Art and Atheism (The Mistake of Man, Part 2)

I don’t envy the Atheist, for he lives in a world of which he can only explain one half. The other half he can only guess at. By the other half, I mean all the things which are not explained by science: Morality, Happiness, Love, Religion, Art, etc. Of course, the Atheist has explanations for all these things, but none of them are really satisfactory. The animals get along fine without them; why shouldn’t we? That is a difficult question for the atheist.

But it is a question we need to ask. In the cold and cruel universe of atheism, all these things would make life more inconvenient and less efficient. They certainly do not make it simpler. The orangutan never asks why he exists, and so he doesn’t commit suicide when he gets no answer. He also doesn’t build a cathedral when he does. All these human things contradict the machinery of evolutionary efficiency. They should not be. Art is one example that is worth considering.

Animals are not artists. If the lion developed a sudden artistic attachment to its prey, we would hardly call it an advancement. We certainly wouldn’t call it efficient. Lionic poetry about the leaping grace of gazelles would not contribute to the evolution of more advanced and efficient lions. Lions are efficient because they don’t romanticize gazelles–they eat them.

It is the difference between utility and beauty that is the insurmountable gulf between animals and man. It is conceivable that an animal could learn to use tools to survive. But it is inconceivable that an animal would decorate its tools until they were unusable. It is perfectly efficient and reasonable for an ape to turn a rock into a tool for cracking nuts. It is inefficient to the point of insanity for an ape to turn a rock into the Pieta.

Art is not useful. It contributes nothing to the evolutionary process. Utilitarian beauty was a brief Victorian mood, but the fact remains that useful art is a contradiction in terms. A Ming vase may be perfectly suited to hold trash, but the idea of actually using it as a wastebasket is appalling. Some things are too beautiful to use, and this fact is proved by the existence of museums.

That art is wasteful and impractical is almost too obvious to mention, but this lack of utility is an enigma from an evolutionary perspective. Even if an ape could have evolved the intelligence to build a house, it would have never evolved the desire to decorate it. Art is something larger than reason and utility.

I’ve said until this point that art is useless, but that’s not exactly true. It is only true from a naturalistic perspective–not from a super-natural perspective. There is a use for art that can only be explained by spirit: Art is the language of living souls. It is the attempt of one spirit to express to another the inexpressible nature of things–to say something beyond words. Realistic art has never been very popular because the point of art is not to be realistic. Why reproduce what we can see with our eyes? Art is often exaggerated because it is what we cannot see, but still know, that art tries to capture.

The atheist might say the purpose of art is to make the world mean something. Perhaps, but the most reasonable explanation for it is that the world does mean something. We do not create art to invent meaning that isn’t there; we create art because we know meaning is there. All art and music and poetry are simply attempts to remember what the world means.

Back of everything that is, we can sense the purpose of an unseen Will, the breathing of a tremendous Life. We feel Its power as certainly as we feel we are alive, and the sensation is both strange and vaguely familiar. It is familiar because it is the echo of a distant memory. It is strange because we should not have forgotten it.

The insane sublimity of art is simply the striving of the soul to remember and to name this sense. It is the attempt to recall and remake the wonder and innocence of a home long forgotten, and the name of its Maker. It is the struggle to recover the glory and grace of a Garden, a place with two rivers and two trees at the very heart of the world–a place where a man could hear God walking in the cool of the day.


Happiness and Instinct (The Mistake of Man, Part 1)

I said in my previous post that evolution is too simple because it answers the wrong questions. But it is too simple for another reason, and that is evolution is entirely incapable of explaining human behavior. In a thousand ways, the behavior of man contradicts evolutionary ideas. One example of this, one of many, is the societal attitude toward children.

The one thing that evolutionary philosophy and Christianity really agree on is that children are good and desirable. From a Christian perspective, children are the result of loving union between man and wife. They are also a product of obedience to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. While the Christian philosophy of family is too large to develop here, it is sufficient to say that Christianity views children as a blessing and not a curse.

From an evolutionary perspective, children are valued because the purpose of all life is propagation. If a species survives to another generation, it has succeeded. The point of all adaptation and evolution is to minimize the chances of extinction.

I’ve heard evolutionary psychologists try to explain the mysterious attraction between men and women using this reasoning. Men are attracted to younger women with certain anatomical traits, they say, because it means they are more likely to be fertile and produce more offspring (the obvious irony being that the modern ideal of beauty is that which is least likely to produce many children). Women are attracted to men that are wealthy, handsome, and strong because they will be more likely to provide sustenance for their large families. All the complexities of human attraction and love are explained by the simple evolutionary principles of survival and propagation.

But the problem is, this reasoning is contradicted in every way by experience. Evolutionary philosophy would predict the employment of every means possible to produce larger and larger families. What we see in actuality is every means possible employed to prevent them. The most obvious example of this is the terribly anti-evolutionary practice of abortion. In a philosophical system that places survival and propagation as the highest ideals, the destruction of one’s own offspring is the most atrocious crime. If evolutionary ethics were capable of outlining mortal sins, abortion would certainly be the worst. Abortion rebels against every evolutionary ideal.

Abortion, and contraception, is not without its consequences–consequences that illustrate just how anti-evolutionary it is. Studies show the birth rate in industrialized countries is declining at an alarming rate. In some countries, they are even falling below replacement levels. This trend is ultimately unsustainable. The very thing evolution must prevent at all costs–extinction–is being brought about by the supposed advancement of the human species.

My point here is not to debate the rightness or wrongness of abortion or birth-control. It is simply to point out that human behavior is highly inconsistent with evolutionary principles.  This is because man is not really after survival at all–man is after happiness. If happiness can be attained, through sex or any other means, evolutionary ideals will be sacrificed in an instant. And this is exactly what we see happening. Mankind is chasing after happiness, and not propagation, with reckless and self-destructive abandon. Evolution as a theory remains in vogue simply because it removes the inconvenient moral limitations and responsibilities of theism. These, it is supposed, would interfere with the all consuming quest for happiness. Evolution is not an explanation, it’s an excuse.

Man was made for happiness, and for evolutionary philosophy, this is a real problem. Why would evolution bestow upon its supposed crowning achievement a desire for something that leads it to destroy the evolutionary process?  It wouldn’t. And this leaves us with two options: either man is not an evolutionary animal, or he is evolution’s gravest mistake.

The Wrong Question

Famed anti-theist and biologist Richard Dawkins has written a new book entitled The Greatest Show on Earth. No, it’s not a history of the Ringling Brothers–it’s his apologetic in defense of evolution. In the first chapter, Dawkins spends considerable time lamenting the large percentage of humanity that still believes in something as fanciful as Intelligent Design. He goes on to declare that evolution is an undeniable fact–something as real and self-evident as the earth itself. That is, except for the fact that you can’t see it. And this leads him to compare evolutionary scientists to forensic investigators piecing together the evidence of a crime scene after the fact.

But in his analogy, Dawkins misses the point. He’s right, of course–scientists are similar to forensic investigators in the sense that they want to answer how something occurred. But there is one major difference: to the forensic investigator, answering How is only a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. It is subordinate to the larger and more significant questions of Who and Why. Those are the ultimate questions, and the questions to which everyone craves answers.

Without answers to the questions of Who and Why, a case remains ultimately unsolved. There may be a full and detailed understanding of the cause of death, yet without these answers, the victim’s family is left in the agony of unknowing. They want a reason. They want a perpetrator.

But in Dawkins’ universe, there is no Who or Why. Who made this? No one. Why are we here? No reason. It could be said that Dawkins is being unreasonable. He has gone to great lengths to remove these most human of questions from the arena of thought simply because he does not like where they lead.

Yet, these are the questions everyone is really asking, and they are quite reasonable. Dawkins’ case remains, and will remain, unsolved because he hasn’t yet answered them. Theism remains and will remain because it has.

In short, Dawkins’ atheism is too simple. It is not satisfying. It is no more satisfying than knowing, to continue the analogy, that your child was violently murdered by no one. Deep in the human consciousness, we know there’s more to the story. There’s the Story, and it starts in the beginning.

I predict failure for Mr. Dawkins’ crusade to turn the world zealously after a question it isn’t asking. No, the world is far too wonderful and man too mystical for atheism to flourish. Yet, I suspect Mr. Dawkins will not realize his mistake. He will continue to puzzle over those who will not accept his answer to the question they didnt’ ask. He will go on asking a question which, by his own reasoning, is ultimately irrelevant. So Mr. Dawkins, keep asking How as long as you wish. I will simply ask you in turn a question that has much deeper and profounder implications–a question which strikes at the very heart of human nature: Why do you ask?