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Summary in 400 words or less:
The argument from beauty takes many forms, as beauty itself come in many forms, and those forms cry out for explanations. Perhaps the most fundamental question regarding beauty and how to account for it is whether or not beauty exists.
Is beauty real? Scripture works on the assumption that it does. 1st Peter 3:3-4, Peter tells women that their beauty should not come from outward appearances, but from inward. This assumes that outward appearances are real, even if they are not the utmost type of beauty. Proverbs 31:30 says that beauty is fleeting, which assumes it is real if only for a time.
The most common contrary view is aesthetic relativism, commonly heard in slogans like, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” which means, what is beautiful to John is beautiful because he finds it so. Likewise, what is ugly to John is ugly to him because he finds it so. This view is inadequate. If X is beautiful to John because he finds it so, and Y is ugly because John finds it so, then it fails to explain how John could possibly distinguish between the two.
How do we account for beauty? The most common answer has been that beauty is a universal, which is instantiated in a number of things (some philosophers would say everything is an instantiation of some degree of beauty), and it is one of the three transcendentals, along with the good and the true. This properly gives us an account for ugliness, for that would be a deprivation, like falsehoods and evils.
An argument from beauty may go as follows: symmetry, that’s imitation like kaleidoscopes or round stained glass, is often a great producer of beauty. We recognize beautiful accidental symmetry in nature, like an order of stones on the beach. But what do these random organizations reflect if there is no organization to be had in the first place? Reflections are only as good as the thing they reflect, so the beauty cannot be in the rocks themselves, no matter how many times it multiplies. So there must be a transcending beauty in relation to all creation. Other aspects of beauty that demand explanation is why we find it valuable, why we find its creation valuable, why we find its contemplation and consummation valuable, and why we don’t seem to find any natural sort of ugliness in nature.
Peter Kreeft explains Von Balthasar argument: “Beauty reveals God. There is Mozart, therefore there must be God” (Kreeft 1990, 64).
“There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
You either see this one or you don’t.”
Scripture for YouVersion:
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
References for further reading:
Kreeft, Peter. Annotated Notes in Thomas Aquinas. Summa of the Summa. Edited and Annotated by Peter Kreeft. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1990.
Kreeft, Peter. Tacelli, Ronald. Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God.
From Appeared to Blogly (Chad McIntosh). The Argument from Beauty and Aesthetics. Good but brief treatments are J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Baker, 2004), pp. 48-49. Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford, 2nd ed., 2004), pp. 190-191. More extensive philosophical treatments appear in Donald Wayne Viney, “The Aesthetic Argument,” ch. 9 of Charles Hartshorne and the Existence of God (SUNY, 1985), pp. 119-128. Mark Wynn, “Providence and Beauty,” ch. 1 in God and Goodness: A Natural Theological Perspective (Routelegde, 1999), pp. 11-36. Many hark back to F. R. Tennant, Philosophical Theology Vol. 2. (Cambridge, 1930). Excellent, though not especially technical are: Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet (Ignatius, 1999). Benjamin Wiker & Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature (IVP, 2006). For beauty as a theodicy, see Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford ), pp. 49-53. Alexander Pruss, “The Cosmos as a Work of Art,” (2004). One of the finest treatments is Peter Williams, “Aesthetic Arguments for the Existence of God,” Quodlibet Journal 3/3 (2001). Eleonore Stump, “Beauty as a Road to God,” Sacred Music 134/4 (2007), 11-24.. A common premise in the argument from beauty asserts the existence of objective beauty, a book-length defense of which is Eddy M. Zemach’s Real Beauty (Penn State , 1997). Though unpublished, Jim Speigel has some good thoughts on the argument from beauty in a series of posts entitled, “An Anti-Naturalist Argument from Beauty” and “Why Beauty is an Objective Quality in the World.” Russell Howell, “Does Mathematical Beauty Pose Problem for Naturalism?” Christian Scholar’s Review (2007).
Collaborators: Brian Chilton, Adrian Urias
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