Beauty and Belief - Part 1
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Beauty and Belief - Part 1

I have long thought—well, for a little over twelve years anyway—that if every other argument for my faith in God were defeated, the beauty of my only child, Mia Catherine, would still persuade me that God exists. This is just one personal experience of visual beauty as an apologetic for God. Other examples of this might be the beauty of a moonrise over the eastern plains, or of a bull elk in an aspen grove, or of a lush, green Hardwood forest in the South. Perhaps we most commonly experience visual beauty as an apologetic for God when we are filled with awe while taking in the beauty of some natural scene—in my case, a trout stream in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Often, a scene like this causes a person to say, “There must be a God who created all this beauty!” (see Psalm 19:1-2 and Romans 1:20) Or, it might cause someone to ask, “What explains the existence of such great beauty?” or, “Why am I drawn to this kind of beauty?” To these two questions, reason offers only one good answer: God.

Part 1 - What explains the existence of such great beauty?

The fact is, visual beauty, as a form of order within the universe, serves as pointer to the God who ordered the universe this way. Seeing the great beauty of the natural world, the Christian affirms that God has made “all things beautiful” (Ecc. 3:11) 1 (( 1 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016).)). And, on the Christian view, God must be the reason beauty, as a form of order in the universe, exists. An argument to this effect would run like this 2 (( 2 Douglas Groothuis, PhD. Beauty as Apologetic presented at the 2016 For the City Conference, Gordon Lewis Center, Denver Seminary, Denver, Colorado. )):

1. Objective beauty exists.
2. But, objective beauty could only exist if God exists.
3. Therefore, God must exist.

Now, concerning this argument, an obvious objection quickly arises: Isn’t it true that beauty is really only in the eye of the beholder? Surely, no one would deny that there is a subjective element to beauty which corresponds to the differences of tastes of individuals—I like the mountains but my friend likes the beach, for example. But, it also seems to be true that beauty is in the beheld—that is, that some things really are beautiful in themselves and some things really are ugly (think about the Mona Lisa and a mud-pie). As Hume, Kant, and others have noted, despite our different tastes, there are certain aesthetic elements that are common to anything we call beautiful and lacking in anything we call ugly—elements like awe inspiring content, symmetry, harmony of colors, proportion, etc. 3 (( 3 Sartwell, Crispin, "Beauty", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;.)) In truth, both the mountains and the beach are beautiful because they both exemplify these objective marks of beauty. (I just happen to like one more than the other.)

In fact, we could rightly infer that inasmuch as we argue over what is beautiful and what is ugly—and we’ve all done it—we are really acknowledging that there exists an objective standard of beauty. J. P. Moreland writes, “Several features of the world manifest beauty: a sunset, Fall in Vermont, the human body, the Rocky Mountains, the singing of birds…they all exhibit real, objective beauty.”4 (( J.P.Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, (Baker, 1987).))

But, what’s the point?! Even if there is objective beauty in the world, how can we link that to the existence of God? How is this a “proof” for God? Moreland continues his argument by saying, “`the beauty in the examples cannot be accounted for in terms of survival value, natural selection, and the like.”5 (( 5 ibid.)) In other words, the answer is that objective beauty, as a kind of universal order, could not have been produced by evolution. Evolution, a disorderly, chaotic, and random process, would produce mud-pies. The mind of a genius, on the other hand, would produce the Mona Lisa. When we look at the universe, the greatest work of art we have ever seen, it looks like the greatest mind we could imagine, God, has produced it.

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