Recently, I was listening to Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1068, followed a couple of days later by watching the Tom Cruise movie Oblivion. What does one have to do with the other? Well, the latter includes in the soundtrack the song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by the 1960s English rock group Procol Harum, and it occurred to me that “A Whiter Shade” may be based on Bach.
A little research revealed that the organ countermelody of “A Whiter Shade” is, indeed, based on BWV 1068. The song itself is an adaptation of Bach’s church cantata, Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (“I am standing with one foot in the grave”), BWV 156. Bach is among the most prolific and accomplished composers of all time, credited with in excess of 1,100 surviving compositions (many others of which have been lost). In its list of the Top 15 greatest composers, ListVerse has declared Bach the greatest of these based on “the intellectual depth of his music, the technical demand, and the artistic beauty.” I agree, but that’s neither here nor there.
“A Whiter Shade” is, in a real sense, a descendant of Bach’s BWV 156, similar to an untold number of other songs that have borrowed from Bach over the centuries. An example would be “A Lover’s Concerto” by The Toys, based on Bach’s Minuet in G Major, BWV Anh. 114, but arranged in 4/4 time. Thinking about this led me to reflect on creativity and creative acts. What came to mind was Charles Darwin’s statement in The Origin of Species:
In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration.
This passage, repeated in several forms in The Origin, comes from the introduction. Darwin criticized naturalists who believed each species could have been “independently created,” or rather, designed. He felt that such thinking must be mistaken due to the sheer number of species, and considering the work it would take to modify them all to fit perfectly into their respective environments.
But let’s think again. It is estimated that at present, there are approximately 8.7 million species on Earth. Yet when we consider the human brilliance of Bach, whose work was voluminous, and only limited by his untimely death of a stroke at 65, why would Darwin, or anyone else, conclude that the complexity, beauty, and artistry of extant species could not possibly come about through the creative act of a designer? Let’s look at the syllogism that Darwin uses in this passage:
There are an innumerable number of species
It cannot be shown how an innumerable species could have been modified to adapt so well to their environments
Therefore, species could not have been independently created
On inspection, we see this syllogism fails, since the conclusion, (3), does not necessarily follow from premises (1) and (2). First, it is speculative to say that a particular number of species, which may be innumerable, yet still finite, could not each be the result of creative acts. Second, because it cannot be shown precisely how those species became so well adapted to their environment, it is not appropriate to conclude that evolution is the only possible mechanism.
Indeed, we know a lot about independent creative acts. For one thing, we know that not all acts are necessarily new but may be built on previous such acts, as we see with The Toys or Procol Harum that built on the previous work of Bach, while adding new and novel arrangements (or rather, information). So when we consider the creativity of the human mind, and what it is able to accomplish, why would we conclude that any given extant species could not have been the product of a continually working designer over the course of time?
When we look at the depth, complexity, and beauty that comes forth from the minds of humans such as Bach, The Toys, or Procol Harum, we reasonably conclude that a mind far greater than the human mind could over time have created the almost 9 million catalogued species we see on Earth. My argument is not that all species were created independently, as the ability to speciate could well have been built into the DNA of a number of aboriginal forms. However, when you look at an almost 600-million-year period of complex life forms, an average of about 70 creative acts per year does not seem outside the domain of possibility.
Yes, I’m having a little fun with such speculation, and taking extinction into account, am well aware there have been far more than 8.7 million species over time. A quick Internet check suggests 5 billion extinct species, which is fine. The point holds, because the numerical quantity of species over time is immaterial. What’s material is that we know from our everyday experience that minds can produce creative acts. And thus, Darwin’s insistence that only evolution can account for the modification of innumerable species is more an argument from personal incredulity than an argument from science.