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Music as an Argument for Theism

Updated on December 16, 2010

The existence of Music is an enigma to naturalists. Why would it ever be that vibrations traveling through the air and alighting upon our ear drums could produce such powerful emotions within our hearts? Why should such powerful emotions even exist in the first place?

According to the theory of evolution, traits can be proliferated in one of two ways: first, by increasing the chance of survival for an animal and thus improving the likelihood that the trait is passed on. (The longer an animal lives, the more time it has to reproduce and thus a greater number of longer living offspring with that same trait will be produced). Take for an example a deer that can run faster than other deer. Because he can run faster, he will be more likely to escape predators and thus more likely to survive. The longer the deer survives, the more offspring he will have and thus in the next generation there will be a greater population of fast deer.

The second way in which a gene increases in prevalence is if the gene somehow makes a potential animal suitor more attractive to the opposite sex. The more attractive an animal is, the more likely it is to breed, the more it breeds, the more offspring are produced. A good example of this would be the peacock. The greater the beauty of the plumage, the more potential mates are attracted, thus the peacock with the most brilliant feathers transmits this trait to the next generation and beautiful plumage becomes an increasingly common trait.

The best evolutionary explanation for human musical ability falls into this second category. Surely you will agree with me that rock stars propagate more than the average person. Thus their musical talent is reproduced in a greater percentage of the population in the next generation.

This however is an incomplete and unsatisfactory solution to the presence of music. While it explains the prevalence of music to a degree, it does not explain why human beings ever begin to enjoy music in the first place. If music did not produce the emotions that it does, the ability to produce music would be meaningless. There simply is no naturalistic explanation for how humans ever begin to recognize and enjoy musical patterns.

Some have called music “evolutionary cheesecake”by which they mean that the ability to perceive music is simply a byproduct of having a “highly evolved” mind. I must disagree. There is nothing in the human experience that can even compare to listening to music. Music produces an incredible range of emotions, from happiness, to deep sorrow. The simple sounds produced by instruments can have a profound affect on the human mind. Describing something with such a deep connection to humanity as a byproduct of minds evolved to find ways to survive is absurd.

There simply is no mechanism, no natural explanation and no practical reason for the fact that human beings enjoy varying and patterned vibrations in the air. For that matter, why should human beings enjoy anything not linked with survival? Why should we enjoy sunsets? Why are we filled with awe when we look upon a majestic waterfall? Why does looking at the stars make my heart beat a little faster? Why does the sublime exist at all? Certainly there can be no explanation for this in the natural world. We must conclude that there is something beyond matter and energy in this universe. Naturalism may be able to provide a plausible, if unlikely, explanation for the existence of complex forms in nature. But it cannot account for the transcendent. When faced with the beauty of a Beethoven symphony, or the glory of an early morning sunrise, naturalism has little to say.

Literature Cited:

1. Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works


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      Daniel 7 years ago

      Interesting. What you're discussing is a subset of what is known as the Argument from Aesthetics. It's not as popular of an argument as other contemporary ones (Cosmological, Teleological, Ontological, etc...) but much has been said about it throughout history.