Music man declares his masterful maker
Andrew Snowdon chats with musician Michael Dooley.
Michael (‘Mike’) Dooley is a pianist, composer, song and hymn writer, producer, and music teacher, who studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Canberra Institute of Technology (AdvDipMusA, AMusA). Styles he has composed and produced include classical, jazz, pop, Celtic, soft rock, Latin, reggae, gospel, rhythm & blues, country, children’s songs, and world music. For some three decades, he lived in Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East, involved in both music and humanitarian mission work, where he learnt to speak Thai and Arabic. Mike won the APRA/AGSC (Australia’s top screen music award) for ‘Best Music for Children’s Television’ for his score for the 2019 animated film The Pilgrim’s Progress. He and his wife Chalsey live in Canberra, Australia, with their three sons, and his daughter’s son, whom they care for due to maternal health issues.
Though brought up in a Christian home and attending church at a young age, Mike said he wasn’t always a Christian:
I was confirmed in the church at about 13, but at the time I already had serious doubts about Christianity. I’d watched a lot of Carl Sagan and other skeptical science commentators on BBC TV who debunked the Bible as history. And though my parents were loving, sincere Christians, they and my church lacked confidence in the early chapters of Genesis, thinking they were maybe some sort of allegory. So they had no answers to these evolution-based challenges. By my late teens, when I went to study at music college, I was an atheist, or at best agnostic.
Pursuing music as a career, Mike’s acceptance into the elite Sydney Conservatorium was exciting. However, his enthusiasm was short-lived. He explained:
I became quite disillusioned; the music we were studying was very depressing. There was no sense of hope. It was basically reflecting the very grim state of the world … I was led into a sense of real despair.
Something very significant happened when I went to a concert of J.S. Bach’s St John Passion. I was reading along with the English translation of the associated German text. The music was profoundly beautiful, but also, the story of the Crucifixion deeply touched my heart.
Mike walked into that concert as an atheist but he walked out saying under his breath, “I believe”, without really knowing what or why.
Music and worldview
At the time, he was studying with one of Australia’s most prominent composers.
I asked him, “Why did Bach create such beautiful, harmonious, and meaningful music? And why do we today create this very dissonant-sounding avant garde music?” He looked at me, I think somewhat sadly, and said, “You know, they had God in those days, but we don’t have God anymore.” That was his answer! To me that was like a bit of a light going on.
This led him to a further realization:
Worldview influences the music. So, someone with a worldview that has no hope—we came from nothing and we’re going nowhere—will write despairing, hopeless music. Someone with a hopeful, positive worldview about a purposeful Creator will create purposeful and hopeful music. And that is what you see in the great Christian composers. There would always be triumph and hope at the end because that’s reflective of their worldview.
Warning for parents
Reflecting on this, Mike said we shouldn’t underestimate the potential harm from the lyrics of various modern pop anthems of the ‘darker’ sort:
Consider John Lennon’s Imagine, which says “Imagine there’s no heaven … and no religion, too”. No God, basically. It became a hugely popular song in the 70s, with its seeming message of ‘peace’ and avoiding conflict and war; very well written, no doubt, but also an atheistic, humanistic message that we are our only answer. You wonder how much influence that’s had on the psyche of people worldwide; especially the young listeners drinking it all in uncritically.
As parents, there’s a responsibility to monitor what our children are listening to. We should balance between being too prohibitive and finding opportunities to teach them by bringing out the messages in what a song is actually saying. Is it in line with the other godly messages we’re trying to teach them? Because I think music can be a bit of a Trojan horse into young people’s lives.
Sometime after the Bach episode, Mike said, his best friend from high school told him he had become a Christian.
I was rather shocked, because we’d been on this journey to find out the truth together. He shared the Gospel with me, and very quickly, I took the step of praying and committing my life to Jesus—a very big change for me.
But then a couple of days later, he said, “So, do you believe in the theory of evolution?” and I said, “Well, yeah.’ He replied, “Well, I’ve got something to read to you”, and he read from one of the very early creation books, before there was the sort of high-quality apologetics we have now in creationist ministries. But there was enough good science in there, and enough truth from the Word, that I completely accepted the Genesis creation account as being true. And I completely rejected evolution at that point.
Mike recalls the incredible, unforgettable joy he felt at that moment. He no longer thought of himself as a random assortment of molecules caused by a series of cosmic accidents. Instead, he realized that he was a loved creation of a purposeful and living Creator:
It was an incredible life-changer for me, and at that point I said, “I want to serve this God.”
So, that’s what he did. He spent around thirty years overseas doing humanitarian missions work while performing—a fascinating experience for him:
Music opened doors to travel to various countries that would normally be quite closed to the Gospel. Doing music allowed us to bring a message to people and personally share the Gospel with them in closed and difficult situations.
Believing that music is a gift from God has also presented opportunities to tear down evolutionary, anti-Christian thinking. Mike noted that music is a uniquely human ability and doesn’t really make sense within evolutionary theory:
What would be the survival advantage of being able to play a harmonic and melodic instrument? If you think about how musical ability supposedly evolved, or look up the literature on it, evolutionists are really clutching at straws.
They try to explain why and how we would develop such fine acoustic appreciation, and the motor skills to be able to perform music.
Amazingly, researchers are uncovering how the design of our inner ear ‘receiver’ coupled with the brain’s computational ability allows humans to distinguish the pitch and timing of notes in a way that greatly exceeds a theoretical mathematical limit.1 It is bordering on absurd to think that such advanced technology could come about from the selection of random but somehow advantageous mutations.
Looking back, Mike recalled some struggles along his journey:
There was a time in my Christian walk when I started to waver a bit. Some Christian writers were trying to reinterpret Genesis to allow for ‘millions of years’. It seemed somewhat reasonable at first.
Looking for some online resources to try and understand, I came across creation.com. I was absolutely floored by the high quality, the good scriptural and good scientific arguments. Still overseas doing missionary work, I continued to follow creation.com and read a lot of articles.
Mike said he found the writings of creationist Professor Stuart Burgess on engineering and design particularly helpful,2 especially on human design in relation to creativity:
A quarter of our brain’s cortex, the surface where most of the processing is done, is devoted just to the hands, which are such an important part of our creative equipment. But hands would be useless if it wasn’t for the complex software controlling them.
Spreading biblical truth
Composing is something Mike especially loves doing. He spoke of Perpetua, his recent classical choral work about the Christian martyr of that name. He called it one of the favourite things he has done, because of the strong messages he was able to give:
It’s about standing up for faith in difficult times and living for heavenly values rather than worldly success or values—and about supporting the persecuted church.
A piece Mike wrote for string quintet and piano was used as the theme for the graduation ceremony of a large Australian university, and is called One Human Family. Mike said:
It was inspired by Creation Ministries International’s (CMI’s) book of the same name.3 I actually made a melodic line from a section of the human genome and arranged it in the styles of different cultures.
Mike is currently working on a large classical choral work called The Redemption which tells the story of creation, the Fall, Jesus’ redemptive act on the Cross, and the coming restored creation. Well aware of the importance of the creation message in today’s world, since 2013 he has been part of a volunteer CMI ‘Friends Group’—people supporting the ministry’s speakers at events. Mike said:
What it’s really about for me is the authority of Scripture. It’s the fact that when God says what He says, He means it and He is able to communicate that to us. God can create the universe in six days. We humans can wonder how that could be possible, or doubt that God could do it, but He is omnipotent—all-powerful.
We read Genesis Chapter 1, and read the genealogies in Chapter 5, there’s a clear history there. God is a clear communicator: He told us what was true, and when Jesus came, He said to His Father “ … your word is truth” (John 17:17b).
If you start eroding either the efficacy of God as a communicator, or the historicity of the Bible, you start losing many Christian convictions. These include the key facts that we are depraved sinners and need the Cross—we need Jesus as our Saviour.
That’s one major thing I love about CMI—that it kindles that reverence for God’s Word, and its authority in our lives.
Asked for a final word to readers, Mike said:
To me, humanity’s musical ability is a witness to the genius of the Creator. We should use that music to glorify and thank Him for His gifts, and to spread His message of salvation far and wide.
References and Notes
- Related to the complex mathematical calculation called a Fourier transform; see Zyga, L., Human hearing beats the Fourier uncertainty principle, phys.org, 4 Feb 2013. Return to text.
- Stuart Burgess is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Bristol University, UK, specializing in biomimetics, i.e. copying designs found in nature for human benefit. See creation.com/stuart-burgess-biomimetics and creation.com/prof-stuart-burgess. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., One Human Family, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, 2011. Return to text.