I had a friend of mine text me today. He knows I'm an atheist. Here's the conversation:
Friend (F): Do you see beauty in things?
Me: Of course I do.
F: What's the point of seeing beauty? How does that help you. And I'm not talking about a girl
Me: Things are just beautiful. Some things aren't. Some things adapt to be beautiful, some things don't. Things that aren't living, but simply are are beautiful. Planets, mountains, stars and galaxies exist because they can, and they are beautiful in their nature. Honestly, when I look at one star, I'm humbled.
F: But where does beauty stem from? What source? "simply being beautiful" doesn't work. You can't state that w/o backing it up.
F: plane time (he has a flight back home)
Me: Things get their beauty from our responses to them. Beautiful paintings make you stop and look for a while. The mountains are breathtaking because they're so massive you can't absorb all the detail in an instant. You have to stop and look for a while. You pause and absorb all the detail you can. Stars are beautiful because they're decieving in their appearance, and once you think about it and muse on it they become more beautiful
F: That's what I'm saying. Evolution has no answer for our feelings. it falls short. Why enclose your mind so.
whatcha guys think? I'll keep you all updated. the last text he sent me is a little absurd, I thought it was going well up until that point.
You were definitely expressing emotion throughout every explanation. Is he clueless? It seems like he's trying to find any which way to prove evolution is irrelevant, but he's not even paying attention to a thing you've said. You certainly answered his questions.
I always explain emotions as an "intangible output of the tangible (brain)" but they (fundies) always want more. Why can't they be content with how things just work; does everything have to be magical? Haha
You're not answering the question.
"Things get their beauty from our responses to them."
That's circular. "Something is beautiful because our response to it is 'that's beautiful!'"?
There's two ways we can account for beauty (but really 3). It's either evolved and innate or learned and cultural (or the third, it's a combination).
If it's evolved we have two apparent possibilities. Either there's an adaptive value that perceiving something to be beautiful would have had in our ancestors or, more likely, something more mundane than beauty that was adaptive and beauty is just what we call it when we experience a particular intense feeling of the more mundane, it's an off the charts reaction to what we perceive and is such a powerful feeling we have a different name for it: beauty.
Turns out this second one is what seems to be the case.
Our perceptual systems have evolved to focus on what matters. We ignore the redundant, the noise, and focus on the specific features that have some survival importance, searching for meaningful patterns. Beauty seems to be what we call it when we're struck by the power of a perception; power in the sense of the purity, the intensity of the perception's already existing lack of redundancy and noise.
Specifically with regard to the visual system, we've determined that there are 8 features that visual perceptions have that lead us to call something beautiful. Something that has more of these features and/or bears these features more strongly is certainly more likely to be called beautiful. Among these features are Symmetry, Correlation, Peak-Shift, Stand-Out, Contrast.
If you want to read more about this I suggest Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness Without God. This is a key example of the importance of having a comprehensive worldview of which atheism is just one part.
So the answer ends up being that we've evolved to pay attention to certain features of our perception because these things allow us to discover meaningful patterns. When a perception has several of these features and has them particularly strong, we call that beauty. Now, certainly just exactly what we call beautiful has a lot to do with culture, but that we call anything beautiful at all is evolution.
wow, that was great. Thank you for really going in depth with that.
when I said it was beautiful because of our response I was trying to get at the second point you brought up. that something is so different and unique that it invokes a sense of wonder and emotion that we call beauty. You just said it better than I did.
No problem. My pleasure. :)