I was watching a television program recently. I can’t even recall what it was about, but it did show a lot of fancy houses along the waterfront. I recalled growing up in my own home town, and how all the rich folk seemed to live on the “east side” – that is, along Lake Michigan.
It seems all over the Western world this is true: the most expensive and sought after properties tend to be along the shore. Whether on an ocean, a lake, or a river, people just seem to love living there, and as a result, often the most expensive homes can be found there.
People are willing to pay good money to get a beach property or a sea-side home. Why is that? Having access to water would be one reason: for swimming, surfing, fishing, or what have you. But perhaps a major reason would be one of aesthetics. People simply love the beauty of an ocean view or a lake view. They love seeing sunsets or sunrises over a body of water.
It is simply a beautiful experience. We all seem to love beauty, and many are willing to pay top dollar to experience such natural beauty on a daily basis. There is nothing new or odd about this. Of course we consider this to be quite normal. However, questions arise if atheism is true.
If the naturalistic evolutionary account of things is true, and we are only just survival mechanisms seeking to perpetrate our genes, then how in the world does something like aesthetics arise? How does the love of beauty fit in the reductionist worldview of naturalism?
If, as Dawkins says, we are simply a collect of selfish genes, the aesthetic experience seems hard to be accounted for. So too does the also universal sense of transcendence and wonder. These things make complete sense in the theistic worldview, but seem quite out of place in the atheist’s worldview.
Of course that is not to say that atheists have not tried to account for our sense of beauty, wonder, awe and even the transcendent. They have sought to explain away all non-material realities in various fashions. They really tend to be not very convincing however. Indeed, it often takes more faith to embrace the naturalist explanations of reality than it does to embrace theism.
The love of beauty makes perfect sense in the Judeo-Christian worldview. A God of wonder, beauty and perfection exists, and we are made in his image, so we share in this love of beauty. And God of course created a beautiful and majestic world, so we resonate with what we find in the created order.
But why in the atheist account of things should we put any premium at all on the aesthetic? Indeed, why would it even be there in the first place? How do we account for this overwhelming delight in beauty on the evolutionary account of things?
Again, the atheist crowd has offered various explanations for this, but they seem to be far from convincing. For example, how do we account for the universal belief in God and the transcendent? Easy: there is a god gene they tell us! All sorts of wild theories are thrown out there simply because they reject a priori the most obvious ones.
But how is it that the chief goal in life – the replication and promulgation of our genes – should ever result in people making great sacrifices just so that they can purchase a waterfront home to enjoy the beautiful scenery? This really makes little sense at all.
The more honest atheists and naturalists admit to there being a problem here. For example, secular philosopher Anthony O’Hear put it this way: “But how could we think of an aesthetic justification of experience. . . unless our aesthetic experience was sustained by a divine will revealed in the universe, and particularly in our experience of it as beautiful? It is precisely at this point that many or even most will draw back. Aesthetic experience seems to produce the harmony between us and the world that would have to point to a religious resolution were it not to be an illusion.”
He continues, “From my point of view it is above all in aesthetic experience that we gain the fullest and most vividly lived sense that though we are creatures of Darwinian origin, our nature transcends our origin in tantalizing ways.” He insists upon holding to his naturalistic evolution, even though it seems to run counter to the evidence – in this case the evidence of beauty and wonder in the world.
And note how he has to use the idea of transcendence to even start to come to grips with all this. His own worldview won’t allow him to do this, so he almost seems to want to sneak transcendence in by the back door. Yet all he can do is label this non-material account of things an “illusion”.
Theists are on much safer ground it seems. They simply do not have to explain away so much of everyday reality. Of course there is beauty and a universal appreciation of it, and the most sensible explanation is that this is the result of our being made by a God who is beautiful and delights in beauty.
The naturalist simply has too much basic stuff of reality to have to account for. He can seek to explain it away or dismiss its existence all he wants, but his attempts seem to amount to a desperate avoidance of reality. Just as a child may go into denial about things which seem unpleasant, so too the naturalist has to go into denial about so much of everyday experience, because the obvious answer of God is just too painful for him to accept.
Christian philosopher Bill Davis lists a number of features of the world that seem to be better explained by God’s existence than by metaphysical naturalism. Here are two such features: “Value, both moral and aesthetic, appears to be an objective feature of the world (and not merely imposed by human preferences), a fact much more likely to have been the case if God exists than if the universe is a grand accident….
“Humans have numerous features that are more easily explained by theism than by metaphysical naturalism, if only because metaphysical naturalism currently explains all human capacities in terms of their ability to enhance survival. Among these features are the possession of reliable faculties aimed at truth, the appreciation of beauty, and a sense of humor.”
He continues, “For each of these features of the world it is possible for the determined skeptic to insist either that the feature doesn’t exist at all (as with objective morality), or that the feature can be explained adequately in terms of natural forces (without God).”
I have yet to see such a naturalistic explanation do a better job of accounting for the data than the theistic explanation. But the diehard atheists and materialists will insist on living in a schizoid world. They will preach all day in the classroom that only matter matters; that there is no reality beyond the physical world. Yet – strangely – they will go home at night and say to their spouse, “I love you”.
Sorry, but this just does not cut it. The naturalist might say to his wife, “My brain is sending off various electrical impulses at the moment based on the external data my eyes have taken in” but he simply cannot carry on about non-material realities such as love. Nor can he speak to other such realities, such as beauty, truth, justice, and so on.
But our atheist buddies will nonetheless keep trying to come up with the impossible: naturalistic or physicalistic explanations for supernatural or metaphysical realities. I would rather simply enjoy the setting sun over the ocean, and reflect on the glorious creator God who loves beauty and was willing to share this beauty with his creatures.