Let beauty be the judge

Before he died in 2016, Helmut Hahn, the “shell man” of British Columbia shared his story with Carl Wieland

Helmut Hahn
People in Helmut Hahn’s area often referred to him as “the shell man”. This is not only because of his 60–90 minute presentations to audiences, but because he always carried a shell or two in his pocket “so I can refer to them when I’m talking to someone new”.

My mission", said Helmut Hahn, "is to bring people to the realization that there is a God, and that He is the miracle-working God of the Bible. I do this from the intricacies of nature. Like it says in Romans 1:20, God can be clearly seen in these things."

To do this, Helmut used his splendid collection of seashells.

Born in Austria in 1923, he was once a lieutenant in Hitler's navy, and later worked as a welder, high-school teacher, research technician and inventor of a pipe-welding system. He first began giving his shell presentations in schools over 30 years ago, some 10 years after he started collecting shells in earnest. Then, Helmut's presentations developed to include churches, and also other community groups and institutions. "Sadly", he said, "in the last few years, even the mention of creation in Canada's schools is unwelcome."

Helmut chose this article's title because, he believed, "it's important not just to talk about the skill of the Creator – as a technical man, that fascinates me – but about the amazing beauty out there, too, His aesthetic sense."


Tiny shells glorifying God

His collection housed in his home in Victoria, British Columbia (on Canada's Vancouver Island) numbered some 2,000 shells from around the world. But one particular group of shells caught his special attention. These are the very tiny Guamanian nerites (Genus Nerita, Family Neritidae), and they make up all the shells pictured in this article.

"They may be small, but they have the most intricate designs of any shells I've come across," said Helmut.

Brought up a Roman Catholic, Helmut said, "After Austria's annexation by the Nazis, the political climate took hold of me. Then came 25 years void of any religious content. I started looking for answers to the meaning of life, settling eventually for Theosophy, a sort of western form of Hinduism. After having lost a lot of weight through fasting, I realized I had come to a dead end in my search for 'enlightenment'."

What followed was a spiritual crisis in which he came to see the deceptive nature of so-called "spiritual masters". He said that in this experience, which led to his conversion to Christ, "I came to fully realize the power of Jesus over these demonic forces." A few years later, he said, "I saw a few shells at a friend's place and was fascinated by them. I concluded that they would be an ideal evangelistic tool, especially knowing how strongly the evolution theory ingrained itself in the younger generation."

One man's passion making a difference

Helmut told his story and displayed his shells to thousands of people. He said that the general reaction of onlookers was usually very positive, including total amazement at the intricacies of the designs, especially in the Guamanian nerites.

Over the years, many told him that they had become stronger in their faith from the presentations, and more aware of God's greatness in creation.

[nature shows]
“added” beauty
– much more
than is needed
to survive or
He often pointed out how the natural world is full of wondrous beauty that defies evolutionary explanations. Evolution insists that everything has to have had some "survival (or reproductive) value". But, Helmut said, "Many things in the ocean have astonishingly beautiful patterns that they don't use for any sort of mating display or camouflage. In fact, often they live where it's so deep and dark that their stunning beauty is not seen by anything."

Helmut felt that it was as if God had built not just amazingly designed machinery into the natural world, but also displays of astonishing "added" beauty – much more than is needed to survive or reproduce. He said, "This serves to give Him glory as we discover this beauty, even on tiny creatures."

Helmut continued spreading the news of God's glory, and His wonderful Gospel, at every opportunity until he died in December 2016, when he fully entered into that glory himself.

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