by Sean Luke
In just a few weeks, I will marry the most beautiful woman in the world.
Sophia Smith can laugh without words. When she smiles with her eyes, a room rings reminiscent of sleigh bells on Christmas; wonder of wonders, I hear it said, “this gift is for you.” But of course, it isn’t just for me. A single star in a night sky mysteriously transforms the whole created canvas. The world is better for it. And if you look closely at her smiling eyes, you can see the colors of her character brightening the canvas of our world. Wisdom and wit, intelligence and compassion, boldness and humility, strength and servitude meet you in just a gaze.
She is, in a word, beautiful. And in that beauty, she is a shadow cast by the blazing beauty of God.
In my last post, I argued that beauty plays a central role in evangelism. In this vein, I want to show you that beauty is a glimpse of God’s face. The experience of beauty is an experience of God. And so, I want to show you that our experience of beauty exposes Darwinism for what it is: a myth. Beauty shows us that there’s transcendent reality.
Darwinism—the philosophy that everything about you or me can be described in terms of natural selection—cannot be true in light of our experience of beauty. According to Darwinism (as opposed to theories of evolution in general) every single thing about you was crafted for survival. Your love of friendship, for example, exists only because forming bonds was useful to your ancestors in securing certain goods—food, clothing, shelter. After all, these goods are more easily achieved together rather than apart. You feel a sense of self-sacrifice for others only because for our remote ancestors, sacrifice was often necessary for the greater good of our species. Your desire for romance love is, on this account, just a means of prompting you to find a mate. “You like to make her laugh just because you want to have sex!” Freud creepily suggests from his naturalistic cage.
But beauty tells us a different story. No one looks at a sunset, for example, to secure some good needed for survival. It’s not as though gazing at a sunset, or listening to a sonata, or reading a poem will give you food or clothing. And even the most beautiful friendships are beautiful precisely because you’re not using that friend for something else; when two friends love each other, serve each other, cry with each other, and enjoy each other for their own sake, we consider that beautiful. But if we were just physical creatures shaped by years of naturalistic evolution alone, this shouldn’t be; we should see friendships, sunsets, and sonatas all as a means to the end of physical survival. The experience of beauty shows that this narrative is false.
What exactly does beauty tell us about reality? Beauty delights us, surprises us, enthralls us; beauty comes to us in conscious bliss.1 Beauty presupposes consciousness—that is, beauty can only be experienced by agents that are capable of experience. In other words, the experience of beauty requires personhood. Beauty is a gift, given to and for conscious agents. Though a transcendent reality, beautiful things awaken deep longings near and dear to us. Somehow, this aesthetic reality communicates with us, telling us that reality is bigger than us; the harmony of all things includes us, but also stretches far beyond us. Beauty is a kind of communication—a message of transcendence aimed at reaching persons. And beauty, when experienced by creatures, feels like bliss.
It would make a lot of sense, then, if the cause of all beauty had bliss in itself. Just as the rays from the sun carry something of the sun itself, the bliss that beauty evokes tells us something about the Fountain of all beauty: this Fountainhead must be absolutely blissful. And bliss, of course, requires consciousness. Put differently, if beauty presupposes consciousness, then it would fit if the source of all beauty is fully conscious, fully alive, fully delighted. If beauty is a blissful communication, then there must be a Communicator.
We instantly know that the beauty of a painting of flowers expresses the beauty of a human mind. So when we look at the world in all of its beauty, isn’t it plausible to think that beauty points to an Artist? And as beauty touches every part of the soul, perhaps this Artist is saying something: I am everything you ever wanted. Come to me, drink, and be satisfied. In me you will find blissful rest.
1For more on this point, see David Bentley Hart’s Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth.