say, for example, that as unlikely as it would be for evolution to produce the ability to comprehend objective beauty in every area that we do, as long as it’s physically possible for evolution to do this, one could say that God guided the evolutionary processes to produce beauty perceiving faculties in homo sapiens. A God-Ordained Evolutionary History would not be vulnerable to these objections. It would be similar to Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, which doesn’t show that evolution is implausible, just that it’s a problem within a naturalistic framework.
So, the arguments here are merely that if you take God out of the picture, affirmation of objective beauty and perception of it become unintelligible. I think evolution can account for the fossil record, pseudogenes, atavisms, endogenous retroviruses, the universally shared genetic code known as DNA, and lots of other things. What I don’t think it can account for is our acute awareness of the beauty in virtually every facet of nature, at least apart from God.
We’ve seen that The Argument From Beauty is sound. Now, just what kind of “God” would be needed to account for the beauty in the cosmos. What kind of attributes would this “God” have?
1: Cecil Francis Alexander, Hymns For Little Children
3: “Why Beauty is an Objective Quality in the World”, in Wisdom & Folly, by Jim & Amy Spiegel, http://wisdomandfollyblog.com/why-beauty-is-an-objectivequality-in-the-world/ (accessed 13aug16)
5: Richard Feynman, (Quoted in, The New Story of Science, by Robert Augros
and George Stanciu, 1984, page 39.)
6: George Thomson, (in The Inspiration of Science, Oxford University Press,
1961, page 18).
7: (in The Double Helix, 1968, page 131).
8: (in, Across the Frontier, 1974, page 183).
9: John M. Kinson, “Does Beauty Point To God? An Investigation By An Ex-Atheist Scientist”, Amazon Digital Services LLC, pages 86-87
10: John M. Kinson, “Does Beauty Point To God? An Investigation By An Ex-Atheist Scientist”, Amazon Digital Services LLC, page 142