Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Marc over at The Bad Catholic wrote an insightful essay--well, he writes several, but this one from several days ago just came back to mind earlier today and I wanted to connect a couple dots.

An agnostic I once read, long enough ago that I have forgotten who it was (I welcome all offers to identify the person and the circumstance for me), admitted that despite the dearth of objective, tangible evidence for God, one thing that materialists haven't really been able to account for is the presence of so much beauty in the world. The idea is that it would be simpler to evolve a psychology in a species that lacked any sense for beauty, and lacked any need for it, than a psychology that has a sense for beauty that helps propagate one's genes, or a psychology that has a sense for beauty that serves no materialistic need.

Marc points out some instances where a Darwinist might suddenly recognize that there are things of value that are not simply material, and then turns them on their heads. To wit:
How can you not believe in God? Have you never seen yourself seeing a sunset?”
What evolutionary end is furthered by being able to admire a sunset? Or music? Or the human form in non-reproductive terms?

Spare me references to magpies hoarding shiny things or the insistence that any appeal of one human to another is sexual. The former may be no more than analogous to a moth with its navigational instincts overwhelmed by a hundred watt light bulb, and the latter forgets that there can be more than one way for people to be just friends.

As CS Lewis would point out, why do we have this appetite for it if there is nothing real to satisfy it?  What sense would it make for the human brain to have acquired such a developed and nuanced sense of beauty, only to satisfy it with self-deluding judgments of sensory input?

Ah, but I've been talking about beauty.  What about ugliness and pain?

Same thing.  Witness a group of animals where one is wounded or brought down, not quite dead, by a predator.  The survivors might flee out of an immediate need to survive, and in some species parents might defend their young for the same gene-perpetuating reason (or sometimes a larger social group than the nuclear family, but whatever), but they don't attempt to rescue each other.  An ungulate gets caught in the mud near a watering hole and a cheetah is able to reach it without sinking, and starts eating from its hindquarters while it bleats in agony; the other antelope, sensing the departure of an immediate threat, return to drink and just keep an eye on the cat.

People, though?  Don't just rescue a person from the lion display at the zoo, look at yourself rescuing the person!  What motivated you?  A desire to prevent or stop the suffering of a fellow human?  Even a desire to play the hero?  Both motivations impossible for other animals.

Whether it's beauty or pain, we're capable of abstracting it and nothing else is.  Just think about why and where this capability originates.

1 comment:

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