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August 22, 2006

Beauty and Jesus

In his review Sam Harris quotes the description from The Language of God of the moment when religion overcame human-genome scientist Francis Collins:

On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains … the majesty and beauty of God's creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.

Harris' response:

If the beauty of nature can mean that Jesus really is the son of God, then anything can mean anything.

Why is it that natural beauty is seen as belonging to the supernatural? It seems, at first glance at least, rather firmly rooted in the natural.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at August 22, 2006 11:58 PM


There recently was a question somewhat related to this at AskPhilosophers.org. See here for the question.

(Also see Zsabo's paper(PDF).)

Suppose that no one told you about god and Jesus and what not. And suppose you were simply ignorant of these and believed in some other god -The Flying Spaghetti Monster- then I am sure when you went out in your rose garden, you would see the Spaghetti Monster's trails everywhere.

What the theist can not simply is how anthropomorphic god is.

Posted by: Cihan Baran at August 23, 2006 3:22 AM

What I love about the waterfall story is that it was frozen in three streams, which meant the Trinity. Or, possibly, it was the Triple Goddess trying to get through to Collins, and failing...

Posted by: The Ridger at August 23, 2006 5:58 AM

Humans want to make the world in their own image, to make sense of it, to feel relief from their, otherwise, constant bewilderment with the overwhelming richness and terror of nature. Therefore, the invention of symbols: astrology(with human and animal figures), divisions of 'good'(what is defined as beauty) and 'bad'(what to avoid) in nature, and the idea of Gods that make humans in their image.(see Art and Artist, by Otto Rank)

Posted by: Lisa at August 23, 2006 9:08 AM

I agree with Lisa, all this talk of logic about "God" and virtue and morality is a human-centered discussion of the universe.

The only universe in which we matter at all is the one inside our individually symbolic worlds.

Is it moral to kill mosquitoes? Is it virtuous to let them live?

The more people talk about God the smaller God gets, until we paint God symbols on our bombs.

Virtue and morality are human intellectual boxes for instinctual forces. Culture is a natural human construction of our genetically controlled desires.

This "wisdom" of fighting ones "base" desires for the "good" of others is the natural workings of the social animal we are. We can call it morality or virtue, but it exists for the survival of the animal, not because it is good for the universe. One could easily argue it is actually bad for the universe, but that, too, would be giving us way, way too much importance.

All we can do is dream of what is out there. When we start talking about our dreams and agreeing on what they "mean" the illusions crumble. Yet we all live in a world built on comparing our dreams and building upon that network. What a paradox this living is.

Posted by: Jay Saul at August 23, 2006 9:46 AM

From Art and Artist, Chapter 11: Beauty and Truth. Art and Science came out of our desire to "play".

"Man sees that he need not continually sacrifice life to nature; he separates the ceremony from natural process and the idea of tribute, so that he can enjoy it freely as a triumph over nature. Play is therefore not a ceremony which has sunk to a mere show, but one which has been raised to freedom - indeed, it is only as such an expression of man's increasing dominion over nature that we can explain the change of ceremony into play; so far from being meaningless or interpretable only as a survival, the activity thereby acquired a higher sense. On the other hand, our explanation also makes intelligible the pleasure which the individual gets from this sham activity, in that we regard this as a saving of vitality and, indeed, of life." (pg.327-328)

Posted by: Lisa at August 23, 2006 4:34 PM

Why is it that natural beauty is seen as belonging to the supernatural?

Yeah, that bugs me. What's more, "just so" stories about gods and what not only detract from the awesomeness of the universe, and make it small and petty.

Posted by: No More Mr. Nice Guy! at August 31, 2006 12:52 AM

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