Beauty as Objective Truth

Hi! My name is Pari Cribbins and I am from Scottsdale, Arizona. I am the oldest student here at Summit Semester, as I am a 22-year-old recent college graduate with a shiny new B.S. in Biology from Pepperdine University. As I (and many other science-y ladies) like to put it, I am a “woman in STEM”, and as such, I am very comfortable in the realm of empirical data, fieldwork, and numerical measurements. I have always been drawn to the certainty and consistency of objective truths to which the sciences offer access. If you had asked me to list some of these objective truths, I would likely have mentioned things like gravity, the mechanism by which the human body digests food or great white shark migration patterns. I would not likely have mentioned beauty as one of these objective features of the world. Now, after listening to Dr. Paul Gould’s lectures, I realize I should.

As this may suggest, I found Dr. Gould’s most impactful lectures to be those on beauty. He spoke about how beauty is an objective feature of the natural world. But, more than this, Dr. Gould explained the Augustinian description of God as Beauty itself. Explaining this, St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “My supremely good Father, beauty, beauty of all things beautiful”. So, if God is beauty itself, beauty is not only an objective, an aesthetic feature of the natural world, it is an objective truth. Dr. Gould quoted a friend who articulated this concept very succinctly, saying, “Beauty is goodness made manifest in the world.” By taking note of beauty in the world, we are also taking note of God’s goodness in the world.

Dr. Gould talked about this process of taking note of beauty in the world, and he said something that I found to be really interesting because of how countercultural it was. He said that beauty is not necessarily in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is not wholly subjective, as this statement implies. It does have a subjective element because beauty can be and is beheld by particular individuals or subjects, but the objective nature of beauty does not disappear in light of its subjective nature. Because beauty is an objective truth in the natural world, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder in that it is up to the beholder to determine if something is beautiful. Instead, it is up to the beholder to train themselves to be able to recognize when something is beautiful, i.e. when something has the objective quality of beauty.

The modern world has made beauty a wholly subjective thing, ignoring its objective nature and ignoring how beauty acts as an indicator of God’s goodness and His presence in the world He created. When we recognize beauty, we recognize God. As Christians, we ought to learn how to recognize beauty as it exists all around us in order to become re-enchanted with the world God has given us and to see Him in it.

Pari Cribbins is from Scottsdale, Arizona. She just graduated from Pepperdine University with her B.S. in Biology, which she plans to use to pursue a career in marine biology. A fun fact about Pari is that she got her PADI open-water scuba diver certification in South Africa last year. This fall, she is looking forward to living in a community of fellow believers and to growing in her faith here at Summit Semester.