Beauty as evidence for and against God’s existence

Over the past couple of centuries, there has been a lot of skepticism with regards to the concept of ‘objective’ beauty.

I must admit that I myself am skeptical that there is (or could be) such a thing as objective beauty. In other words, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Do you think Mozart is better than AC/DC? Well, that’s just like your opinion, man. Do you think Megan Fox is more beautiful than Jennifer Aniston? Cool story, bro. One might object that we don’t act like beauty is merely a matter of opinion, however, this argument isn’t any more convincing than the person who says we don’t act like morality is subjective (or that we don’t “act” like money has subjective value).

What this means is that once can’t argue from objective beauty to God’s existence, since it plausibly doesn’t exist (or it isn’t a fact that it exists: not known to be true). However, perhaps one can still argue that our awareness of beauty is still expected on the God hypothesis. Whether or not that is the case, let’s grant for the sake of argument that objective beauty does exist and/or that our awareness of beauty is expected on the God hypothesis.

One immediate problem is that it’s not clear why objective beauty (or awareness of beauty) is surprising if God doesn’t exist. If it’s not, then one wonders why it would be expected if God does exist!

Secondly, it’s hard to see how one can say that beauty counts as evidence for God but then claim that ugliness doesn’t count as evidence against God. After all, if ugliness did not exist, one would have one less argument against the existence of God. Furthermore, it seems like beauty would be evidence against an evil god. If beauty is evidence against the existence of an evil god, then why on earth is ugliness not evidence against a good God?

Thirdly, saying that the existence of beauty in the actual world is evidence for God is obvious cherry picking of the data. If God really did exist, we would expect there to be much more beauty in the world (and different types of beauty). We also wouldn’t predict that there would be so much disagreement about beauty. I swear, Christian apologetics is all about leaving (contrary) evidence out!

Fourthly, there are obvious evolutionary reasons for our finding certain things to be beautiful. And as I have argued in the past, evolution is not expected under theism. [1]

Notes

[1] All that I have said here in this post can be applied to the claim that love is evidence for God.

5 thoughts on “Beauty as evidence for and against God’s existence

  1. It seems to me that moral and aesthetic qualities are relational properties, and that they are relative to the mind that beholds them.

    Each mind has abilities, propensities, patterns, and memories that cause it to take pleasure in certain kinds of experiences. A person who grew up in a Western European culture and got a traditional education can appreciate the complexity and ingenuity of Mozart’s music more than the sounds of AC/DC. A person without that background won’t find much of interest in Mozart’s music.

    There are two ways to argue for the existence of “objective” moral and aesthetic value. First, you can say there is a standard, ideal human nature for which certain things are valuable. Man is then not only the measure of all things, but the measure of their value as well. In that case, the value is asserted only with reference to human beings, so its objectivity is limited.

    Second, you can say that God’s mind has a certain nature for which certain things are valuable. In that case, the value is asserted with reference to everything (i.e., all of Creation), so its objectivity is universal. Note that this is a different form of the argument that God must exist because objective beauty exists. Originally, the argument goes:

    “If objective beauty exists, then God must exist.”

    However, you can reverse that “if” statement to get a different but equivalent version:

    “If God does not exist, then objective beauty does not exist.”

    The argument is then:

    1. If God does not exist, then objective beauty does not exist.
    2. Objective beauty exists.
    3. Therefore, God exists.

    So basing objective beauty on the mind of God is a different way of making the argument from objective beauty to the existence of God.

    And of course, Jennifer Aniston is more beautiful than Megan Fox, but neither of them holds a candle to Mayim Bialik.

  2. Do you think Mozart is better than AC/DC?

    Yes.

    However, I do recognize that this is a matter of personal taste.

    I’m inclined to think that evolution has something to do with beauty. We are more likely to see beauty in a lake, a river, green vegetation than we are to see it in an arid desert. What sustains life seems more beautiful to us than what threatens life.

  3. jamesbradfordpate

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
    Reblogging out of interest, not necessarily agreement. As I reblog this, there are two comments in the comment section that I find interesting.

  4. I think there is evidence that there is objective beauty, though this might be anecdotal—to my knowledge no study has been done on the subject. But does anyone find a vibrant sunset unappealing? Does anyone think a rainbow is creepy or ruins the look of the sky? I could mention others—a rose, mountains, the full moon. I’ve never heard someone say any of those are ugly. Sure, some people ignore them, but that’s not to deny their beauty. It’s actually a statement about their appreciation of beauty, not that beauty does not exist.

    The other aspect of your post—that ugliness should also be a reflection of God—doesn’t really work because ugliness is most often connected with pollution or some other misuse of what God made. In other words, God shouldn’t be held responsible for what we humans do. But even if there is something ugly in the natural world, the Bible teaches that sin affected what God made, that it is no longer what it once was. We only know what it is now, so we can’t imagine a place that was better than what this world is now. But what if in its original creation, there were no earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes and so forth? That would be a “better world” and more beautiful.

    The point is, as a Christian, I believe that beauty is objective, that the world God created was perfect beauty, but what we see today has been marred because sin entered into the equation. Eve so, we see God’s beauty, marred though it is. And the same is true about the human race: capable of doing amazing acts of heroism and altruism, but also capable of unspeakable evil. Beautiful because we are made in the image of God; marred because sin entered into the equation.

    Becky

  5. I tend to agree that an argument from might be a tough argument for the Christian to make. To the extent I think of it I just tend to think it seems unlikely that I would have this experience of seeing beauty, if the universe was just molecules bouncing around. But really that argument is more along the lines of – it just seems unlikely that everything would come together to create the experiences I have in life if the universe was completely unguided. It is sort of a watchmaker argument, but not just limited to life and its evolution, but rather how everything came about.

    If I were to say what is the probability human experience (or anything close to it) would come about from a big bang that was completely unguided by anything, I would say it would be pretty low. Would you agree?

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