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Showing posts with label beauty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beauty. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why a Beautiful Sunset Argues for God's Existence



Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset or had your breath taken away by a stunning vista? Such experiences leave us with a sense of awe. They also feel a bit hallowed; people are a bit more reverent when taking in the natural beauty of the world. The delicate symmetry of a snowflake or the glistening of a spider's dew-dropped web awakens a sense of beauty in our souls, prompting believers to thank God for His amazing handiwork.

But is that last move valid? Can we infer God simply from something we ourselves find beautiful? Actually, we can.

Last week, I was discussing the various arguments for God's existence with Dr. Robert Stewart and Dr. Sean McDowell. Most Christians who are interested in apologetics are familiar with arguments from the existence of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the reality of moral values and duties. Some have heard the argument from consciousness or the argument from reason. But there is another argument that many people don't hear about and that is the argument from beauty.

What is the argument from beauty? Richard Swinburne explains it this way:
If there is a God there is more reason to expect a basically beautiful world than a basically ugly one. A priori, however, there is no particular reason for expecting a basically beautiful rather than a basically ugly world. In consequence, if the world is beautiful, that fact would be evidence for God's existence.1

The objective nature of the beautiful

I think one of the reasons the argument from beauty isn't more well-known is simply that people don't believe beauty is an objective thing. We've all heard the bromide that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and taken that to mean beauty is completely subjective. Even shows like The Twilight Zone foster the idea. People assume that beauty, since it is enjoyable, is like other enjoyable experiences. And given that everyone has a different view of what counts as enjoyable, then beauty must also be subjective in this same way.

However, the beautiful is different from the merely enjoyable. Roger Scruton upacks the difference:
There is also a sense in which you cannot judge something to be enjoyable at second hand: your own enjoyment is the criterion of sincerity, and when reporting on some object that others find enjoyable the best you can sincerely say is that it is apparently enjoyable, or that it seems to be enjoyable, since others find it so.

However, it is not at all clear that the judgement that something is enjoyable is about it rather than the nature and character of people. Certainly we judge between enjoyable things: it is right to enjoy some things, wrong to enjoy others. But these judgements focus on the state of mind of the subject, rather than a quality in the object. We can say all that we want to say about the rightness and wrongness of our enjoyments without invoking the idea that some things are really enjoyable, others only apparently so.

With beauty matters are otherwise. Here the judgement focuses on the object judged, not the subject who judges. We distinguish true beauty from fake beauty-from kitsch, schmaltz and whimsy. We argue about beauty, and strive to educate our taste. And our judgements of beauty are often supported by critical reasoning, which focuses entirely on the character of the object.2
In his book Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, Scruton builds a strong argument for the objective nature of beauty. But it strikes me as obviously part of the human condition that we are built to recognize beauty. That's why no one thinks a rainbow is ugly and why all cultures across time have used color and art to increase the beauty of their surrounding environment. Psychiatrists have noted that distortions of the beautiful can even signal severe mental disorders, as the famous series of cat paintings by Louis Wain demonstrates.

Beauty grounded in God

If beauty is objective, then it reflects a common understanding among all people. The argument from morality says because all people have an inherent understanding of morality; because we can recognize what is good, we can know God exists. The argument from reason states because we can reason towards the true, we can know God exists. The Good and the true are what Scruton calls "ultimate values"—something we pursue for its own sake." He then explains, "Someone who asks, 'Why believe what is true?' or 'why want what is good?' has failed to understand the nature of reasoning."3

We recognize the beautiful like we recognize the good or we recognize the true. And it is because God exists that we can hold the true, the good, and the beautiful as valuable and objective.

References

1. Swinburne, Richard. "The Argument from Design." Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. By Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rae. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1994. 201. Print.
2. Scruton, Roger. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 6-7. Print.
3. Scruton, 2011.2.
Image courtesy JFXie (Flickr: O Praise Him) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful



Is beauty something that is objective? As I speak with people today, many answer with a quick "no." "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," they say. However, the thought may be a bit too easily dismissed. Certainly, we all would have serious questions about a person who upon observing a radiant sunset over the Grand Canyon would exclaim "Ew! That's so ugly!" There's something universal in our appreciation for the beauty of that vista.

In his book Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, Roger Scruton tackles this point. He explains:
There is an appealing idea about beauty which goes back to Plato and Plotinus, and which became incorporated by various routes into Christian theological thinking. According to this idea beauty is an ultimate value-something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need be given. Beauty should therefore be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justify our rational inclinations. Why believe p? Because it is true. Why want x? Because it is good. Why look at y? Because it is beautiful. In some way, philosophers have argued, those answers are on a par: each brings a state of mind into the ambit of reason, by connecting it to something that it 1s m our nature, as rational beings, to pursue. Someone who asked 'why believe what is true?' or 'why want what is good?' has failed to understand the nature of reasoning. He doesn't see that if we are to justify our beliefs and desires at all, then our reasons' must be anchored in the true and the good.1
Scruton then begins exploring the question in more depth. He notes that the good and the true would never be at odds with each other, yet someone can be so charmed by a mythical account, they choose to believe it "and in this case beauty is the enemy of truth."2 However, as he unpacks just what the beautiful entails, Scruton demonstrates that real beauty is more than attraction. It goes deeper, to a deep appreciation for the thing as it is. We appreciate the sunset not because of what it can do for us, but what it is in itself. "When our interest is entirely taken up by a thing, as it appears in our perception, and independently of any use to which it might be put, then do we begin to speak of its beauty" (emphasis added.)3 Scruton defines this appreciation for the thing itself as a "disinterested interest," meaning we are disinterested in what they thing can do for us, but what it's intrinsic essence is. In this sense, the sunset is truly beautiful while a myth is not. The myth is a false beauty, for it is not true, it's intrinsic essence is built upon falsehood.

There is much more that I could write in this regard, but I will leave it to those interested to grab Scruton's book and explore the ideas further. I do think, though, that the case for the beautiful to be placed beside the true and the good as objective ultimate categories is compelling. As such, we should understand that just as the good and the true are rooted in an all-good and all-truthful God, the ultimate grounding of the beautiful would too be found in a God whose nature is the source of all beauty.

References

1. Scruton, Roger. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. 2.
2. Scruton, 2011. 2.
3. Scruton, 2011. 14.
Image courtesy Todd Petrie and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Can't Christians Tell the Best Stories?


Image by feeb

Johann Sebastian Bach once said “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Bach also said that he worked hard on his craft and those that worked as hard as he did should see results. Bach recognized that believers should excel in whatever they do as that would honor the Savior.  For much of Christendom, this maxim was followed.  The finest thinkers were Christians; names such as Augustine, Ockham, Anselm, Aquinas, and Pascal still play a central role in secular programs of philosophy. Science, too, saw Christians take the lead with such notables as Newton, Kepler, Boyle, Mendel, and Kelvin. And of course the world's great artists continually produced paintings and statues around biblical themes.

But that seems to have changed today.  Peter Kreeft put is best when he said:

"Christian thought is the most intelligent of all thought and Christian morality is the most holy of moralities. But Christianity no longer produces the world's most beautiful and arresting art. I think modern culture is rejecting Christianity not because they think it is stupid or wicked, but because it looks boring... It's pictures aren't moving pictures anymore. They don't move hearts. It's the secular media that makes them abject now."

Good art both reflects and drives the culture in which it is presented. It is at root a medium that engages the heart first, and then the mind. We know that the story tellers of today are the record producers and the movie directors; and we can see their influence at the fashion shows and at the ballot box.  However, Christianity seems to be markedly absent from making a significant impact in this day and age. We've settled for following the lead of those who hold views antithetical to Christianity.  I'm not satisfied with the ghettoed Christian music station or television channel. I'm not satisfied with the substandard and derivative work of Christian artists who are supposed to substitute for the secular flavor of the day.

Now, to be sure, I don't want to paint with too broad a brush. LeCrae is topping the hip hop charts all over the place.  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien's books are still masterpieces.  But we should see more.  We should be leading in the arts, not following.

So, I'd like to challenge you, Christian.  If you have a passion for storytelling, if you're an artist, filmmaker, writer or musician, work hard and take a risk.  Think about how to work hard and honor God while being meaningful. We need to move the culture of today.  In so doing we can move people more towards Christ.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vacation Apologetics - The Earth Showeth Forth His Handiwork

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to tour Bryce Canyon National Park.  The park's many scenic points are awe-inspiring, but the best way to experience it is directly via a hike. Your perspective really changes looking up at the colorful hoodoos of so many different and seemingly impossibly intricate shapes.

We decided in the one day we had there, that we would walk the recommended Queen's Garden/Navajo trail combined hike. It's a 3 mile loop that allows one to get an up-close view of some of the more amazing areas of the park. When looking at all the incredible beauty surrounding you and the many geologic factors that must come together to create such landscapes, I couldn't help but think how amazing God is to provide us with such magnificent splendor, but I also thought about how the fact that beauty exists also argues for the existence of God.

Philosopher Peter Williams offers a great overview of the arguments for the existence of God from the aesthetic (beauty).  First, the concept of beauty in some cases seems to be objective, as Williams notes when quoting J.P. Moreland. I cannot think of any situation where a person would look at the landscape of Bryce Canyon and feel it was anything other than beautiful. The fact that such beauty exists is in no way tied to survival, yet we all recognize it. If there is such a thing a true beauty, then it would need to stem from something that transcends humanity – much like true morality must transcend human opinion.

Secondly, Williams notes that the fact that we can recognize beauty is a key to understanding our need for finding the true beauty of a relationship with God.  We long for and chase after the beautiful – and the beautiful things of this world only satisfy temporarily. What we really yearn for is the perfect beauty of a relationship with God. As Williams writes "That there is a deep need for God within the human heart was recognised by the biblical songwriter who wrote that 'As a deer longs for streams of cool water, so I long for you, O God.'"1

Williams' argument is nuanced and should be read.  However, I do believe that when God created the world, He was more than a utilitarian workman, making sure everything was developed to only work together.  He cared about beauty.  Jesus said as much in Matthew 6: "Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these."  Part of God's initial blessing on Adam and Eve was that they explore and learn about the beauty of His creation.  And the fact that we can see the beautiful shows that we are created imago dei - in His image.

References

1. Williams, Peter "Aesthetic Arguments for the Existence of God" Quodlibet Journal: Volume 3 Number 3, Summer 2001 http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/williams-aesthetic.shtml
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