Opinion Editorial by Rudolf Brun, Ph.D
Some religious groups oppose the concept of biological evolution, but others accept the idea of “evolutionary creation,” which posits that God created the universe and biological evolution is a natural process within that creation.
Scientists have ample evidence that humans evolved from within the process of general evolution. Nature is capable of constructing itself, including bringing forth human beings. And if so, are there any traces in human creativity that reflect how nature creates?
This is the question to be answered. Musical compositions will serve as an example to illustrate human creativity.
How Nature Constructs
Thanks to the energy released in the original explosion of the big bang, nature is capable of synthesis. Nature is capable of unifying parts into wholes. Surprisingly, wholes have properties that their parts do not have. Already the Greek philosophers of old, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus recognized that wholes are, quantitatively and qualitatively, more than the sum of their parts.
Of course, the whole cannot exist without its parts; but united, the whole has properties that are radically new. From atoms to molecules to life to consciousness, and from there to human self-consciousness, each synthetic event brought forth new wholes, with totally new properties. The results from sequential synthesis illustrate how nature creates.
The Nature of Musical Compositions
Notes are the atoms, the “matter” of music. As such, they are already complex. Their complexity emerges from the oscillations of waves, their amplitudes, frequency, and of course also from the timbre of the instrument on which notes are played. All these various parts are integrated into just one note.
Notes can be integrated into various intervals, seconds, quarts, quints, and octaves. Each interval has distinct emergent properties.
Intervals sound totally different from their individual notes. Notes and intervals can become integrated into melodies, and from there, can be further synthesized into musical phrases, symphonic movements, and so on. The point is that similar to the generation of novelty through synthesis in nature, composers also generate higher-order musical structures through sequential synthesis. As a result, the architecture of the constructs of nature and musical compositions is the same. Both construct novelty in integrated parts that are, however, already hierarchies themselves.
Modes of Evolution in Nature and Music
Over time, the complexity of atoms may increase, for example, through synthesis in the nuclear furnaces of the stars. Most important, the resulting structures are always units, “simple” ones. Even as atoms combine to form molecules, they are again units that integrate a diversity of atoms.
Synthetic events combined molecules into the building blocks of life. Once life appeared, the Darwinian mechanism of variation and natural selection kicked in. Today we start understanding the genetic constructs that are at the base of organismic evolution.
The Evolution of Higher-Level Structures in Nature
For organismic evolution to happen, deep changes in their genetic material and its arrangement need to happen. Alterations happen through mutations, duplications of genetic strings, their variation and then re-integration into a working genome. Crises also seem to be necessary through which entire genomes may disintegrate into genetic parts. Nature may take advantage of such liberated genetic elements by recombining old information into totally new genomic constructs. In addition, the variation of timing, when a genetic machine is turned on of off, or for how long it will work, provides an additional powerful source for organismic change.
The Evolution of Higher-Level Structures in Music
Historically, the evolution of musical complexity started from “simple” linear compositions of Gregorian chants. The duplication of such lines led to compositions in which both lines were first sung together, then at intervals, e.g., quints and octaves. Such doubled constructs became duplicated again, some of them even sung simultaneously in different languages.
Also, instruments were added to play the multiple lines. The discovery that not all musical parts had to be performed simultaneously, but could be organized sequentially, was an important component of the wonderful complexity of emerging Renaissance music. That dissonant vertical musical constructs could be resolved into horizontal harmonious ones was another crucial addition to the dynamic of musical complexity.
In addition, timing and speed of playing a musical composition could help transform one style of music into a new one. My colleague Gerald Gabel had the idea to take a piece of music from the Renaissance composer William Byrd, play it on a harpsichord and double the tempo (a time mutation)! By doing this, Gerald created a missing link between the style of the Renaissance and the Baroque – to speak in evolutionary language.
In conclusion: As illustrated by musical compositions, the architecture that results from human creativity reflects the architecture of the constructs of nature.
- Their architecture is the same, but of course their “material” of construction is different.
- In nature and music, the elements of construction are hierarchies. They are wholes (the tip) that integrate parts that are, however, already hierarchies themselves.
- At any level of either natural or musical constructions, all the elements are “simple”because they are ones, yet their “simplicity” is always complex.
Human creativity reflects the creativity of nature. Why? Because both the structures of nature and musical compositions emerge from the same simplex architecture.
About Rudolf Brun
Rudolf Brun (www.churchandscience.squarespace.com) is the author of Science, Art, and Christianity: Sketching a Theology of Nature for Our Time. He received a Ph. D. from the University of Basel, Switzerland, and has been a professor in biology at the University of Geneva, Indiana State University and Texas Christian University. His interdisciplinary work included designing and co-teaching the course “Religion and Science” and presenting at numerous national and international conventions on “Science and Christianity.” He has been published in interdisciplinary journals, a collection of which is available in Creation and Cosmology: Attempt at Sketching a Modern Christian Theology of Nature.