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Can there be beauty apart from God?

D.G. from Canada writes in (comments in red), saying that unguided evolution produces real beauty, no God needed. Responses from CMI’s Shaun Doyle are interspersed:

Your posting on stumping the scientist shows the typical logic of a religious person.

What specifically are you referring to? We can’t review what we’ve said if you don’t point us to the specific instance you’ve taken offense at.

The comment that if we are created by a god then our thoughts are beautiful.

We don’t say that. We might say that the existence of objective beauty, and our ability to recognize beauty, doesn’t make sense apart from the objective standard of beauty and value that God is. But Christianity doesn’t say that human thought is always beautiful. Quite the opposite, in fact (e.g. Genesis 8:21, Jeremiah 17:9, John 2:24, and Ephesians 2:1–3). We’re sinners in thought, word, and deed in need of rescue from our sorry selves.

But if we are created by evolution the [sic] are just random and unimportant sums up your thought processes.

Well, what objective value do we have, if we’re the product of naturalistic evolution? None. Any ‘value’ we assign to ourselves or anything else is just that; assigned by us, nothing more. Without objective value, things are only important if they’re important to us. But that doesn’t make them objectively valuable or important. So, yes, if we arose through naturalistic evolution, we’re just a pointless historical accident (When atheism seems easy).

Something that just happens can be the most beautiful thing it does not need a god.

That assumes that there are things that ‘just happen’. On biblical theism, nothing ‘just happens’. Anything truly beautiful (and not merely beautiful to the beholder) that seemingly ‘just happens’ would thus be an instance of God’s grace. God doesn’t have to give us beautiful moments unexpectedly; but He does to remind us of His goodness.

At any rate, apart from God, can anything be truly beautiful? Sure, many things might be beautiful to us, but apart from the transcendent standard of value—not just moral, but also aesthetic—that God is, isn’t beauty merely in the eye of the beholder? If so, then when you say ‘that’s beautiful!’ and I disagree, neither of us is objectively right or wrong; it’s just a matter of personal taste. But that also means that nothing can be objectively beautiful apart from God.

And you alway point to we must be created because we are too complex. But god who was always here just popped into existence it’s ludicrous childs way of thinking.

The problem for evolution isn’t simply that the cell is ridiculously complex. Rather, it’s that its ridiculous complexity has very specific ends: sustaining, maintaining, and reproducing itself. But how can the cell do that by itself as successfully as it does every day? The logistical problems that need to be solved to produce such a system are light years beyond our technical ability to solve at present. If a system like the cell is too sophisticated for us to design, why think the cell arose naturally? Spontaneous physics can’t create aeroplanes from tornadoes in junkyards, so a fortiori it would never produce cells from some pre-biotic ‘soup’. See Basics of biblical biology, Reading ‘origin of life’ research, Origin of life, and Life’s irreducible structure—Part 1: autopoiesis.

Your second sentence mocking the conclusion to divine design seems muddled. At best, I think you mean something like: ‘Invoking a god who was always there who just popped life into existence is a ludicrous child’s way of thinking.’ If so, that’s not an argument; it’s a baseless (insulting) assertion. After all, do you have anything close to an account for how life first arose? Do you even have plausible hints at how all the logistical challenges could be solved by abiotic processes? No. If you think God is a ludicrous explanation, it must be for a reason other than biology and the origin of life. The presumed truth of universal common ancestry can neither help you explain the origin of life nor save you from the need to explain it. It’s the same with the presumed sufficiency of undirected biological processes to explain all life’s diversity; it can’t explain the origin of life from abiotic materials. Therefore, considering just the origin of life, God is a perfectly fitting explanation, given what the cell is, and what it does, and what He is like. So then, why is invoking God as the designer of life such a ‘ludicrous child’s way of thinking’?

Perhaps you mean that the idea of an eternal God popping into being is ludicrous. We would agree, since such a notion is self-contradictory—it’s saying that God is a being without beginning that began to exist. So, I suspect you might be arguing against God as an eternal uncaused being, to which my response would be: where’s the problem with the idea? If everything that began to exist had a cause, then uncaused beings are eternal (Could God cause the beginning of the universe?). But, if your meaning is different from that, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t understand it.

The beauty of evolution is that it was to explain the mechanism that God used to create us …. I personally know you will discount or twist my comments because that’s the child’s game of gotcha you never explain yourself you just pick out faults in others or try to trip people with difficult questions.

I’m confused. Before, it sounded like you thought evolution replaced God as the explanation for how we came to be. But in this section, it sounds like you’re saying God used evolution to create. They can’t both be right. Which is it? I don’t ask this as a ‘gotcha’ question, but because genuinely I find your words confusing.

Hopefully, in allowing you the place to clarify yourself if I have misunderstood you, you can see that I’ve tried to interact with your comments to the best of my understanding (and I have admitted where I found you hard to understand). But, let me suggest this to you: if you’re constantly on the guard against ‘gotcha questions’, you’ll never be open to examining your own views critically.

Every worldview faces difficult questions, ours included. Indeed, there are many questions we don’t have the answers to. But when facing such questions, how we respond is largely determined by what we’re predisposed to put our confidence in. For us, we trust God for the things we don’t know, since we’re convinced of His sovereign goodness through the things we do know (Why did God allow sin at all?). I imagine that for you, you rest your confidence in science to answer questions as yet unanswered.

However, can science answer all the questions? No. For instance, it can’t tell us whether beauty is real, whether morality is real, or even whether God is real. Science is very good at what it does: investigating how nature works. But that doesn’t mean science can answer all the questions. Indeed, the statement ‘we should only believe what is scientifically proven’ itself can’t be proven scientifically. So, science is limited. There is more to this world than science can explain.

And science is a method of inquiry; it’s not something to trust. Science is only as good as the people wielding it. Are all the people who use science trustworthy? To an extent, sure, but like us, they’re human, and thus fallible. And science can’t obligate people to tell the truth about their findings. For that, you need a moral standard. Indeed, it’s biblical doctrines like the fallenness of man that allowed science to blossom (The Fall and the inspiration for science, see also Why does science work at all? and The biblical roots of modern science). Science at its basis and its best thinks God’s thoughts after Him. Therefore, even those who trust in science should trust in the God who makes it possible.

First published: 15 September 2018
Re-featured on homepage: 22 July 2023

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