Surprising Beauty

Beauty is the signature of an intelligent designer.

By Published on June 7, 2018

The world can be quite beautiful. Why?

When I was 16, my parents gave me a horse. I was a fairly typical teenager, self-absorbed and isolated. I think my parents hoped that the horse would help me get over myself. It did, but not in the way they thought.

There were wild grasslands in the hills near where we lived. I rode there practically every day. As I rode I was surrounded by nature at its best. The scent of sweet grass and the wind soft on my cheeks soothed my heart. The song of the meadowlark brought me joy.

I wish everyone could have such an encounter with nature, for in it I met beauty. Something reached into my soul. I had a sense that something or someone had to be responsible for this beauty.

What I had intuited was the way beauty points to an intelligent designer.

An Objective Quality

Beauty is an objective quality of a thing. A thing is beautiful if it has unity, depth, radiance, and harmony in its parts. It touches our spirits.

Beauty has depth. Our appreciation of beauty grows with each experience. This is true for both natural beauty and beauty in human design.

Beauty is objective because it exists even when hidden. Coral reefs are muted blues, grays, and browns under natural light. Under photographic lights, they explode with color — vivid yellows, oranges, blues. The beauty is there all along, just waiting to be revealed.

Coral Reef Colorful Beauty - 900

Beauty is often a bonus. That is, it goes beyond what is needed for function or survival. It’s also extravagant. Consider the rolling grasslands of the Palouse or a brilliant green scarab beetle.

Being beautiful is not the same thing as being pleasurable. Abnormal or immoral things can be pleasurable. Not everything is beautiful.

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Some say beauty is subjective because different people see beauty in different things. But beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the object. If the beholder doesn’t see it, he may need glasses.

Sometimes we don’t see beauty right away. We need repeated exposure to see it. Who has not had his or her view of someone’s physical beauty change over time?

Sometimes we differ in our wiring. Three-5 percent of the population takes no pleasure in music. The brains of people with this condition are wired differently. They don’t respond to music. Music can still be beautiful, though, even if not everyone can hear it.

A Product of Darwinian Evolution?



But wait. Perhaps we just evolved to see some things as beautiful because they benefit our survival. For example, we might have evolved a certain view of human beauty because it helps us choose the mates most likely to give us offspring. Psychologist Dr. Glenn Wilson claims that people with the greatest facial symmetry and sexual dimorphism (that is, they look quite different from the opposite sex) are most likely to have healthy children. [1] Those traits tend to be viewed as beautiful on psychological tests.

Well, OK if true, but it’s certainly not everything. What a shallow, empty view of human beauty! The beauty of a weathered old woman’s face has nothing to do with choosing a mate.


Is our sense of beauty hard-wired? An Indian neuroscientist named Vilayanur Ramachandran came up with rules to explain why some paintings are beautiful. He based his rules on neurobiology and evolutionary principles. Perhaps they describe some aspect of beauty. But they do not describe what makes things radiant, harmonious, or deep.

Beauty is the signature of an intelligent designer who knows beauty and chooses to make it a part of his creation.

Perhaps our preference for landscapes is hard wired. Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid asked people from many cultures what art they liked. Almost every culture preferred blue landscapes. Supposedly this is because savannahs look like the place where we evolved. But then, why do we find rugged mountains and wild seashores beautiful? Maybe we all use the same illustrated calendars? I suspect the sense of beauty came first.

There is no reason to expect beauty from random evolutionary processes. Beauty by itself does not improve survival. Birds could all sound as raucous as crows. Savannah predators could all have been as ugly as hyenas. Then there are naked mole rats. Let’s not go there.

Blue Landscape Painting - 900

Nature Did Not Have to Be Beautiful

The best test of beauty’s reality is to look for it where natural selection can’t have an effect. Consider the beautiful mathematics that describes the universe. Many physicists and mathematicians view an equation’s simplicity and explanatory power, its beauty, as evidence of its truth. Equations that describe the fundamental physics of the universe are beautiful.



Evolution cannot account for this. According to Darwinism, we are attracted to something beautiful because it increases our survival. These fundamental physics equations don’t increase our survival. Yet the math is beautiful.

Nature didn’t have to be beautiful. But it is, at all levels, from the majestic cedar to the elegant structure of DNA. Why? Why is nature beautiful? Finding radiant beauty in nature is a pure gift, for which we should be grateful. It need not be this way. Beauty is the signature of an intelligent designer who knows beauty and chooses to make it a part of his creation. For our sakes.


[1] Wilson, Glenn. “Standards of Beauty Are Determined by Evolutionary Biology.” The Culture of Beauty, edited by Louise I. Gerdes, Greenhaven Press, 2013. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.

Originally published at Evolution, June 6, 2018

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