Why Is Beauty? Some Thoughts On Life, The Universe, & Everything

randomlychad  —  May 7, 2012 — 7 Comments

Call me a Luddite. Call me anti-science. Call me whatever you want–I don’t care.

All of which is prelude to this confession:

I don’t find the theory of evolution to be a tenable solution to this conundrum:

20120507-055036.jpg Why is beauty? What purpose does it serve?

Specifically, why is there such stunning beauty in the world? And why can’t science answer that question?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not anti-science. In the taking of supplemental thyroid hormone, I benefit daily from the advances of science. But to me, science doesn’t answer the big questions, the “why” questions. Sure, it answers many of the “how” questions, but it delves more into process than purpose. And I think that we often lose sight of the forest…

You may say that’s not its purpose. That’s fine. I am however very much interested in purpose.

As such, what purpose does beauty serve in an evolutionary paradigm? (Oh, I know of pair-bonding, attractiveness in a mate, etc.). What I mean is: what purpose does all the random beauty we see on such stunning display serve? Evolution–mindless, cold, utilitarian, avowedly purposeless–discards the unnecessary in favor of the fittest. It is nothing if not efficient.

I’ve heard there are more efficient ways of reaching Machu Pichu, too–but what is that destination without the journey over the Inca Trail? In this way, evolution is all destination, and no journey. It’s all about the end, not the means. (I’m here speaking philosophically–metaphorically–of course–not in the concrete language of science).

(Listen: I have no problem with an “old Earth”–make it as old as you want to: it’s still not old enough. I don’t even have a problem with animal death before the Fall–because animals, while possibly having souls, don’t have spirits, and thus there is no “plan of salvation” for them).

Nota bene: I am a Christian. I make no apologies for that, nor will I make apology for the Christian faith. I’m not trying here to defend anything other than my own thoughts.

Note well, however, that I am very sorry for the excesses, and abuses, done in the name of Christ. If you have been hurt by someone who stood in the place of God, someone who misrepresented him, I am truly sorry. Please forgive us. Please forgive me. For I have certainly misrepresented him a time, or two (or three, or four).

But I digress…

What purpose, for instance, does all of the exotic beauty awaiting us at the bottom of the sea serve? Unless it was put there by a “capricious” creator, waiting to be found. To me, it is this seeming randomness seen in the creation that points to a reality, a paradigm, beyond our senses.

I think God delights in our exploring, in our discovering.

The world–the very universe–is full of artistic flourishes that serve no other purpose than to stun us with their beauty. It is these touches that, for me, point to something beyond what the eye can see.

As the artist knows: in any work there is nothing left to chance. When I look out the window, step out the door, I see the fingerprints of God everywhere.

Put another way: believing is seeing.

The world didn’t have to be beautiful.

What do you say? Does evolution do it for you? Does it have sufficient explanatory power–the weight of “emeth”–does it ring true for you? Sound off in the comments:

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randomlychad

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Christ-follower, husband, dad, blogger, reader, writer, movie buff, introvert, desert-dweller, omnivore, gym rat. May, or may not, have a burgeoning collection of Darth Vader t-shirts. Can usually be found drinking protein shakes, playing with daughter, working out with his son, or hanging out with his wife. Makes a living playing with computers. Subscribe to RandomlyChad by Email

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  • I think it’s in The Problem of Pain that C.S. Lewis sort of talks about this. The book talks about pain and the problem of evil and the issues it presents for Christianity. However, he also brings up the fact that there seems to be a “problem of pleasure” for non-theists. Why do we experience pleasure? Why is there beauty in the world from which we derive pleasure? These are the sorts of things you’re asking, and one of the main reasons I seek fulfillment in God. I don’t think naturalism attempts to answer the “Why?” questions because it says there is no “Why?” and that there doesn’t need to be. Most likely, naturalists would posit that we’ve created the “Why?” of purpose as a coping mechanism, part of how we’ve evolved to live.

    Great thoughts, Chad!

    • Adrian,

      I’d forgotten about Lewis--read The Problem of Pain years ago.

      I concur with your assessment of naturalism: in their view, there is nothing else, and everything must fit within that naturalistic paradigm. To me, this is not explaining, rather it’s explaining away.

      Thanks, Adrian!

    • anonyMouse

      Or maybe the “Who.” I remember an elderly gentlemen in a novel I was reading when he was asked why he went to church answered, “I need someone to thank.”

  • Excellent post, Chad.

    Science to me is simply peeking into God’s tool shed. You can feel brilliant when you’ve seen how He’s done something, but it’s still His tool shed.

    • Thank-you, Ricky!

      I like that: “God’s tool shed.” Maybe we have indeed seen the “storehouses of snow,” but they’re still His, eh?

  • I think the question is more “why do we find these things beautiful?”

    Science adequately explains why the sun looks the way it does when it sets. Science can tell us why flowers have this particular shape, why birds have these particular colors, why certain chords cause us to have this reaction.

    But it doesn’t really adequately explain why we care. And THAT is where I find God. Not simply in the beauty (because I find that my atheist friends also see beauty), but rather in the ability to appreciate beauty.

    • Indeed. Like Coleridge at the waterfall? And I don’t deny that atheists can see and appreciate beauty, nor do I deny the scientific explanation of particulate matter in the atmosphere contributing to more glorious sunsets.
      Still none of that at all explains why there had to be any beauty in the world. Yet there is. We dare not lay such a thing as creative imagination at the feet of evolution, because that would make purposeful. Which science vehemently denies.

      Personally, I think beauty exists to awaken our longings for an even better world.

      I think C.S. Lewis said it best when he said (paraphrasing) “If we find in ourselves a desire for something that doesn’t exist in this world it stands to reason we were made for another.”