Darwin and the children of Jubal

Rev. Chip Hammond

After twenty years of being away from it, I’ve rediscovered music – making it, that is, not listening to it, although the two are intertwined. (Oh, drums, if you’re asking. I like melodies, but I hear rhythms, and drums are an interesting mixture of mathematics, puzzle solving, and physical exercise.)

Music is uniquely human. Birds “sing,” but only human beings fashion wood and metal into tools that serve no other purpose but making tunes or rhythms. I can’t get inside our dog’s head, but from looking at her, as best I can tell Beethoven and the noise from the vacuum cleaner have about the same meaning for her.

Music is a powerful thing. (I call it a “thing” because I don’t know what else to call it.) It both expresses and enhances emotion. I remember years ago seeing a four year old boy listening to a gifted violinist. The boy started to sob, and when his mother asked him what was wrong he said, “That is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.” It’s not something we learn or become acculturated to; it’s something we’re born with. Music can take us out of ourselves and be the medium for an encounter with transcendent beauty.

On what may seem an unrelated topic, did you know that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species? As I write this, a copy of the book sits on my desk, for it is important to be educated and informed (although reading it is deadly dull. If you thought Augustine’s or Jonathan Edwards’ doctrinal treatises were painful because it takes them forever to get to the point, try reading Darwin). This anniversary has been the occasion for celebration in some circles, and we should not be ignorant that a commemoration of this historic shift in humanity’s understanding of itself is going on.

The neo-Darwinists are almost without exception atheistic. Their explanation for the origin of man is simple: he is the product of chance and undirected processes which came about without design and for no particular reason, which over the history of the habitable earth has caused minute adaptations resulting in diverse life forms that have maximized man’s ability to find adequate food and shelter and to reproduce.

Now there are many legitimate questions and criticisms that can be raised concerning Darwin’s theory and its modern militant counterpart, but it seems to me that a real monkey-wrench in the gears of the Darwinistic machine for anyone who’s paying attention is music. A consistent Darwinism has a very difficult time explaining music.

Listening to music is one thing, but if you play music or watch it played, it is truly amazing to behold or experience the combination of timing, pitches, and (with good musicians) feeling that produces something that is incontrovertibly beautiful. Musical style differs from culture to culture, yet every culture recognizes beautiful music. We marvel at the dexterity and skill of musicians, as well as the similarity of musical instruments from one culture to another. We don’t learn to appreciate music – it’s something that is in us (a notion the theme of which many a song has been written).

In the Darwinistic scheme, music simply shouldn’t exist. It serves no “useful” purpose. It does not help us to find food or shelter, nor to procreate. And yet even the most adamant atheist will catch himself being raptured by the transcendent beauty of Smetana’s The Moldou or Holst’s The Planets.

The transcendent beauty of music is a glimpse of the beauty of God himself. “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Ps. 27:4).

David “gazed” on the Lord’s beauty through spiritual eyes, and no doubt an important medium for seeing that beauty was the music that took place in the worship: “Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD” (Ps. 150).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 8:19-20).

I frequently have an “ah-ha” experience when I pay attention to creation – the marvel of the stars on a clear night, the amazing anatomy of animals, my children grasping mathematics – all give me moments of fresh lucidity that make me think afresh, “A person would have to be mad to think that this all happened by chance.”

And music is at the apex of those things which scream God’s existence and his beauty as well. Perhaps that’s why music and song play such a prominent roll in the Scriptures. Perhaps that’s why, while there is no mention of music in hell, in heaven we will “sing a new song” (Rev. 5, 14).