A Sword for Theists

It’s a shame that the word “priceless” gets hurled around by jewelry stores and credit card companies with impunity, for they do great injustice to a term that — properly considered — is a slap in the face of materialism and a sword in the hand of the theist. The existence of the priceless suggests a supernatural order.

Take the Pieta.

It will not be sold — not for a fortune, nor for a country. It is beyond mankind’s capacity for value.

Now from any material view of the universe this concept is ridiculous, illogical, and highly unpractical. A thing is worth the sum of its material cost, its excellence, its availability and its sentimental/historical value. The price may be impossible to meet, but there will always be a price — right?

As it turns out — no. The Pieta makes the world gasp, groan, and give up all attempts of establishing a price-tag. There exists a quality about the cold marble that disdains to be measured by human hands.

In an effort to name this mystical quality, consider other objects that transcend our pricing powers: The human person, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Mona Lisa, and the curve of a woman’s side. (I don’t claim that these things have never or will never be sold. Perhaps we’ll live to see a housing developer purchase the Blue Ridge Mountains, or the Mona Lisa transported from the Louvre to some billionaire’s apartment. I’m merely stating the obvious, that the selling of these objects is something of a failure, and would be seen as such, and would do nothing to suggest that the objects were not priceless after all, but would suggest a rather lot regarding the wisdom of their owners.) What unifies these things?

Simply put, the quality unifying these objects is Beauty.

Make something likeable and you’ve increased its value. Make it pleasurable and you’ve increased it even more. Make it beautiful, and something unlike mere improvement occurs. Beauty lifts an object from the realm of human transaction and labels it, quite specifically, as that which humanity has no capacity to price.

Why? What about Beauty makes us say: “This is beyond us, there is nothing we can give that would equal this. Pile up all the money in the world and we’ll still place more value on this chunk of marble.”

As I’ve pointed out before, Beauty is infinite in quality. Beauty is never sated. No man in recorded history has ever said “no more Beauty, please.” No man, gazing on Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or watching the sun sink below the Blue Ridge Mountains, has ever said, “This is far too much Beauty. Take it away, for I am full.” If a thing can never be conceived of reaching an end point, then as far as we are concerned, that thing is infinite. We can never think of too many numbers — it is an infinite progression. We can never think of too much Beauty. This implies that it too, is infinite.

Thus a beautiful thing possesses an infinite quality. So of course it becomes priceless. All material price is finite. If a thing has been brushed by the infinite, than it can have no more to do with finite, material price than an asymptote has to do with an axis, or love has to do with limits.

To summarize: There exists in reality an infinite, intangible quality that, when held by an object, grants to that object a dignity that renders mankind unable to name its price. The materialist should, right about now, begin to shudder, for while this doesn’t prove anything, it strongly implies the existence of a supernatural order.

For there exists no experience of infinity in nature. There is no forever and ever. Entropy is the true King and Conqueror of the Universe. Life dies, matter disintegrates, stars explode and all things fade, even Time itself  – a product of the Universe and thus her partner in death.

This has been mankind’s experience. (I pause for a moment to note that the various theories trying their best to make ours an infinite universe — Multiple Universe Theory, Wormhole Looping Universe, Infinite Big Bang/Big Crunch etc. — have no bearing in human experience, whatever bearing they have in theoretical physics.)

And so we arrive at an oddity. Man is a creature who — considered materially – receives everything — all experience, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, poetry and metaphor – from the natural world. Yet he gazes on a crafted piece of marble and experiences a thing which has utterly no place within the natural world. He experiences infinity.

He experiences infinity as such an integral and obvious fact that he can turn to another human and say: “This marble is priceless” and that human will understand and agree — the marble has a quality that no number, no amount of money or transaction of goods could reach. It’s so obvious and innate that a blogger can sit here and run his mouth about the very same infinity, and his readers will understand him, despite having no natural frame of reference.  

I can think of two main explanations. Man is a fool pretending to experience the infinite, or the supernatural (that which is beyond nature) exists. But be cautious in choosing, for to deny the validity of human experience of the infinite is to call into question all of human experience. If man’s experience of the beautiful and the priceless as infinite is merely a mistake, who can confidently claim that man’s experience of logical conclusion is valid?

As for me, confronted with an infinite, intangible and supernatural quality that gives creatures and objects a dignity enthroning them above all material price — well, I call Him God. And it is in this manner every experience of Beauty — from the side of a woman to the rise of the Blue Ridge — becomes an act of worship.

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  • Rose

    There’s only one word for your post: BEAUTIFUL.

    • Michael

      “Any trait developed by evolution must have survival value, per evolutionists. ”

      Doug, I’d like to enlighten you in regards to the theory of evolution.

      First of all, it’s not survival so much as it is the propagation of genetic material which determines the traits of organisms. Survival is important, especially early on, but reproduction is king.

      Second of all, not all traits of an organism necessarily contributed to the propagation of genetic material. Many (probably most) traits do indeed contribute to survival and reproduction, but many are merely side effects. For instance, your visual field has a blind spot in it. You can’t normally detect it because your brain hides it well, but it is there nonetheless. Can you think of a reason that a blind spot would exist other than as a “mistake”, a side effect of how the eye evolved?

      Now, I’m not trying to make a direct comparison here, as I would never refer to the experience of beauty as a mere mistake; I’m simply trying to demonstrate that a lack of a good explanation for the origin of a trait is not a good reason to assume intelligent design, and often, it’s a good reason to assume a lack of intelligent design (as in the case of the blind spot).

      I don’t know enough about the evolution of human psychology and cognition to postulate a good reason for the origin of the experience of beauty in humans, but I do know that a human with beauty, love, etc. in his life is going to be much happier than one who doesn’t, and that certainly has implications in regards to potential survival and reproduction.

      • Michael

        It would seem I did that wrong.

        • Linus

          Well, you got off on the wrong track. Get ” The Last Superstition ” by Edward Fesser – just skip pg 146 ( maybe O.K. for Doctors or Nurses).

      • Paul

        I’m not sure if intelligent design is necessarily what Marc was getting at… Rather I think he was trying to say that the experience of the infinite in what is (through our experiences and as far as we can tell) a finite universe is an indicator of something “beyond” or “supernatural”.

        Pointing out that natural selection alone may not explain the phenomena of beauty is not necessarily to advocate for “intelligent design”. Intelligent design is often criticized for being “god of the gaps” reasoning, where we plug “God” or the supernatural into things we do not understand. “We don’t know, therefore God does/did it somehow”. Many theists (modern Thomists like Edward Feser, for example) reject intelligent design, but also reject materialistic explanations of certain phenomena. Intelligent design is not necessary (and is actually superfluous or outright obstructive) within an Aristotelian-Thomistic framework. Materialism on the other hand cannot withstand philosophical scrutiny.

        If you are interested in this “third way” between intelligent design and materialistic accounts of the universe (which has a much richer history than either of them), check out Feser’s “Aquinas” and “The Last Superstition”. He has a blog as well where he briefly discusses this stuff from time to time. I recommend him because he does a very good job of bringing 2500 years of philosophical tradition to the level of the lay-reader like myself.


        • Linus

          Wrong, wrong. There is universal order in the universe, all systems, all beings are obviously ” moving ” to some end, which , did it not exist, there would be no movement/change at all. And since all beings, all systems are moving toward an end, there is obviously a final cause toward which all things are directed and this we call God. Fesser makes a great point that without the final end there would be no effecient cause. Indeed Thomas points this out as well and so did Aristotle.

      • Linus

        If the capacity to appreciate beauty is an evolutionary defect it is certainly a universal defect, it is in no way an oddity. Through it we recognize the existence of beauty throughout the universe, it is inherent in the ” nature ” of things and since through the imperfect or limited beauty in the universe we posit the existence of being who is Beauty Itself, and this all call God.

      • Ian Pryce jr

        “Now, I’m not trying to make a direct comparison here”

        Kind of smiled when I read this. Not making fun, it is just kind of funny how hard it is to fight God. And how sad some of the conclusions people come to are. I heard someone say something like some people were willing to believe in an infinite number of universes so they did not have to accept one God.

  • Nina

    beautiful. i love it!

  • InvictusLux

    The most hilarious thing going right now is the fact that the Atheists are FAST becoming passe; being relegated BY SCIENCE and Philosophy to the dustbin of irrational skeptics. These days it takes MORE faith (or smug hubris/arrogance) to be an atheist than it does to be a believer. Science passed them up long ago. And Catholic Theologians and philosophers figured “it” out many centuries ago too – well in advance of the current science.

    [sup]*[/sup] There simply HAD to be a singularity of creation. One of the most cited persons in scientific papers is St. Augustine of Hippo who properly reasoned that if the physical universe had a beginning then time as an attribute of creation (paired with space) had to also have a beginning.

    The VAST majority of scientific discovery, philosophical inquiry and data STRONGLY points to a finite time universe that had to be a product of an Intelligent Designer. Quantum Theory has expanded the horizons of ontology to make science contend with the new evidence (information fields & non-location) for non-materialistic (information-like) dimensions of physical reality. Big Bang cosmology had introduced the PROBABILITY of the finitude of the observable universe; contemporary universal inflationary theory has show strong probability of an initial singularity – all implying a causative power from an uncaused-cause that transcends time-and-space (God). Science is at its limit and the preponderance of evidence and theory favors Creationism outside of time-and-space with only super-string theory being the last whimpering hope for the atheists to prove the other theories all wrong.

    When all scientific discoveries are allowed to compliment the traditional philosophical proofs for God they provide a remarkable rational foundation for the existence of a unique, unconditioned, unrestricted, absolutely simple, super-intelligent, continuous Creator of all that is.

    A GREAT book: [url= "New Proofs for the Existence of God" by Robert J. Spitzer]http://www.amazon.com/New-Proofs-Existence-God-Contributions/dp/0802863833[/url]


    • edgar ayala

      I wonder then why so many scientists in the US are non believers?

      • InvictusLux

        Care to cite some data on that? I think your just inventing data stats.

        • edgar ayala

          I found this, tell me what you think http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html
          At any rate, in your first point, you try and make it sound like there isn’t much of a debate as to the origin of our universe in the science arena. I think we still have much to learn there, as we do in neuroscience for example.

          • http://thecatholicsciencegeek.blogspot.com/ The Catholic Science Geek

            So, according to the reasoning used in this study…if it rains for 400 hours in a row…it will always rain? I’m not too convinced. Also, I don’t trust that sample size or even the methods used in selecting that sample. I’m sure plenty of statisticians out there would agree.

          • Catholic Stats

            Wikipedia lists NAS (“greater scientists” from the study) as having 2,100 members.

            They received 258 responses.

            With only 7% assenting to personal belief, and assuming they wanted a confidence level of 99%, that makes the confidence interval (AKA margin of error) 2.92.

            That means that at the lowest, we can be statistically certain that there is a 96.08% chance that this sample is reflective of the whole.

            There’s a lot more to it, but as far as sample size, it’s legit ONLY as far as THAT organization is concerned/ Wolfram Alpha lists 1.308M people in the US employed in the sciences. Selecting a small sample from one institution is not going to be indicative of the whole. A random sampling of 1,949 scientist would be need to achieve the same level of confidence as above.

            Also factored into it would need to be be the nature of the question, which can cause bias by its very wording.

          • InvictusLux

            Hmmm. Interesting data but it seems dated. Many of those data points were taken before Hubble and Big Bang Cosmology. Let me see if I can find a rebuttal reference.

          • Wrestling_Enkidu

            What an interesting response. You are not trying to find out the truth of the matter, but instead are seeking out whatever statistics will support your hypothesis.

            Don’t worry though, atheists (and all humans) do this all the time. This is just one of the more clear examples of confirmation bias.

          • InvictusLux

            Don’t over read that. I do believe that the tide has turned as the scientific evidence now favors intelligent design over the vanishing small probabilities for a case of a random cooperative “spasm of nature”. The source cited is not contemporary with respect to the current body of science in this area. I am certainly motivated to investigate my own point of view over one that makes no sense to me – that’s more an admission of mortality (there’s only so much time this side of the event horizon) and evidence for a general aversion to fruitless perspiration than it is anything else. I simply believe that there’s a greater chance of finding a newer and more credible study that supports my supposition than the contrary position.

            The general errors in thinking that many make about “scientific studies” is in imagining that they are mostly all motivated from a pure science pursuit. I believe that the facts are that many, if not most, are funded by special interest sponsors who have their own agenda (business, if not advancement of peer standing – ego). When the studies do not advance that sponsoring-agenda they get shelved and never see the light of day in “the community”; or else they are used by the original researchers to extort their sponsor to pay them MORE for other studies (or change its scope) to avoid leaking the damaging information. The unpopular point of view rarely has the sponsorship and financial backing to fund the mitigating/control study. I always suspected that we have an over representation of agenda-motivated studies over those few actually motivated by a pure pursuit of science insight.

            At any rate I can’t imagine Christians ponying up research-money to go do a study just to prove what they already know from history – and that is the certitude that so many of the most incredible advancements in science up through the last century were achieved by Christians – not by atheists. Big Bang for example was proposed by a Catholic Priest physicist.

      • http://thecatholicsciencegeek.blogspot.com/ The Catholic Science Geek

        I’m a PhD student at Columbia University with a masters in molecular biology and a bachelors in biology….and am extremely Catholic. Scapular, check. Daily rosary prayer, check. Thorough understanding of On the Origin of Species, check. Taught genetics, check. Lab coat, check. Personally know several other religious scientists (and some atheists too), check. Edgar…nice try, but opinion and personal bias don’t exactly equal data, observation…or even truth for that matter.

        • edgar ayala

          Well I certainly understand that there are scientists that believe in various sorts of deities, no doubting that. I was responding to Invictus because his post seemed to imply that atheism is a completely irrational position simply because there is a consensus as to a singularity prior to our universes beginning.

          • Linus

            Atheism is irrational, even David told us so. It is irrational because it is based on false premises and leads absolutely no where, no where intellectually, no where culturally, no where socially, no where morally – except to hell.

          • http://thecatholicsciencegeek.blogspot.com/ The Catholic Science Geek

            “I was responding to Invictus because his post seemed to imply that atheism is a completely irrational position simply because there is a consensus as to a singularity prior to our universes beginning.”

            Regardless of what side of the debate you are on…it’s never a good idea to use blanket statements to defend your position. They make any level of credibility appear questionable and they pretty much do the same for your side of the argument.

          • edgar ayala

            Duly noted, thank you.

      • Paul

        It’s true that there are many non-believers in the scientific community. However, just because an individual is well-versed in a specific scientific field, does not necessarily mean they make rational philosophical judgments. Remember that atheism and agnosticism are philosophical positions, not scientific ones. Hawking’s “Grand Design” is a perfect example. Some interesting physics, some of it grounded in the empirical (other parts not so much), but when he closes the book he makes all sorts of non-sequitors and fails to address the more serious theistic philosophers at all. He doesn’t prove that the universe is eternal, and even if he could, it wouldn’t matter at all to the types of arguments presented by philosophers of the Thomistic (among others) theists. Interesting science, but very poorly done philosophy. This coming from one of the more respected scientists of our day! An appeal to the majority is ultimately fruitless anyway, as truth is not defined by the majority.

        I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again – Edward Feser’s “The Last Superstition” should definitely be on your (as in everyone reading this!) reading list.

        • edgar ayala

          Truth is not defined by majority, of course I agree, I responed to Invictus because he was implying that a singularity immediately points to a deity created universe. I simply think we have much to learn in that department before we jump to said conclusion, which you must admit is a big conclusion to come to.

          • Paul

            A singularity doesn’t automatically mean we must assume a deity, agree with you there. The book that Invictus is citing, however, doesn’t say that either. Fr. Spitzer says (from what I can remember) that it lends probabilistic force to the arguments for God’s existence. There is quite a bit to the book in regard to arguments for the existence of God, and taken as a whole he makes a strong case. I just wish he would have went a little deeper with the philosophy perhaps at the expense of some of the physics. But that’s just my .02 cents :)

        • Linus

          Excellent book but just skip page 146 ( may be O.K. for Doctors and Nurses but not for everyone).

        • InvictusLux

          Darn – its not in kindle format. I hate lugging around paperbacks into the tiki bar to read – my library. My library is on my smartphone and/or kindle.

      • Guest

        A friend of mine did a lot of research on the question of why there are more scientist non-believers than there are non-believers among the general population and discovered a fascinating fact. Medical Doctors are believers at a higher rate than the general population. Medical doctors are personalists; they deal with people and want to help them. They can’t be impersonal. Scientists who deal only with the material universe rather than with persons are more likely to be atheists.

    • Linus

      I see your point but Aquinas took the safer path and for the sake of argument assumed an eternal universe. And I think this is still the safer path because I don’t think even science will be able to prove definitively that the universe had a beginning. We may think we ” see ” the beginning but we can’t. At the present time it is an article of faith that the universe had a beginning.

      • InvictusLux

        Right now we can’t see past the event horizon of the big bang from our direction of the “event” but in time more and more of the unseen aspects of space-time hidden in the well so to speak will become visible as light arrives from the slowing expansion to make it possible to make more scientific projections.

        Aquinas’ uncaused Cause arguments are rooted in Aristotle’s unmoved Mover argument which becomes deficient in the 17th-18th century due to it applying causation principals to a Newtonian interaction on material bodies. The current locus of thought is now directed toward the activity of fields as the entire assumed ontological nature is changing rapidly with modern discovery. Aquinas’ following Aristotle’s pioneering work allowed for the possibility of infinite past-time and assumed an infinite temporal regression. But the later Kalam proofs developed 1,000 years later have since proven the impossibility of an actual infinite being applied to a finite or aggregative structure. The West wasted a lot of “time” following the “safe” Aquinas assumptions.

        David Hilbert, 20th century father of finite mathematics, has given new probative force and depth to the argument for the intrinsic finitude of past time in his article “On the Infinite”. The probabilities in favor of a singularity are in great excess of those which disfavor it.

        Big Bang cosmology put to bed the Newtonian assumptions of infinite time and mass in our observable universe. Everything we “see” appears to be quite finite (10^53 Kg of visible mass and a finite amount of dark matter) and with a beginning about 13.7 billion years ago. The discovery of additional universal constants that must all together interact to make the universe capable of supporting life makes it exceedingly improbable that it could all happen by “cosmic chance”. The constants are such that minor changes in ANY of them would make the formation of life statistically impossible. That is to say or very existence as living entities and the observation that a random occurrence of the anthropic values of our universe’s constants is so remote to be virtually impossible. There’s unfathomable sophistication and intelligence behind it all – its purposed. The scientific data is so compelling that it is now more reasonable to believe in a super-intellect setting the values of the constants at the inception of the universe than to disbelieve it. Persistent atheists such as Fred Hoyle (the English astronomer and mathematician who lampooned big-bang and gave it its name) having seen the data and its implications openly declared a belief in a super-intellect.

        I am still digesting the book I referenced and can comment on it more as I assimilate it all.

        • edgar ayala

          You’ve probably seen this already, thought I’d share: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bf7BXwVeyWw&feature=share

        • Paul

          “The West wasted a lot of “time” following the “safe” Aquinas assumptions.”

          You are aware that Spitzer’s “Unconditioned Reality” argument is essentially a reformulation of Aquinas’ “Uncaused Cause” argument, right? Certain details differ, but Spitzer’s use of it very much resembles the Uncaused Cause argument. The argument requires no reference to the finitude of past time at all.
          On top of this, he doesn’t say that Aquinas’ views on causation were outright false. From what I understand our views of causation have progressed, but Aquinas’ proofs have not been made obsolete. Spitzer himself says that he refrains from using the word “causation” because it carries a lot of baggage. He chooses to use “conditional” and “unconditional” because they better reflect our modern scientific understanding and they avoid that dreaded “c” word. The argument still functions essentially the same way though – and Spitzer endorses it. Aquinas couldn’t really have been made obsolete if that is the case. Rather our understanding has deepened and we must modify his proofs accordingly. (This seems to be what Spitzer does)

  • musiciangirl591

    :) awesome

  • InvictusLux

    Mark, although the conclusion is unavoidably recursive on causation (as an artifact of reason and thus our human nature) this is excellent: “If man’s experience of the beautiful and the priceless as infinite is merely a mistake, who can confidently claim that man’s experience of logical conclusion is valid?”

    And that sparks some thoughts on Casuality – itself beauty by order:
    BOTH science and theology hinge on the same principles and assumptions of causality. If not for causality we could not even communicate or agree or form logical conclusions – life would be absurdly illogical, random and inconsistent. Language would be pointless – the human tongue might as well be a pink ribbon furling like a babel in the random breeze. Without a principal of Causality the sun might come up in the East or just as well come up from the South Pole. There would be no concept of “yes” or “no” – no TRUE no FALSE – everything would be “maybe” if it were even possible to agree on that. A concept of beauty would be anything that was the opposite of ordered – stochastic processes and materials (cohesion & parsimony would be grotesque).

    The beautiful concept of unity is manifest in Nature in and all around us. Beauty is a thing no one can define but most everyone can discern instantly by every impression: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell etc. and even by deficiency.

    The ability for the human intellect to even conceive of the notion of the five transcendentals and come up with a concept of Unity is sufficient enough for me. That compelling inexplicable motive to suffer to seek & think along these lines is itself the evidence that favors the case for a Creator God. The existence of order and beauty mitigate to the realm of absurdity that infinitesimally small probability that all the forces of nature suddenly gave rise in a chance spasm of integrative-cooperation to produce the ordered universe we find ourselves in. No, that’s pragmatically impossible. The existence of beauty tells us that “We” are not alone – not without a semantic change (a decisive spurious victory from the cacophony of babel). Beauty exists for a motive beyond mere inspiration – its a reflective witness in as much as it is a judge.

    Conversely, imagine the anti-thesis if the atheists had it their way. The beauty of the perfect Humor and Irony (if it were observable) would be the deafening silence of the Cosmological “oops” had it gone the other way. What if nature was incompetent and at the fist primal amoeba’s emergence from the primordial soup, life’s genesis, our would-be forefather having manged to find each other, found no-chemistry (no beauty) sufficient to spark an interest in mating and they instead just had each other for lunch. Beautiful. :D

    The Five Transcendentals:
    1) Perfect Being/Unity; 2) Perfect Truth; 3) Perfect Love; 4) Perfect Goodness/Justice; and 5) Perfect Beauty.


  • Matt Emerson

    I am rather puzzled, Mr. Barnes, that you begin a discourse on the Pietà, perhaps the world’s most famous artwork of love and compassion, by declaring that its priceless quality gives the theist a sword. To whom, or on whom, do you want to take that sword? Is this really the best metaphor to use in light of Matthew 26:51-52? Is this the ideal language with which to evangelize?

    • Kelsey

      Matthew 10:34

  • Doug

    Speaking of science and beauty, I’ve often asked atheists where our sense of beauty comes from. It isn’t necessary for our survival (animals don’t have it beyond, say, the honeybees’ instinctive “attratction” to flowers that it needs to satisfy its instinct for food).
    Any trait developed by evolution must have survival value, per evolutionists. Any trait developed by evolution required some sort of time and/or energy input over millennia, per evolutionists. Such time and energy is wasted on non-essential characteristics, especially those having to do with the abstract nouns. Therefore, how did “beauty” survive? (Corollary: How did evolution give us the ability to create, use, and analyze abstract nouns?)

    • Linus

      Absolutely THE point. Why would evolution be wasted on the capacity of one creature to appreciate beauty???? Absolutely superfluous, doesn’t help us to survive at all. So who do we thank for it, Mother Nature? Nonesense, it speakes loudly of God. We have the capacity because he loves us, so he gave us one more way to recoginze him.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JNDLZH56O5YQPFOIS5T3AEXV2E Rynduin

      Denis Dutton in a TED talk I watched a year or so ago decided that he had found an “Darwinian” reason for beauty: If one of our ancestors could make a particularly fine weapon, or perform other needful tasks well and skillfully, it would be advantageous for others to recognize this skill. Just as it is advantageous to recognize a healthy mate, it is advantageous to recognize a competent one. Ergo, he defined beauty as “Recognition of a thing well made.”

      This fell apart, of course, when talking about natural beauty. He briefly skimmed over the topic, claiming that those vistas we agree to be the most beautiful would also have been the most useful and habitable for our ancestors. Which does not explain then why we find the ocean, mountains, deserts, jungles, lions, sharks, glaciers, volcanoes and a thousand other things hostile to human existence to be beautiful as well.

      On the other hand, I consider all those things to be “well made” indeed, so perhaps he was onto something after all.

    • c matt

      Well, just to play devil’s advocate, can’t a trait be survival neutral? Do evolutionists hold that every trait must be survival positive, or simply that they must not be survival negative?

      • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

        The latter. With traits having net-positive benefit, the differential equations describe a probable population curve of EXP(bt) against time. (To a first approximation. Second approximation would be a logistic curve, and third may involve an “overshoot” modified logistic curve.) With traits having net-negative benefit curve, the equation is the same, but the “b” constant of benefit has negative sign, and the mutation tends to vanish with rapidity corresponding to the degree of detriment.

        However, with zero-benefit traits, differential that yields the exponential term collapses, and other equations describe the behavior. Neutral mutations tend to accumulate in the population at a rate linear with time. (The maximum number of neutral mutations any individual of the population is likely to carry is I think log with time.)

        Anyone with a serious interest in the math of evolutionary genetics should probably track down Crow and Kimura’s “An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory” (ISBN 1-93284-612-3). It’s a fairly advanced college text; you need at least calculus through differential equations, and probably partials as well.

  • aomeyrat

    “My question was the gaze I turned on them; the answer was their beauty.”

    - -Confessions Book X, St. Augustine

    While I admire the sentiment of the writer, I can’t say I agree that beauty gives us conclusive evidence of God. While some consensus may be reached about establishing the virtues of one particular work of art–I agree, the Pieta is a very beautiful statue–or natural wonders, it’s still subjective. Someone else may prefer Duchamp’s “Fountain” [urinal] to the Pieta, and react just as emotionally about it. I agree with a previous comment that comparing the subjective power of beauty to a theist’s rhetorical sword seems awkward. People respond to sensual experiences, be it a painting, a mountain, an opera, etc. However, a positive enlivening response is not mean the experience the infinite. That’s a leap in logic unfortunately blunts any edge the beauty-sword had in an argument for the Christian God’s existence.

    Moreover, if one were to allow the experience of beauty a unique experience that transcends all others, it doesn’t do much for the Christian explaining his position. It served Neoplatonists somewhat, but even their faithful scholar St. Augustine, who experienced beauty in a far deeper way, moved beyond it into something more substantial and more lasting. He notes repeatedly that excessive fondness of creation had a tendency to dissipate the soul outward rather than reflect it inward.

    I imagine most atheists and heathens value beauty and beautiful things since it’s all the good they allow themselves. Just read Lucretius, Oscar Wilde, or any American transcendentalist. They’re certainly feeling something, and they’ve determined that nature, or their own amazing artistry, is the closest thing to divinity. Also, you can be sure that no material thing is priceless–really, that’s more a hyperbole people overuse. Old paintings and statues boost tourism and stimulate business. Natural Parks and old churches do the same. And setting a price on the curves of a woman is one of humanity’s oldest traditions. Beauty is money, and it’s probably the most compelling reason to be a materialist. It’s only a precious few idealists who say something is priceless and actually mean it.

    All this rather suggests that beauty truly does lie in the eye of the beholder, so we should think about the beholder than about the intangible qualities associated to beauty. That means the apologist will have to look at what’s going on internally in the skeptic and leave the debate about externals for another day.

    • Marsha

      What man finds beautiful may vary , the experience of beauty , however is universal. Beauty is transcendant.

  • Linus

    And that there is a being which can appreciate beauty is an even greater argument , for in a materialist universe with out cause, a creature able to appreciate beauty is not needed, is indeed ” over the top,” superfluous. How do you explain that without God?

  • Ian Pryce jr

    Nice article Marc. I did not know about the Pieta; it is truly stunning. How much greater, that which inspired it!

    Peace be with you,


  • David Alexander Clement
  • dabhidh

    Please keep writing about beauty. I believe it is a message that people most need to hear in these times.

  • http://www.facebook.com/josephjgoodwin Joey Goodwin


  • HopeinLife

    Beautifully said! and thank you for saying it. You are priceless.

  • Wrestling_Enkidu

    I don’t see how you can claim that our experience of beauty implies something supernatural and infinite. Your line of reasoning appears to be that because we are not sated by beauty, that means that beauty is infinite, and infinity does not exist in the natural world, therefore the explanation must be supernatural. Finally, you leap from the supernatural to God. This line of reasoning is faulty for numerous reasons.

    First, we do seem to be sated in our experiences of beauty. When I look upon a gorgeous natural landscape, I can sit and enjoy for hours. Eventually though, I can get up and leave. I am satisfied by my experience. Same goes for beautiful pieces of artwork, beautiful people, or beautiful music. This alone appears to falsify your argument.

    But we can grant your first premise, and your argument is still a stretch. Even if it is true that we are in some sense not sated by our experiences of beauty, it would be bizarre to leap to some conclusion about the infinite. When rat’s brains are hooked up to pleasure centers that they can stimulate by pressing a button, the rats will press this button until they starve. This does not mean that infinite supernatural pleasure exists, but that pleasure feels good, and we there is a strong drive to continue feeling pleasure. Similarly, human pleasure centers are stimulated by natural beauty (to a thankfully less extreme extent). Since we seek out pleasure, we naturally pursue similar experiences of beauty later. At no point does any of this demand beauty as some sort of infinite feature of the universe.

    Next, we can grant that we are not sated by beauty, and that this does imply the infinite, and your line of reasoning still fails. There is nothing incompatible with infinity and the natural world, as you yourself seem to acknowledge in your comment on theoretical physics. To say that these concepts of infinity are never experienced in the natural world is to beg the question. These concepts show that infinity is may be compatible with the natural world, and if beauty really were an experience of the infinite, it is therefore also compatible with the natural world, therefore no conclusions of the supernatural are necessary.

    Lastly, even if your entire argument up to this point succeeds in proving that beauty implies a supernatural realm, the leap to God is again, unwarranted. If there is a supernatural realm, there are countless possible sources of “infinite beauty” that do not necessitate theism. A supernatural realm could easily exist without a God, as is the case with some forms of Buddhism.

    To sum, your argument does not work because 1) people are sated by beauty, 2) beauty does not imply the infinite, 3) the infinite does not imply supernaturalism, and 4) supernaturalism does not imply theism.

    • Kristen inDallas

      1) Just because we walk away from a sunset doesn’t mean we have sated our desire for beauty. I suspect it is become some other need has cropped up and trumped it (hunger, exhaustion, needing to use the bathroom, foot fell asleep, etc). A better way to get a sense of what marc means is to look at an artist (a painter, songwriter, etc). If you ask them when they are “done” creating the finished product, almost all will tell you that given the time/resources they would have done X to make it just a little bit more beautiful. Or perhaps admit that it is as beautiful as they are capable of making it. But they will never ever say that the finished piece is too beautiful or even “beautiful enough.”

      2 & 3) When it comes to beauty (and I believe knowledge fits here too) human beings seem to gravitate to ideals that are beyond our natural ability to create, and beyond even our natural ability to imagine. I don’t just want to know what’s on my bookshelf, or even on all the bookshelves I can imagine, or all the bookshelves in the world. I want to know things that no human knows. I want to understand things we don’t even know we don’t understand. I want to make art more beautiful than I have ever seen and more beautiful than anyone could imagine. When school children argue for the biggest number, even their small minds understand that the counter to infinity is infinity plus one. (because we never did adequately understand the infinite in the first place). We may not be able to “prove” infinity, because infinity is by definition, beyond our natural minds, but I think most of us can sense it. And that feeling that tugs at us does definately suggest something which is beyond and above our nature.

      4) I agree. That requires much more complicated philosophy. But mark didn’t say that it proved God, merely that God was the name he gives to the infinite.

      Personally, I think that way of stating it is quite beautiful. It may not have been a philosophical treatise, but a big part of me would much rather read a beautiful inspired essay than a logical analysis anyday. Probably that unsated part. You might tell your right brain to let your left brain come up for air every once in a while, it feels good. :)

      • Wrestling_Enkidu

        Interesting comment Kristen (in Dallas). In regards to 1-3, I still don’t see how the leap to the conclusions is warranted. Wanting more beauty or wanting more anything makes sense from the perspective that they give us pleasure or make us happy, so the constant pursuit of them is a natural progression from our desires. Again, no infinite, no supernatural needed.

        In regards to 4, Marc specifically titled his post “A Sword for Theists.” This seems to imply that his points within the post would be evidence for or prove God. Using the word “God” and then simply claiming that’s your label for the infinite seems like a very slippery way of sneaking in extra assumptions, or making the God hypothesis seem more plausible than it really is. It’s like labeling all Catholics “pedophiles,” but claiming that by “pedophile” you mean someone who believes in a first cause. That would be misleading, because the associations with the word do not just go away.

        Next, I agree that Marc has a flourish for writing. I like his writing style. Still, he was making a point. It would be dishonest and misleading for him to claim that he was simply trying to write beautifully, not truthfully. If he is making claims, his conclusions should follow from his premises, and they don’t.

        I would rather read something that is both beautiful and true. In fact, the truth of claims, and correct logical progression of ideas is very beautiful to me. I think Luke of Commonsenseatheism.com is able to write very beautifully, while still adhering to strong standards of reasoning. Don’t worry, both sides of my brain get plenty of air, and it would be deeply insulting to think that because I care about reasonable arguments, I am sacrificing beauty in my life.

        • Marc Barnes

          I think your comments were excellent, and I’m working on addressing them in a near-future post. Thanks!

  • Cord_Hamrick

    I think that Wrestling_Enkidu’s challenges do need to be replied to in a fashion which is conscientious, courteous, thoughtful, and detailed. I wish I had the time to do so right now myself.

    But I recognize in what Marc has said here a quality to which my spirit responds. It is a recognition of axiomatic truth: My mind recognizes it the way it gladly recognizes an old friend, and my spirit exults in it the way it exults in the statement that A = A or in seeing a falsehood successfully disproved with a Reductio ad Absurdum.

    So I’m not at all concerned that what Marc has said here is, at its root, incorrect. But honest questions deserve honest answers, for the sake of our allegiance to He who is the Truth.

    And in the process of answering questions about a true statement, one learns to phrase that statement more straightforwardly and clearly, which I think the truth Marc has articulated here could still use (despite his skill as a writer).

    For, as I said before, I gladly recognize my old friend Truth here, but I don’t see all His features with perfect clarity yet. I detect the smile and the look of the eyes, but He seems to be looking at me from between the branches of a tree or behind a screen of underbrush. Some features are partially obscured.

    So, something needs clearing up. I suspect that answering Wrestling_Enkidu and others, and using that process to express the original thought with ever-increasing precision, will help.

  • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com/ Ben @ Two Men

    This may do little to disturb a materialist (I sort of use to be one). They would say The Pieta or anything beautiful is of NO objective value outside of human opinion, whether infinite or finite. And human opinions are just electro-chemical signals in the brain that evolved over millions of years to help us survive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001107231809 Gwen Filipski

    The mere fact that the word priceless gets hurled around shows its importance to the human condition; among atheists and the faithful alike. Everyone can appreciate a treasure beyond price.

  • Atoms In The Void

    The Pieta is priceless? I can get one for $17. http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/pieta/posters