Beauty and the nature of God.
The other day I began to contemplate beauty. What makes a thing beautiful? As I pondered, three different aspects came to my mind about what makes a thing beautiful: purity to its form, simplicity, and harmony.
Purity in form I’d define as a thing’s grade in closeness to that thing as it is. Whether we define forms in Aristotelian terms or Platonic ones, this aspect of beauty would still hold. Our judgment of beauty is based upon how close a thing is to what we conceive of as it should be: “a lamb without blemish or spots.”
Simplicity seems straightforward enough.
Finally, harmony is more than simply avoiding conflict with another thing. In harmony, we have two things that bring out something in one another that would have been hidden had one thing existed without the other in harmony to it. Examples of this would be mixing two colors together–and thus seeing a grade of color normally hidden within the first–, or two singers singing each a different note–thus allowing the perception of other tones in between. A revealing of a hidden positive aspect in a thing that is already beautiful does indeed add to that things beauty.
However, I realized there was something missing in my definition of what makes a thing beautiful. I consulted a philosophical definition of beauty. To my surprise, I was very close to Thomas Aquinas’s definition of beauty! For Aquinas, what makes a thing beautiful is integritas sive perfectio, consonantia sive debita proportio, and claritas sive splendor formae; which is, roughly, perfection of a form, harmony, and clarity of a splendor beyond itself–that is, we see a unifying splendor beyond the form of the thing itself; a unity with beauty itself. I suppose this is just another reason why I find Thomistic thought so appealing.
I nailed it!..almost. After reading this, I realized that I was on the right track with simplicity–I just had to use it in a Thomistic sense. I’ll quote Thomist Robert J. Spitzer on the principle of simplicity.
“Absolute simplicity” may be defined as “the complete absence of intrinsic and extrinsic boundaries, finitude, or restriction in a reality.” The simpler a reality is, the fewer intrinsic and/or extrinsic boundaries it has. As we shall see momentarily, boundaries cause exclusion, that is, limit interaction and interrelation within a reality and with other realities. Hence, “greater simplicity” means “less intrinsic and extrinsic boundaries,” which entails “less exclusion within itself and with other realities,” which further entails “greater possibility for interaction and interrelationship within itself and other realities.”…
Let us begin with a simple postulate which can be clarified with a series of examples: boundaries, finitude, or restrictedness causes exclusion or incompatible states. The greater the number of intrinsic or extrinsic boundaries or restrictions in a reality, the greater the exclusion of that reality from other realities. This point might be clarified by a thought experiment using simple geometrical configurations. The boundaries of square (four inscribed right angles with four equal sides) exclude the boundaries of circle (no inscribed angles with no sides), so that one cannot have a square-circle of the same area, in the same respect at the same time. It does not matter whether the boundaries of square and circle inhere in a block of wood, a block of metal, or even in my mind; the boundaries of square exclude the boundaries of circle (in the same respect) in whatever substance they might inhere at any given place and time.
Another example of how finitude, boundaries, or restrictedness excludes can be seen in elementary particles. A proton (which attracts electrons) cannot act like an electron (which repels other electrons) in the same respect at the same place and time. The restricted way in which protons act (i.e., attracting electrons) is incompatible with the restricted way in which electrons act (i.e., repelling other electrons).
A third illustration of finites producing incompatibilities may serve as an introduction to the principle of simplicity. It is taken from contemporary quantum theory. Waves are incompatible with particles. Waves diffuse themselves (spread out) while particles are self-enclosed. Particles collide with each other (and conserve momentum); waves do not, they simply mesh with one another and form interference patterns. A myriad of other incompatibilities between waves and particles lead to the conclusion that a particular reality cannot possess the boundaries of wave and particle in the same respect at the same place and time.
However, recent quantum experimentation (i.e., the Aspect experiment, the single photon double slit experiment, and a variety of other experiments) reveals that the same physical phenomenon can give rise to bother wave-like and particle-like effects. In the single photon double-slit experiment, for example, a photon behaves like a particle (a self-enclosed entity capable of colliding with other particles at a discrete position), at the beginning and end of the experiment but not in the middle. In the middle of the experiment, the photon displays interference patterns that can only be explained if the phenomenon were a wave in between its beginning and ending manifestations. How is this possible if a single reality cannot have the boundaries of a wave and boundaries of a particle simultaneously?
The answer lies in the principle of simplicity. There must exist a simpler quantum state that does not possess the boundaries of either wave or particles, and therefore does not combine mutually incompatible boundaries. The simpler state of the quantum system has fewer boundaries, and therefore has fewer incompatibilities (exclusionary properties) than waves or particles.
Notice that light is not a “wavicle” (a combination of incompatible boundaries in the same respect at the same place and time). This would be tantamount to a square-circle, or a proton-electron. Rather, light is a simpler reality which can, in certain circumstances, take on particle-like boundaries (and therefore behave in particle-like ways); and, in other circumstances, take on wave-like boundaries (and behave in wave-like ways). Therefore, our simpler reality could be a particle as it moves into the black box, become a wave while in the black box (therefore forming interference patterns when both slits are open), and then emerge as a particle when interacting with the photographic plate. This would explain how a single photon acts like both a wave and a particle in different parts of the same experiment….
To reiterate, “simplicity” in a reality may be defined as “a lesser degree of intrinsic or extrinsic boundary or restriction giving rise to fewer incompatible states.” Simpler states of being can take on additional boundaries. When they do, they take on the exclusionary properties of those boundaries, but they can always revert back to their less exclusionary (i.e., more inclusive) states. In a word, “simplicity” is synonymous with “ontological compatibility and inclusivity.”…
Absolute simplicity…would…refer to a purely inclusive reality, that is, a reality which does not exclude anything from itself.
When an absolutely simple reality unifies restricted realities, it is distinct from them in virtue of the restricted realities’ boundaries. Nevertheless, it can unify them because it is simpler than they are (i.e., does not have excluding boundaries). Therefore, an absolutely simple reality can interact with any restricted reality (Spitzer, pp. 122-127)
All that gargantuan explanation is necessary because simplicity, to most of us (and myself before reading that) means something far different than something like a unifying element. With this knowledge, however, my “simplicity” aspect of beauty may have intuitively caught onto something. If a thing is simple, it has less exclusions, and therefore reveals a unifying splendor beyond itself–precisely Aquinas’s third category of beauty!
You’re (hopefully) probably thinking by now, “what in the world does this have to do with God?” given the blog title. And you’re probably expecting me to argue from beauty to God being absolutely simple. However, I’ll do much, much more than that.
Let’s recall the three aspects of beauty, then, again. I’ll be mentioning them in my terms, as that is how I first thought of them. The first, purity in form; the second, harmony; the third, simplicity.
We may now ask, what would the most beautiful, or perfect beauty, be like? First, it would have no distinction between itself and its form. It would be exactly as it should be, and there could be no possible way that it could be otherwise. In other words, it would have no essence-existence distinction–and therefore be either necessary or impossible (and the concept of pure beauty is not logically incoherent or impossible, so we may reason it a necessary entity, but let this pass for now). We’re beginning to get into waters familiar to the philosophy of religion now.
Second, since a unifying simplicity is beautiful, perfect beauty would be absolutely simple.
Finally, perfect beauty would be perfectly harmonious. What does perfect harmony entail? Perfect harmony entails, specifically, three aspects all in harmony with one another. To give an example, the musical triad chord illustrates this. Notice that each note is beautiful on its own, but when all three are played together they reveal tonal aspects of the individual notes unheard before the triad is played. In addition, each note if played in harmony with only one of the other would reveal hidden positive aspects in both, but not the entirety of positive aspects revealed when all three are played at once (I wish I had a sample that could show that, but I couldn’t find that online). Another example that perfect harmony comes in threes is the three primary (or secondary) colors:
In each of these colors, we see an aspect of the electromagnetic spectrum revealed by its harmony with another color that would be hidden if it was not in harmony. In addition, when all three colors are harmonized, we see an aspect of the electromagnetic spectrum that had been hidden deeper still within each one of these colors: white. With three elements in harmony, all of the positive aspects of each individual element is revealed, therefore bringing that thing’s beauty to perfection.
With four or more elements blending together either an aspect of dissonance or a hierarchical harmony will necessarily result. Think of attempting to add a color to the three primary colors, or a note to the triad chord, and you will see that this is necessarily the case. While one can come to appreciate dissonance or hierarchical harmonies due to learned taste or preference, they nonetheless detract from the inherent beauty within each of the elements as a result of emphasizing one aspect at the expense of the others–and therefore hiding a positive aspect of a beautiful element. Therefore, perfect beauty would be have exactly three elements all in perfect harmony with one another–perfect beauty would be triune.
A note: in the Christian Trinity, the plurality and harmony within God reveals aspects of God that we would not be able to identify if God was simply God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit. Because God has this plurality, we can identify traits such as fatherhood, sonship, or a spirit-bond of love that otherwise we would have absolutely no way of identifying.
Some might wonder, doesn’t absolute simplicity contradict the Trinity? No, it illumines it. To quote Spitzer again,
In Christian tradition, the “Trinity” does not refer to three instances of unrestricted, unconditioned reality (nor three instances of unrestricted power). As shown above, this is impossible (because any second or more instance would have to be a most fundamental ontological contradiction). The “Trinity” refers to three distinct self-consciousnesses (self-awareness–“awareness of awareness”–traditionally termed “Persons”) making an unconditional use of the one unrestricted, unconditioned Reality. This does not argue a contradiction. This is what is meant by the doctrine, “there are three Persons, but one Nature (i.e., unrestricted power) in God.” (p. 139)
Now, to make an argument that could revolutionize natural theology, and that has severe implications for Mormons, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus.
1) God is the supreme being
2) Beauty is a perfection.
3) Perfect beauty entails having no actual possibility of existing any differently than it is, being absolutely simple, and being a trinity.
4) A supreme being exemplifies all perfections.
5) Therefore, a supreme being exemplifies perfect beauty (2, 4)
6) Therefore, a supreme being has no actual possibility of existing any differently than it is, is absolutely simple, and is a trinity. (3, 5)
7) Therefore, God has no actual possibility of existing any differently than God is, God is absolutely simple, and God is a Trinity. (1, 6)