Why Are Sunsets Beautiful?

I’ve heard evolutionary biologists explain away our desire for community by linking it to the ‘herd instinct.’ I’ve heard them explain away love by linking it to our genetic fitness; people in love will be more likely to pass on their genes. Some have attempted to explain away religion, monogamy, language, writing, and everything else uniquely human by means of the evolution. And yet, they cannot answer one simple question: why are sunsets beautiful?

You can explain why I see sunsets. You can explain what sunsets might signify to early man: the transition from light to dark. We might therefore expect certain emotions, like fear of the predators prowling under cover of the night. Yes, fear or at least ambivalence make sense… but beauty?

Why are sunsets beautiful? What is the evolutionary benefit of tingles down the spine? How does an animal’s genetic fitness improve when he sings songs to the sky as it blushes? Evolution might explain why certain fruit seems beautiful, because they are good to eat, but we cannot eat a sunset, so why is it beautiful?

I find that evolution is helpful for understanding some things in the world, but rarely the best things. Beauty, virtue, honor, love, justice, and peace do not fit into the evolutionary schema. They’re strange outliers that set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We would find it strange to see a monkey marveling at the sunset, or presiding over a court case about stolen bananas, or declaring it’s love for another in poetry.

I hope you see my point. If evolution most naturally draws creatures to find the world beautiful, then why have only humans arrived? Something is missing when we explain what’s best in this world with only “evolution.” We need more. When we look into a sunset we feel why.


About Patrick K. Miller

Currently I am living in Columbia serving at the University of Missouri with Veritas, The Crossing's campus ministry. In December 2010 I graduated from Mizzou with a degree in English Literature. My beautiful wife, Emily, works is an Interior Designer with a local firm. I like espresso, 30 Rock, and books. My favorite old dead guys are John Owen, Augustine and Francis Schaeffer. You should read something by them.
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