Most Christian apologists and skeptics have heard of the problem of evil. Almost all people at one time or another scream out in pain asking “If God is real and good, why did this evil thing happen?” Many have also heard of the argument that the existence of any morality anywhere is a demonstration that God exists and materialism is false.
Less common is the argument from beauty, or more precisely the problem of beauty. Beauty being a problem is counter-intuitive. If evil is a problem, would it not be the case that beauty was expected, perhaps the norm?
If God does not exist, then all is reduced to matter and energy. Things just are, and have no transcendent qualities. We might have the idea that something is farther or closer, or redder or bluer, or louder or softer, but beauty and ugliness are qualities that do not come from physical or chemical facts about the object. Beauty is altogether other. It must come from a source that is other than the physical or chemical facts about the thing.
Of course we may disagree on what is beautiful, and some may be so overcome with ugliness that they do not see beauty at all. Ugliness, however, is a lack of beauty, and if we admit ugliness exists at all, we are back to the existence of beauty.
While we may disagree on what is beautiful, if we hold that anything is beautiful, we have admitted that the world contains a quality we call beauty. Beauty in a mountain, flower, or music does not help us reproduce, feed ourselves, or stay warm in winter. Therefore what purpose is beauty?
Since few will admit that no beauty exists in any form, and if we admit that something is indeed beautiful, we now have an external standard or quality that is wholly separate from pure physics, chemistry, matter, or energy. Further, since we can recognize more beautiful and less beautiful, we now have an external standard of beauty that is separate from ourselves and the thing that contains the beauty. This we call God.
Keep in mind we are not measuring length, counting decibels, comparing frequencies, or comparing hues and shapes. Such things are ultimately dry. Telling me that you have counted the number of shades in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel does not tell me that it has beauty, for beauty is something different than any calculation. I will not argue with you what is beautiful, but I will challenge you to give me a source for beauty that is pure fact and measurement. From where comes this concept we call beauty? Not from calculations in physics.
We are saying there is something more, something real we call beauty. If God did not exist, then we are left with physics and chemistry. We are left with measurements of hues and frequencies and lengths. We all know there is more, something qualitative that contains an element of beauty. The materialist has no source for beauty, and to say it is a psychological illusion is not convincing, for we all know beauty and ugliness exist. The materialist has no source for beauty, and therefore beauty is a problem.
The Christian has a very reasonable answer for the source of beauty. Just as the beautiful mind of a painter works beauty into a painting, or the great mind of a composer works beauty into a song, a beautiful Creator worked beauty into the fabric of creation.