Godless Embryologists

Godless Embryologists:

An Origins Parable

Over the years, there has been a great deal of blood spilled, or at least ink spilled, over the creation science and origins debates. What follows is an “intelligently designed” attempt to illustrate the differences between various positions on origins, using a somewhat humorous but generally accurate parable. This is presented in the form of position statements on the fictitious but highly controversial “embryology versus Bible” debate.

BACKGROUND

The science of embryology says that a baby is formed through natural processes, starting with the “conception” when a sperm cell joins with an egg cell. These two cells join their DNA and subdivide into multiple cells, which becomes a fetus. Over time, the fetus grows in size through cellular division, and various biological structures gradually develop into distinctive body parts. After approximately nine months, a normal pregnancy will come to full term, and the baby is born.

By contrast, the Bible declares that babies are made by God. Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV) declares, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Also, “Thus saith the Lord, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things” (Isaiah 44:24); and “Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15).

Does God create babies, or are they formed through gradual biological processes? The following statements outline various theological positions in this controversy.

ATHEISM / MATERIALISM

Babies are formed through purely natural processes of biological development. These processes can be studied and examined scientifically, and follow regular patterns of natural cause and effect. There is no reason to think that a divine being or miraculous intervention are required in order to help this process along. Physical matter is all there is, and nature is quite capable of getting the job done without the action of a god or gods.

NEW ATHEISM

Same as above, and anyone who still believes God is involved in the process of human birth is either a lunatic, an idiot, or both.

YOUNG EMBRYO CONCEPTIONISM (YEC) with APPEARANCE OF AGE and CATASTROPHISM

The godless embryologists tell us that babies are formed through naturalistic processes in the absence of God. This is known as “materialism”. They also mistakenly believe that babies are formed gradually over a process of many months, which is based on their naturalistic assumption of “uniformitarianism” – the belief that processes of biological development only take place uniformly and gradually. Yet they have no explanation for all the complex interactions that lead to the development of the various systems in our bodies.

Holy scripture, on the other hand, declares that God knits us together in our mother’s womb, and that He is the creator and maker of our physical bodies as well as our souls. Who are we to believe, human scientists with limited and incomplete knowledge, or God who knows all things and has declared Himself to be our Maker?

Since God is all-powerful, there is no reason to believe that He needed all those months and laborious activity in order to create a human body. Whereas secular, anti-Christian science declares that it takes nine months for a baby to form, the Christian assumption of “catastophism” says that things don’t have to necessarily happen slowly over long periods of time, but can actually develop quickly through a rapid succession of stages. New research indicates that babies may actually be formed in about ten seconds through a rapid process of development, not the nine months as generally assumed by materialistic scientists. All the presumed length of time and gradual steps of development over months of time, including the detailed history implanted in the memory of the mother, sonagram pictures, and doctor’s office records, actually just indicate an appearance of age and not actual age. God creates babies in ten seconds and implants a supernatural soul just before their eventual birth, but due to the effects of “appearance of age” it merely seems like it has taken place over a long period of time.

OLD EMBRYO CONCEPTIONISM (OEC)

The science of embryology is generally correct with respect to the physical sequence of the creation of babies, including the time of development from conception to birth, and the processes of fertilization, implantation, and gradual biological development. Yet science cannot explain exactly how the body of a fetus develops new body parts and internal organs, the development of the complexities of the eye, the circulatory and immune systems, etc. All they can do is presume that nature is capable of doing these things in the absence of God, without providing any sort of complete explanation.

Scripture provides the answer to these problems that continue to stump materialistic scientists. It says that God forms us in our mother’s womb, but it also says that God “fashions” us, using language similar to the working of an artisan, such as a potter. A potter uses raw materials such as clay and the spinning motion of a potter’s wheel, yet he imparts intelligent action at various points in order to shape the clay. In the same way, naturalistic forces and materials by themselves are unable to account for all the amazing complexity of the human body. God intercedes at various points during the process of fetal development in order to miraculously create elements of bodily function, yet in between times, He allows the natural process of biological development to proceed in normal fashion. Most notably is the injection of the human soul, which is an act of divine fiat and cannot be explained in naturalistic terms.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN (ID)

The intricate processes and systems in the human body are amazingly complex and cannot be accounted for in terms of materialistic assumptions. Systems such as the human eye, DNA, immune system, etc., have surprising levels of complexity and specificity which are best viewed in terms of information theory, using Shannon’s theorems. The degree of complex specified information (CSI) present in DNA and many other biological structures and systems are best explained as a designed system that originated from some intelligent source, rather than through a series of random, chance events.

Intelligent design is a scientific claim about design being evidenced by the information content, not a theological or philosophical claim. ID makes no claims as to the identity of the “intelligent designer” — it might have been from a God or gods, an alien, or possibly an intelligent stork that is capable of producing these designed features within an otherwise natural process. ID also makes no statement as to the length of fetal development — it could be ten seconds or nine months, but that conclusion is beyond the kind of scientific assertion that ID is able to make.

THEISTIC EMBRYOLOGY (TE)

The science of embryology is very well developed and has a great deal of accurate knowledge of bodily processes inherent in the development and birth of a child. While science cannot (and perhaps never will) have complete knowledge of every detailed step in this developmental process, the general conclusion that human fetal development occurs through essentially natural processes seems to be an inescapable conclusion based on the evidence at hand. There is no reason to assume that supernatural miracles are necessary in order to progress a fetus from one stage of development to another, and science continues to fill in gaps in our limited human knowledge as to the details of this process.

However, science is limited to studying only the natural, “secondary” causes and effects, and has nothing whatsoever to say about the presence or absence of a divine Creator. The belief in a divine Creator is a theological position, which is entirely justified based on the evidence, but which can neither be conclusively proven nor disproven by science. Among the evidences that point to a divine creator is the very fact that something exists rather than nothing, and the fact that life bears evidence of a beginning and progress toward a final end, rather than an eternal self-existence. As theists, we absolutely believe that God is the Creator and sustainer of all things, including fetal development, and that He is the “primary cause” of all things. The fact that He chooses to create human bodies through a progression of apparently natural, secondary causes is not surprising, because that is how all of nature appears to work from a scientific point of view.

Theistic Embryologists differ over the degree or manner of God’s involvement in fetal development. Some believe that God’s providence is universally and completely present within and through all things at all times, so that the development of a fetus is simultaneously the work of Providence (primary cause) and natural processes (secondary causes). Others prefer a view known as “front-loading” or “fully gifted conception”, which holds that God only needed to create the initial blueprint of how cells can fertilize, reproduce, and develop. After that, no more interventions or miraculous acts are required to progress the fetus through its development. TEs also differ on whether the soul is a supernatural creation that is implanted into the physical human body, or whether the soul is an emergent property of humankind.

2 comments to Godless Embryologists

  • William Powers

    Jon:
    I’m not certain where your tongue with regard to this post.  I only note that there is considerable variation of perspective and commitments with regard to embryology.
    You may have heard of morphogenetic fields, but with regard to such seemingly vitalistic accounts there are still varying perspectives, including neo-platonic, Aristotelian, and nominalist, depending upon the ontological status of such organizing fields.  I have long thought there was no reason that “spirit” couldn’t be subsumed into the “natural.”  There’s no historical nor philosophical reason to exclude it.  Apparently, this is becoming normal faire in embryology, with even stranger suggestions found in Rupert Sheldrake.
    I suppose the only relevance of this post to yours is that orthodoxy is stranger than we might imagine.
    bill

  • Jon Tandy

    Bill,  if you’re asking about “in my cheek” or not, it was definitely intended as a humorous parody on the more familiar acronyms and philosophical positions respecting creation.  I also hoped that it might be useful to put the typically inflamed positions on creation into a different perspective. 

    Along with this, (based on what we at least think we know about embryology and human reproduction), I thought it could be a helpful analogy for those who aren’t versed in the nuances of the various creation/evolution viewpoints, to put some perspective on why many people consider the old earth creation or theistic evolution positions to be rationally acceptable or even satisfying within a Christian worldview.  This analogy has been kicked around on the ASA mailing list before; I just formulated it into a particular narrative.

    Jon Tandy

 

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