In the eye of the beholder

February 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

A couple of days ago the NY Times published an article entitled “Why We Love Beautiful Things“. Its primary purpose was to illuminate why good design moves people to action. As a marketer and someone who spends most days thinking a lot about design, I love this topic. I’ve written about it before. The author whets your appetite early by asserting:

“Yet, while we are drawn to good design…we’re not quite sure why.”

And then the corner turns and the answer turns out to be…you guessed it…based on evolutionary biology. Beauty can be boiled down to merely something that inspires behavior beneficial toward survival. Take the reason we like the color green, for example:

“Take color. Last year, German researchers found that just glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation. It’s not hard to guess why: we associate verdant colors with food-bearing vegetation — hues that promise nourishment.”

Now, to make it clear, I don’t patently disregard the theory of evolution. I’m happy to give it credit as far as evidence will take it. But similar to our pal, C.S. Lewis, I’m skeptical about the “myth” of “evolution-ism“. In this case, quickly crediting evolution with explanatory powers that could easily be out of its grasp. Consider other types of beauty we find nearly universally accepted, and which naturalistic evolutionary-based explanatory accounts are wanting:

  • Nature & landscapes. Mountain ranges are beautiful.  This is an example sited by J.P. Moreland that illustrates that we often find beauty in non-living things and finding beauty in those things doesn’t seem to have any reproductive benefit.
  • Cosmology. We’re attracted to the beauty that is the cosmos. The moon. A starry night. The aurora borealis. None of which seem to remind us of food or reproductive benefit. Yet, it’s hard to find someone that doesn’t find this type of natural phenomena beautiful.
  • Mathematics. Can equations be beautiful? Ask most scientists and mathematicians and they’ll tell you that not only can they be, but they SHOULD be.

In these examples, it seems that a purely naturalistic and evolutionary accounting of the facts leaves much room for further explanation. On the other hand, if we were created to enjoy a world built for us, it wouldn’t be surprising that we would find many of the designed elements of our world “beautiful”.

One other thing about the article. I love (I really do) that the author references the apparent “design” in all forms of nature. Many scientific elite in our post-modern world woud say that design is only illusory and that random chance has created what we see around us. He has this to say about the patterns we find in nature – from riverways, to the construction of our lungs:

Certain patterns also have universal appeal. Natural fractals — irregular, self-similar geometry — occur virtually everywhere in nature: in coastlines and riverways, in snowflakes and leaf veins, even in our own lungs. In recent years, physicists have found that people invariably prefer a certain mathematical density of fractals — not too thick, not too sparse. The theory is that this particular pattern echoes the shapes of trees, specifically the acacia, on the African savanna, the place stored in our genetic memory from the cradle of the human race. To paraphrase one biologist, beauty is in the genes of the beholder — home is where the genome is.

I agree that nature is to be found everywhere. And the tree-like structure seems to be a very prominent design. However, the author once again seems to propose that the reason that humans “prefer” these types of designs is because it’s similar to a tree that we once loved when we were a lower life form back in Africa. Seems like a stretch. In fact, recent scientific literature indicates that there is a first principle in nature (it’s called the “Constructal Law” in physics) that governs this tree-like design found in everything from river basins to lightning to the human lung. Based on this law of physics then, our friend the African acacia actually is the shape IT is because that’s the shape of efficient design.

And where did that design-defining first principle come from? I respectfully submit that it comes from a designer. Who evidently likes the color green.

C.S. Lewis on the “Gospels as Legends”

February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. – C.S. Lewis

Would a good God allow evil?

February 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

C.S. Lewis was famously plagued by this question.  It lead him to atheism.  Deep thought around the “problem of evil” also lead him back to God.

Lewis came back to God with the realization that evil (and objective evil at that)  has to be anchored in objective good…and that good has to originate from somewhere if it is truly objective.

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis and the "problem of evil"

“Evil can only be known and measured against a standard of good. Apart from God and the morality that flows from Him there is no standard – and therefore no evil either,” he explained. “But we know in our hearts – it’s inescapable – that evil is real.”

For C.S. Lewis, the argument against God from evil ironically turned into an argument FOR God.

This has been the trump card argument against theism (and therefore Christianity) for decades and is still strong today.  Christian apologist and author Mark Mittelberg tackles this question in one the chapters of his book The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask.  Here’s what he had to offer:

First point of light: the world is as Jesus predicted
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble;” it’s good to know that we follow a Savior who really gets it – who sees this fallen world for what it is, and who (contrary to many other religious leaders) tells us the truth about it.

Second point of light: evil was not created or caused by God
The Bible is clear: God is not the author of evil. But he did create us as real human beings with the ability to love and follow him … or not. Unfortunately we chose the “not,” and brought sin and evil into the picture.

Third point of light: the cause behind most suffering is human
While it doesn’t remove the pain, it can be important to remind people who are tempted to shake their fists at God for the suffering in the world that the vast majority of human pain has been inflicted directly or indirectly by other humans.

Fourth point of light: we live in a fallen world
There is also suffering due to what some call “natural evil” – pain that results from events and disasters that are not caused by humans. The Bible shows, however, that these are the result of the curse we live under due to human sin – see Genesis 3 and Romans 8.

Fifth point of light: God will finally judge evil
Some people criticize God (or those who believe in him), saying, “A good God would eradicate evil.” My question for those folks is, “Okay, are you ready to be eradicated, since you – like me – are to some degree evil?” Seriously, I’m glad that, although God will judge and wipe out evil, he’s chosen not to yet, out of patience for us and for our friends (2 Pet. 3:9).

Sixth point of light: God suffered too
It’s easy to forget that the Holy God of the universe chose, out of love, to humble himself, become one of us, and ultimately to suffer in ways none of us every will (or ever could imagine) in order to purchase our redemption (Phil. 2). As a result, he can not only forgive our sins and freely give us salvation, but also sympathize with all we’re going through (Heb. 4:14-16).

Seventh point of light: God can bring good out of bad
Though this truth is often bantered about in ways that are insensitive to the person who is suffering, it is still true that while bad things happen to God’s people, he promises that he’ll bring good – sooner or later – out of everything we experience (Rom. 8:28).

My thanks to Christian Post for a recent article on this topic.

Congruence

January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m currently reading “Christian Apologetics” by Douglas Groothuis (good read, BTW).  In contemplating the chapter on the “argument from religious experience”, I encountered a great quote by C.S. Lewis about congruence.

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)

C.S. had a simple and resonating way in approaching the theistic worldview that I admire.  I read this paragraph and it’s really hard to get around the fact that we can easily imagine a world in which we would exist and major needs/desires would not be satisfied by existing resources.  C.S. did continue on to state that just because we hunger, it doesn’t mean that we’ll find food, but I find it a strong argument that we were either created by an all powerful being who placed us in a world that would satisfy our needs, or, in the words of Greg Boyd, this is one big cosmic joke.

I believe the most rational choice is the former rather than the latter.

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