Does Beauty Point to God?

This series, on arguments for God, is by Jeff Cook (info at the bottom). His argument today is about beauty — does beauty point us to God? Does it you? How so? 

Deep Beauty

  1. There are sunrises.
  2. There is the music of Bach, John Coltrane, and Sigur Ros.
  3. There are the hands of an infant.

Therefore, there must be a God.

You either see this or you don’t.

When I presented this Top Ten list to my Philosophy of Religion class, this was the favorite argument of two of my students who were once atheists.

It is not a sound argument (the premises do not lead to the conclusion), but I know a handful of folks who have moved from disbelief in God to belief because they experience some deep natural beauty and are moved.

Immanuel Kant concluded his Critique of Practical Reason,  “Two things fill me with ever new and increasing admiration and awe: the starry sky above and the moral law within. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.”

Some argue that God-belief is properly basic (like believing in other minds or the past) and arises within us when we see such deep beauties.

What say you?

Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in. He pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. www.everythingnew.org

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • phil_style

    A the purely rational level. The argument is unconvincing. And in any case, the recognition/ appreciation of beauty is generated inside the brain…. it seems odd to argue that something so subjectively generated could provide universal proofs.

    However, I do think that beauty – when perceived/ recognised helps the perceiver to then at least influence their theology. One a person can imagine/ experience great and imagination-compelling beauty, that person can then transfer that emotive experience into their theology. For those who might reject God on the basis of a perceived ugliness (injustice etc.) then an experience of profound beauty can help to overcome that (also subjective) opinion.

  • Tim

    I think this argument could have been phrased a little more effectively.

    We know from cosmology that we are going to get sunsets, for instance, whether there would be a God or not. So the mere presence of sunsets is not a “pointer” to God.

    Rather it is our experience of a transcendent grandeur and, as mentioned above, “deep beauty”, that drives us to infer that there is something transcendent in this universe.

    So it is a very much experiential argument and it goes something like this:

    1) When I experience the beauty and grandeur of nature, I feel profoundly touched by a transcendence there.

    2) This experience may be illusory, felt for subjective reasons of which I am unaware. Or it may be genuine, arising from an actual interaction with some transcendent reality.

    3) I feel that it is more faithful to my experience and sense of the world to accept this experience as genuine.

    4) Therefore I have good reason to believe that there is a God

  • http://aborrowedflame.com AndrewF

    I agree that it’s not a sound syllogism – but then, it’s not a logical proof. I would put it, rather, that beauty and art etc. are, to use Tim Keller’s term, pointers. To posit, as the atheistic naturalist must, that such appreciation is merely some lucky accidental evolutionary left-over (Dawkins says this about Altruism) is far less satisfactory to my mind than positing that it is because there actually is something of inherent worth in art and beauty because this world is the product of a creative God.

  • http://www.grizmo.biz David

    As a craftsman/artist I am becoming convinced that creativity, beauty etc is a direct result of the image of God on humans, that imprint of the divine on human life makes many of us desire to see beauty, and/or to create something of beauty. It all reflects the creator. not only in my shop or studio but in the mountains there is a connection with my soul, more than just a feeling but a real connection, cleansing and spiritual experience, both in the viewing of something beautiful, a sunset, fall colors, a gorgeous painting, sculpture, a fine piece of furniture, these all resonate deep within a tend to draw me into relationship with God. Really.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    When I see mature Christian faith, I see people who appreciate and see beauty where others do not. They see Christ in a severely distorted broken body or they see grace in the smallest act of kindness. They see great beauty and the handiwork of God in creation despite the many levels of suffering and distortions of creation. They have an overwhelming sense of gratitude and a sense of wonder and mystery in the world they live in. More importantly, like Eric Little the runner, they feel God’s pleasure and experience God’s presence in a variety of ways.

    There are many people of faith and no faith who see little to nothing of God in creation. Some even have a hard time enjoying anything in life and find little comfort or pleasure in contemplating God. Beauty is simply a subjective thing and they don’t get why others “see” good or beauty where they only see the silence of God and the sad reality of a broken world if it was ever right in the first place? Darkness has a way of overwhelming the light and the world seems to be a pretty dark place.

    There are those who see and feel and experience and those who do not. When it comes to the world of God, transcendence, beauty, and heaven intersecting with earth, I am reminded of the story of Jesus in John chapter 12. Jesus heard God’s voice clearly speak to him. Some heard a voice but did not know what it said. They interpreted as a spiritual happening and possibly an angel had spoken? Many others neither heard the voice nor even saw the event as anything spiritual even happening. They heard a rumbling in the sky and simply thought it was a natural phenomena. Some thought it thundered. John chapter 12 says much to the many ways people perceive or do not perceive spiritually.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    The inclusion of Sigur Ros in this proof automatically makes it sound. : )

  • DMH

    As has been pointed out, “beauty” in a rationalistic context, doesn’t completely work. But then do any of our rationalistic argument really work the way we want them to? When it gets down to pure logic it often seems that the conclusion can go either way, it gets very slippery depending upon which assumptions you embrace. One almost needs to be a master logician to converse in some of these conversations.

    I am finding a more fruitful way (both in my own thinking and in conversing with people of other perspectives on the “god” question) is to see life and ask questions through the lens of love and beauty. Beauty/love includes a healthy respect for rationality, it runs throughout- it just isn’t at the apex. It also goes beyound the basic appearance of beauty to include a strong moral vision for society and personal relationships both in the present and in the future.

    Still working this path out. I appreciate and am learning from all the coments given in this direction.

  • Chuck Eklund

    NT Wright calls beauty one 4 “echoes of a voice” in his book Simply Christian. The others are justice, spirituality, and relationships. He argues they are signposts pointing towards something.

  • Jon G

    I agree with the sentiment that this argument reaches me at an emotional level rather than a rational level and I’ve come to like it that way.

    But…for those that want to take it to the rational level…for the materialist to refute this argument, they must accept the notion that beauty doesn’t actually exist (same as we discussed for the morality argument). Beauty is a transcendant (metaphysical) reality or it is nothing other than particals moving around tricking systems of neurons (notice I didn’t say “our brains” because “we” don’t acutally exist) into thinking it is real. And when we deny metaphysical realities we also deny our reason for discussing them.

  • SteveSherwood

    Rory #6 speaks my mind regarding Sigur Ros! Amen, for “proofs of God” that are non-rational. We are holistic beings, not just thinking minds.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Hey Jeff,

    In the near future, I am planning to do a study on beauty. One of the books on my list is the short introduction by Roger Scruton. Have you perchance read it?

    http://www.amazon.com/Beauty-A-Very-Short-Introduction/dp/0199229759/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
    Best,
    Dave

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    The version I put to my kids the other night is:

    1. If there is no God, there is no such thing as objective beauty, only preference.
    2. But we know Frank Sinatra is objectively better than Justin Bieber.
    Therefore, God.

    I think it has a certain appeal at both the rational and emotional level.

  • Tim Atwater

    Dorothy Day often quoted someone (Doestoevski?) “the world will be saved through beauty”
    Romans 1 implies as much

    thanks for inclusion of Coltrane on the short list. Hearing him as a teenager helped persuade me of God’s reality.

    blessings….

  • Tom Blackwood

    To call something, (beautiful ) , sublime is not about your feelings. : As was discussed in Men without Chest’s by C. S. Lewis.


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