Monday, March 24, 2008

Objective Beauty

I didn't really want to find myself in the position of defending the existence of objective beauty, knowing how unsympathetic our culture has become to this basic concept. Further, I admit that I made the claim (that there is an objective foundation (in God) for beauty)--it is, after all, my blog. But it should be kept in mind that up until just a few decades ago most civilized people (Christian and otherwise) believed in objective beauty. So ultimately, it seems to me, the burden in this argument ought rightly to fall upon those who deny it. While it is easy to say
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
and even to accept this bromide uncritically, it is another thing entirely to demonstrate that no objective foundation for beauty exists.

Nonetheless, I'll offer up a couple of suggestions.

And first, let's think about the beauty in creation. What God has made is unfailingly beautiful. That's not to say that all living things and all landscapes are equally lovely. Some, indeed, take one's breath away, whereas others may not impress. But think about it... have you ever found yourself saying critically,
That bird clashes with the trees it's in.
That butterfly just doesn't fit there.
That particular nebula doesn't bear observing at that telescopic power.
I think not. Even things of which you might be afraid (think snakes or sharks) nonetheless have a beauty all their own.

My second offering is this (for those of my readers who accept the Bible as the Word of God). God declares that there is beauty, and even asks us to align our tastes to conform with His. In the letter to the Philippians, He tells us (through the apostle Paul),
Whatever is lovely... whatever is praiseworthy, think about these things.
Much of the last part of Exodus is taken up with very specific designs on God's part for how the tabernacle was to look, and the artisans He named to carry out this work were
filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.
The Bible presupposes the existence of objective beauty, and I could produce verse after verse to support this.

I'll save another couple of suggestions on this issue for my next post...


Anonymous said...

Great points. The defense of the existence of objective beauty is not easy but I gave it a try last summer. I'd appreciate your critique.

I enjoyed your Antioch talks too. Good stuff, well delivered!

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