Some of Western civilization’s greatest works of art are housed in the Vatican Museums. Museum benefactors say that part of their mission is to promote “evangelism through beauty.”Thus, they are expressing an aesthetic argument that can be made for God’s existence. One way to frame this argument is to reason that God’s existence provides the best explanation for the world’s beauty.

Let’s briefly explore the topic of aesthetics and a Christian approach to the subject. Then we’ll look closer at an aesthetic argument for God.

Aesthetics

Aesthetics involves the study of beauty, taste, and art. It asks questions like: What defines beauty? Is beauty merely in the eye of the beholder? Is there an objective basis for evaluating the beautiful?

Philosophers ask further aesthetic questions like: Why do human beings have an aesthetic and creative sense? How is aesthetic value related to moral values and to other focal points of one’s worldview such as God, ultimate reality, and knowledge?

Aesthetics and Christianity

Historic Christianity affirms that God is the source of all beauty either through direct creative acts or through human beings’ creations as divine image bearers (Latin: imago Dei). So God as Creator is not only a Designer and Engineer of the world’s intelligibility but he’s also a playful and skillful Artist.

When it comes to promoting the truth and desirability of the Christian worldview, aesthetics seems to be underutilized, maybe especially among evangelical Protestants. But doctrine and theology place limits on what constitutes an appropriate use of religious art, particularly in church and especially in a worship service. Thus, in Christendom, Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants have different standards concerning how they approach, evaluate, and use aesthetics.

An Aesthetic Argument for God

One way of making the aesthetic argument for God is by proposing that beauty fits better in a world with God than in a world without God. For example, the secular worldview of naturalism says that God does not exist and that life in this world is the product of mindless, unguided natural evolutionary processes. But according to naturalism, evolution runs exclusively on the track of survivability. So how does the mechanism of naturalistic evolution driven by survivability produce artistic beauty when aesthetics doesn’t seem to contribute to survivability? Put another way, why so much beauty and creatures that can appreciate beauty when beauty doesn’t contribute to human survival? This is known as the problem of nonutilitarian or nonuseful values: beauty does not seem to be survival-conducive.

In evaluating this argument, consider the words of Christian philosopher William C. Davis:

“If everything (including humanity) is the result of random, impersonal forces which encouraged only survival, then it seems highly unlikely that the process would yield organisms (humans) which recognized values like these [artistic beauty] which aren’t survival-conducive.”2

Davis adds this important point as he contrasts naturalism and theism:

“But values like these [artistic beauty] are what we would expect if humans (and the human environment) were created by a personal, loving, and beauty-valuing God. God’s existence is a much better explanation for the existence of nonutilitarian value than any explanation without God.”3

Christian philosopher Paul Copan makes a similar case for beauty fitting better in a theistic world than in an atheistic world dictated by the forces of naturalistic evolution:

“[I]mpressive natural beauty is in no way linked to survival. So why think this overwhelming beauty should exist given naturalism? Why isn’t everything functional, monotonously textured, and a battleship-gray color?”4

Copan then appeals to the human aesthetic element:

“And why should (human) creatures exist who can admire and appreciate the world’s loveliness and majesty? And why do scientists prefer elegant or beautiful theories, often without observational support?”5

Christians and other theists are not the only ones who find this argument persuasive. Consider the remarks of skeptical philosopher Paul Draper:

“[T]heism is supported by the fact that the universe contains an abundance of beauty.”6

And the critical human aesthetic element is not lost on Draper:

“[A] beautiful universe, especially one containing beings that can appreciate that beauty, is clearly more likely on theism than on naturalism.”7

Beauty as a Pointer to God

The aesthetic argument for God’s existence proposes that an abundance of beauty and the human capacity to appreciate beauty fits better in a world with God than in a world without God that is driven by mere survivability. Thus, beauty may best be explained as a pointer to God. Because all people seem to be attracted to some form of beauty, the aesthetic case for God may be an underutilized apologetics gem.

May we be motivated to appreciate the beauty all around us and to discuss its origin with skeptics who also see that beauty.

Reflections: Your Turn

While I am especially moved by the historical art of Christendom, my wife Joan is drawn to the beauty of nature (e.g., natural parks). What form of beauty do you find most appealing? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes
  1. “Inside the Vatican Museums,” EWTN Vaticano Special, YouTube, December 31, 2017; youtube.com/watch?v=xg8SVfl40NU.
  2. William C. Davis, “Theistic Arguments,” in Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael J. Murray (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 39.
  3. Davis, “Theistic Arguments,” 39.
  4. Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007), 110.
  5. Copan, Loving Wisdom, 110.
  6. Paul Draper, “Seeking but Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic,” in Divine Hiddenness: New Essayseds. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 204.
  7. Draper, “Seeking but Not Believing,” 204.

 

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.



Email Sign-up

Sign up for the TWR360 Newsletter

Access updates, news, Biblical teaching and inspirational messages from powerful Christian voices.

Thank you for signing up to receive updates from TWR360.

Required information missing