The argument from Beauty

I had a very good friend in college who used to be Christian. He was so Christian he was the head of the organization I wrote for. We prayed for each other for thirty days over the phone after we met.

He was also an organismic and evolutionary biologist and a philosopher, and in the closet.

Years later he told me he still found Christianity to be beautiful, but could no longer believe it was true.

I wrote before that I grew up as a young earth creationist. That fell by the wayside by senior year, but I was still confused about how a process that involved death and destruction could give rise to consciousness and a beautiful world.

What is beauty?

What is truth?

And are they related or interchangeable?

They are obviously not entirely the same thing.

The first time I realized that evolution could be beautiful was when I watched a 3D computer graphic simulation of evolution. A small cube developed a limb, which developed another branch, so it was paddling along. After a few thousand iterations, it was locomoting.

The video was beautiful.

I still took some convincing.

If we are merely wired to think what we see is beautiful, isn’t it a circular argument to say that a beautiful thing is a sign of a consciousness outside ourselves?

What is the evolutionary purpose of being able to perceive beauty?

How about beauty in abstract things, such as concepts? Symmetry? Language? Mathematics? Code?

The argument from beauty is not trivial, it is one of the most convincing because many of us are aesthetic creatures. We are enraptured by the senses, blinded by the thought of perfection.

The argument from beauty can silence all others.

How, then, can my friend find something beautiful but not be convinced it is true?

If he believes that beauty is a deception, I suppose. But even if it is a deception, doesn’t it point to something deeper, something beyond that could be even more perfect?

I have no answers to these questions.


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