I once debated a young-earth createvangelist, who actually used — as a point of evidence that evolution and Christianity can’t coexist — the fact that there aren’t any hymns about evolution.
At the time, my response to this rather silly (but admittedly, original) argument was that there also aren’t any hymns about gravity or germ theory or cellular mitosis, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true.
If only I had known about the work of one David Lee, I might have offered some actual counter-evidence to my opponent’s claims. Lee’s 2012 hymn, “In chaos and nothingness,” not only refers to evolution in praise to God, but also tackles other scientific topics as vast as galaxy clusters and as small as the helical structure of DNA.
In an email to me, Lee explained:
One of the major things that subconsciously shapes our faith is the choice of songs and hymns we sing on Sundays. I strongly suspect that the effect is deeper than we realise, and affects a larget subset of our congregations than we realise, including those who wouldn’t call themselves musical.
As a keen church musician (although the day job is IT for scientific research), I noticed that we didn’t seem to have any songs or hymns that simply took modern science (for “modern,” read “Darwin onwards”) for granted, as a given. So I wrote one. It got its first known “outing” in this year’s Hymn Society annual conference, and (I understand) is about to get a second at a church music summer school in Ireland.
Here are the lyrics to Lee’s wonderful hymn. You can click through to the main link to find the suggested tune for the words.
1. In chaos and nothingness, you of unnameable Name
spoke into the emptiness, fanning dark energy’s flame.
Your Spirit was hovering, racing and shaping the birth
of galaxy clusters, of sun and the moon and the earth.
2. Your voice pierced the darkness, your Word blazed your light on the world;
whole continents drifted while aeons and ages unfurled;
and coaxing the DNA helix to double and bind,
your Spirit breathed origin to every species and kind.
3. O Lord, where were we when you laid the foundations of earth?
When morning stars harmonised song, when the oceans burst forth?
When you played your dice, when you planned that through chance life evolved?
In mere mortal span, still your mysteries remain unresolved.
4. So where then is wisdom, and can understanding be found?
Yet heavens are voicing your glory: in Christ is their crown.
Invisible God, given visible image, you came,
breathed order and life: Jesus Christ, Name above every name.
Transcendent and immanent, God ever three, ever one:
we praise you and worship you, Father and Spirit and Son.
Lee told me that the text and music is free to share or even use in a typical church service. The hymn’s copyright, explained in greater detail here, primarily applies just to commercial reproduction or broadcast use.
He also dropped the names of a few pretty heavy hitters — also quite active in the intersection between faith and science — who appreciated the work.
By the way, almost at its completion, I ran drafts of it past David Wilkinson, Principal of St. John’s College, Durham (Ph.Ds in both astrophysics and theology), and N.T. Wright (who had been my Diocesan bishop in Durham). They both liked it, suggesting a couple of minor points for attention, which I applied before I put it on the website. More recently, after we tried it at the Hymn Society, the hymnwriter Timothy Dudley-Smith (“Tell out, my soul”; “Lord for the years”; etc.) bounded down the steps (he’s a mere 87 years old) and headed straight for me. I was looking forward to a high-quality critique of poetic fault, rhythmic misdemeanor, scansion error or similar (he’s brilliant in that regard); instead he said how much he liked it!
So if this song helps people to open their eyes to a God who is rather bigger than Ken Ham’s little closed box, I’d be happy!