Truth, love, beauty

If you boil everything down, you will find that virtually every significant endeavor of ours since the beginning of human history has been a manifestation of these three things. To truly understand the meaning of life, we must harmonize truth, love, and beauty.

Pursuit of Truth – science and religion
Science and religion may see like polar opposites now, but they are really family. We created religion first to help us cope with forces and events we could not control or understand; things like lightning and death. We gained a sense of control by believing that supernatural beings controlled these things and that praying to them might have some effect. Later when we developed philosophy, we realized that we could actually understand these phenomena if we applied logic, and this gave rise to the sciences.

Here I must pause briefly to qualify my terminology. Even though I say “religion,” you will find that I focus mostly on Christianity for the rest of this article. I do not intentionally single it out, but the reality is that no other religion has battled science quite like Christianity has. This is because science and Christianity grew up together; no other religion can claim such intimate bonds. However, in theory, any religion could experience similar conflicts because science and religion come from different traditions: one emphasizes logic while the other emphasizes intuition/faith. It is this general tension that I’m interested in, not the specific example of Christianity vs. science.

The interesting thing is that science and religion were not antagonistic at the beginning. The ancient Greeks had no problem worshipping the gods and also doing mathematics and physics on the side. Even the early Catholic church didn’t the problems we experience today; in fact, during the Dark Ages in Europe, the church preserved a number of ancient Greek scientific manuscripts by recopying them by hand.

So when and why did the acrimony arise? For when, I would say around the time of the Renaissance. As for why, one word: power. By the Renaissance, the Catholic church was the most powerful organization in Europe, and it enjoyed it. When science began to challenge dogma, naturally, the church was not pleased. Copernicus was smart enough to publish his heliocentric theory posthumously. Galileo was not so wise, and paid dearly for it. Yet science is not like other “heresy;” you cannot stop it by killing, imprisoning, or torturing the espousers. Science is different because it’s based on observable facts. No amount of believing will make the earth flat or the center of the universe; you cannot hide from the Truth forever.

Fast forward to the present; now we have the completely opposite situation. Science dominates the world and has the power to push religion around. Most scientists are only interested in increasing the knowledge of their respective fields, but some have other agendas. Some seek to dispel superstition and pseudo-science, while the more extreme seek nothing less than the total dismantling of religion. For its part, religion does what it has done since the Renaissance – dig in and fight back, hard. What we get then is full blown trench warfare. For example, see my editorial on Creationism vs. Evolution.

This childish tit-for-tat is unbefitting two great traditions of Truth seeking. Science and religion should stop fighting and realize that they are two branches of the same activity – the Pursuit of Truth. Ever since humans became self-aware, we’ve always wondered about the world and our place in it. Science and religion are but tools in this endeavor, and neither is a complete version of the Truth. How can Man, a limited being, piece together the whole Truth using only one branch of human thought? That is hubris and beyond absurd, like someone claiming he can knock out a young Muhammad Ali with one hand tied behind his back. Science gives us insights based on logic, while religious insights are based on faith and intuition. Just as an eagle needs two wings to fly, we need both types of insights to soar to that higher realm where Truth resides.

Love and beauty – arts and literature
Love and beauty not only reside in a higher dimension than the material world, they also exist on a different plane from logic. Philosophy and science have taken stabs at quantifying them, but quantification really doesn’t do them justice. We learn far more about love and beauty from literature and the arts because they express themselves using different tools such as stories, analogies, music, color, movement, and emotions. Science may show us that love is just a chemical reaction in the brain, certain facial proportions are considered beautiful, and that certain notes sound good together (music theory) . These may be the mechanics of love and beauty, but they are not love and beauty themselves. Love is longing and fulfillment, pain and joy. There are many different types of beauty – a baby can be beautiful in its innocence as well as a little old lady with a heart of gold.

Conclusion
To understand the meaning of life, we must harmonize truth, love, and beauty. None of them are higher or more important than the others. A world without beauty and love is without fulfillment. A world without truth is without substance. Man needs both for a meaningful existence.

Related articles
Religion’s grains of truth
Spiritual science

10 thoughts on “Truth, love, beauty

  1. To begin to tell you how much I like your article, let me say that truth-love-beauty are three things I’ve been planning to have on my Dave’s “Faves” website. I’m pleased that by linking to yours, I will be able to do so more quickly. Best wishes for your continued good work!

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  2. I have always been moved by the works of Woody Allen – strictly speaking of his constant search to show that Life imitates Art and, in turn, that Art imitates Life. Similarly, I have felt the same when it comes to Science and Religion, as you illustrate in your article. It is not so far a reach to see that Love and Beauty can also play into this game. Many people today blur the lines between Science and Religion – trying to make their own version of Truth – and call it Spirituality. You touch on this in your essay on Creationism vs. Evolution.

    These so-called Spiritual people are adamant in their belief that there might be something more than what we understand now, given our current knowledge and tools, yet they believe this concept without the need to dismantle our current Truths given to us through the pursuits made with Science. These people, myself included, look to find the harmony between the two institutions, use them to make sense of a world that sometimes does not make sense and continue on a constant quest to understand the world in which we all live.

    As you state, Love and Beauty take many forms, as do Science and Religion. Yet, there is an undercurrent of similarity in all four – all represent some higher ideal – some constant search – something that motivates – something that can inspire – something that can arouse passion – and still something that can arouse hate, envy, jealousy, anger, aggression and perhaps even evil.

    I thank you for taking the time to explore this issue. I enjoyed your piece thoroughly, the style with which you developed your theme and thank you for educating me a bit more on this vibrant, and sometimes violent, topic. I look forward to more of your work and your perspective.

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  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Despite our impressive powers, humans are still limited beings. We often struggle to define and classify things greater than ourselves. Our categories and methods (Love, Truth, Beauty, Science, Religion) all describe the same vast object above us from different viewpoints.

    Conflict between these is pointless – none of them taken singly is adequate. To better understand the Source, we need unity, not destruction. We will probably never fully understand it, but as you alluded to, it’s the journey that matters, not how far we get.

    Your comment reminded me of something important. The Source is everything and anything. How we react is dependent on our personality, beliefs, and experiences. Some might be angry and call it ‘evil.’ Others react differently. This variety is what makes the world so interesting.

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  4. Hi there…
    This is a very interesting article you’ve written…while it is true that religion and science go hand in hand…one cannot dispute the fact that science is a discovery of what is…that is, the truth which stems from religion…knowledge is stored in various forms..one being philosophy…concerning love and beauty…It is clear that there is a supreme being…else..how would you explain an invention without an inventor?…According to me God=Perfection and love…That is why Humanbeings ought to strive to incline towards perfection via striving to become better individuals in all their intentions…Who can deny they do not yearn for love?…The truth is right infront of our faces…You are right, truth, love and beauty go hand in hand to a certain extent…But the truth(what is) breeds love which in turn exposes the true beauty of oneself once the truth (what is) is embraced…This is a very deep and insightful article…

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  5. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jackline. I like how you related Truth, Love, and Beauty in one statement. I believe in the same relationship, in a slightly different order: truth opens my eyes to beauty which kindles the flames of love.

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  6. Nice article.

    On Truth:
    One is limited by one’s understanding and imagination. Plato’s allegory of the cave, The Republic. One could never be certain of one’s believe, opinion, etc.

    On Love:
    To love is to want to be-loved. Being and Nothingness, Sartre.

    On Beauty:
    Boundaries and limitations define beauty.

    On Religion:
    What if there is not another worldly?

    On Science:
    What if the laws and rules could change, and the Baconian approach is not valid?

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  7. Nice reading.
    What can resolve the conflict of intuition and reasoning?
    I will appreciate If you can throw some light on this…

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  8. Thanks, Shraddra. The best thing to do is to view them as two different ways of learning and appreciating things rather than two opposing traditions. Embrace diversity/duality, and the conflict disappears, enabling you to experience a far richer world.

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  9. The more experience I gain in life, the more I appreciate the many ways that truth, love, and beauty intertwine. As a philosopher, the love of truth leads to beautiful ideas. The more connections you see between the ideas, the more you can see of the Truth and the more you grow to love the pursuit of truth. As an artist, the love of beauty leads to glimpses of true design which deepens your love for the beauty in all things. Finally, when in love, people are immediately attracted to physical beauty. However, over time, they come to see their partners’ true selves and to know a different kind of beauty–a different kind of love.

    These are just some of the ways that truth, love, and beauty intertwine. Please feel free to add your thoughts below!

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