361 Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

            In one of the great pro-life biblical declarations, David said:  “For you formed my inward parts; / You covered me in my mother’s womb.  /  I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;  / Marvelous are Your works,  / And that my soul knows very well” (Ps 139:13-14).  So too Shakespeare’s Hamlet exclaimed, using eight successive exclamation points:  “What a piece of work is man!  how noble in reason!  /  how infinite in faculty!  in form and moving how / express and admirable!  in action how like an angel!  / in apprehension how like a god!  the beauty of the world!  / the paragon of animals!” (Hamlet, 2.2.295-300).   This we know:  as the centuries pass our understanding of human anatomy becomes increasingly complex—indeed bordering on the miraculous—and we ought in humility daily kneel down and give praise for the wonders of our bodies.  We also must, in humility, acknowledge that we have just begun to begin to understand our physical frame.

        Our body’s majesty of is amply described in Your Designed Body (Seattle:  Discovery Institute, c. 2022; Kindle Edition), by Steve Laufmann (a systems engineer) and Howard Glicksman (a medical doctor).  The two bring to the discussion complementary perspectives—a physician’s precise description of what’s known and an engineer’s insight into the mechanics and beauty of architectural designs.  They combine the expertise needed to make their presentation authoritative and the real-world experience to write clearly for general readers.  Though they primarily describe what’s now known—urging readers to understand and (with Socrates of old) “follow the evidence”— they also insist that what’s known cannot be really understood without appreciating its design.  Countering much promulgated by modern biologists who champion evolutionary naturalism, with its hostility to any presence of mind in the physical world, they insist there is a “basic question” that must be confronted:  “Could the apparent design in living systems have happened by accident, or did it require an actual designer? Could any series of unguided errors, over any period of time, achieve the wonders of the human body?” (p. 22).  

       There are purely material causes operative throughout the universe.  They are basic to physics and chemistry and by necessity do exactly the same things repeatedly.  They are suitably studied by experimental science.  But they are “incapable of intent or foresight, which limits their creative powers” (p. 23).   Intelligent causes, on the other hand, “act with intention—they perform actions and build artifacts to achieve intended goals and purposes.  Intelligent agents visualize an outcome, plan how to achieve it, and execute that plan to make the vision reality.  They make specific choices to achieve the desired outcome, guiding the construction, assembly, and activation of the end product.  Intelligent agents generate information and give it meaning. They design systems that harness the laws of nature to perform tasks that nature could never otherwise do—to channel the material forces of nature to achieve specific goals.  Intelligent agents are able, using forethought and the hard work of design, to build large and coherent systems of systems” (p. 24).  Importantly:  “Intelligent causes mainly work from contingency (non-necessary causes) and are not generally repeatable, so they yield much better to inferential science” such as history and archeology (p. 26).  When studying a living human body, inferential science offers robust way to fully understand it, for life cannot be reduced to material entities.  There’s a mysterious organizing dimension within all that lives, what ancient thinkers called the soul.   

      A great chasm separates living from non-living beings.  “As biologist Michael Denton so keenly points out, ‘Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological system . . . there is a chasm as vast and absolute as it is possible to conceive’” (p. 34). Still more:  living beings never come from non-living beings.  It’s never been seen and simply could not happen. What we see, in the 30 trillion cells (the tiniest parts of our bodies), are incredibly complex living organisms.  As the authors describe how a cell functions one is left almost speechless, awed by the wonder of what takes place within it.  We might well be impressed by the wonders of modern technology, evident in cell phones and computer-driven automobiles.  But a tiny cell far surpasses any human engineering feat, for it is alive!  And:  “To be alive, each cell must perform thousands of complicated tasks, with both functional and process coherence” (p. 53).  It must orchestrate a bewildering variety of systems, involving millions of parts, properly sequenced and coordinated.  Then, amazingly, the cell needs to reproduce itself, making new cells to carry on the body’s life. 

       Studying an individual cell and its interactions with all the other cells of the body cannot but amaze!  There are the internal data, informing the cell, making it what it is and facilitating its workings.  But they are also members of a body of trillions of other cells, an orchestra of parts working together.  Information and orchestration—two remarkably different but necessarily interlocked dimensions to the human organism!  There is “orchestration, wherein the cells get instructions from a controller external to the cell; and choreography, wherein each cell determines its own course of action, based on its perception of the situation around it, combined with its internal programming.  If it’s orchestration, where do the instructions come from?  What systems track the development process and decide when and where to send out these instructions?  If it’s choreography, how do cells perceive the situation around them?  What possibilities and differences can they distinguish, and how do they turn these into actions? Most complex systems use a combination of these approaches.  How the body does this is not (yet) known.  But we can apply engineering knowledge to understand what must be there for the specifications and instructions to work, even if we have little idea where these things might be, or how they’re encoded” (p. 341).

       Every tiny cell is itself a marvel, but it also works in even more marvelous ways with all the rest of the body’s 30 trillion cells!  “When a system has all the right parts, in all the right places, made of the right materials, with the right specifications, doing their respective functions, at all the right times, to achieve an overall, system-level function that none of the parts can do on its own, you have what is known as a coherent system.  Coherence, in this sense, is a functional requirement for all non-trivial systems.  Moreover, in life the systems are never standalone—there are always interdependencies between and among the various component systems and parts.  The human body is composed of coherent, interdependent systems” (p. 61).  There are eleven distinct systems simultaneously working to keep us alive:  respiratory, gastrointestinal, renal/urinary, cardiovascular, integegumentary, skeletal, motor, nervous, immune/lymphatic, endocrine, reproductive systems.  

“Each of these is a specialized subsystem in the body.  The body needs all of them, organized properly, and coordinated to remarkably fine tolerances. In turn, each of these subsystems is a complete system, itself composed of many specialized subsystems and parts, organized in specific ways, and precisely coordinated” (p. 63). Consider our respiratory system.  All 30 trillion cells in our body constantly need oxygen (O2), the fuel that enables them to live.  Then they must expel resultant carbon dioxide (CO2), which would destroy them.  So how does the body know how much O2 to deliver and how much CO2 to shed?  It does so through elaborate control signaling systems that govern our breathing and heart pumping processes. When we exercise we breathe more quickly and our heart beats more rapidly, sending precisely the needed oxygen to our muscle cells and efficiently discarding the waste.  Scientists have meticulously observed and described these life-sustaining processes.  But they cannot begin to explain precisely how they could have originated, nor can they tell us why they work so effectively.  When they claim “evolution” did it, they are indulging in  “imaginative storytelling” accompanied by “a lot of hand-waving around the details” (p. 103).  

       Enabling the respiratory system to function, the cardiovascular system is equally necessary and complex.  “All the tissues and organs of your body need exactly enough blood flow to meet their energy needs no matter what you’re doing.  This is a profoundly difficult engineering problem.  Different parts of the body have different needs for different activities. Blood must be directed in exactly the needed quantities, to exactly the right places, at exactly the needed times. And the flows must adapt just as quickly as the body and its organs require” (p. 113).  The “system works a bit like a pipe organ, in which a single pump generates air pressure and the many pipes each have a valve.  When the organist presses combinations of keys on the keyboard, the valves at specific pipes are opened (some more, some less) to achieve the correct timbre, and music happens” (p. 118).  

     Yet another mysterious aspect of our bodies is their heat-regulating capacity.  To survive, we need to maintain a core temperature between 97° and 99°F.  Whether we’re in scorching heat of Death Valley or the freezing temperatures atop Mt. Whitney, we simply must maintain the right temperature.  Fortunately, our body’s  “thermoregulation” governs our metabolism and adjusts to the intensity of our exercise.   Playing a crucial role in this is the hypothalamus, which serves “as the body’s thermostat to keep your core temperature near its target range of 97° to 99°F” p. 168).  It’s informed by thermoreceptors embedded in our skin—many thousands of sensors demanding proper adjustments be made.  Simultaneous, internal thermoreceptors keep track of our cells’ temperature, our “core” condition.   

     We contact and understand the world outside us through the five physical senses.  As Laufmann and Glicksman delve into our seeing and hearing skills the wonders of creation  loom ever larger.   In the 18th century Sir Isaac Newton memorably exclaimed:  “How came the bodies of animals to be contrived with so much art, and for what ends were their several parts?  Was the eye contrived without skill in opticks?”  Good question!  A century later than it still stumped Charles Darwin, and today’s engineers remain mystified by the complexity of the eye, something beyond their ability to manufacture.  (I well remember hearing Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, who was studying the eye, admit in the 1990s that he could only begin to fathom its intricate workings!). Opthamologists describe much about it, but “no one really understands exactly how it works” (p. 194).  “That vision is possible at all is startling.  Vision requires more solutions to more difficult problems than perhaps any other system in the body.  It combines perfectly tuned biochemistry with solutions to complicated engineering problems involving general physics, optics, and electrical engineering, all at a level of nanotechnical sophistication that makes even the best human engineers drool.  Our vision requires perfectly tuned physical structures with orchestrated motion, transparent tissues and fluids (in all the right places and in none of the wrong ones), unique supply chain solutions, constant delivery of energy to energy-hungry cells, layers of complex control systems, high information signaling systems, and information processing and image assembly on a scale we’ve barely begun to understand.  And all this happens with no perceptible delay and no conscious effort, so you can focus on what you’re seeing rather than how you’re seeing.  Vison is both a wonder and an enigma” (p. 197).

       As a systems engineer, Laufmann appreciates complex systems, such as the Apollo rockets and iPhones.   They fuse together an enormous number of parts, working together in multiple systems.  The parts must be shaped just right and the systems must work together smoothly.  Thousands of engineers are needed to make them.  Such things never just “emerge” in some spontaneous event.  Once they’re in place and functioning, they retain their carefully planned programs.  Changes in either parts or systems lead to breakdowns, not improvements.  “If we look across the body’s design hierarchy, there is coherence at each level and interdependencies all over the place, both within each level and among the levels.  All these things occur with a precision and complexity that dwarf any systems human engineers can comprehend, much less design and implement” (p. 354).  Equally important:  “When we look at the whole of the body, which of the systems, or the subsystems, or the sub-subsystems, or any of the underlying information, could be taken away before the body fails?  If it can’t function without hundreds and hundreds of key subsystems and parts, how could it have come to exist a little bit at a time?  In short, the body has chicken-and-egg problems top to bottom.  Indeed, most of the problems the body must solve are chicken-and-egg problems” (p. 358).  

       At work in, and deeply embedded in the body is something even more mysterious than the body.  There’s a self-conscious “me” who’s aware of both the world apart from me and inner world transcending purely physical things.   We are a mind, a rational soul that is metaphysically real.  Neuroscientists know that “while perception, movement, memory, and emotion are mainly caused physically, by brain matter, the human capacity for higher reason, abstract thought, and free will are not.  Thus, though there is clearly a relationship between the two, the mind is distinct from the brain.  We don’t need to plumb the depths of the mind’s mysteries to realize this:  the mind, however it may be connected to our brain and body, isn’t reducible to matter. Your self-ness, while overlaid on your body, is in some essential way more than your body, and independent of it.  Is it possible the entire point of your body is to make the ‘YOU’ possible, and to give it a home?  This may be among the most important questions a person can grapple with, yet it seems far from the minds of most materialists” (p. 382).

       Dealing honestly with the mounting evidence concerning human nature, “the more evident becomes the astonishing engineering ingenuity involved, and the harder it becomes to explain its origin.  It’s hard to make a new, coherently engineered system (at least one that works).  And it’s hard to make a major change to a coherent system without breaking it. Together, these realities present a doubly formidable hurdle for any proposed causal explanation.  Mix in the fact that there’s a person living inside the system, and you’ve got a trifecta of causal problems to solve—you only win if you get them all right.  Anyone who expects you to buy their origins story must account for all these things.  The quality of their explanation should be compelling.  Or at least intriguing.  Or at least plausible. No hand-waving allowed.  And no wishful thinking” (p. 383).

       We can either embrace “a theory of billions of innovative accidents” or a theory of  “biological design.”  As David Gelernter, an eminent Yale professor says:  “This is one of the most important intellectual issues of modern times, and every thinking person has the right and duty to judge for himself.”  Thinking billions of accidents could make anything as complex as the body involves “trying to explain such things through fantastical storytelling, mental gymnastics, and bizarre leaps of logic (and always short on concrete engineering details) as they force-fit all manner of traits into some imaginative survival or reproductive advantage.”  Invoking the “‘survival of the fittest’” smacks of circularity.”  Survivors survive!  So what?  Such tautologies are not explanations!  Nor is “selecting” the same as “generating,” and “no amount of selecting can, by itself, generate a coherent system.”  Nor can “natural selection” select anything!  “Selecting is an act of intention, and nature lacks the wherewithal to intend.  Selection implies agency, but the theory allows no room for agency.” (pp. 397-398).  Indeed Darwin, later in life, admitted that “natural preservation” would have been a better term. 

        The authors of Your Designed Body urge readers to consider the evidence for a new framework, a better worldview, that applies “systems engineering thinking to living organisms—a framework that takes an outlook at least as old as Plato and updates it from a modern systems perspective” (p. 414).  This means understanding that “the history of life is the unfolding interplay of four major causal factors”—Intentional Acts; Internal Adaptation; Design Properties; and Degradation” (pp. 415-416).  As we look at the human body we see all four causes interacting in wondrous ways.  “There are hundreds of systems and subsystems in the human body for which there is neither a known nor even a theorized gradual evolutionary pathway to generating function—no adaptive continuum along which life is viable and reproducing at every step.  Without this, no gradual approach can ever fashion the individual systems in the human body, much less orchestrate the irreducibly complex ensemble of systems essential to our existence” (p. 467).  An engineer cannot but see an intelligent designer-engineer” at work. 

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       For 40 years the Australian biologist Michael Denton has been making the case for “intelligent design.”  In The Miracle of Man:  The Fine Tuning of Nature for Human Existence (Seattle:  Discovery Institute, c. 2022; Kindle Edition), he looks not at human beings per se but at the fundamental elements the universe provides for their well being.  “The human person as revealed by modern science is no contingent assemblage of elements, an irrelevant afterthought of cosmic evolution,” he says.  “Rather, our destiny was inscribed in the light of stars and the properties of atoms since the beginning.  Now we know that all nature sings the song of man.  Our seeming exile from nature is over.  We now know what the medieval scholars only believed, that the underlying rationality of nature is indeed ‘manifest in human flesh.’  And with this revelation the… delusion of humankind’s irrelevance on the cosmic stage has been revoked.” (p. 202)  He discerns “an act of extraordinary prescience” that “built into nature from the beginning a suite of properties finely calibrated for beings of our physiological and anatomical design and for our ability to follow the path of technological enlightenment from the Stone Age to the present” (p. 30).

       After devoting many chapters to describing how water and oxygen and fire and various chemical elements simply must precisely as they are for man to be what he is, Denton concludes:  “My argument is not merely that nature is fit for us (which it must be, of course), but that nature is uniquely fit for intelligent, technologically capable organisms very much like us, that we occupy a very special, even privileged, place in the order of things.  That is the central claim of this book.  And it is a claim which, as I have shown, is supported by a mountain of scientific evidence.  Humans are clearly no contingent cosmic afterthought. The exquisitely fine-tuned ensembles of environmental fitness described here, each enabling a vital aspect of our physiological design, amount to nothing less than a primal blueprint for our being written into the fabric of reality since the moment of creation, providing compelling evidence that we do indeed, after all, occupy a central place in the great cosmic drama of being.  This is the miracle of man.  We are not positioned in the spatial center of the universe as was believed before Copernicus, but what we have found over the past two centuries confirms the deep intuition of the medieval Christian scholars who believed that ‘“in the cognition of nature in all her depths, man finds himself’” (pp. 209-210).

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       In Does the Atom Have a Designer? (eThermal, LLC, c. 2013/2016;Kindle Edition), Lakhi N. Goenka argues that even the tiniest material entities contain traces of design.  An atom “is not a passive billiard ball.  It is a complex system of interacting particles called the Atom (which can perhaps be more appropriately referred to as The Atomic System).”  Within the atom, we find subatomic particles—quarks, gluons, and leptons—interacting in wondrous ways.  They are more constellations of energy than hard entities!  Within “fractions of a second after the Big Bang” they were operating in accord with laws, but precisely what “energy” is still eludes us. Equally mysterious are realities such as gravity and “dark matter” which we observe but cannot fully understand.  We observe photons and use them in technologies such as TV, but they mysteriously travel at the speed of light and have zero mass!  They seem like bits of matter but are somehow non-material!  In 1951, Albert Einstein noted “the unfathomable nature of the photon,” confessing he had no answer to its nature, saying:  “Nowadays every rascal thinks he knows the answer, but he is simply deluding himself.”  Would we all had the humility to simply pause in the presence of Mystery!