Article from NY Times Magazine

Interesting stuff here. Much of the piece focuses on how & why animals (primarily fishes & birds) come to evolve characteristics that one might consider purely aesthetically beautiful — e.g., why a bird might evolve a spectacular plumage that might better attract mates, even at the expense of its overall utility, such as making it more difficult for the bird to fly.

I thought it may promote some interesting discussion from the group. The article is obviously purely secular, but it does make one think from a Christian perspective about the beauty of God’s creation in Perhaps novel ways. Cool photographs, too.


Neat article. Thank you.
“Beauty reveals that evolution is neither an iterative chiseling of living organisms by a domineering landscape nor a frenzied collision of chance events. Rather, evolution is an intricate clockwork of physics, biology and perception in which every moving part influences another in both subtle and profound ways. Its gears are so innumerable and dynamic — so susceptible to serendipity and mishap — that even a single outcome of its ceaseless ticking can confound science for centuries.”

He sums it up very well.

It reminds me of a couple other commentaries on our fascination with beauty: “The Sneetches”, which I just read to my kids last week, about our desire for sameness; and Sherlock Holmes’ “Sermon on Beauty,”:

“‘What a lovely thing a rose is!’
“He walked past the couch to the open window and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.
“‘There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.’”

I’m not sure how that reflects on religion; but it’s an interesting concept and link.

It does make you think. One thing that comes to mind is the beauty we see in pictures of nebulas and galaxies unseen until recently.
Also, while a peahen may find a peacocks feathers beautiful for good reason, why do we see them as beautiful? Perhaps it goes back to being made in the image of God, and beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

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To give people a taste:

Charles Darwin himself disagreed with this theory. Although he co-discovered natural selection and devoted much of his life to demonstrating its importance, he never claimed that it could explain everything. Ornaments, Darwin proposed, evolved through a separate process he called sexual selection: Females choose the most appealing males “according to their standard of beauty” and, as a result, males evolve toward that standard, despite the costs. Darwin did not think it was necessary to link aesthetics and survival. Animals, he believed, could appreciate beauty for its own sake. (…)
Now, nearly 150 years later, a new generation of biologists is reviving Darwin’s neglected brainchild. Beauty, they say, does not have to be a proxy for health or advantageous genes. Sometimes beauty is the glorious but meaningless flowering of arbitrary preference.


“Animals are agents in their own evolution,” he told me during one conversation. “Birds are beautiful because they are beautiful to themselves.”

Maybe this is all just an example of “free will” in nature. Our genes are not our destinies even for animals.

I especially liked the conclusion:

Why are flowers beautiful? Or, more precisely: Why are flowers beautiful to us ? The more I thought about this question, the more it seemed to speak to the nature of beauty itself. Philosophers, scientists and writers have tried to define the essence of beauty for thousands of years. The plurality of their efforts illustrates the immense difficulty of this task. Beauty, they have said, is: harmony; goodness; a manifestation of divine perfection; a type of pleasure; that which causes love and longing; and M = O/C (where M is aesthetic value, O is order and C is complexity).

If there is a universal truth about beauty — some concise and elegant concept that encompasses every variety of charm and grace in existence — we do not yet understand enough about nature to articulate it. What we call beauty is not simply one thing or another, neither wholly purposeful nor entirely random, neither merely a property nor a feeling. Beauty is a dialogue between perceiver and perceived. Beauty is the world’s answer to the audacity of a flower. It is the way a bee spills across the lip of a yawning buttercup; it is the care with which a satin bowerbird selects a hibiscus bloom; it is the impulse to recreate water lilies with oil and canvas; it is the need to place roses on a grave.

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From Socrates, we learn that beauty and goodness are synonymous. Recognizing that the long-term beautification of God’s creation is seeing the progress God’s Restoration of All Things or the Apocatastasis.

Evolution of the material creation goes hand-and-hand with the evolution of the soul’s of the fallen. As the guilt of the fall is slowly reduced, creation becomes more beautiful, more Godlike.

Here is an interesting review of a “Science” review of Dr Prum’s book, “Evolution of Beauty,”
With a link embedded to a pdf of the “Science” review.

A good point is that Fisherian runaway is perhaps relied on too much, and Prum conflates birds’ ideals of beauty with pro female selection as a morality humans would adapt (like Jordan Peterson did with lobsters) that does not, for example, follow with other species’ harems and male cannibalism, indicating these are species specific adaptations.

This is an excellent article and the type of information we should be discussing. The emphasis on sexual selection reminds me that Barth pointed the creation of Eve as evidence that humans as relational in character.

Barth did not do much with this observation because his philosophical understanding of God was that God is not really relational, but, as a EC, I would say that God created sex as an important tool in creating genetic variety, while also making it the basis of human love, which is the foundation of human love and morality.

Reality is more than the physical and the rational. Reality is also spiritual or based on love. Sex is the origin of the family, and family is the origin of relationship and morality.

The values of sex is that it values complexity and diversity, rather than uniformity. God is not just One. God is Three And One. M = O/C, Beauty = order (One) and complexity (Diversity.) God created this good, beautiful and diverse world through creative evolution through Order and Diversity united by Love.

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