Evolution Intelligent Design Natural selection

NYT: Beauty in nature acknowledged — but only as “Darwin’s neglected brainchild”

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We’re told that ”nearly 150 years later, a new generation of biologists is reviving Darwin’s neglected brainchild.” However, there is more:

Beauty, they say, does not have to be a proxy for health or advantageous genes. Sometimes beauty is the glorious but meaningless flowering of arbitrary preference. Animals simply find certain features — a blush of red, a feathered flourish — to be appealing. And that innate sense of beauty itself can become an engine of evolution, pushing animals toward aesthetic extremes. In other cases, certain environmental or physiological constraints steer an animal toward an aesthetic preference that has nothing to do with survival whatsoever. Ferris Jabr, “NYT Magazine: How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution” at New York Times Magazine

Well yes. But if it’s true that the average Darwinian now recognizes that fact, it’s a big change indeed. The New York Times article provides a lot of valuable information in a highly readable way. But one gets the feeling that on Monday, it’s back to the Same Old Same Old. The biologist profiled, Richard Prum, is clearly a maverick who makes others uncomfortable. If he’s right, that’s all the worse for him!

He’s quite right, of course, to dismiss nonsense like “costly fitness,” a sexual selection theory according to which a male proves his fitness by surviving despite a costly handicap like a peacock’s tale. In the world of Something-is-always-trying-to-eat-you, costly fitness is one hypothesis too far.

The biggest problem, which Jabr discusses, is whether beauty really exists or is it just an illusion that promotes our genes’ survival, as a naturalist (nature is all there is) must insist: “Prum’s indifference to the ultimate source of aesthetic taste leaves a conspicuous gap in his grand theory. Even if we were to accept that most beauty blooms from arbitrary preferences, we would still need to explain why such preferences exist at all.” Even in humans, if consciousness is an evolved user illusion, all the more our perception of beauty must be an illusion that serves Darwinian needs.

Yet, despite the stale “Darwin himself” creedal statements, the long piece ends on a curiously tolerant, ecumenical note:

Most of the scientists I spoke with said that the old dichotomy between adaptive adornment and arbitrary beauty, between “good genes” and Fisherian selection, is being replaced with a modern conceptual synthesis that emphasizes multiplicity. “Beauty is something that arises from a host of different mechanisms,” says Gil Rosenthal, an evolutionary biologist at Texas A&M University and the author of the new scholarly tome “Mate Choice.” “It’s an incredibly multilayered process.” Ferris Jabr, “NYT Magazine: How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution” at New York Times Magazine

There is room for new ideas now, maybe. Also note this:

“The environment constrains a creature’s anatomy, which determines how it experiences the world, which generates adaptive and arbitrary preferences, which loop back to alter its biology, sometimes in maladaptive ways. Beauty reveals that evolution is neither an iterative chiseling of living organisms by a domineering landscape nor a frenzied collision of chance events. Rather, evolution is an intricate clockwork of physics, biology and perception in which every moving part influences another in both subtle and profound ways. Its gears are so innumerable and dynamic — so susceptible to serendipity and mishap — that even a single outcome of its ceaseless ticking can confound science for centuries.” Ferris Jabr, “NYT Magazine: How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution” at New York Times Magazine

Huh? “Intricate clockwork of physics, biology and perception in which every moving part influences another in both subtle and profound ways”? A friend has written to ask if one of us will please go tell Bill Dembski that the design inference has gone mainstream. 😉

See also: Replication Failures Of Darwinian Sexual Selection Openly Discussed At The Scientist


Can sex explain evolution?

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One Reply to “NYT: Beauty in nature acknowledged — but only as “Darwin’s neglected brainchild”

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    The beauty revealed in nature and biology goes far beyond what can be imagined to be explained by Darwinian evolution.

    The Biology of the Baroque – video
    “The Biology of the Baroque” is a documentary that explores the amazing patterns, order, and beauty in biology that go beyond what can be explained by Darwinian evolution. It features geneticist Michael Denton and is inspired by Denton’s new book Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis

    The vastness, beauty, orderliness, of the heavenly bodies, the excellent structure of animals and plants; and the other phenomena of nature justly induce an intelligent and unprejudiced observer to conclude a supremely powerful, just, and good author.
    — Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691), father of experimental chemistry

    Especially problematic for Darwinian evolution, since there is no way to imagine Darwinian evolution generated such beauty, is the stunning beauty revealed in raw nature, such as in the cosmos, in rainbows and sunsets, and even in the stunning beauty revealed by electron microscopy:

    Beautiful Hubble pictures

    Beautiful Rainbows and Sunsets

    Beautiful Microscopic Images


    The Diatomist – video
    THE DIATOMIST is a short documentary about Klaus Kemp, master of the Victorian art of diatom arrangement.
    Diatoms are single cell algae that create jewel-like glass shells around themselves. Microscopists of the Victorian era would arrange them into complex patterns, invisible to the naked eye but spectacular when viewed under magnification.The best of these arrangements are stunning technical feats that reveal the hidden grandeur of some of the smallest organisms on Earth. Klaus Kemp has devoted his entire life to understanding and perfecting diatom arrangement and he is now acknowledged as the last great practitioner of this beautiful combination of art and science. THE DIATOMIST showcases his incredible work.

    This Year’s Best Science Photos Are So Good They’re Basically Art – George Dvorsky – 3/06/17

    Moreover, as News pointed out “if consciousness is an evolved user illusion, all the more our perception of beauty must be an illusion”. Yet beauty is not an illusion.

    Darwin himself basically claimed that if beauty really existed then it would be “absolutely fatal to my theory.”

    “The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest lately made by some naturalists, against the utilitarian doctrine that every detail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor. They believe that very many structures have been created for beauty in the eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory.”
    (Charles Darwin – 1859, 199)


    1. If Darwinian evolution is true, beauty is an illusion
    2. Beauty is not an illusion
    3. Therefore Darwinian evolution is false.

    Or to put the argument for God from beauty more distinctly:

    Aesthetic Arguments for the Existence of God:
    Excerpt: Beauty,,, can be appreciated only by the mind. This would be impossible, if this `idea’ of beauty were not found in the mind in a more perfect form.


    Philippians 4:8
    Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

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