July 5 – Music, Math & Truth

July 5, 2018 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

In him was life, and that life was the light of men…The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world (John 1:4,9).

The Apostle John uses the term light more than any other New Testament writer. He alone uses Light as a title for the Lord Jesus, and is the only Gospel historian to record Christ’s declaration: I AM the Light of the world (John 8:12).

So what are we to understand by John’s assertion that Christ – the true lightgives light to every man (John 1:9). 

Theologically, this has been understood to highlight that:

-each human person is endowed by his or her Creator with a conscience, providing the capacity for objective moral values; and

-humans, of all of earth’s creatures, alone have the aptitude to perceive and understand God – that He exists, and that He has revealed Himself by way of nature and special revelation.

As I consider John’s powerful Logos prologue to his Gospel, in which the Deity of Christ as Creator bleeds through the page, I wonder if the Apostle is also suggesting something more?

Might bestowing light on every man also suggest unique human intellectual and creative power, the ability to think abstractly, to produce and appreciate the creativity of others?

If so, then our Creator – even to those who are hostile toward Him and His law of His eternal righteousness – has chosen to give that which immeasurably enriches the human experience: the capacity to comprehend the beauty and compelling value of art?

Immediately someone will rise up in vehement objection: art – in every manifestation – is simply the construct of human intelligence and creativity!

But the evidence is powerfully contradictory to that assertion.

Music is the art-form with which I’m most familiar. And the breath-taking mathematical complexity and irrevocable underpinnings of objective truth are astonishing!

How did it get there?

True, the ancient Chinese and early Greeks began to demonstrate the geometric principles of music. However, like Columbus discovering America – that which was already there long before his arrival – the early connectors of math and music simply began to apprehend what had been the foundation of music since it was brought into being by our Creator.

It was there long before their arrival.

So how can mathematical complexity be explained? There is but one option: it was conceived, designed, and created by an Intelligent Mind of immeasurable genius.

No other description provides sufficient explanatory scope.

Consider that every child taking music lessons is taught basic mathematical properties: note “values” (whole, half, quarter, eighth); time signatures and counting out bars and musical phrases; numerical values for notes on the scale, and chords based on those notes; tempo (expressed in number of beats per minute), etc.

Consequently, the great American jazz pianist Thelonius Monk concluded, “All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians.”

But there’s much more.

The “circle of 5ths” means that starting at the lowest C on a piano and progressing up the keyboard with consecutive Perfect 5ths will land once on every note of the chromatic scale – without missing any one of the 12 notes – until finally completing its trek once again at the highest C.

Musical instruments are typically tuned to A440. That means that the A above middle C is tuned to 440 hertz (frequency of vibration). The A below A440 is A220; the A above is A880 – all mathematically predictable.

(And if you love math, you may be interested to know that each higher semitone can be reached perfectly by multiplying its hertz by the 12th root of 2.)

Intervals are the distance between notes. Intervals pleasant to the ear are constructed of simple hertz ratios. For example, an octave (Perfect 8th) is 2:1; a Perfect 5th is 3:2; a Perfect 4th is 4:3; a major 3rd is 5:4.

More complex ratios are less pleasant. Because chords are constructed of 2 or more intervals, the musician can create tension with complex ratios and then resolve the tension with more simple ratios.

This is true for every genre of music: classical, pop, rock, jazz, metal core, hip-hop and rap, rhythm and blues, gospel. Some push our understanding of tension and resolution, but the math and geometry remain intact.

Here’s what this demonstrates about God’s amazing gift to us: the more we understand about music, the more jaw-dropping the math behind it, the intentional foundation of objective truth.

Or light.

And math – as everyone knows – reflects objective truth, just like 2+2 always equals 4.

And yet we live in a postmodern culture where absolute truth is questioned, dismissive of anything suggesting a sure and settled knowledge of truth. After all, the human mind is subjective we are told, interpreting truth according to context, experience, and culture. Consequently, strong convictions of truth are judged to be arrogant, or at least simplistic, naïve, and “old-school”.

In fact, it is often intimated that everyone is entitled to his/her own truth, except the one claiming to have simple understanding of a biblical, eternal worldview because objective morality and ethics went out with the ’60s.

If the rejection of objective truth was applied to music, the result would be the cacophonous pounding on a piano of a 2-year old child.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5 ESV).

I’m reminded of the observation of British pundit G.K.Chesterton from earlier in the 20th century: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

The reality is, nobody really lives without objective truth in day-to-day life.

And most certainly musicians do not.

Takeaway: Why would our Creator do this? Why this beautiful light?

Who can fathom One who would bless His human creatures with the beauty and wonder of music, and leave His unmistakable signature of objective, mathematical truth in every note, every interval, every chord, and every beat?

This provides the irrefutable conclusion of a maximally great Mind behind the music.

John 1 tells us, this mind is Christ, the Light of the world.

~graphic from freeimages.com by Ted C.