Judah, Jazz, and the Apologetic of Aesthetics

“What kind of music is that?” my three year old son, Judah, asked from the back seat of the car as the sun set over Nashville, his baby sister sleeping in the seat next to him.

“Jazz,” I told him, and we both sat quietly listening to the university radio station.

“What is jazz?” he asked after a few seconds. I tried to think of a way to define ‘jazz’ in a way that would make sense to him, finally settling for, “When you hear that kind of bass beat,” now imagine me thumping a jazzy rhythm, “it’s usually jazz.”

“I like jazz,” Judah added, listening with all the intent of a musician, his hazel eyes watching the horizon while he mentally analyzed the music.  

My son is already a musical aficionado.  He will confidently tell you he likes bluegrass (banjos are fun), classical (thanks to Little Einsteins), and now, jazz.  Sociologists or psychologists may say that his attention to music is simply an extension of what he sees in his parents, or perhaps early signs of his particular type of intelligence.  What I see instead (or perhaps, as a forerunner of those things) is evidence of a creator.

C.S. Lewis explains that one of the clearest signs of intelligent design is the fact that humans have an innate moral compass, or even the concept of morality at all.  Rice Broocks points out that our human ability to reason is further evidence of the same.  Both of these concepts are uniquely human, yet also completely unnecessary when viewed from an evolutionary perspective.  There is nothing that would have spawned these aspects of our being based on evolutionary principals – they are not derived from survival or adaptation needs.  I believe that a sense of the aesthetic is, likewise, proof that we are created by the design of Someone who is the very definition of beauty.

How do I get that from jazz music and a preschooler?  Have you ever watched a toddler react to music?  Have you ever seen an infant fascinated by light?  Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry?

Here’s my point: We are built with a sense of aesthetics.  When we experience something beautiful, we have a response.   Some might argue that our response to a person’s physical beauty is born of our need to reproduce.  Yet, that explanation cannot contain the many varied forms of beauty that we can recognize in the people around us.  As for created beauty, such as visual art, music, dance, or performance, one could say that what we experience has an emotional connection which causes our reactions.  That is true, to some extent, but how does it explain my son’s pure enjoyment of a genre of music to which there is no way he has an emotional connection?  Or, a toddler’s reckless abandon of dance in response to music?  Better still, can it explain Judah’s sister’s adoration of color and light when she cannot yet even vocalize the words to identify those elements?

Perhaps I am overrun with my worldview, but it is the only one I’ve found that makes sense. The fact that we have, across nations and tribes and religions, the same basic understandings of morality, the same ability to use reason and logic, the same recognition and appreciation for beauty; these are testaments to a Creator who is defined by these same concepts in their most perfect forms.  Evolution leaves no room for their existence. No amount of psychology or sociology can explain them away, especially when they appear in those most unassuming and unaffected.

You can call it cliche, but sometimes cliches are born of truth:  I see God through the eyes of a child.  I’m going to keep on watching for little glimpses, especially when my son listens to music, dances like it’s as natural as breathing, stares at the angles of a city skyline, uses every crayon color in the box, tells me I am, “pretty like a bug.” He gets it.  Maybe I can learn a thing or two about the One who makes beautiful things.