“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” – Plato
Beauty in Words
Those of us who appreciate finding beauty in words place great value on authors who can mesmerize and stir our senses and soul with the movements of their pens. An example comes from George MacDonald in his classic fictional book entitled “The Golden Key” (2012; pp. 48). George MacDonald was the author who inspired C.S. Lewis’ writing.
“The moon rode in the blue eternity; it was a very triumph of glorious night; the river ran babble-murmuring in deep soft syllables; the fountain kept rushing forever falling like snow, but with a continuous music clash, into the bed of its exhaustion beneath; the wind woke, took a run among the trees, went to sleep, and woke again; the daisies slept on their feet at hers, but she did not know they slept; the roses might well seem awake, for their scent filled the air, but in truth they slept also, and the odor was that of their dreams; the oranges hung like gold lamps in the trees, and their silvery flowers were the souls of their yet unembodied children; the scent of the acacia blooms filled the air like the very odor of the moon herself.”
The Search for Perfection
George MacDonald had a way with words and one might consider that some of his books had reached the pinnacle of perfection in children’s fiction. Like Michelangelo’s artwork, Beethoven’s music, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, George MacDonald and his protégé C.S. Lewis achieved greatness in their field.
While our works may achieve perfection by various standards, we cannot achieve human perfection. At some point very early in our lives, we come to realize that we are not perfect and in fact, no one is perfect. As Romans 3:23 states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Though we all lack perfection, we do not lack the sense of knowing what it would take to achieve perfection, whether in morality, goodness, truth, or beauty. Humans place aesthetic value on beauty in its many forms, whether in poetry, paintings, music, seascapes, mountains, architecture, or artistic works. And we have a sense of what it would take to achieve perfection in each.
From where did our sense of aesthetic values emerge? Do any or all other forms of life have an aesthetic sense? Evolutionary biology suggests some other life forms, such as birds like the peacock, place aesthetic value on the attractiveness of other birds when selecting mates, yet this is not universal to all forms of life nor does it apply to all aesthetic forms of beauty. Since beauty is not essential to our survival, one might ponder why we universally value beauty. The intention of the present blog is to develop and present an aesthetic argument in support of God.
The Evolution of Aesthetic Value
The Free Dictionary defines aesthetics as the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, expression, and perception of beauty, as in the fine arts. It is further defined as a conception of what is artistically valid or beautiful.
Our sense of aesthetics is not something we share with all other life forms. In other words, it is not solely derived from natural selection and the fit and fertility of our mates. Humans choose mates based on a variety of factors, including objective factors such as fit, reproductive capabilities, and intellect, along with aesthetic factors, such as perceived attraction or beauty.
Productive value does not define human beauty. Human beauty is a function of the aesthetic value of person’s physical and mental assets: what’s on the outside as well as what is in the heart. Younger women are generally more attractive externally than older women, but not all younger women are more attractive than all older women. In certain circumstances, one might consider the beauty of an older woman to be superior to that of a younger, much more fertile woman. For example, German supermodel Claudia Schiffer was born in 1970, so she’s presently in her mid to late forties and is perhaps unable to conceive children. Does that make her less beautiful than a very plain, somewhat frumpy woman in her twenties? Despite Claudia’s diminished fertility, her aesthetic beauty is still likely to appeal to both males and females.
Some could argue that beauty is culturally contingent as people’s conceptions of human beauty vary as a function of societal preferences and conceptions. Even so, we have examples of natural beauty that are not culturally contingent. Some examples of the world’s most precious natural beauty, such as the Rocky Mountains, the Aurora Borealis, Coffee Bay in South Africa, and the beach at Siesta Key are not biological organisms. “Further, even when one considers biological organisms (the human body) it is not clear that the beauty of those organisms is related to their survival. Since science does not deal with value qualities (aesthetic or moral) in its descriptions of the world, then beauty as an aesthetic property is not a part of evolutionary theory” (Moreland, 1987; Williams, 2008).
Let me be clear on the implications: our intrinsic and biological desire for beauty is not explained through biological evolution. Other species do not appreciate and seek pleasing aesthetics as we do.
Recently, the field of neuro-aesthetics has emerged and grown in popularity. A primary assertion from researchers in biology and psychology on neuro-aesthetics is that we are hard-wired to seek beauty. We derive pleasure in our minds when surrounded by beauty. How did such hard wiring occur, given that other species do not exhibit the same behaviors? In other words, we don’t find apes gathering roses, basking on beaches enjoying the views, or relishing the beauty of a painting by Michelangelo. We are hard wired for beauty because our Creator is the origin of beauty so He planted within us the desire to seek Him and to seek paradise in heaven.
Does Naturalism Help to Explain Aesthetics?
Evolutionary biologists often turn to scientism and naturalism to explain phenomena in the environment to the purposeful exclusion of anything supernatural. Scientism is the belief that we should believe only in what can be proven scientifically, while naturalism is the belief that physical events only have physical causes (Craig, 2011).
“But if naturalism is true, there is no God, and hence no God (or anyone else) overseeing our development and orchestrating the course of our evolution. And this leads directly to the question whether it is at all likely that our cognitive faculties, given naturalism and given their evolutionary origin, would have developed in such a way as to be reliable, to furnish us with mostly true beliefs. Darwin himself expressed this doubt: “With me,” he said, “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Platinga, 1994)
Scientism and naturalism cannot explain many aspects of our lives. In a debate with Peter Atkins, William Lane Craig identified five areas in which various truths cannot be proven by science. I have quoted his five points below:
- “Logical and mathematical truths cannot be proven by science. Science presupposes logic and math, so that to try to prove them by science would be arguing in a circle.
- Metaphysical truths, like there are other minds other than my own or that the external world is real or that the past was not created five minutes ago with an appearance of age are rational beliefs that cannot be scientifically proven.
- Ethical beliefs about statements of value are not accessible by the scientific method. You can’t show by science whether the Nazi scientists in the camps did anything evil as opposed to the scientists in western democracies.
- Aesthetic judgments, number four, cannot be accessed by the scientific method because the beautiful, like the good, cannot be scientifically proven.
- And finally, most remarkably, would be science itself. Science cannot be justified by the scientific method. Science is permeated with unprovable assumptions. For example, in the special theory of relativity, the whole theory hinges on the assumption that the speed of light is constant in a one-way direction between any two points A and B. But that strictly cannot be proven. We simply have to assume that in order to hold to the theory.”
In summary, we cannot simply adhere to scientism and naturalism as they fail to explain many aspects of our lives that we experience. Accordingly, we must search for other answers that extend beyond the simple and the physical.
One aspect involves our pursuit of joy to fill the voids within us. We can never experience permanent joy, though we long to do so. Instead, we periodically experience glimmers of joy, which offer tiny glimpses of heaven. These often arrive in a variety of aesthetics, and when they do, we find ourselves desperately grasping for continuation of the experience and a permanence to the delightful passion ignited within us.
An Unquenched Love
“Sometimes a profile of unspeakable beauty or grandeur would appear for a moment and vanish. Sometimes they seemed lovers that passed linked arm in arm, sometimes father and son, sometimes brothers in loving contest, sometimes sisters entwined in grace-fullest community of complex form. Sometimes wild horses would tear across, free, or bestrode by noble shadows of ruling men. But some of the things which pleased them most they never knew how to describe” (MacDonald, 2012, pp. 17).
“In the sentiment of beauty we feel the purposiveness and intelligibility of everything that surrounds us, while in the sentiment of the sublime we seem to see beyond the world, to something overwhelming and inexpressible in which it is somehow grounded. . . it is in our feeling for beauty that the content, and even the truth, of religious doctrine is strangely and untranslatably intimated to us” (Scruton, 1997; Williams, 2008).
Our appreciation for beauty has evolved from our search for fulfillment and self-actualization. As C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
According to Williams (2008) “many atheists also recognize the existence of a restless, unfulfilled desire for something more. Katharine Tait said this about her father, the famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell: `Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depth of his soul, there was an empty space that had once been filled by God and he never found anything else to put in it.’ (Palau, 1998:93) Russell himself acknowledged that: `The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain – a curious wild pain – a searching for something beyond what the world contains.’ (Yancey, 253).
Beauty and God as One
Beauty is logically constructed within our minds. Below I present a summary of Anselm’s ontological argument in support of God, followed by an application to beauty.
Anselm’s Ontological Argument:
- God is the greatest conceivable being.
- If we can conceive of something greater than God, then that would be God.
- Nothing greater than God can be conceived in the mind.
- It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the mind.
- God must therefore exist not merely in the mind, but in reality as well.
- Therefore, God exists.
Anselm’s Ontological Argument Applied to Aesthetics:
- We can conceive of objective, perfect beauty.
- If we can conceive of something greater than objective, perfect beauty, then that would be the standard against which we would judge all beauty.
- Nothing greater than objective perfect beauty can be conceived.
- It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the mind.
- Perfect beauty must exist not merely in the mind, but in reality as well.
- Therefore, perfect beauty in God exists.
Beauty in Nature
“Beauty descends from God into nature: but there it would perish and does [perish] except when a man appreciates it with worship and thus as it were sends it back to God through his consciousness what descended ascends again and the perfect circle is made.” – (Lewis, 1930)
“God, as beauty, created a beautiful world. Thus, in The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis described Aslan singing a heartbreakingly beautiful song to create the world of Narnia. ‘There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise (Digory) had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.’ Of course, one of the results of God making the world beautiful is free creatures – the most beautiful things He created – have the power either to mar natural beauty through immoral choices, or preserve and even enhance natural beauty through good moral choices. One of the implications of this is that the more moral a person becomes, the more he should love, among other things beauty, since beauty and goodness are part of God.” (Barkman, 2009).
Within the Bible, references to God’s beauty, splendor, majesty, and glory are abundant. Just as God exemplifies perfection in morality, love, and purpose, He exemplifies perfection in beauty.
“Splendor and majesty are before Him, and strength and glory are in His sanctuary.” – Psalm 96:6
“The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” – Psalm 50: 1-2
“The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent, and self-demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith; it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see that other reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of sense triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible, the temporal, of the eternal. That is the curse inherited by every member of Adam’s tragic race. At the root of Christianity lies belief in the invisible. The object of the Christian’s faith is unseen reality” (Tozer, pp. 53-54).
As noted centuries ago by Marcus Aurelius, “Our mental powers should enable us to perceive the swiftness with which all things vanish away: their bodies in the world of space, and their remembrance in the world of time. We should also observe the nature of all objects of sense – particularly such as allure us with pleasure or affright of with pain, or are clamorously urged upon us by the voice of self-conceit – the cheapness and contemptibility of them, how sordid they are, and how quickly fading and dead…Nothing is more melancholy than to compass the whole creation, ‘probing deeply into the deeps of earth,’ as the poet says, and peering curiously into the secrets of others’ souls, without once understanding that to hold fast to the divine spirit within, and serve it loyally, is all that is needed. Such service involves keeping it pure from passion, and from aimlessness, and from discontent with the works of gods or men; for the former of these works deserve our reverence, for their excellence, the latter our goodwill, for fraternity’s sake, and at times perhaps our pity too” (pp. 49).
The Aesthetic Argument for God
The apprehension of aesthetic value necessitates cognition, experience, sentience (self- awareness), choice, and the awareness of supernaturalism (Davis, 2016). “Demonstrating the relationship between a sense of self and a sense of awe or beauty as present in the aesthetic experience of nature, requires the feature of sentience to be present within the human being.” (Davis, 2016, p. 68). To each end, humans exceed other life forms as we are the only life form who place value on aesthetics in its many forms. We actively seek joy and intuitively desire to fill the void within us. By filling the void with the love, light, and beauty of our Lord, we have attained the closest and most permanent joy offered on this planet in which we’re renting space. Our homes and our permanent infusion in true, everlasting beauty and joy are only found in heaven.
In his dissertation at Liberty University, Walter Hurst Davis Senior proposed the aesthetic argument for God, which is listed below.
Proposition 1: Every human culture demonstrates a capacity to apprehend aesthetic value.
Proposition 2: The best explanation for this capacity is supernatural causation.
Conclusion: God’s existence is the supernatural cause of man’s capacity to apprehend aesthetic value.
In closing, I have offered a variety of aesthetic arguments in support of God, yet I acknowledge that the aesthetic argument does not necessarily point to a particular God. Arguments in support of a particular faith require an examination of our relationship with the Lord whom we serve. My personal spiritual experiences have pointed me to an active, powerful, intentional Lord who is love. Our triune Lord loves all of humanity and His joy generates ripples of joy throughout all creation.
Thank you for your time.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” – Psalm 27:4
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