Snowflakes

Some time ago, a little-known Russian photographer, Alexey Kljatov, quietly posted on his blog and Flickr some highly magnified photographs of snowflakes. They have since gone viral. While people have of course been photographing snowflakes for ages, these images captured the internet’s attention to these little icy wonders.

snowflake

Most of them are hexagonal – clearly, hexagons are common among snowflakes. My favorite has a perfect six-pointed star in the middle. Another one of my favorites looks almost like a Tudorian rose (which was admittedly five-sided, but still). Then there are triangle ones – including one that almost looks like the Superman symbol.

What strikes me about them is how designed they look. If they were made of glass and hung in a gallery – or in a chapel window – and you told someone in the audience that each glass-plate was made randomly by an impersonal process, I suspect they would look at you, astonished. Part of them might even be a little disappointed, or embarrassed – they may have spent ages discussing among themselves what the artist was trying to convey in the star, or the flower.

This is a different expression of a classic theist argument, known as the teleological argument. The universe looks designed – it could have randomly come together, but it seems more likely that a Designer made it.

Before we let the atheists come and try to ruin our fun, let’s play in the snow a little longer. Snowflakes are tiny, but much of the world is covered in them. Think then, of the billions – nay, trillions – of snowflakes out there, then multiply that by all the billions of years that snow has fallen on the ground. And despite most of them having six or three sides, all of them seem remarkably dissimilar, even unique. If they are designed, the imagination of that Designer, Who can work such astonishingly diverse and beautiful images on such tiny canvasses, is rather impressive. Such an Artist is worthy of our admiration, even worship.

snowflake star

Of course, some people will admire these icy miracles and deny there is a God Who made them. The snowflakes derive their shapes from randomized crystallization, hence their uniqueness. It is perhaps a little amusing that in 1908, Chesterton was writing against atheists claiming the uniformity of nature was proof against God’s existence.

Perhaps another argument against a Designer for snowflakes is superfluity: what is the point of designing these trillions-upon-trillions of tiny snowflakes when they’re so, well, tiny? Why dot them over the most inhospitable of places? Indeed, why make them so cold, and thus part of what makes those places so inhospitable?! It’s like having a gallery in which all the doors are locked.

This would be a good argument, if it did not betray a complete misunderstanding about art. While artists may want to convey a “message” in their art, often that message is primarily for themselves, and they let the audience tag along. I suspect that’s true of Alexey Kljatov himself.

Children will paint on a thousand pieces of paper, without ever being motivated by an “audience”. Now, later they may proudly show one of those paintings to a parent, but this is a subsidiary pleasure. The real pleasure was in the act of painting itself.

God is much the same. He makes snowflakes beautiful because it’s fun, just as children paint because it’s fun. God does not need our approval or our admiration. He may deserve those things, but that’s not the same thing.

So God delights in Alexei capturing a tiny sample of His boundless creativity. But it is the delight of sharing the delight He had in designing those snowflakes in the first place. It is not the insecure delight of having proved His existence.

To reduce the teleological argument to suggesting that God designs everything to make us believe in Him seems ridiculously egocentric of us. Egocentrism is not only the basis of sin, it’s also a remarkable killjoy. It refuses to let us see – and thus share – other people’s joy, and fun, because it makes us assume the only important joy is our own. Meanwhile, a joyful Artist flings out another billion crystalline sculptures, just for the fun and joy of making them, and occasionally lets us share in the fun.

Matt Gray

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