A Mutton Chop?

In his brief essay “How Is It Possible to Believe in God?” William F. Buckley wrote, “I’ve always liked the exchange featuring the excited Darwinian at the end of the nineteenth century.  He said grandly to the elderly scholar, ‘How is it possible to believe in God?’  The imperishable answer was, ‘I find it easier to believe in God than to believe that Hamlet was deduced from the molecular structure of a mutton chop.'”*

Affirming the existence of God, Buckley was employing the argument from sufficient cause.  He illustrated it by citing artistic marvels rendered by the hand and heart of man.  His point was that no sufficient cause or explanation for the emergence of a dramatic masterpiece like Hamlet can be found in the animal kingdom, much less from inanimate matter.

He said, “The skeptics get away with fixing the odds against the believer, mostly be pointing to phenomena which are only explainable — you see? — by the belief that there was a cause for them, always deducible.  But how can one deduce the cause of Hamlet or of St. Matthew’s Passion?  What is the cause of inspiration?”*

I have just listened, via the internet, for the 999th time, to Sayaka Shoji playing Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin in D Major.  In a few weeks I will have the privilege of viewing, again, Michelangelo’s Pieta, in Rome.  The next time a special exhibit of the work of the Impressionists turns up at the Brooks Museum of Art or the Dixon Gallery in Memphis, I will be there.

Now, I don’t know how Tchaikovsky wrote his beautiful, once thought “unplayable,” concerto.  I don’t know how Michelangelo “freed” his magnificent sculptures from the raw marble in which they awaited him.  And the only thing I know about the Impressionists is the effect their brilliant colors and vibrant images have on me.

I do know that not one of these great works of art could have been produced by a million apes in a million years.  The nuanced aesthetic sensitivity and the focused — inspired — creativity with which these masterworks and thousands of others have been wrought by the hand and heart of man are just not in animals or in the mindless matter out of which we are told they evolved.

There is something in man that is not inherent in a mutton chop, and surely not in inanimate matter.  The Bible says that special something in man is the image of God with which he is imbued (Gen. 1:26-28).  “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job. 32:8).

“There is a spirit in man…”  If not from God, from whom?  From what?

* From This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, eds., New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007, pp. 22-23.




  1. This I believe… Excellent book. and Buckley’s contribution is great.

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