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Knit or Split?

January 8, 2012

The Text

13For you formed my inward parts;  you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me,  when as yet there was none of them… (Psalm 139:13-16 ESV)

A Closer Look at the Text

This passage tells us not only that God has created us, but that he has done so directly and in a hands-on manner. He is intimately involved in our very formation as human beings. Not only that, but he has left behind his fingerprints, that is, he has left behind evidence of his design. Not only do the heavens declare the glory of God, not only does the sky above proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19:1-6), but, the intricacy, complexity, and finally tuned manner with which we have been created points us to his immeasurable intelligence (omniscience). A rigorous and serious study of human anatomy, and in particular a careful study of human embryonic development, plainly reveals God’s invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:18-23).

In this Psalm, as David acknowledges that he owes his very existence to his Creator, he uses the term “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The idea of being fearfully made does not refer to God’s fear, but it refers to the fear of God. When we realize how wonderfully we are made, we are properly in awe even to the point of having a proper and respectful fear of the Almighty God who created us. This progression from study (of the human being) to amazement to God-consciousness to fear of God is sometimes called general revelation. It is impossible to travel halfway down the path to such revelation, deny God, and somehow turned back to seek another way. God reveals himself in nature. As David observes, “my soul knows it very well. In the words of Alexander Tsiaras in this amazing video, it is either “magic” or “divinity.”

Some Observations about the Text

Personhood Begins at Conception. Although the Bible does not directly address therapeutic (voluntary) abortion, it does identify the pre-born child as a human being specifically and specially made by God (Genesis 2:7). In Jeremiah 1:5, for example, God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Job refers to his pre-born state as himself (not as some sort of pre-human or sub-human bio-mass) (Job 3:11). In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Elizabeth’s pre-born child is referred to as a “son,” not as something less than human (Luke 1:36). Even in the Law of the Old Testament there was protection of the unborn in the form of sanctions against those who would cause an early delivery or abortion (Exodus 21:22). A body “apart from the spirit is dead,” just as faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Life, according to the Bible, is within the domain and jurisdiction of God, not of human beings.

Knit or Split. We usually think of embryonic development in terms of cells splitting. Which is correct. We know that the fertilized egg begins a process of splitting into more and more cells, as illustrated in the Alexander Tsiaras video, (above). And so when we see the word “knitted” in verse 13, it seems a little odd. Some commentators have concluded that the idea of God “knitting” us in the womb was simply a literary device, and had no literal meaning. Early translators, such as those who brought us the King James version, chose to translate the Hebrew word cakak as “covered,” perhaps in part because the word knitted seemed somehow inappropriate. All of the more recent scholarly translations of the Hebrew text, however, use the more literal “knitted” or “wove” because those words are more faithful translations of the Hebrew word cakak.

When you view the Alexander Tsiaras video, however, the word knitted suddenly seems to faithfully describe the intricate phenomenon of human embryonic development. There are two types of “knitting” that are depicted in that video. First, collagen is described in terms of a complex of woven strands, and every human cell is comprised at least in part of collagen. (Notice the red background “weave” of the “Knit or Split” graphic above; it’s actually not a rendering or drawing as such, it is a microscopic photograph of collagen.) Second, the illustration of the development of the human heart starts out with two strands; those strands then appear to be woven and folded continually until a functioning human heart emerges.

The knitting does not stop there. Although Alexander Tsiaras expresses amazement about the “magic” of cell reproduction, geneticists and molecular biologists don’t consider the process to be magic at all. Instead, they marvel at the intricate and highly complex engine of cell reproduction as illustrated in this second, and even more amazing, video. Indeed, cellular reproduction, which takes place trillions of times a minute in real time in each of our bodies, appears to be a knitting process once it is properly illustrated based on DNA research. What’s more, cellular reproduction relies entirely upon a linguistic-style coding system that Francis Collins (one of the lead scientists in the human genome project) has dubbed The Language of God.

Gospel Apologetics

Romans 1:19-20 is one of the most blunt passages in the entire Bible. It announces that God’s creative handiwork, discoverable throughout nature and time, leaves no excuses for atheists. No excuses. None. Period. End of discussion.

One of the most highly respected and intelligent atheists in our time, if not in all of history, took an honest look at the scientific data and was converted. Anthony Flew was a British philosopher who taught at Oxford and elsewhere. He argued against the existence of God in many debates, including a debate with William Lane Craig. His well-known essay, The Presumption of Atheism, continues to be relied upon today by would-be atheists. Flew, an honest intellectual if there ever was one, argued during most of his career that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces.

Evidence of God did surface for Anthony Flew. In 2004, at the conclusion of a series of discussions and dialogues with Gary Habermas, Flew announced that after studying DNA and DNA replication he had become a theist. He acknowledged that in the face of the intricate, finely tuned, miraculous workings of cell replication, life itself and the universe proper, he was, in essence, “without excuse.”

  • At the 2004 symposium ‘Has Science Discovered God’, organized by the Institute for Metascientific Research, Professor Flew said: “What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together. It’s the enormous complexity of the number of elements and the enormous subtlety of the ways they work together. The meeting of these two parts at the right time by chance is simply minute. It is all a matter of the enormous complexity by which the results were achieved, which looked to me like the work of intelligence.”
  • Flew concluded that naturalistic efforts have never succeeded in producing ‘a plausible conjecture as to how any of these complex molecules might have evolved from simple entities.’ Flew observed: ‘I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. . . I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.’
  • Flew criticized “new atheist” Richard Dawkins by observing: “It now seems to me that the finding of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”
  • Flew concluded ‘There does seem to be a reason for a First Cause’, which implies ‘creation “in the beginning”’, although Flew was ‘not at all sure how much we have to explain here.’

Even though there is no hard evidence that Anthony Flew became a follower of Christ as such by the time he died in April 2010, he nevertheless made it clear in his book, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (and in correspondence and appearances after the publication of his book), that he had indeed arrived at the conclusion that atheism is an untenable belief system.

There are two facts that, once accepted, require a belief in the life, death, and deity of Jesus Christ. Those two facts are creation, and the resurrection. Both facts are not only plausible, they are undeniable. Nature proves the intelligent design of a Creator. And the historical record proves the reality of the resurrection.

Once those two facts are acknowledged, the truth and the reliability of the Bible cannot be denied or discarded. And once the Bible is seen as the credible record of God’s purposeful creation of, involvement in, and love for, humankind, there is not only no excuse for doubting God as Creator, but, there is also no excuse for doubting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Audio MP3 Discussion of this post is available here.

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