Music: More Than Just a Pretty Tune

UNCG Ratio Christi club member Joshua Johnstone playing the piano at a RC club meeting in 2017

 

When we are relaxing or celebrating a special occasion, oftentimes, there is music playing in the background. We may play a tune we think is an oldie but goodie when at home to unwind from a hard day. At a wedding, we will hear romantic or personally meaningful songs that will evoke “that special feeling” in those who are attending. Couples listening may slow dance or just snuggle up close to each other. Often when making a long trip, many will have their favorite music blasting to whittle the time away. In the gym, most everyone has their earbuds in to “get motivated” so they can wring out that one extra rep. I remember in earlier days if I heard the song “Eye of the Tiger” by the group Survivor, I would suddenly have the urge to go push some iron or go for a run.

What is music anyways? Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines music as:

a :  the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity

b :  vocal, instrumental, or mechanical sounds having rhythm, melody, or harmony choral music piano music recorded music[1]

 It is interesting that this definition may give a short, technical explanation for what music is but what it means to us is a totally different matter. Oftentimes, we associate certain songs with something significant that happens in life such as when an important transition occurs. I remember the year I graduated from high school, the most popular song was Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” Not only does this song evoke happy memories, but it also reminds me of a significant transition in my life. In addition to bringing back the nostalgia of my youth, I have enjoyed playing and singing music as well. As I ponder the various aspects of music, it seems to me that music is much more than just a pretty tune.

When Paul Rupple attended his daughter’s piano concert, he commented about an accomplished pianist and his son who played a piano piece together:

As you can imagine, as I sat there, I could only wonder why, if we are the product of random processes and natural selection as many would have us to believe these days, would this music even exist, let alone move a person to emotion?  It really doesn’t make any sense at all as it does nothing to add to our survival as a species.  It doesn’t gather any more food for us (although we did have snacks afterward – but we, the parents even brought those), it doesn’t lead to an increase in the population, and the lessons actually cost money, as do the instruments on which the music is played.  It just seems nonsensical that people would create music that has order and does something to us that we identify as emotions, which themselves don’t make sense from an evolutionary viewpoint.[2]

Rupple observed in the expert playing something that could not have been the result of random occurrences. Playing intricate musical compositions do nothing to help a musician gain more from a Darwinian perspective.

Public Domain

In similarity to Rupple’s thoughts regarding the insufficiency of naturalistic processes alone, Boston College philosopher, Peter Kreeft, suggests a simple syllogism:

Premise: There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach

Conclusion: Therefore there must be a God.

You either see this one or you don’t.[3]

In this brief syllogism, Kreeft observes that appreciating the grandeur and beauty of a musical great’s compositions puts one into contact with God. The implication from Kreeft’s logic equation is that no random process can explain the genius and beauty of this noted composer’s work.

In addition to the perspectives of Rupple and Kreeft, Bernard Brandstater shares his perspective on music:

I am a believer out of necessity, compelled to bow before a Transcendent Being who is personal, who is intelligent beyond imagining and imponderably artistic and generous. In discussing beauty in today’s confrontation with entrenched naturalism, a bold creationist who upholds a designer/creator of beauty wins hands down. Though it is outside the laws of a naturalist worldview, his model works. The model reveals a designer, a God whom we can glimpse, though indistinctly, because the data we observe in nature require that He exist and that He be active in the cosmos. And His attributes come into clearest focus when we not only consider complexity, which is essential for life, but also see beauty, which is essential for spirit, as His gift to us. He is not only a designer and a fabricator, but also an artist who fashioned the physical vehicles that carry the colors of a rainbow and the sounds of great music.[4]

Photo of a painting of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach (Public Domain).

As has been briefly demonstrated above, it is easy to note the rationale for God’s existence from experiencing the beauty of music. However, from my perspective as an investigator, I observe evidence for God’s existence in music as well. For example, we may think about the experience of driving a car and that a certain car handled well after we drove it.  However, we do not think about all that went into making the car.  Is it mere coincidence that we live on a planet that has all the materials that allow for a car to be made?  The metals are mined from the Earth, the glass is manufactured from sand, the rubber from rubber trees, the gas from oil deposits, the carpet from petroleum products, the paints from pigments in plants and other materials, gravity, etc. You get the idea.  It would be serendipitous to think that we have all of these materials and elements naturally occurring in the atmosphere/Earth that allow for a car to be made. Not only do we have the materials to make a car, we also have the intellectual ability to manufacture and operate automobiles as well.

In similarity to the above illustration of the car, it seems to me that I have taken a lot for granted when playing air guitar to my favorite rock classics. For instance, when these classic rock riffs were recorded, the guitar that was played was made out of wood and metal. Without these naturally occurring materials from the cosmos, we would not have the material to make the guitar and other instruments.  Moreover, without airwaves with which to carry vibrations, the eardrums to receive the vibrations, the aural nerves that carry the musical signal to the brain, and a brain that has been designed to receive and process the music, then music would not be appreciated as it has been for millennia. Of course, we cannot forget that musicians have bodies that allow them to play instruments.  They have lungs that they can fill up with air.  They also have mouths and noses with which they use  to push their breath through the instrument.  Moreover, musicians have hands and fingers with which to play instruments and also ears with which they use to tune their instruments. We cannot forget eyes with which they can use to craft instruments and write/read musical notes.

In addition to musical instruments, vocal music also has the same array of intricacies.  Vocal cords (or folds) make vibrations that travel through air from the lungs and are are pushed out of the nose and mouth of the vocalist by muscles in the diaphragm.    In addition to these vocal folds and supporting muscles, there are also resonance chambers that are a part of the sinus area of the face as well as the mouth itself. These chambers greatly enhance the vibrations made by the cords and aid in projecting the vibrations as they travel through the air from the nose and mouth of the vocalist en route to the ears of the listeners, etc. We also should not forget to mention the ability of numerous vocalists to be able to sing in harmony and in rhythm with each other.

In making my argument for the existence of a designer God by observing the various aspects of music, this case can be made by relying upon circumstantial evidence.  It is obvious that the human body has been designed to make musical instruments as well as instrumental and vocal music too.   We also must not lose sight that design is also apparent in our ability to appreciate/compose music with various specialized parts of the body ( ears, nerves, brains, and minds).

As noted above, there is ample evidence for design observed in the physical and mental processes that contribute to the successful making/performing of music.  All of these aspects considered together provide good circumstantial evidence to make an inference that there is a Divine designer who crafted the world and our bodies in such a way that music can be made and appreciated.  Moreover, it would be harder to explain the various aspects of music composition/appreciation randomly coming into being.   So perhaps the next time when I am “air guitar soloing” to my favorite Boston riff, I will remember that music is more than just a pretty tune.

Photo of Ross Hickling, U.S. Marshals Service, Retired

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/music

[2] Rupple, P. Evidence for the existence of God. Date of access 4 May 2017. http://veritasnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/03/evidence-for-existence-of-god-aesthetic.html

[3] Kreeft, P.J. & Tacelli, R.K. 2009. Twenty catholic capstones to Christian apologetics (In Handbook of Catholic apologetics. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, ch. 17).

[4] Brandstater, B. 2004. Intelligent design: The argument from beauty. Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 15/1 (Spring 2004): 12-20.

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