I have always seen beauty as evidence for a personal Creator because beauty does not come from randomness, Jackson Pollock aside. His paintings may be pretty or interesting, but they don’t make you gasp in wonder or fill you with joy. Some artists have taken it further and use robotic movement to create images. The ones I have seen are uniformly hideous.
So when it was time to choose authors for the book I recently edited, God’s Grandeur: The Catholic Case for Intelligent Design, I knew I wanted to choose someone who wrote beautifully. He, however, was someone I didn’t know, and I could not predict his views on intelligent design. So I asked a mutual friend to speak to him, and to my immense pleasure he agreed to write about beauty. It is clear from what he wrote that he ardently believes in God’s creative action in the universe, and in our special place in it.
His name is Anthony Esolen, a brilliant scholar and commentator whose work includes a distinguished translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy among other books. His chapter is so much more than I expected. In it he weaves together ideas and images from science, poetry, Scripture, painting, mathematics, and music to create a magnificent tapestry displaying the order, harmony, and richness of Creation. He calls the chapter “A Living and Symphonic Order.”
A Touchstone in Wisdom
As one of his touchstones he uses Wisdom 11:20, “But you have arranged all things by measure and number and weight.” This verse was important for the development of science because it led to the idea that things can be studied: weighed, measured, and counted. St. Augustine, in speaking of this verse, assigned a particular meaning to each term: “Insofar as measure sets a limit to everything, a number gives everything its specific form, and weight draws everything to rest and stability, He [God] is the original, true, and unique measure which defines for all things their bounds, the number which forms all things, the weight which guides all things.”
Created things have boundaries, they are not infinite. Even infinities are not boundless unless they are the infinity of God, which is everywhere and at once. Created things have specific forms or kinds — a rock is not a bird is not a tree is not a person. Finally, created things have a purpose, or telos, which is their weight, their place of rest and stability.
God’s defining action establishes what things are, in and of themselves. Things are not subject to the whims of a god who can do whatever he pleases, so that nothing can be relied upon to stay the same from moment to moment. The created world is stable. We can take measurements and compare; we can expect rationality, because things act according to their nature, and for a purpose, not helter skelter. We can interrogate nature by doing experiments and expect to get the same answers each time.
A Living Universe
Lest we think that the universe is all order, like a crystalline array, Esolen says that the universe has a living and symphonic order. It is living, in that each creature is free to act according to its nature. Human beings in particular are given a “glorious freedom” to choose. The universe operates more like a beautiful dance of interrelationships, or the wild harmony of a symphony where each instrument plays its own melody yet blends with the other instruments in playful harmony. Or to use another analogy, the story of life is like an epic poem, or a grand adventure, not a parts list. There is order and there is beauty.
Darwinism can offer nothing like this. There is no beautiful dance, because randomness is another word for chaos, and chaos does not produce beauty. There is no symphonic harmony, there is survival of the fittest. Evolutionists have even surrendered the basis for rationality. If thought is nothing but the electrical signals of our neurons firing, and there is no objective reality, then we must say with Pilate, “What is truth?” So who’s to say that evolution is objectively true, if we can’t assign objective reality to anything?
We need to recover “a strong sense of distinct things and kinds of things, the goodness of their finite being, and their orientation toward their proper states of fullness and rest,” not just for the sake of science, but for our renewed connection with creation. We need not think of a horse or a cat as temporary creatures sliding toward a different kind of creature, so there is nothing to grab hold of, no unique species; rather, we can celebrate the “catness” of cats, and the “horseness” of horses. We can relish the sharp mountain peaks, the golden fields of ripening grain, and the rolling swells of the ocean. We can appreciate the briskness of a fall evening, and delight in a baby’s smile.
Everything Goes Grey
Darwinism washes everything to grey. Meaning and beauty are removed because Darwinism moves every living thing to the realm of cobbled-together products of random processes, whereas meaning and beauty come from the realm of purpose or teleology, where living things are the product of intentional design by a loving, rational creator.
This is especially true for us as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. God made the animals first on the sixth day, and humans last. God assigned us our special place as stewards meant to tend the earth. But implicit in God’s creation of us in his image is that we are called to a special purpose beyond being stewards. We are the only earthly creatures with the capacity for rational thought and a right relationship with God.
We can see, but more than that, we can “behold” what God has made. We can witness and testify to its splendor. We can give God glory by our study of the universe.
The High View
The universe would not be the same without us, says Esolen. This high view of our destiny can be traced to the Incarnation, to the time when God became flesh and dwelt among us, but also to the beginning of Genesis, where the original creation story is found.
Let me give you just a few quotes from his chapter in the book, so that you can experience the richness of his thought and the savor of his language. This no simple essay. It requires several readings to begin to grasp the message.
A living thing is a whole in which the whole is present in every part, as every part makes sense as a part only in intimate relation to the whole.
If beauty is the splendor of the truth, then to devote yourself to truth must be productive of beauty of some sort, even if you are no artist; and the converse holds also, that if you (or your culture) is marked by ugliness, you must have given over your love of truth.
Esolen closes with the following paragraph:
Peter Kreeft once said, not half in jest, that the music of Bach was a self-evident proof of the existence of God. When we see beautiful things among us again, we will know that the tree of faith has returned to its springtime of leaf and flower. The things will not be bare artifacts, soulless, merely pretty in one simplistic fashion or another. They will have life. They will be like the part that a single flute may play in a vast and ever-surprising symphony, whose end has been revealed to us in a general way, as in a glass darkly, but whose fullness will not be revealed until the consummation of the ages, for “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).