“Mozart’s music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the universe.” Albert Einstein

violin partita No 2 D Minor JS BachLast week Dr. Oliver Sacks died well; he wrote, thought and gifted mankind until the end. He was highly praised as a neurologist, author and for the partially autobiographical 1990 film, “Awakenings,” which earned Golden Globe and Academy Award Best Actor nominations for Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. Williams played the Oliver Sacks character. A fine writer, he penned a book, “Musicophilia” in response to Stephen Pinker’s statement that “music is ‘auditory cheesecake, an evolutionary accident piggybacking on language.’” [i]

Dr. Sacks “pointed to [music’s] ability to reach dementia patients as evidence that music appreciation is hard-wired into the brain.” He said in a lecture at Columbia in 2006 that “I haven’t heard of a human being who isn’t musical, or who doesn’t respond to music one way or another . . . I think we are an essentially, profoundly musical species. And I don’t know whether — for all I know, language piggybacked on music.” [ii]

Music is to me the deepest of human efforts to communicate, to impart information – intellectual and emotional – an amalgam of mathematics, symbols, human feelings and poetic beauty. Some is simple; some is more complicated. Musicologist Helga Thoene studied patterns and double coding in music. She applied a number/alphabetic substitution code to the notes of Bach’s exquisite unaccompanied Violin Partita in D-Minor[iii], a piece written after the death of his wife. Thoene discovered encoded within it the medieval Latin proverb, Ex Deo nascimur, in Christo morimur, per Spiritum Sanctum reviviscimus (In God we are born, in Christ we die, through the Holy Spirit we are made alive).

With 27 possibilities (26 letters and one number for a space), the odds of this sixty eight character (with spaces) phrase occurring perfectly and randomly are one in 27 x 27 x 27 and so on 68 times (2768), a very large number – quite respectable odds against pure chance. What is a reasonable person’s reasonable inference about the Ex Deo statement? Applying his considerable genius to create a beautiful piece of music, Bach applied intelligence to impart additional information and intended it to be there. That, of course, is the point.

“The most beautiful experience we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science…” Albert Einstein

Other instances of improbable odds occur in nature. If in the formation of the universe the ratio of the gravitational force-constant to the electro-magnetic force-constant increased by as much as one in 1040 (one with 41 zeros after it), only small stars would be formed. Decrease it by the same amount, only large ones.[iv] Both are needed. Large ones produce all the elements in their thermonuclear center and disperse them with supernovas for their use in new stars and planets; small stars survive long enough to sustain a planet with life. An image to help understand the odds? They are akin to a sharpshooter with a rifle hitting a quarter, but a quarter 20 billion light years away at the outer edge of the observable universe.

Closer to home there is the DNA structure and sequencing for a human being, or even a single protein. To bog down the blog with the details of the math, biology and chemistry would flood too many ideas with inadequate space to explore them. A far better job of it than I could ever attempt is to be found in “God’s Undertaker” referenced in the footnotes. I’ve mentioned this book before, and for any fair minded and motivated curiosity, it is well worth a few evenings of reading. Clearly written and not beyond anyone with a minimal familiarity with scientific and mathematical topics – nothing beyond high school is necessary to understand the concepts.

The formation of a single protein or even more so the human genome DNA generated randomly over eons of time and prebiotic chemistry is doable – as long as we accept one in 10123 odds, or approximately one out of the estimated number of protons in the known universe. Science has succeeded in creating with various manipulations of natural events, such as simulated lightning strikes into the hypothesized primordial soup, some, but not all of the necessary amino acids for all the proteins needed by life. Not a single protein by spontaneous confluence of any kind has been produced in this manner. Artificial proteins, yes, with elaborate computer modeled lab procedures, but with any process mimicking randomness – not even remotely close. Neither has double helix pairing such as the AGCT structure of twenty billion of such pairings in precise sequence in human DNA been shown to be possibly random. The introduction of intricate instructions and information is necessary.

The point is one discussed before in this blog. There is zero proof of any kind that these more complex prebiotic chemical processes took place randomly, nor, despite numerous efforts, have they been close to duplicated in a laboratory.

I was  justly criticized for naming the choice for a theistic vs atheistic or even agnostic perspective on these things as a faith decision. I think that is because it can be confusing to those who don’t see a choice for “no God” or an unprovable God as a faith decision. Rather let’s agree to call it a belief system that undergirds one’s world view. Materialist/naturalist vs. intelligent design. Reflect, then, on the ponderous and convoluted reasoning set forth by the materialist to explain away the odds. Is not the reasonable inference by a reasonable person that the evidence points to an infusion of the necessary information from an intelligent source? That the against-all-odds, irreducible complexity of life is more simply explained by a designer – an Occam ’s razor for our existence?

Are those who trust a designer as more likely than a random accretion as the cause for the presence of elements and the fine-tuned chemistry, physics and biology of life less enlightened than the nature only true believer? If it is credible that the Ex Deo proverb is coded within Bach’s partita by accident or for that matter that a partita or a Bach or the longing and beauty of the human mind creating music was somehow a chance happening like ink drops on a piece of paper, then I suggest you are not following the evidence to lead to your conclusion. That isn’t science; it is belief.

Science that takes as an axiom that all conclusions must find a naturalist/materialist result is not science that follows the evidence, but presupposes and limits its findings to the detriment of the search for truth.

   “I want to know God’s thoughts. The rest are details.” Albert Einstein

[i] Quotes from Peter Leithart’s blog piece in the journal, “First Things.”

[ii] Ibid

[iii] As played by Arthur Grumaiux:

[iv] Please see “God’s Undertaker. Has Science Buried God?” by John C Lennox for in depth analysis of these examples.



Filed under Background Perspective

8 responses to “Musicophilia

  1. The rare elements are part of the grand plan too, so it was in the intention of the Creator for us to develop electronics with smart phones, etc.


  2. Anthony Vinson

    Aw man, you got me… Am I really that easy?

    In 1969 rumors that Paul McCartney had died and been replaced by a look-alike intensified and spread around the world. Hundreds of clues proving the claim were gleaned from album covers, lyrics, and perhaps most mysteriously, backward masking – a technique by which secret messages were hidden by reversing them so that they became evident only when played backwards. Despite evidence to the contrary thousands of fans and believers insisted that the rumors were true. The (urban) legend survives to this day even as McCartney edges toward eighty years of age.

    Science is an evidence-based method of creating models that best explain the natural world. That’s all. Science is not mystical or even necessarily mysterious. Even the most established scientific facts are tentative and may be refuted or reversed in the face of newly discovered evidence. That is the way science, as a method, should and does work.

    One of the foundations of the scientific method is that of falsifiability: is it possible to conceive of an argument or observation that would prove an assertion false? Valid scientific hypotheses must be falsifiable. It is the process of attempting to falsify hypotheses through which they are either proven or disproven.

    In the Beatles example above, rather than seeking to falsify the claims, fans instead began seeking confirmation of their beliefs. This is the inherent problem with faith-based claims: a lack of falsifiability. Add a great big heaping helping of confirmation bias and things get even murkier. Does this mean that faith-based claims are without merit or automatically false? No. It simply means that they are not provable and therefore unsupportable by evidence. Isn’t that the definition of faith? Philosophical metaphysics has been wrestling with this one for thousands of years without definitive answers.

    Your juxtaposition of Bach’s encoded score with physics-based theories of the universe is nothing more than a restatement of Paley’s watchmaker analogy. (Hume famously dissected the argument and I can certainly do no better.) This analogy of course was one of the keystones of the intelligent design (ID) movement, and we all know what happened when ID was submitted to the rigors of the evidence-based U.S. court system.

    I am unaware of the “ponderous and convoluted reasoning” to which you refer. I see only the reasonable insistence that any side making a truth claim produce supporting evidence. I also dispute your assertion of a scientific axiom that “all claims must find a naturalist/materialistic result” – It is only that, so far at least, all evidence-based conclusions have done so. That isn’t belief; it’s reason.

    I am not sure why so many persist in the pursuit of the forced pairing of science and religion. They are two distinctly different systems with little in common beyond a desire to discern truths and find the elusive answers to some of the most perplexing questions conceived of by man. As an atheist and materialist I am happy to admit that science does not and may never have “all of the answers.” It may eventually prove impossible to “know” beyond a certain point. I am okay with this. I am also open to falsifiable evidence to support the existence of a god or gods – Why wouldn’t I be?! What a mind-blower that would prove to be! It would change everything. Literally. Problem is, despite my open-mindedness and my willingness to believe under those conditions, I have yet to see where the even the smallest shred has been presented. But that’s okay since there’s still time…

    Thanks for the discussion and the ever-intriguing topic. Once again, this is one that bears discussion over a couple of beers. Even though I suspect you’d best me in a face-to-face debate since I “think” much better in writing, I would nonetheless enjoy the experience.



  3. Rita

    Jack put a lot to time into this blog post on a very busy weekend, often complaining how tired he was. It caused a spat between us as I strongly (really more like loudly) urged him to take a nap. My bad…


  4. Greg

    Yes Rita truly your bad, this was one of Jacks better writing as as I was required to read it twice. I agree with Anthony that having this discussion with Jack over a few beers when you hold the opposite opinion may not make for the best way to have a few.

    Nice piece Jack, the numbers don’t lie.


  5. Cogito ergo sum, the unreflective life is not worth living, etc. I write these to clarify my own understanding and think about something besides lumberyards, contractors, daily tasks and window installation. I need very much to do this and enjoy it especially when there are responses like the one from Anthony, who takes the time to ponder the issue, write and share his own thinking in the process. I owe you a more thoughtful response, AV, and will get to it as time allows. There is always too much to do, but some things for me keep me alive and hopefully growing. Thanks to all of you who join the conversation. It is what makes us human, yes?


  6. Found an hour to reply in more detail to Anthony’s thoughtful comment last week. “Falsifiability” is not a standard I have seen espoused as a definition of valid scientific hypothesis much. It seems to me that much of current quantum mechanics and cosmology with the uncertainty and chaos principles baked in would not lend these theories to “falsifiability” as a measuring rod. Nor is it useful for that matter in origin of life discussions. No direct observations of either were ever or could possibly have ever been made.

    You are right that Hume was held by T.H. Huxley and other agnostics to have demolished Paley’s watchmaker “proof”, however, you are making the assumption that Hume was correct in his logic, which is dubious in that in some of his premises he assumes his conclusions with very erudite sleight of hand circular reasoning and that Paley’s analogy proof in “Natural Theology” was his only contribution. You bring back memories of studying Hume’s “Enquiry into Human Understanding” with the Jesuits nearly fifty years ago. One of the ironies is that Darwin studied Paley’s “Natural Theology” quite thoroughly as a student and initially subscribed to it. “Natural Theology” was a great influence on Darwin to inspire him to pursue his own life’s work.

    When I stated that “all claims (or studies) must find a naturalist/materialist result,” obviously that is the position of the materialist only scientist. Not sure how that is a point of contention. If any solution tending towards a designer is automatically ruled out from the start in spite of where evidence leads, then whatever complex maneuvering in interpreting the evidence must be taken to proscribe such a designer theory will be so contorted. Because, after all, there is no designer, so ipso facto, there can be no such finding – we’ve got to find another explanation. It is another example of conclusions assumed in the premises – the definition of circular reasoning fallacy. Assuming a designer in the premises is equally invalid logically. My position was and is, “Where does the preponderance of evidence point?”

    E.g. See Dawkin’s assertions. He acknowledges the impossible odds of the evolution of both prebiotic chemistry and a purely evolutionary basis for protein synthesis and the DNA/RNA complex, let alone the “irreducible complexity” of an organ or organism. So he explains it with a mind boggling combination of what he calls evolution and a mysterious “necessity” somehow infused into the chemicals themselves with no proof that such a necessity exists or its origin if it does. But it must there, right? Without it purely undirected evolution without the input of some intelligence would be mathematically impossible. Richard Dawkins: You don’t have to be a mathematician or a physicist to calculate that an eye or a hemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck.

    Since Paley, much more has been discovered and analyzed. Each step has irretrievably led to honing the observation of living things even within a single cell to more and more a model of a machine, actually myriads of organic chemical “machines” in a single cell, driven by encyclopedias of infused information or data. 1.8 meters in the DNA unraveled of one human cell. Enough double helix in your body or mine with its trillion cells, straightened out to stretch to the outer limits of the solar system and back. Why data? Why information? Paley’s watchmaker analogy may or may not break down, but it was analogy to help us understand the intricate inner workings of an organism. What he wrote about the watch was intended to be illustrative, not definitive. What he wrote about the organism still stands, and in fact has proven to be exponentially more complicated than Paley understood it to be a couple of centuries ago.

    I love the discussion whether oral or verbal, with a few beers or without any. Thanks, again, for weighing in.


    • Anthony Vinson

      Falsifiability is one of the touchstones of science. Unless a model is inherently falsifiable, it ain’t science. This standard would hold equally for quantum mechanics or string theory. This is exactly why (in my opinion) it is impossible to combine science and religious faith: No claim of a creator or intelligent designer is (at least so far) falsifiable and is therefore not science and consequently impossible to either prove or disprove. This in no way implies that “any solution tending toward a designer” is automatically ruled out from the start. Fact is, because of their inherent lack of falsifiability they never get that far.

      Should evidence lead toward a creator model I would like to think that the scientific community at large would welcome the opportunity to explore the possibility. I certainly would. As I said earlier, such a finding would literally change everything, and who wouldn’t be up for something so exciting? Can you imagine the funding that would suddenly be made available for research?! And can you imagine how different any such creator or designer might be than anything mankind might have imagined?! What if it turned out to be a deistic rather than a theistic creator? What if the Hindus were right all along? Or the ancient Greeks? What if turns out the answer is that there is no answer? The mind boggles.

      I wasn’t assuming Hume was correct, only asserting that he had done a masterful job of disassembling the analogy. Most teleological arguments for the existence of a creator or designer tend to unravel since they are easily falsified and therefore fail to stand. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, but it is nonetheless absence of evidence.

      I think the tendency to equate life with machinery is simply one way our minds attempt to achieve some understanding of subjects far too complex for most of us to grasp. Analogies make things easier, but the trade off is that they almost always end up far too simplistic.

      I find the search for knowledge exciting and exhilarating. With open minds and curious natures combined with a method for [eventually, possibly, perhaps] getting to truths, who knows what we might find? But it will always be a process. All scientific theories are tentative and may at any point be disproven or displaced. This is science. This is progress.

      People of faith may believe, but will never know with certainty, that their beliefs are true, nor does it matter. If belief brings comfort or peace or hope or joy or provides meaning, then what harm is done? None that I can see! Conversely if a non-believer experiences those same qualities without benefit of belief, what harm is done? None that I can see… In the words of that great philosopher Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?”



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