The Evidence of Beauty


John M. W. Turner, Watercolor of a Robin

Gratuitous Order Definition
Design and Tracery Tiny World
Picture-Book Unknown God
Pearl of Great Price


Gratuitous Order

It is often noticed this world is put together skillfully:



  • “For how could this Universe have come into being or been put together, unless God had called it into existence, and held it together? For every one who sees a beautifully made lute, and considers the skill with which it has been fitted together and arranged, or who hears its melody, would think of none but the lutemaker, or the luteplayer, and would recur to him in mind, though he might not know him by sight. And thus to us also is manifested That which made and moves and preserves all created things, even though He be not comprehended by the mind.”
  • (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 27-28, quoted p. 52, 'A Meaningful World,' Benjamin Wiker & Jonathan Witt).




What is less often noticed is the sheer, gratuitous beauty of things which have no special function, such as the cloud palaces heaped up in the skies after the rain, or the sunrise. Speaking of the sunrise, this author says, "In the midst of the busyness and stresses of our days, there are patches of beauty all around us, glimpses of God's goodness that we catch here and there along the way. These are the places in the walls of the universe where heaven is breaking through — if only we will take the time to stop and to reflect upon God's love for us." (David Roper, Our Daily Bread, March, April, May 2014).

If we saw such beautiful arrangements hung upon the wall, we would praise the artist. If, excavating a hidden cave, we stumbled upon a mural painted upon the wall, we would naturally assume an artist had painted it there; how else does such a thing come to be? There may be some schools of art where the 'explosion in the paint factory' model works, but not others. It takes quite a lot of willed blindness and denial not to praise the Artist when His work is spread before us, and for free.

That the world is called 'cosmos' expresses its order and beauty:

"It was Pythagoras who first called heaven cosmos, because it is perfect, and 'adorned' with infinite beauty and living beings." (Section 14, p. 155, Photius, Biography of Pythagoras, Pythagoras Sourcebook and Library, Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie).




  • “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”
  • (Albert Einstein, QOTD.org).




The Christian can repeat, with the author of the deuterocanonical work Ecclesiasticus, that what He has made is beautiful: "How beautiful is all that he has made, down to the smallest spark that can be seen!" (Ecclesiasticus 42:22):




Definition

Beauty is notoriously difficult to define. I would hazard an attempt as, 'super-abundant order.' Look down into any roadside ditch and follow the serpentine twistings of the wild-flowers growing there, unplanted. It is beyond counting to quantify the amount of beauty in this world. How is that possible, without an Artist?




  • “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”


  • “Wherefore then did He make them so beautiful? That He might display His own wisdom and the excellency of His power; that from everything we might learn His glory. For not “the Heavens only declare the glory of God,” but the earth too; and this David declared when he said, “Praise the Lord, ye fruitful trees, and all cedars.” For some by their fruits, some by their greatness, some by their beauty, send up praise to Him who made them: this too being a sign of great excellency of wisdom, when even upon things that are very vile (and what can be viler than that which today is, and tomorrow is not?) He pours out such great beauty.”
  • (John Chrysostom, Homily 22, Matthew 6:28-29).




Did the universe have to be like this? One can scarcely imagine any reason to say so. But that it is is apparent to all who open their eyes.

So people who live in epochs which aspire toward atheism are obliged to avert their eyes. Picassoid ugliness or abstraction are the refuges to which art must flee, the real world being far too orderly and beautiful to suit the atheist. He finds it inimical because the beauty of creation refutes the atheist:

"And there was not a leaf quivered on the trees which stood under the domes of the crystal palace, but eclipsed the brightest glories of loom or chisel; it had no rival among the triumphs of invention, which a world went there to see. Yes; in his humblest works, God infinitely surpasses the highest efforts of created skill. 'Wisdom is justified of her children;' nor shall our God be left without a witness so long as thunders peal and lightnings flash, and breakers beat upon the shore; so long as a flower blooms in the field, a fin cleaves the deep, or a wing cuts the air; so long as glowing suns blaze above, or dying glow-worms shine below. That man gave the Atheist a crushing answer, who told him that the very feather with which he penned the words, 'There is no God,' refuted the audacious lie." (Thomas Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, Kindle location 1723).
Up

Design and Tracery

This is what those find who look around them:



  • “But if there be this mystery and inexhaustible finish merely in the more delicate instances of architectural decoration, how much more in the ceaseless and incomparable decoration of nature. The detail of a single weedy bank laughs the carving of ages to scorn. Every leaf and stalk has a design and tracery upon it,—every knot of grass an intricacy of shade which the labor of years could never imitate, and which, if such labor could follow it out even to the last fibers of the leaflets, would yet be falsely represented, for, as in all other cases brought forward, it is not clearly seen, but confusedly and mysteriously.”
  • (John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Volume One, Part II, Section II, Chapter V, Section 15).




One familiar feature of the world which excites wonder is its propensity to observe mathematical law:

"Paul A. M. Dirac, who complemented Heisenberg and Schrodinger with a third formulation of quantum theory, observed that 'God is a mathematician of a very high order and He used advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.'" (Anthony Flew, There is a God, p. 105).

This favorable tilt towards mathematics is undoubtedly a factor in nature's beauty. It's been remarked, that the stylistic signature of this masterpiece's artist is Baroque, not Bauhaus. Minimalist the world of nature is not.

Tiny World

A common argument heard from atheists is that, if God had created the world, it would be very, very tiny. However the world is not tiny, therefore God did not create it:



  • “For a few milliseconds really of cosmic time our species has lived on one very, very small rock in a very small solar system that's a part of a fantastically unimportant suburb in one of an uncountable number of galaxies. . .”
  • (Christopher Hitchens, 11:27 in the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski at Prestonwood Baptist Church).



The assertion is that, if God had made the world, our earth would have comprised a large percentage of its total volume; in other words the universe would have been really small. However it is difficult to imagine how to substantiate this assumption. Surely some artists prefer to work in miniature, but what if God wants to unfurl His creation across a large canvas? Who could stop Him? If God likes to work big, the bigness of the world is no argument against creation.

But perhaps it is scripture which says the world is tiny? God said to Abraham, "if you can count the stars," which does not suggest a small number:

"And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be." (Genesis 15:5).

The idea of a small universe is a secular idea that originated with thinkers like Archimedes, who 'filled' the known universe with grains of sand and then counted them:

"There are some, king Gelon, who think that the number of the sand is infinite in multitude; and I mean by the sand not only that which exists about Syracuse and the rest of Sicily but also that which is found in every region whether inhabited or uninhabited. Again there are some who, without regarding it as infinite, yet think that no number has been named which is great enough to exceed its multitude. . .But I will try to show you by means of geometrical proofs, which you will be able to follow, that, of the numbers named by me and given in the work which I sent to Zeuxippus, some exceed not only the number of the mass of sand equal in magnitude to the earth filled up in the way described, but also that of a mass equal in magnitude to the universe." (Archimedes, The Sand Reckoner, p. 420, The World of Mathematics by James R. Newman).

In adopting his figure for the diameter of universe of less than 10,000,000,000 stadia, Archimedes believes he is being more than fair to adherents of a 'big universe' like Aristarchus, but of course the figure is tiny by modern understanding. These men are very badly maligned by the atheists, who attribute unworthy motives to the pagan astronomers which they almost certainly did not hold. The reason why the Ptolemaic system of astronomy is geocentric is not that the pagans assumed the world revolved around human beings. If the world was made for people, why was Prometheus punished for giving them fire, a necessary utility? Pagan mythology does not always assign a high value to man; the creation of human beings is an after-thought in Greek myth, not the reason for the whole. The problem is rather that none of the physicists of the day could work out the difficulties involved in a moving earth. If the earth is moving, why doesn't your hat fly off your head, as it does when you go bouncing along in a hay-wagon? Why are the 'passengers' the moving earth brings along for the ride unable to discern, from their own observation, that the vessel is moving? It awaited the genius of Galileo to explain this puzzle.




This system of astronomy is not found in the Bible, was not invented by Christians, and is disbelieved with no sense of loss or dislocation by millions of evangelicals today, yet modern atheists such as Christopher Hitchens keep flogging this dead horse. Not only is it dead, but it is the wrong horse. Those early Christian writers who touch upon this system of astronomy in their writings did so, not out of wish fulfillment, but because this was the best available contemporary scientific astronomy. Their fault consists solely in this: they asked the astronomers to describe the world system to them, and they believed the astronomers' answer. Much later, in the high Middle Ages, Ptolemaic astronomy was incorporated by Thomas Aquinas into his theory-of-everything, and thus the Catholic Church became invested in this extra-Biblical idea.

But Christians today must fight to suppress a laugh when they are demanded to renounce this antiquated system of astronomy, which isn't in the Bible and wasn't invented by Christians. What has it to do with them? Moreover the system was crafted by pagan astronomers for only the worthiest of motives: Ptolemy's astronomy has high predictive value. Copernicus was reduced to selling his improved system by complaining about the apparent size of Venus; the Ptolemaic system is not unsatisfactory if the task is to compute planetary transits. Any inaccuracies can be readily corrected by adding on another epicycle. And contrary to popular belief, Copernicus's system incorporated epicycles too. His system did however have the advantage of simplicity.




Moreover, if size and centrality equate to importance, watch out for elephants and freight trains, not to mention really big rocks. Atheists take the Middle Ages as the high-water mark of Christianity: this era, in their minds, is true Christianity, the religion at its purest. Yet the Middle Ages were a time when few of the clergy, and almost none of the laity, read the Bible. Those who tried to put the Bible in the hands of the people, like John Wycliffe, were counter-cultural. The Christianity of the Middle Ages was filled with cultural accretions imported from elsewhere. The gnostics, with their two-tier membership of a few 'perfect' and many hearers, gave Catholicism the model for their two-tier system of a celibate clergy and an unwashed, uninstructed laity. The pagan philosopher Aristotle contributed geocentrism,— not flat-earthism, as some ignorantly allege. Aping the triumphant Muslims contributed a warrior ethic promising those who died in battle to reconquer Jerusalem would go straight to heaven. These were all importations from elsewhere. A nature pantheon like that of the pagans was built up over the bodies of various deceased saints, who were assigned supervision of the different functions of nature, such as the rain, the crops, etc.

If we are consistent in ranking importance according to size, human beings come out poorly, underperforming the elephant, the whale, the brontosaurus, and many others. Nor are we very strong or agile:

"Nor, again, is it right for a man to pride himself on his personal advantages, in which other animals are superior to him. For what man is stronger or more vigorous than a bull among domestic animals, or than a lion among wild beasts? And what man is more sharp-sighted than a falcon or an eagle? And what man is so richly endowed with the sense of hearing as that stupidest of all animals, the ass? Also what man is more accurate in his sense of smell than a hound, who huntsmen say can trace out by means of his nose animals who are lying at a distance, and can run up to them with perfect correctness, and course, though he has not seen them; for what sight is to other animals that is the sense of smell to hounds and to all the dogs which pursue game." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XLV).

Yet Abraham was the friend of God; what brontosaurus ever was? This ranking system, size=importance, cannot be the one God uses.

The Protestant reformers sought to cleanse the Augean stables of medieval Catholicism and jettison all these adventitious 'not invented here' elements. Yet the atheists want to make these foreign importations central to Christianity. When they dimly perceive the Bible-believing Christians with whom they come into contact do not believe in a tiny world or other medieval ideas, they scratch their heads in wonder and then pontificate: 'Oh! These people do not know anything about their own religion!'

Like a refugee resettlement director struggling to find room for large displaced populations in a densely settled country, the Italian poet Dante squirmed to squeeze Hell into a tiny world where space is at a premium, and settled the matter by situating it at the center of the earth. In a vast world as is the real world, finding room is not an issue. The Bible provides no road map, but none is required. The atheists should give up flogging this dead horse, because Bible-believers see no reason to believe in a tiny world, and the fact that the world is big does not disconfirm a Bible which does not say otherwise.


Hubble Telescope picture of galaxies



Picture-Book

The created world is a picture-book, with different characters illustrated by different exemplars, for instance, the ant exemplifies industry, the pig gluttony, etc. It's designed for a reason and it has a meaning:

God's Flannelgraphs

"I recall that my childhood Sunday school teachers used those flat boards covered with flannel, which enabled them to display cutouts of David, Daniel, Jonah, Jesus, and all the other characters. The flannelgraphs helped my teachers capture the essence of the Bible story in an artistic way.
"Those old-school flannelgraphs aren't the oldest graphic teaching devices however. God has long had a kind of 'flannelgraph' of His own, and it is called creation. God uses the marvel of creation to instruct us and to display His power." (Bill Crowder, Our Daily Bread, RBC Ministries, March 2011).

Unknown God

Paul praised the Athenians for the scrupulosity in erecting an altar to an unknown god. The pre-Columbian Mexican prince Nezahualcoyotl also speculated about an unknown god,

"'Some very powerful, hidden and unknown god is the creator of the entire universe. He is the only one that can console me in my affliction and help me in such anguish as my heart feels; I want him to be my helper and protection.'" (Poem of Nezahualcoyotl, quoted, Our Daily Bread, April 19, 2016).

"But during his reign he built a pyramid to the 'God who paints things with beauty,' and he banned human sacrifices in his city." (Our Daily Bread, April 19, 2016). Fortunately he never lived to see Cortez's depredations; he was correct in his perception that there is a God who paints things with beauty.




Pearl of Great Price

We know from introspection that we are aware of the world, and aware of ourselves observing the world. When we calculate the value of our fellow creatures' lives, how closely they come toward us in this regard seems to be a major variable. We stomp on insects with little concern for lost life. But everyone would rather see a retired race-horse put out to pasture than done away with. Since consciousness is such a major feature of biological life, one would think any theories touching upon how that life came to be would center around it.

One would be wrong. If evolution takes notice of any such thing, it offers no meaningful explanation. How could consciousness arise in a universe where no such thing had ever previously existed nor been provided for? Don't bother asking.

"The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world." (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, p. 53).

The 'Blind Watchmaker' does not know the value of his purported innovation, consciousness, any more than the oyster knows the value of the pearl it is coalescing around an invasive grain of sand. Is this plausible? Their theory does not produce consciousness as a natural or inevitable consequence of the world; indeed some of them deny it exists, the more conveniently to avoid having to explain it.

Modern science began with a conviction that seekers should look to their own experience, rather than focusing on grammatical skills in defining things such as were then valued in scholastic science. But alas, contemporary science devalues our experience, stridently demanding that we ignore it. We are, after all, ignorant and prone to error: "For our ancestors, dreams, hallucinations, revelations, and cock-and-bull stories were inextricably mixed with facts. . .Whatever you imagined in a lively manner, whatever you thought fit to be true, you affirmed confidently; and whatever you affirmed, your comrades believed." (William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture XX, Kindle location 6809). No one ever thought a true thought prior to the mid-nineteenth century, when reductive materialism came into vogue. Such obvious and inevitable inferences hostile to reductive materialism, as the old logical principles that intelligibility implies intelligence, or that there must be an equal degree of reality in the cause as in the effect, must be discarded. Why evolution had produced such dysfunctional minds in a cruel and hostile environment went unexplained, although as those who have studied the system understand, Darwin's theory has not yet made up its mind whether it intends to explain why organisms are adapted to their environment or why they are maladapted. They must be one or the other, after all, and a theory which confidently predicts, 'Both!' must succeed in any event.

We know our own minds, to an extent, by introspection. When we see evidence of sympathy or like-mindedness in the skies, as in a beautiful sunset, we are tempted to shout 'Bravo!' But we must stifle that thought, as virtually all other obvious and inescapable thoughts we might entertain. The artist who sketched the sunset is blind, oblivious to the aesthetic value of His work. Or so they say.

We see in His hand, what we might have liked to produce, had we been similarly gifted or so situated. We are artists too, or at least would like to be. Now they tell us we are bubbles, mere froth: "The bubbles on the foam which coats a stormy sea are floating episodes, made and unmade by the forces of the wind and water. Our private selves are like those bubbles — epiphenomena, as Clifford, I believe, ingeniously called them; their destinies weigh nothing and determine nothing in the world's irremediable currents of events." (William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture XX, Kindle location 6747; in fairness, James himself considers this viewpoint "shallow"). But what if we are not mere epiphenomena, but a type of entity intrinsic to the world? What if we did not parachute in from some other universe, but actually belong here? What if our little minds do from time to time catch intimations of the larger mind at work behind it all? 'Because nothing like a mind can exist in the world.' . . .but we do. It still remains the simplest and most economical explanation for a work of art, that an artist made it.

Since we do know, from our experience, what a 'mind' is like, you would think we would exploit our privileged position for all it is worth instead of stifling, stifling, stifling it. What if the pagan Anaxagoras is right and this is a meaningful constituent of the world? If the world really were like this, how would we know, since we have closed off every avenue of information?