Attribution

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I bet there’s something you don’t know about the Beach Boys’ classic song, “Surfin’ USA”. Sandwiched among the American beaches they cheerfully list off in perfect pop harmonies is “Australia’s Narrabeen”. 

. . . who we determine is the author directly impacts the value we place on the creation.

Why would an Australian beach be listed in a song about “surfin’ USA”? Did they confuse surfin’ USA with surfin’ AUS? And if you were going to list an Australian surf beach, why Narrabeen? That I don’t know. But here’s something I do know: that song’s a copy.

A copy? Yes. The music is taken from Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”. Pull the two songs up on YouTube and you’ll see the duck-walking rocker singing a raucous little tune about a girl who wants to go dancing in a list of American cities. Close your eyes, add some harmonies and exchange “Sweet Little Sixteen” with “Surfin’ USA” and you have the Beach Boys classic. It’s so close that the writing credits for “Surfin’ USA” were, after a little legal threat, shared between the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and the man himself, Chuck Berry.

Of course, it’s hardly the first musical copying act—or the last. Baby Boomers might recall George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, which was awfully close to The Chiffons’ hit “He’s So Fine”. More recently, Robin Thicke, TI and Pharrell Williams ran into a little legal trouble over their hit “Blurred Lines”, which “borrowed” heavily from Marvin Gaye’s hit “Got to Give it Up”. Well, if you are going to copy, you may as well copy from the best! But when you do, don’t be surprised when lawyers roll up and you see your royalties roll out. 

In the world of fine art, attribution is also a make or break issue. There’s a great TV show exploring the mysteries of art provenance, called Fake or Fortune. The show explores the drama, emotions and painstaking process of determining who the artist is behind a painting. The paintings may be worthless or they may be worth millions; it all depends on who applied the paint.

The problem of determining attribution for a work is not simply a challenge in the arts; it also leaches into the sciences and theology. And who we determine is the author directly impacts the value we place on the creation.

Atheists often point out the human rights abuses of the religious and claim a causal relationship. But there are problems with this hypothesis. The first and most obvious is that “religion” is not a monolithic idea. Some religions tend to create peace and societal stability more than others. It’s no coincidence that in the UN’s list of the happiest nations on earth, 10 of the top 10 nations have a long Protestant Christian heritage, nine of the top 10 nations in the Human Development Index similarly have long Protestant histories, as do eight of the top ten in the gender equality index.

The second problem with the atheists’ hypothesis is that actions that are directly contrary to a faith tradition cannot by definition be an expression of that faith tradition. Sinful humanity is flawed and conflicted, and it is not rare for people to act against their own highest ideals.

But it’s the third that is worth considering carefully: the secular devaluation of human life. Atheistic Communism is estimated to have killed between 65 and 100 million people. And imprisoned tens of millions more. Nazism, which based its views of racial superiority explicitly on Darwinian evolution, similarly is estimated to have deliberately exterminated 11 to 20 million people and started a war that is estimated to have killed in the range of another 50 million. But it isn’t just these two toxic ideologies that have devalued human life; even “enlightened” modern secularity tracks with a disregard for human life.

It’s not a coincidence that Pew researchers have found the more secular you are, the more likely you are to support euthanasia and abortion on demand. Abortion ends an estimated 40 million young human lives across the globe every year. And despite stereotypes to the contrary, according to Gallop, the more often you go to church the less likely you are to support the death penalty. Why? Because authorship determines value.

When we forget the Artist behind creation we don’t just walk away from our faith, we walk away from the foundation of our own value. And the consequence is inevitably the devaluation of human life. Secular humanism is, it turns out, its own undoing.


James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.