Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859, and Ernst Haeckel published drawings of embryos in his book The Natural History of Creation in 1868. Haeckel intended his somewhat inaccurate drawings to support Darwin’s theory by showing that embryo development reflects evolutionary development. As we said in yesterday’s post, those who reject the idea of a creator God try to explain what appears to be designed with purpose and beauty by saying it has no purpose and no designer. Beauty in living things can be a problem, or it can be a blessing, depending on whether you accept or reject the Designer of life.
Physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg is an atheist who rejects belief in God because of the problem of pain, which we can summarize as: “Why would an all-powerful and loving God allow pain and suffering?” Weinberg explains his view in his book Dreams of a Final Theory. However, he can’t explain the problem of why living things appear to be designed with purpose and beauty. He made the understatement of the century when he wrote, “I have to admit that sometimes nature seems more beautiful than strictly necessary.”
Evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins, writing in his book Climbing Mount Improbable, told about a time when he was driving through the countryside with his six-year-old daughter. The girl was excited about seeing “pretty” wildflowers. Dawkins asked his daughter what she thought was the purpose of wildflowers. She replied, “To make the world pretty, and to help the bees make honey for us.” Dawkins said he was sorry that he “had to tell her that it wasn’t true.” According to Dawkins, biology is the study of things that appear to be designed for a purpose, but his atheism forces him to argue that there is no purpose.
The living world around us shows many examples of the problem of beauty. Various species sing songs and perform dances that go beyond what survival would require. Gibbons sing duets, and birds of paradise display their beauty with song and dance. Bower birds go to excess extremes to create works of art. The peacock’s beautiful tail is extravagant from a survival perspective. These animal attributes seem inefficient and not a method to adapt to the environment. They certainly go beyond survival of the fittest to what David Rothenberg, a philosopher at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, calls “survival of the beautiful.”
Is it possible that the excessive beauty of living things is merely an accident, or is life designed with purpose and beauty? What is beauty, and why do we care? We will conclude this discussion tomorrow.
— Roland Earnst © 2022