The Human Miracle
1. What fact about the brain would seem to present a major problem for it?
OF ALL the marvelous things on earth, none is more astounding than the human brain. For example, every second some 100 million bits of information pour into the brain from the various senses. But how can it avoid being hopelessly buried by this avalanche? If we can think about only one thing at a time, how does the mind cope with these millions of simultaneous messages? Obviously, the mind not only survives the barrage but handles it with ease.
2, 3. In what two ways does the brain cope with this problem?
2 How it does so is only one of the many wonders of the human brain. Two factors are involved. First, in the brain stem there is a network of nerves the size of your little finger. This network is called the reticular formation. It acts as a kind of traffic control center, monitoring the millions of messages coming into the brain, sifting out the trivial and selecting the essential for attention by the cerebral cortex. Each second this little network of nerves permits only a few hundred, at most, to enter the conscious mind.
3 Second, a further pinpointing of our attention seems to come about by waves that sweep the brain 8 to 12 times per second. These waves cause periods of high sensitivity, during which the brain notes the stronger signals and acts upon them. It is believed that by means of these waves the brain scans itself, in this way focusing on the essentials. Thus an amazing flurry of activity is going on in our heads every second!
Something “to Wonder At”
4. In spite of intensive scientific research to understand the brain, what still remains true?
4 In recent years scientists have made tremendous strides in studies of the brain. Even so, what they have learned is nothing compared to what remains unknown. One researcher said that, after thousands of years of speculation and recent decades of intensive scientific research, our brains, along with the universe, remain “essentially mysterious.”1 Certainly the human brain is easily the most mysterious part of the human miracle—“miracle” meaning something “to wonder at.”
5. What fact about the development of the human brain in a growing infant shows the gulf between it and the brains of animals?
5 The wonder begins in the womb. Three weeks after conception brain cells start forming. They grow in spurts, at times up to 250,000 cells a minute. After birth the brain continues growing and forming its network of connections. The gulf separating the human brain from that of any animal quickly manifests itself: “The brain of the human infant, unlike that of any other animal, triples in size during its first year,” states the book The Universe Within.2 In time, about 100 billion nerve cells, called neurons, as well as other types of cells, are packed into a human brain, although it makes up only 2 percent of the body’s weight.
6. How do nerve signals flow from neuron to neuron?
6 The key brain cells—the neurons—do not actually touch one another. They are separated by synapses, tiny spaces less than one millionth of an inch across. These gaps are bridged by chemicals called neurotransmitters, 30 of which are known, but the brain may possess many more. These chemical signals are received at one end of the neuron by a maze of tiny filaments called dendrites. The signals are then transmitted at the other end of the neuron by a nerve fiber called an axon. In the neurons the signals are electrical, but across the gaps they are chemical. Thus the transmission of nerve signals is electrochemical in nature. Each impulse is of the same strength, but the intensity of the signal depends upon the frequency of the impulses, which may be as high as one thousand a second.
7. What feature of the brain has the Bible commented on, and what have scientists learned that agrees with this?
7 It is not certain just what physiological changes take place in the brain when we learn. But experimental evidence suggests that as we learn, especially in early life, better connections are formed, and more of the chemicals bridging the gaps between neurons are released. Continued use strengthens the connections, and thus learning is reinforced. “Pathways that are often activated together are strengthened in some way,” reports Scientific American.3 Interesting on this point is the Bible’s comment that deeper matters are more easily understood by mature people “who through use have their perceptive powers trained.” (Hebrews 5:14) Research has revealed that unused mental powers fade away. Thus the brain, like a muscle, is strengthened by use and weakened by disuse.
8. What is one of the great unresolved issues concerning the brain?
8 The vast numbers of microscopic nerve fibers making these connections within the brain are often referred to as its “wiring.” They are precisely placed within a maze of staggering complexity. But how they are placed in the exact spots called for by the “wiring diagrams” is a mystery. “Undoubtedly the most important unresolved issue in the development of the brain,” one scientist said, “is the question of how neurons make specific patterns of connections. . . . Most of the connections seem to be precisely established at an early stage of development.”4 Another researcher adds that these specifically mapped-out areas of the brain “are common throughout the nervous system, and how this precise wiring is laid down remains one of the great unsolved problems.”5
9. How many connections do scientists estimate exist within the brain, and what does one authority say as to its capacity?
9 The number of these connections is astronomical! Each neuron may have thousands of connections with other neurons. Not only are there connections between neurons, but there are also microcircuits that are set up directly between the dendrites themselves. “These ‘microcircuits,’” says one neurologist, “add a totally new dimension to our already mind-boggling conception of how the brain works.”6 Some researchers believe that the “billions upon billions of nerve cells in the human brain make perhaps as many as a quadrillion connections.”7 With what capacity? Carl Sagan states that the brain could hold information that “would fill some twenty million volumes, as many as in the world’s largest libraries.”8
10. (a) In what ways does man’s cerebral cortex differ from that of animals, and with what advantages to man? (b) What did one researcher say about this?
10 It is the cerebral cortex of the brain that sets man far apart from any animal. It is less than a quarter of an inch thick, and it forms a fissured mold snug against the skull. If laid out, the cortex would measure about two and a half square feet, with some ten thousand miles of connecting fibers per cubic inch. The human cortex not only is far bigger than that of any animal, but it also has a much larger uncommitted area. That is to say, it is not committed to handling the physical functions of the body but is free for the higher mental processes that separate people from animals. “We are not just smarter apes,” one researcher said. Our minds “make us qualitatively different from all other forms of life.”9
Our Far Greater Capability
11. How does the human brain give man a flexibility in learning that animals do not have?
11 “What distinguishes the human brain,” a scientist said, “is the variety of more specialized activities it is capable of learning.”10 Computer science uses the term “hardwired” to refer to built-in characteristics based on fixed circuitry, in contrast to functions put into a computer by a programmer. “Applied to human beings,” one authority writes, “hard wiring refers to innate abilities or, at least, predispositions.”11 In people there are many built-in capacities for learning, but not the learning itself. Animals, by contrast, have hardwired instinctive wisdom, but limited capacities to learn new things.
12. In contrast to animals, with what capability are human brains preprogrammed, and what freedom does this grant people?
12 The Universe Within notes that the most intelligent animal “never develops a mind like that of a human being. For it lacks what we have: preprogramming of our neural equipment that enables us to form concepts out of what we see, language out of what we hear, and thoughts out of our experiences.” But we must, by input from our surroundings, program the brain, otherwise, as the book states, “nothing resembling the human mind would develop . . . Without that immense infusion of experience, scarcely a trace of intellect would appear.”12 So the capability that is built into the human brain enables us to construct the human intellect. And, unlike animals, we have the free will to program our intellects as we choose, based on our own knowledge, values, opportunities and goals.
Language Unique to Humans
13, 14. (a) What example of preprogramming leaves great flexibility for people to program into their intellect whatever they choose? (b) In view of this, what did one noted linguist say about animals and language?
13 An outstanding example of hardwired capabilities with great flexibility for programming by us is language. Specialists agree that “the human brain is genetically programmed for language development,”13 and that speech “can be explained only on the basis of an innate language-processing capacity within our brain.”14 Unlike the rigidity that is displayed in the instinctive behavior of animals, however, there is tremendous flexibility in a human’s use of this hardwired capacity for language.
14 A specific language is not hardwired into our brains, but we are preprogrammed with the capacity for learning languages. If two languages are spoken in the home, a child can learn both. If exposed to a third language, the child can learn it also. One girl was exposed to a number of languages from babyhood. By the time she was five she spoke eight fluently. In view of such innate abilities it is no surprise that a linguist said that chimpanzee experiments with sign language “actually prove that chimps are incapable of even the most rudimentary forms of human language.”15
15. What does science show relative to the most ancient languages?
15 Could such an amazing ability have evolved from the grunts and growls of animals? Studies of the most ancient languages rule out any such evolution of language. One specialist said that “there are no primitive languages.”16 Anthropologist Ashley Montagu agreed that so-called primitive languages “are often a great deal more complex and more efficient than the languages of the so-called higher civilizations.”17
16. What do some researchers say about the origin of language, yet to whom is it no mystery?
16 One neurologist concludes: “The more we attempt to investigate the mechanism of language, the more mysterious the process becomes.”18 Another researcher says: “At present the origin of syntactic speech remains a mystery.”19 And a third states: “The power of speech, moving men and nations as no other force, uniquely sets humans apart from animals. Yet, the origins of language remain one of the brain’s most baffling mysteries.”20 It is no mystery, however, to those who see in it the hand of a Creator who “hardwired” areas in the brain for language capabilities.
Things Only Creation Can Explain
17. (a) What fact about the brain presents evolution with an inexplicable problem? (b) What would make it logical for man to have such a tremendous brain capacity?
17 The Encyclopædia Britannica states that man’s brain “is endowed with considerably more potential than is realizable in the course of one person’s lifetime.”21 It also has been stated that the human brain could take any load of learning and memory put on it now, and a billion times that! But why would evolution produce such an excess? “This is, in fact, the only example in existence where a species was provided with an organ that it still has not learned how to use,” admitted one scientist. He then asked: “How can this be reconciled with evolution’s most fundamental thesis: Natural selection proceeds in small steps, each of which must confer on its bearer a minimal, but nonetheless measurable, advantage?” He added that the human brain’s development “remains the most inexplicable aspect of evolution.”22 Since the evolutionary process would not produce and pass on such excessive never-to-be-used brain capacity, is it not more reasonable to conclude that man, with the capacity for endless learning, was designed to live forever?
18. What was one scientist’s summation of the human brain, and what shows its capabilities?
18 Carl Sagan, amazed that the human brain could hold information that “would fill some twenty million volumes,” stated: “The brain is a very big place in a very small space.”23 And what happens in this small space defies human understanding. For example, imagine what must be going on in the brain of a pianist playing a difficult musical composition, with all fingers flying over the keys. What an astonishing sense of movement his brain must have, to order the fingers to strike the right keys at the right time with the right force to match the notes in his head! And if he hits a wrong note, the brain immediately lets him know about it! All this incredibly complex operation has been programmed into his brain by years of practice. But it is made possible only because musical capability was preprogrammed into the human brain from birth.
19. What explains the intellectual qualities and other marvelous abilities possessed by the human brain?
19 No animal brain ever conceived such things, much less is able to do them. Nor does any evolutionary theory provide an explanation. Is it not evident that man’s intellectual qualities mirror those of a Supreme Intellect? This harmonizes with Genesis 1:27, which states: “God proceeded to create the man in his image.” The animals were not created in God’s image. That is why they do not have the capabilities man has. Though animals do amazing things by predetermined, rigid instincts, they are no match at all for humans with their flexibility in thinking and acting and their ability to continually build on previous knowledge.
20. In what way is man’s altruism inconsistent with evolution?
20 The human capacity for altruism—unselfish giving—creates another problem for evolution. As one evolutionist noted: “Anything that has evolved by natural selection should be selfish.” And many humans are selfish, of course. But as he later acknowledged: “It is possible that yet another unique quality of man is a capacity for genuine, disinterested, true altruism.”24 Another scientist added: “Altruism is built into us.”25 Only in humans is it practiced with an awareness of the cost, or sacrifice, that may be involved.
Appreciating the Human Miracle
21. What abilities and qualities of man remove him far beyond any animal?
21 Just consider: Man originates abstract thinking, consciously sets goals, makes plans to reach them, initiates work to carry them out and finds satisfaction in their accomplishment. Created with an eye for beauty, an ear for music, a flair for art, an urge to learn, an insatiable curiosity, and an imagination that invents and creates—man finds joy and fulfillment in exercising these gifts. He is challenged by problems, and delights in using his mental and physical powers to solve them. A moral sense to determine right and wrong and a conscience to prick him when he strays—these too man has. He finds happiness in giving, and joy in loving and being loved. All such activities enhance his pleasure in living and give purpose and meaning to his life.
22. What contemplations make man feel his smallness and cause him to grope for understanding?
22 A human can contemplate the plants and animals, the grandeur of the mountains and oceans around him, the vastness of the starry heavens above him, and feel his smallness. He is aware of time and eternity, wonders how he got here and where he is going, and gropes to understand what is behind it all. No animal entertains such thoughts. But a human seeks the whys and wherefores of things. All of this results from his being endowed with an awesome brain and his bearing the “image” of the One who made him.
23. How did David give credit for his origin, and what did he say about his formation in the womb?
23 With amazing insight, the ancient psalmist David gave credit to the One who designed the brain and whom he considered to be responsible for the miracle of human birth. He said: “I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, as my soul is very well aware. My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was woven in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing.”—Psalm 139:14-16.
24. What scientific discoveries make David’s words all the more amazing?
24 Truly, it can be said that the fertilized egg in the mother’s womb contains all the parts of the emerging human body “down in writing.” The heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the eyes and ears, the arms and legs, and the awesome brain—these and all the other parts of the body were ‘written down’ in the genetic code of the fertilized egg in the mother’s womb. Contained in this code are internal timetables for the appearance of these parts, each one in its proper order. This fact was recorded in the Bible nearly three thousand years before modern science ever discovered the genetic code!
25. To what conclusion does all of this lead?
25 Is not the existence of man with his amazing brain truly a miracle, a cause for wonderment? Is it not also evident that such a miracle can be accounted for only by creation, not evolution?
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How can the brain cope with 100 million messages pouring into it every second?
[Blurb on page 169]
The brain scans itself about every tenth of a second to focus on the essentials
[Blurb on page 169]
Our brains remain “essentially mysterious”
[Blurb on page 173]
“We are not just smarter apes.” Our minds “make us qualitatively different from all other forms of life”
[Blurb on page 175]
“The origins of language remain one of the brain’s most baffling mysteries”
[Blurb on page 175]
The human brain’s development “remains the most inexplicable aspect of evolution”
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Man’s awesome brain bears the “image” of the One who made him
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THE HUMAN BRAIN—An ‘Unsolved Mystery’?
“The human brain is the most marvelous and mysterious object in the whole universe.”—Anthropologist Henry F. Osborna
“How does the brain produce thoughts? That is the central question and we have still no answer to it.”—Physiologist Charles Sherringtonb
“In spite of the steady accumulation of detailed knowledge how the human brain works is still profoundly mysterious.”—Biologist Francis Crickc
“Anyone who speaks of a computer as an ‘electronic brain’ has never seen a brain.”—Science editor Dr. Irving S. Bengelsdorfd
“Our active memories hold several billion times more information than a large contemporary research computer.”—Science writer Morton Hunte
“Since the brain is different and immeasurably more complicated than anything else in the known universe, we may have to change some of our most ardently held ideas before we’re able to fathom the brain’s mysterious structure.”—Neurologist Richard M. Restakf
Regarding the huge gulf between humans and animals, Alfred R. Wallace, the ‘co-discoverer of evolution,’ wrote to Darwin: “Natural selection could only have endowed the savage with a brain a little superior to that of the ape, whereas he possesses one very little inferior to that of an average member of our learned society.” Darwin, upset by this admission, replied: “I hope you have not murdered completely your own and my child”g
To say that the human brain evolved from that of any animal is to defy reason and the facts. Far more logical is this conclusion: “I am left with no choice but to acknowledge the existence of a Superior Intellect, responsible for the design and development of the incredible brain-mind relationship—something far beyond man’s capacity to understand. . . . I have to believe all this had an intelligent beginning, that Someone made it happen.”—Neurosurgeon Dr. Robert J. Whiteh
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The brain, like a muscle, is strengthened by use and weakened by disuse
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The brain could hold information that “would fill some twenty million volumes”
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The brain of a child is preprogrammed to learn complicated languages quickly, but “chimps are incapable of even the most rudimentary forms of human language”
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Humans have capabilities far beyond those of any animal
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“In your book all its parts were down in writing”