The Problem of Beauty

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.

 

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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8 Responses to The Problem of Beauty

  1. John Branyan says:

    Reblogged this on The Comedy Sojourn and commented:
    More compelling evidence for God.

  2. john zande says:

    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.

    An interesting perspective, but you seem to be exercising a degree of blindness that can only be described as remarkable.

    Could an impossibly good, monstrously skilled, prohibitively capable designer who is mindful of harmony, fond of laughter, pleased by joy, charmed by plenty and delighted by, as you say, “beauty,” convene a world where every guest is contracted by birth to prey upon the other in order to pirate the proteins and fats and sugars they need just to stay alive one more day in what amounts to a daily apocalypse of obliged bloodletting? Indeed, could a designer of extraordinary compassion and unlimited means oversee a world where the very mechanisms necessary to physically experience something beginning to resemble ‘happiness’ (enkephalin and opioid receptors) would not even exist in the world before some 3.5 billion years of terrestrial evolution had passed and untold billions of generations of living things had suffered enormously without as much as the hope of corporeal relief?

    3.5 billion years. Does that indicate a designer charmed by “beauty”?

    • humblesmith says:

      This seems to be a comment about the problem of evil which has been addressed in several other posts on this blog. It does not seem to be addressing the source of beauty.

      • john zande says:

        The two are hopelessly intertwined. You can propose that beauty indicates a benevolent Creator, but you are then forced to address how such a being could tolerate such ugliness? Indeed, by the historical reality of the world you are compelled to explain how such a being could tolerate ugliness to go uncontested for so very, very long before the world even possessed the capacity for happiness, which we might say is a derivative of beauty.

        Have you ever considered that you might be (for emotional reasons) simply mischaracterising the nature of the Creator, and the purpose of Creation?

        • humblesmith says:

          The post was about the source and grounding of beauty, which has not been addressed in these comments. The problem of evil has been answered several times in other posts, and I will be glad to hear your thoughts on those posts. Simply search for the problem of evil in the search box.

          • john zande says:

            That’s exactly the point: ugliness existed before beauty. Long before it. Your thesis fails right there.

            Hence the question: Have you ever considered that you might be simply mischaracterising the nature of the Creator, and the purpose of Creation?

          • john zande says:

            Or here’s another way for you to proceed. Can you demonstrate that this world is “grounded” in beauty, as this post proposes, and not ugliness?

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