The Mystery of Beauty

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Beauty touches something deep within us. It captivates and delights us. It is consoling, stunning, intriguing, inspiring, exhilarating. We recognize it. It arrests our attention.

But beauty is elusive.

We are unable to analyze, categorize or place beauty together with all the other topics that we study. Our attempts to describe it fail miserably; our definitions fall short. The greatest philosophers acknowledge that the best we can do is to recognize it when it is there. Beauty will not be explained or contained. It is real, it is wonderful—but it defies analysis.

Something similar happens with God.

Humans have an innate sense that he is there, but we cannot reduce him to a formula or an equation. We can worship or reject him, but we cannot fully explain him. It is a mistake to ask scientists to prove or disprove his existence. He does not reside within their field of study—and good science recognizes its limitations.

“The secret of beauty lies, not in its chemical analysis, but in another mysterious reality,” writes J. Warner Wallace. Science cannot explain why a certain combination of pigments on a canvas is beautiful. And it is incapable of unraveling the mystery of God. When science finishes explaining everything it will have explained nothing.

Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Wonder does not exist on the basis of rational explanations. It simply doesn’t work that way. It shows up unexpectedly and gives itself to those who are ready to be astonished. We are not about to figure out beauty and much less God—the source of all beauty—but they demand our attention. To ignore them is to be blind.

And to be fully alive involves responding to the awe-inspiring reality of both.

–J. O. Schulz

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A Spectacular Sequence

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Ever heard of the Fibonacci sequence? It is a sequence of numbers where each one is the sum of the previous two numbers. The sequence runs 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. What’s fascinating about the Fibonacci sequence is that when you make squares the size of the numbers, it creates a beautiful spiral image.

The “Fibonacci spiral” is found everywhere. It is to be seen in plant leaves, pine cones, seashells, pineapples, ferns, daisies, artichokes, sunflowers and even galaxies. It’s in the arrangement of seeds on flowers. It’s in starfish. It’s in the cochlea of your inner ear, which is not simply a spiraled shape, it’s the actual Fibonacci spiral, with the exact number sequence. There is a mysterious intricate embedded order, intelligence and design in nature. What is behind this mind-boggling sophisticated artistry?

We are told that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Similarly, extraordinary design requires an extraordinary designer. You are free to believe that all of this magnificence is simply the result of unplanned fortuitous collisions of molecules—a belief that requires faith of an extraordinary caliber. Or you can accept a more sensible explanation—this artwork is the work of an Artist, the work of a wise and skilled Creator. But please don’t parrot the nonsense that theists are people of blind faith. Blind faith is exercised remarkably well by skeptics.

–J.O. Schulz

The Sentiment of the Sublime

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In the sentiment of beauty we feel the purposiveness
and intelligibility of everything that surrounds us,
while in the sentiment of the sublime we seem to see
beyond the world, to something overwhelming and
inexpressible in which it is somehow grounded.

–Roger Scruton,
Modern Culture

Heaven Breaking Through

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All that is sweet, delightful, and amiable in this world, in the serenity of the air, the fineness of the seasons, the joy of light, the melody of sounds, the beauty of colors, the fragrancy of smells, the splendor of precious stones, is nothing else but Heaven breaking through the veil of this world.

—William Law
(1686 – 1761) 

Standing On The Threshold

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I tended at this stage to think of my Christian faith as a philosophy of life, not a religion. I had grasped something of its intellectual appeal but had yet to discover its imaginative, ethical and spiritual depths. I had a sense of standing on the threshold of something beautiful and amazing, which my reason had tantalizingly only grasped in part. Like Einstein, I realized that nature “shows us only the lions tail,” while hinting at the majesty and grandeur of the magnificent animal to which it is attached—and to which it ultimately leads.

–Alister McGrath,
University of Oxford Professor