Miles Davis’ So What? is one of the most famous and intriguing pieces of jazz music ever composed. It has about it something of the same intrigue and ambiguity I found in the title of a short book just published in Ireland, God Exists. So What? Do these two truncated sentences mean, God exists – so what’s the big deal? Or do they mean, God exists, so what do I have to do about it?
It is said that Dennis Hopper, that easy rider par excellence, claimed credit for inspiring Davis to call his piece, So What? He said that in a conversation the two once had in which Davis was the dominant interlocutor, Hopper kept interrupting with just that question, “so what? We don’t know if Hopper’s skepticism was ever resolved and I’m not going to spoil your pleasure in reading this book by telling you that the skepticism which its title might be betraying will be resolved at the end. This volume is a cross between an epistolary novel an a platonic dialogue, recounting another conversation at the beginning of a pandemic, one about God and religion between a skeptical young man and an older believer, temporarily disabled.
The author is Mark Hamilton, who has worked in education all his life since graduating in science from University College Dublin in the 1970s. It is very clear that the dialogue between these two fictional characters is replete with content from probably thousands of conversations Hamilton has had with skeptical, searching and honest young people whom he has worked with in various educational roles over five decades.
God Exists. So What? Is a rich and relevant treasure chest of all that experience now distilled over 160 pages in this little volume. In it, with a light and attractive touch, the marriage of Faith and Reason is explored between these two souls, the one a millennial economics students immersed – but insecurely immersed – in the shallow fun-loving technological culture of the the 21st century; the other an older but wiser wayfarer confronted by the chaos of which that culture seems to be the harbinger, hoping in his own quiet way to puncture the dangerous bubble that it seems to be.
A short example of the tone of the relationship between these two people and the subjects which they tackle is the following, in which they agree on the enormity of the God question.
Peter, the young man’s name, writes to John on 10 April, 2020. Remember we are just about to enter the second month of the Covid 19 pandemic and Ireland, the setting for this conversation, is in lockdown.
I can definitely conﬁrm I am in the latter category you mention in your letter. I did make a throwaway remark last month about not trusting the Church, but it is the sort of thing that I just say because others say it, rather than having any deeper conviction on it, one way or another. I don’t think I am naive. I know people have suffered throughout history at the hands of the Church. In many cases, especially in recent times, it is certainly a question of bad apples being left too long in the barrel. I also know that the Church has acknowledged the wrongdoing of members, even senior ones. People cannot really be surprised. Being a Catholic or being a member of the clergy does not make a person immune from evil. The Church, by and large, helps people because there is so much badness in the world. So please take it that I am open to listening to what you have to say.
Unlike some philosophers, my starting point is that I accept the obvious reality of my own existence and that of others. We are real persons in a real world. I do occasionally wonder what life is all about.
I also do admit to having some inner feeling about God’s existence. But I really don’t think you can lay out a robust rational case for It. Science tells us a different story.
That said the more I think about it, the more I am in agreement with you: the question of God is the big question.
What actually will I be doing for eternity?
This is probably the sort of question people should ask themselves at key moments in their lives, because it is not inconsequential. And if, as you are suggesting, big ideas have big consequences, then there is a lot riding on the answer.
Thanks for all,
John sends a holding reply three days later, in which he gives the key idea of the answer he will give when they meet again. John considers himself something of a neanderthal in the IT department and all his letters are handwritten. His writing hand is, he admits, now getting weary and he eventually resolves to keep his missives a bit shorter. His reply:
I was surprised you got back to me so quickly. You must have put your response in the post fairly promptly.
By the time you call by later in the week, I will have made the scientific case for God. God gave us our reason so that we could know of his existence. He didn’t create you so that you could reason him out of existence!
See you soon,
And what is the connection of all this with Miles Davis?
At the end of the book we have a “checklist for the modern mind” in which Hamilton proposes to us a list of observations which he offers as confirming God’s existence and suggests that they undermine the arguments of disbelievers. For example:
The rich complexity of the universe can be easily understood or captured with a few equations.
How does that confirm God’s existence?
Scientists wonder at the marvelous simplicity of the mathematics that explain the whole of reality. God is simple.
To that the doubters may answer:
The mathematics came first, and the explosion followed.
Is there anything in mathematics which will explain how we got the gift of Miles Davis or the treasure which he has left us as an inheritance? No, no, no.
Such, in the exchange above, is the flavour of this wonderful little book. It is currently only available in hard copy through this website – but I don’t doubt but that it will be hitting the shelves of bookshops and Amazon’s fulfillment centres sooner rather than later.
3 thoughts on “Miles Davis and the God Question – what’s the connection?”
I just forwarded this to Aidan – I’d never have heard of Miles Davis but for him!
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Pat, I’m shocked! I recommend Ken Burns box set on the history of jazz. Thanks, M
I enjoyed this article. It is great to know that people like Mark are in conversation with young seekers and skeptics in an idiom accessible to the post modern young person.