Victor Hugo on Atheism

I am in the midst of reading Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables—and I will be for some time as it is a massive work. In the midst of the novel, Hugo digresses, as he is wont to do, into a fascinating discussion of atheism. Hugo lived in a time of great upheaval intellectually and morally, a time of revolution. Of course, one of the battle cries of the revolutionaries of his day was, “God is dead.” It is to this he responds. Now, Hugo himself was by no means a traditionalist. He considered himself a free-thinker—one who had progressed beyond the archaisms of traditional religion. Nevertheless, he recognized that atheism was not an answer to anything. Here is what he said.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is, as we know, a philosophy which denies the infinite. There is also a philosophy, pathologically classified, which denies the sun; this philosophy is also called blindness.

To erect a sense which we lack into a source of truth is a fine blind man’s self-sufficiency.

The curious thing is the haughty, superior, and compassionate airs which this groping philosophy assumes towards the philosophy which belongs to God. One fancies he hears a mole crying, “I pity them with their sun!”

There are, as we know, powerful and illustrious atheists. At bottom, led back to the truth by their very force, they are not absolutely sure that they are atheists; it is with them only a question of definition, and in any case, if they do not believe in God, being great minds, they prove God.

We salute them as philosophers, while inexorably denouncing their philosophy.

The remarkable thing about it is, also, their facility in paying themselves off  with words. A metaphysical school of the North, impregnated to some extent with fog, has fancied that it has worked a revolution in human understanding by replacing the word Force with Will.

To say, “The plant wills,” instead of, “the plant grows,” this would be fertile in results indeed if we were to add, “the universe wills.” Why? Because it would come to this: the plant wills, there for it has an I; the universe will, therefore it has a God.

As for us, who, however, in contradistinction to this school, reject nothing a priori, a will in the plant, accepted by this school, appears to us more difficult to admit than a will in the universe denied by it.

To deny the will of the infinite, that is to say, God, is impossible on any other conditions than a denial of the infinite. We have demonstrated this.

The negation of the infinite leads straight to nihilism. Everything becomes “a mental conception.”

With nihilism, no discussion is possible. For the nihilist logic doubts the existence of its interlocutor , and it is not sure that it exists itself.

From its point of view, it is possible that it may be for itself, only a “mental conception.”

Only, it does not perceive that all which it has denied it admits simply by the utterance of the word “Mind.”

In short, no way is open to the thought by a philosophy which makes all end in the monosyllable, No.

To No, there is only one reply: Yes.

Nihilism has no point.

There is no such thing as nothingness. Zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing. Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread….

For our part…we will confine ourselves to saying that we niether understand man as a point of departure nor progress as an end, without those two forces which are their two motors: faith and love.

Progress is the goal, the ideal is the type.

What is the ideal? It is God.

Ideal, absolute, perfection, infinity: identical words.

— Volume II, Book VII, Chapter VI: “The Absolute Goodness of Prayer”


The Wrong Question

I wrote this essay in 2009, when Dawkins’ book first came out.

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]amed 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 How the death occurred, yet without these answers, the victim’s family is left in the agony of unknowing. They want a reason, a motive. 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. Despite great progress in scientific explanations of How things work, Dawkins’ case remains, and will remain, unsolved because he hasn’t yet answered them. Theology 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?

Kinds of Evidence: A Question for the Atheist

The average atheist will tell you that a deity of some kind may exist, but there is simply a lack of evidence to demonstrate that this is the case. But demonstrate in what way and with what evidence? Does the atheist really expect to conduct a laboratory experiment that will show the existence of God in the same way you would prove the existence of a microbe or mitochondria?

I ask because it is quite obvious that not all things are proved in the same way, and the honest searcher for truth should not expect to use the same method to prove dramatically different kinds of things. A detective seeking the identity of a murderer may seek fingerprints, DNA samples, or other material traces; An astronomer searching for the existence of extraterrestrial life might search for organized signals or patterns that could indicate intelligence; A child wanting to know she is loved doesn’t conduct an experiment; A philosopher presenting a deductive claim, like all bachelors are single, needs no evidence—it is true by definition.

I believe this question has far-reaching implications, for if the only issue truly separating the atheist from a reasonable belief in God is evidence, then the kind of evidence acceptable makes a great deal of difference. In fact, I would assert that if this question cannot be answered, it is meaningless to talk about God being an unreasonable or an unsubstantiated belief.

I have presented evidence for the existence of an immaterial, immutable mind—an intelligence—behind the fabric of the universe. It seems this would be a reasonable indication of the existence of a Being that is immaterial and immutable. Yet this was dismissed almost immediately and with no refutation. So I ask the purportedly open minded atheist, Taking into account the nature of God, what evidence would you accept for his existence and why? What evidence would be reasonable grounds for belief in a deity?

The Prayer of Faith Will Heal the Sick: A Failed Promise?

This post is part of a larger discussion with Leighton Taylor regarding reason, faith, and the existence God. Specifically, this post is in response to this comment. For more posts related to our discussion, please click here.

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]orgive me if this response is a bit lengthy, but I believe your problem is reasonable and legitimate, and therefore I want to address it in a reasonable manner.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that I am indeed prone to doubt. There have been times that I have doubted my faith. There have been times I have doubted whether it is possible to know anything at all. There have been times when I have doubted whether existence is not simply a dream. But ultimately, I have doubted my doubts, and found that to think in a rational way one must believe. Faith is a matter of existence, and of thinking at all.

Simply put, skepticism is not a system of thought, nor can it ever be. It is not possible in any way to build a rational framework on a negative principle. To argue, to think in an orderly way, one must believe a certain number of first principles as true, and you will find that inevitably these first principles are matters of faith. I am hoping to develop this idea further (if I can ever finish the post), but it is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice it to say that, yes, I do doubt, but doubt is never enough.

As for the passage in James, on which this discussion has come to focus, I have thought about it extensively, and questioned whether or not it is a promise which has been left unfulfilled. After further analysis, however, I see no way in which this is a failed promise. Let me further elaborate my position as I feel I was hasty in my first reply and left many aspects of this question unanswered.


Before we can conclude whether or not this passage contains an unfulfilled promise, we need to precisely define what the passage actually says. To do this, it is necessary to return to the language in which the passage was originally written, Greek. It is obvious that the keywords in this particular verse are “heal” and “sick,” so it is on these words that I will concentrate. In Greek, the words for these are “sozo” and “kamno” respectively. For the sake of precision, here are the meanings of these words:


    • To save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
    • To save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
    • To preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue
    • To save in the technical biblical sense
    • To deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment
    • To save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance

From here.


  • To grow weary, be weary
  • To be sick
From here.

Regarding the first word, Sozo, the primary sense of the word is “salvation,” or being made “whole” (notice that this is the root of the word “salve”). But being saved from physical sickness is only one possible meaning, and it is not even the primary meaning at that. The great majority of the times this word is used in the New Testament, it is used in a spiritual context, of spiritual wholeness and wellness (I have linked to verses in Matthew, but the same holds true through the rest of the New Testament where this word appears). So could this word mean “heal” in the sense of making physically healthy again? It is possible, but it is only one possibility.

Regarding the second word, Kamno, does this word necessarily mean physically ill? Again, it is possible, but the primary sense is “to be weary” or “to faint,” and it is in this sense that the word is translated in the other places in which it appears in the New Testament.

Taking these definitions into account, it is entirely reasonable to render this verse in the sense that the prayer of faith shall strengthen, or make whole, those who are weary and faint—either spiritually or physically. In fact, Young’s Literal Translation renders it in this way:

“And the prayer of the faith shall save the distressed one, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if sins he may have committed, they shall be forgiven to him.”

Failed Promise?

Now that we have established what the verse actually says, I will address what the passage means and whether or not the statement made in this passage is unfulfilled.

As I have already pointed out, this passage is prescribing a path to wholeness—which is synonymous with salvation—either physically or spiritually. Indeed, we cannot neglect the spiritual implications of this passage, or forget that the human person has a spiritual as well as a physical nature. Of course to an atheist, this isn’t true, but the passage was not written by an atheist. At any rate, spiritual connotations are clearly present here, as verse 15 ends, “and if sins he may have committed, they shall be forgiven to him.” I notice that you did not include this in the verse as quoted on your blog, but it is nevertheless an essential part of the verse.

Therefore, it can be said that this passage carries with it both a physical and a spiritual dimension. And this is how the Church has historically understood it.

But does this mean we should always expect physical healing? If we look at the whole of the Bible, and not just this verse, it is clear that physical healing is not inevitable. This is not due to God’s inability to heal, but rather to the priority of the salvation, or healing and wholeness, of our souls, which is often accomplished through suffering. Redemptive suffering, or suffering as an instrument of salvation, is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. Here are just a few verses to that effect:

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:17

“For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” 1 Corinthians 1:5-6

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-8

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” Philippians 3:10

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13

In short, the Bible presents suffering as a medicine for sin and salvation.  If we participate in and are united to the sufferings of Christ, we will also be participants in and united to his resurrection and glorification. Like a painful surgery or physical exercise, suffering always hurts at the time, but it leads to health and wholeness spiritually.

So what does this theology of suffering have to do with this passage? It has everything to do with it. In the Bible, Christ is presented as the healer of our bodies, but also of our souls. As a spiritual physician, he may use temporal and physical suffering to “cure” us spiritually. And sickness is a form of suffering. If physical suffering can lead to our spiritual healing, God may choose not to heal us.

Now before you dismiss this idea, there is an exact example of this concept in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul relates to the Corinthians that he asked Jesus directly three times to relieve him of his severe physical suffering—many believe this was related to a chronic eye condition. If Jesus was concerned only about our physical well being, it would be reasonable to expect this request to be answered instantaneously, especially for someone of the spiritual stature of the Apostle Paul. Each time, however, Jesus responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, Christ was more concerned with Paul’s spiritual purification and wholeness (salvation) than he was about his physical salvation from sickness.

This is not to say God doesn’t heal physically. I have already stated that he does and he has. But in this age of the world, our physical redemption does not carry the weight or priority of our spiritual redemption. Our bodies will die. This is inevitable. But as Christians, we believe in the eventual redemption, restoration, and salvation of our bodies which will take place at the resurrection and consummation of the age. Our souls, however, will not die, nor will they be resurrected. So spiritual wholeness takes precedent for now.

Again, I apologize for the great length of this, but I believe it was important to show that this verse, at least from a Christian perspective, is in no way inconsistent with the whole of the Christian message of redemption of both our souls and bodies. Christian theology is an interconnected whole, and one part should never be separated from the others—the theology of healing cannot be separated from the theology of suffering, which cannot be separated from the theologies of sin and salvation. In short, this is not a failed promise, it is very much being fulfilled as we daily die and yet live.

Intelligent Design and the Complexity of God

For the past few months, I have been having an engaging and enjoyable discussion with my good friend, Leighton Taylor, centering on the issue of atheism. Most recently, our discussion has turned toward why it is that Richard Dawkins allows for the possibility of intelligent design, but excludes the possibility that the designer could be God. Dawkins states his position in the following video:

Below, I have included our discussion to this point.


I would be interested in your response to this video.

I am interested because I see a pattern in atheist thinking. It is as follows: “We don’t believe in God because we see no evidence for his existence.” When presented with potential evidence for God, the response is inevitably, “Any possible evidence for the existence of God must have a naturalistic explanation because no God exists.” This tells me the issue is not really evidence.

You see this kind of reasoning in Dawkin’s statements in the video above. He is saying that genomes are complex (they are vastly complex), and this leads to the possibility that an intelligent designer is behind them. This is a reasonable conclusion. But then he immediately jumps to the conclusion that it can’t be God because God doesn’t exist. Aliens are a more likely explanation. This is the fallacy of exclusion of evidence, and it is a very weak argument.

In the case of inductive reasoning, which is what science is, no possibility should be excluded. Just because we don’t have the ability to detect something with scientific instruments doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Not all truths are discovered in the same way.


In Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, his central argument against the existence of any eternal deity is that a god would be “the ultimate Boeing 747,” referring to the creationist/ID argument that the development of complex life through natural processes would be like a tornado blowing through a junkyard and creating a 747.

Dawkins makes the case that the existence of a god would be like a 747 “poofing” into existence for no reason, since there is no apparent reason why a god should have always existed. As I discussed in my post, “Does Complexity Require a Creator?” both theists and atheists believe that either something has always existed, or that something came from nothing. As you stated in your comment on that article, “the simpler thing is always more probable,” so Dawkins believes it improbable that a god has always existed, or that a god simply appeared out of nothing.

Because evolution, mainly driven by natural selection, is the only means we know of for complex beings to arise gradually through natural processes, Dawkins assumes that if there is an intelligent designer, that designer can’t simply have appeared suddenly or always existed–the designer must have arisen through evolutionary processes as well.

You’re right that no possibility should be excluded a priori, but so far the overwhelming majority of the scientific community has found great success pursuing natural explanations and has seen no compelling evidence of a supernatural designer, so if there was a designer of some kind, it was more probably natural than supernatural.

There is no way to disprove that an all-powerful god did something. For example, we could have all been created 10 minutes ago with all our memories in place and with the entire universe having the appearance of being old. This scenario can never be disproved, since if there were a god we would have no way of knowing if he/she were mischievous and deceitful, given to playing “practical jokes” on his/her creation. Or perhaps evolution never happened and a god planted all the evidence of evolution in order to deceive us. Since there is no way to disprove this kind of supernatural intervention, and since there is no evidence of such mischief, we can only assume that evidence reflects reality and continue to pursue naturalistic explanations.


False Gods
One of the biggest problems I see with atheism in general, and Dawkins in particular, is the tendency to oversimplify. Dawkins finds the idea of a god very “unpleasant,” and he wants to disprove the existence of any deity. So he sets about to sweep away all deities in the same way–in one fell swoop. While this approach may make for easy caricatures and funny jokes about the tooth fairy, the truth is that not all theists have the same conception of God. Ideas about God vary greatly from one religion to another.

Dawkins’ approach is like trying to disprove the existence of all animals. It might be easy to disprove the existence of a winged unicorn, but it would be impossible to disprove the existence of a zebra (unless you ignore the facts). They are both animals, but they are not the same animal, and you cannot treat them in the same way. If he is going to be intellectually honest, Dawkins should not oversimplify and treat all conceptions of God in the same way, either.

There is a reason I am a Christian and not a Hindu. And that is because I believe Hindus are wrong about God. If Dawkins wants to disprove the Hindu conception of the divine, or perhaps the ancient Greek conception of the divine, I will join him because I am not a polytheist. I am a Christian because I believe it is the only religion that is theologically and philosophically consistent and defensible.
So the questions arises, what god (or gods) is Dawkins trying to disprove? He needs to choose, because they can’t all be argued against in the same way.

Material or Immaterial
Second, Dawkins continually makes the mistake of comparing God to a physical being by comparing him to a machine like a 747 and saying God is more “complex.” This is an absurd statement. In what way is God complex? If Dawkins is going to base his entire argument against the existence of God on the fact that God is complex, he must first define what he means by complex.

Does he mean composed of a multitude of physical parts that you can diagram? Does he mean complex in intelligence? Does he mean complex in personality? He must define his terms. I ask again, in what way is God complex? And once the nature of God’s complexity is defined, how does that complexity compare to the mechanical complexity of a 747?

What you will find is that the comparison simply doesn’t apply, at least not to the Christian God. It is a false analogy. In Christian theism, God is not composed of parts like a machine, and Christians have an extensive philosophical tradition behind that belief. You cannot compare a spiritual being to a physical one and say the spiritual one is more complex. As a “natural” comparison, it would be like comparing pure energy to a Ferrari and saying energy is more complex. Energy is a different thing altogether than a machine, and so is God.

This shows me that Dawkins is either completely ignorant of the philosophical underpinnings of the Christian faith, or he is being intentionally dishonest. And that leads me back to my first point: Which God is Dawkins arguing against? If Dawkins wants to disprove the existence of the Christian God, he must deal with the truth claims of Christianity. But as it is now, Dawkins is arguing against a god of his own creation.

What Kind of God
You said:
“There is no way to disprove that an all-powerful god did something. For example, we could have all been created 10 minutes ago with all our memories in place and with the entire universe having the appearance of being old. This scenario can never be disproved, since if there were a god we would have no way of knowing if he/she were mischievous and deceitful, given to playing “practical jokes” on his/her creation. Or perhaps evolution never happened and a god planted all the evidence of evolution in order to deceive us. Since there is no way to disprove this kind of supernatural intervention, and since there is no evidence of such mischief, we can only assume that evidence reflects reality and continue to pursue naturalistic explanations.”

You are excluding the possibility of revelation of any kind, and assuming that, if a deity exists, it would naturally be capricious and cruel. Why would this have to be the case? Why would a deity have to enjoy playing tricks?

Besides this, the world we live in doesn’t reflect such an evil deity. Would such a wicked god really create an orderly, consistent, beautiful universe, the depths of which we have yet to discover? Would such a god create orderly laws of thought which allow us to comprehend the world we live in? Would such a god give us intellects, emotions and freedom of the will? Would such a cruel God provide us with an appreciation for beauty, the capacity for love, the ability to create? I don’t think so.

You are absolutely right, we see no evidence of such mischief. Instead, the world we live in provides evidence of the Christian God, the God who has revealed himself as the essence of love and orderliness and consistency, the God who has not left us in darkness.

Logic and the Logos

At the back of all our thinking is the firm conviction that, if we think at all, we should think properly. That is, we should not think in circles, that our arguments should be structured in an organized and coherent way, and that two plus two never equals five.

All science, mathematics, and philosophy is based on this principle. These fields of knowledge assume an orderliness and predictability, not just of the world we can observe, but to the world we cannot–the world of abstract thought and ideas.  They assume that if one thing is proven true, then it follows that the opposite must be false, and that a syllogism, if properly constructed, carries all the weight and force of a definite law.

For there is a definite and universal character to the laws of logic and of thought. The strictness and regularity of these laws is even more easily testable and provable than the laws of nature, where mere probability is the rule. On the most fundamental and conceptual level, if A equals B, and B equals C, then A always equals C. This is not a matter of chance or probable outcome. This is not even a matter subject to empirical observation. The outcome simply follows with a more immutable certainty and necessity than the rising of the sun.

To those who take pleasure in thinking, this is a sacred truth, and there is nothing more feared than a fallacy. To embrace a fallacy would lead to intellectual impotence and a dissolution of the very fabric of reason. A fallacy is more than a mistake–it is a rebellion against the orderliness and harmony of the cosmos; it is a disregard for the truth and positivity of all things; it is a denial of our thought’s very relation to reality.

Now, the laws of logic, while necessary for all thought, are unusual things. They have a unique character, quite separate from the realm of  ordinary experience. This character can be described in three ways: They are immaterial and abstract–that is, their consistency is reflected in the material world but their existence is not contingent on it. They are also immutable, for what is proved logically true and necessary today cannot be proved logically false tomorrow. And they are universal–They are not simply conventions on which we agree, and there is no one to whom they do not apply.

It is not possible for me to have my own laws of logic by which I can prove with certainty that I am a cow. Nor can you have your own laws of logic where one and two equals twelve. There is an element of submission to the laws of logic–a recognition of a higher authority to which we must bow, not only for convenience but for comprehensibility.

This binding reality the ancients referred to as the Logos, the Logic–the basis of all thought and all argument; the unifying ratio or reason back of all that is. The Logos was divine in origin–for from whence but the Divine could a universal, immaterial constant emanate? Where indeed.

The materialistic atheist is quite insistent on being logical and rational–on not violating these laws of thought. And rightly so. Yet, this submission to an abstract, supra-natural entity is inconsistent with a materialistic philosophy–for it is not possible to intelligibly account for the laws of logic, independent of the material world as they are, when locked in a prison of matter. It is like arguing that oxygen doesn’t exist while using oxygen to breathe. It is, in fact, quite irrational.

No, there is but one fountain of all reality that can account for the rationality, logical consistency, and intelligibility of the universe, for the origin of an immutable, immaterial constant that governs our intellects and gives them life. And this fountain is not a principle, it is a person–the person of whom it was said, In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.

Art and Atheism

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 Ulm Cathedral.

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. This is true, 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.