Most people simply listen to music. If they think about the origins of Bach’s B-Minor Mass or St. Matthew Passion, it’s probably to wonder how a man with twenty children had the time and energy to write such music.
Arguably, the most wondrous thing about music is that it exists at all. After all, it isn’t necessary for the survival of our species; in fact, throughout history, there have always been dour souls who regarded music as frivolous and a waste of time that would be better put to other uses.
Yet, despite this apparent lack of utility, music is a universal human experience. Why this should be so is a subject of debate among scientists. According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, “neuroscientists and psychologists” have concluded that we are “hard-wired to be musical.” They cite changes in brain activity while listening to “stirring passages of music” as evidence of this “hard-wiring.”
This still leaves the questions of “how?” and “why?” Most of the answers proceed from the assumption that this “hard-wiring” has to be the product of evolution. One proposed answer is that aptitude in music “originated as a way for males to impress and attract females.” Proponents — I’m not making this up — point to the phenomenon of “groupies,” women who sleep with rock stars, as evidence for their hypothesis.
While that might “explain” why men want to be good at music, it says little or nothing about why they might like music themselves or why women like music.
Another hypothesis says that “music arose as a way for groups of early humans to create a sense of community.” Singing together not only forged “a common identity,” it also served as a “rehearsal” for “more high-stakes” activities like hunting and defense. Again, I’m not making this up.
Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker calls these explanations “completely bogus.” Pinker is right: They are bogus. But Pinker’s assertion that our love of music might simply be “a useless byproduct of language” is equally foolish.
Then again, a non-bogus answer, such as “beats me,” won’t cut it, either. That’s because the biggest challenge to the materialist orthodoxy of the kind on display in the Boston Globe article is its inability to satisfactorily account for those things — like music, ethics, and altruism — that are most distinctly human.
A worldview that insists that we are merely animals must be able to explain those traits that most set us apart from animals in terms that are consistent with that materialistic worldview. That leaves us with Stone Age groupies and “kumbaya” as preparation for hunting mammoths. What nonsense!
Truth is, these “explanations” are the best you can do if you will not entertain the possibility that the imago Dei, the image of God implanted in humans, is what makes us distinct from animals and makes us capable of appreciating truth, beauty, and goodness. It’s what gave Bach his creative genius for us to appreciate.
If you ignore this reality, the result is what philosopher David Stove once called a “ridiculous slander” of human beings — the kind of slander that becomes obvious if you would simply listen.
For Further Reading and Information
Today’s BreakPoint offer: Call 1-877-322-5527 or visit us online for BreakPoint’s “Must-Have Music Recommendation List.”
Drake Bennett, “Survival of the Harmonious,” Boston Globe, 3 September 2006.
Jason Rosenhouse, “The Altruism Equation,” Evolutionblog, 19 September 2006.
Randy Dotinga, “Music Makes Your Brain Happy,” Wired, 23 August 2006.
BreakPoint Commentary No. 060823, “Of Rats and Men: Darwinian Fairytales.”
BreakPoint Commentary No. 021230, “So Close... So Far: The Blank Slate and Human Nature.”