Beauty as evidence against evolution?

Was sent this video by a family member and it sends such a strong message saying (essentially) “Beauty disproves evolution.” I don’t want to show it to my kids without thinking this through. How do I respond to this?

What do you think about it? Is there a need to show it to your kids?

Paul Nelson @ 4:40 - “Give me an example of chaos and chance producing beauty…”

Mandelbrot set,



I actually think the video is well produced, and could generate some good discussion. It stops short of asking some further questions, particularly what is the subjective experience of beauty? Why does certain visual stimuli resonate? Why do we regard rainbows and sunsets as beautiful? How is beauty a proxy for function? For genetic health? Why are we, animals, and even insects, so tuned for symmetry in sexual selection. How is competition involving “gratuitous beauty” more stringent than just the competition to survive? Does the vivid coloration of poisonous organisms exist to gratify us or warn us?

In regards to Paul Nelson’s central question, I would ask why God would be unable to create a universe that produces beauty?


Is it necessary to show to your kids? The speakers seem to focus on extremes ruling out natural processes (e.g. “This is so extremely beautiful that it must not be through a natural process!”).

I took a class on evolution for a science credit in college, so I’m no expert but I know at least enough to know that evolution produces extremes all the time. There are spicy peppers that became incredibly spicy over time because the less-spicy peppers were eaten by animals, and the more-spicy ones were left alone. For the peppers, being spicy was an advantage, and for the animals eating them, being able to tolerate spiciness was advantageous, so there was a sort of competitive evolution happening for several generations that produced an extreme spiciness among peppers and an extreme tolerance to spiciness among animals.

The same principle can apply in visual characteristics that look beautiful to human eyes, like in the Peacock.

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There’s a rather simple formula that describes the Mandelbrot Set and allows such pictures to be computer generated. Hardly the stuff of chaos and chance.

Mandelbrot himself presented the Mandelbrot set as chaotic.

Fractals and Chaos: The Mandelbrot Set and Beyond

Fractals are not indeterminate, and so are not chance in an ultimate sense. The same can be said for much of nature.

  • *Paul Nelson of Biola University has difficulty in seeing how chaos and chance can produce gratuitous beauty, and in saying that, IMO, he reveals his ignorance of chaos and chance. His juxtaposition of Michaelangelo’s art in the Sistine Chapel and “random splashes of paint” is a false comparison.
  • Seems to me that Nelson et al., with all their awe and wonder, must have an uninformed inability to appreciate an atheist’s equal ability to experience awe of and wonder over the beauty, not only in living things but also in bigger, non-living things: e.g. how can atheists experience the same feelings that theists do?
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I’ve not watched the video yet. But I’ve heard this argument presented before and it’s just silly. Different animals see the world in different ways. The color of plants is not to be beautiful to humans, but because of natural selection between colors insects see, colors that absorb light better or worse depending on the area and so on.


I don’t get it. How does beauty disprove evolution. Where is the proof that evolution cannot create beauty? As with the Mandelbrot set, it is demonstrable that beauty can be produced by a simple iterative process, and that is exactly what evolution is also.

That is incorrect. There is no such formula describing the Mandelbrot set – sounds like a failure to understand what is really going on. Yes there is a formula but it is simply one used in an iterative process to generate the picture – more iterations for greater detail.

Iterative processes are powerful. It is the basis of AI which gives the appearance of greater intelligence than human beings. Evolution is likewise an iterative process. Thus the Mandelbrot set is an excellent example of how an iterative process like evolution can produce great beauty.

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Is this an assumption you made based on the title of his book, or did you actually read something in the book that makes the case that the Mandelbrot Set, specifically, is chaotic?

By the way, there’s no mention of the Mandelbrot Set being chaotic in the Wikipedia article you took your picture from, much less any claim that it arises from chaos.

Are you nitpicking, or just wrong? How do you explain the following text:

"Fractals, the never-ending geometric-mathematical patterns existing throughout nature, are revealed in the shapes of continents, galaxies, snowflakes, and grains of sand. In this fascinating and seminal volume, renowned pioneering-mathematician Benoit B. Mandelbrot explains his work on fractal geometry, mathematically translating the description of these complex shapes of nature.

Until Mandelbrot developed the concept of fractal geometry in the 1960s and 70s, most mathematicians believed these irregular shapes were too fragmented and amorphous to be described mathematically."

An iterative process can produce beauty.
Evolution is an iterative process.
Therefore, evolution can produce beauty.

Is that your argument?

I see nothing wrong with the text. Perhaps the problem is in what you think it means.


My argument is…

Iterative processes are very powerful demonstrably producing both beauty and the appearance of superior intelligence including superior designs no human ever thought of.

Since evolution is such an iterative process also, these examples leave us little reason to think evolution cannot produce complex design as well beauty. Where is the proof that it cannot produce these things?

I see no evidence presented in the video that the peacock’s tail is “gratuitous beauty”! The features of the tail can be simply explained as the result of a long process of sexual selection, where a male is always in competition with other males to be chosen by a female. So, it leads to a type of “runaway-trajectory” of elaboration. e.g., males with tails shorter than the population average will tend not to be selected by females, so this drives continual elaboration of the train. Elaboration until the gain in number of mates is counteracted by survival costs (the tail becomes too long to walk with).

Furthermore, controlled experiments have shown that features such as the length of the train, and the symmetry of eyespots are reliable predictors of a male’s genetic quality, so it makes sense that females can increase their fitness by choosing such males. In fact, energetically costly (elaborate) traits are often selected as reliable signals of health and quality. There is a lot of evidence that the acquisition of some feather pigments, and the ability to grow feather barbs with evenly spaced bubbles that refract and reflect iridescent colours brightly are physiologically expensive to produce, and therefore are selected as reliable signals of mate quality. It is demanding to be a male peacock, in the wild only a small fraction succeed in mating at all. None of this effort is “gratuitous” from his point of view :wink:


Generating the Mandelbrot set completely fulfills the definition of chaos: the edges are so sensitive to a tiny change in value that the difference between “iterating stays finite” and “iterating goes to infinity” is a line that squiggles around in an infinitely complex path. Just because the rules are simple doesn’t mean that the result is not-chaotic: fluid dynamics is chaotic, dice rolls are chaotic, most fractal-generation algorithms are chaotic, etc.


It never ceases to amaze me the way things just happen in evolutionary theory. Longer tails, exotic markings and just because the female is attracted to them?

Evolution has no intelligence. It cannot just produce a variation on a whim. And how does the female get this preference? It is almost a chicken & egg scenario.

There is a fundamental flaw in the way these things are described and explained. Unless there is some sort of mechanism within the formation of deviations that give a direction, so that changes can build the basic principles cannot do what is claimed. IOW there is no good reason why the next change should have anything to do with the previous one… The idea of a tail just growing in length is changing the parameters of evolutionary change.

There is a difference between making a plausible explanation and keeping to the fundamental basics of what evolutionary change is supposed to be.


Stephen Jay Gould had a great section (way back in '95 in my capstone course) in sexual selection, and how that comes to be. You may enjoy that. It is fascinating stuff. I have a lot to learn.
@klw , thanks for your expert input. Looking way back to the course (28 years ago), I think that Gould talked about how there may be some excess cost–that they thought the beauty did mark fitness initially, but there was some persistence of sexual marker affinity where the benefit no longer was so marked. I think there was a study on bluegills and sunfish where fitness sometimes favored the small males which were not the nest makers, too–it gets really confusing, if I remember. Am I recalling it incorrectly? Thanks.

I found this interesting, too, and reminded me a bit of Gould’s discussion.
Peacock Courtship (


I am sorry, but if people could only take a step back and see the way these explanations ignore basic evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory may have changed over the years but there is an underlying principle that is just glossed over. Random change.

No matter what your definition of Random is, it dos not mean that successive changes are going to have any relation to each other let alone be a progression.