I am left agape and humbled by the pictures from the Hubble telescope—of other galaxies spiralling away in distances and times so far from our own—and I am amazed, excited and inspired by the views from beneath the ocean. I also seem to have a penchant for deep-red colours, and I find images of the article quite hypnotising. If you are a woman with marble-textured light blue eyes you will find me embarrassingly lost in your eyes for a long time. I definitely experience beauty. While I was in Austria a marble-textured light-blue eyed girl expressed her wonder and humility when she stared out of the window towards the snow-capped mountains. I could not share her wonder, and even on her Apple Mac she didn’t share mine at the images of a galaxy. She even just dismissed the deep-sea as ‘kinna pretty’. She liked my greyish green eyes, whereas I do not. It is hugely subjective, person-to-person, exactly what ‘beauty’ is.
And it changes culture-to-culture. That immediately apparent in art; there is such a thing as renaissance art, or Greek art or period art precisely because what beauty perceived to be changes over time. One of my favourite examples is the beauty of water is Islamic cultures. Water is so beautiful in the eye of so many Islam cultures that any feature, so long as it is a water feature, is immediately beautiful. But I am frequently underwhelmed by the mediocre, average and even just-above-average examples.
What has this foreword got to do with anything? Well, apparently this cryptically named chapter title—“ God is Found in the Hallelujah of the Chorus”—is about beauty being an objective thing. The Christian wants us to believe that beauty, and our experience thereof, is best explained by beauty itself being grounded in God and His good nature. I do wonder what that means for its opposite; objective horror.
The atheist takes the points of my above foreword further than I do. To a dog a beautiful smell is the smell of another dog’s butt. And that is despite a sense of smell so keen it beggars belief. So what exactly is beautiful? The atheist also takes a Richard Dawkins point about ‘Middle Worlds’. What colour is ultraviolet light? That is a meaningless question because colour is not a real thing until we observe it. But jumping spiders can see ultraviolet light, and bats can navigate by sound and the Mantis Shrimp can see polarised light. The aesthetic we live in is wildly different, species-to-species.
Disagreement about what is beautiful does not negate that objective beauty exists. But so long as people disagree, and no one can tell other people they are wrong about what is beautiful, what more do we need?