True story…and the star is physicist Dr. Russ Humphreys. Every so often someone passes on a new insight that revolutionizes our thinking. We remember these occasions because they are so rare.
About 20 years ago, Dr. Humphreys told me that looking to the Bible only to verify that my scientific explanations are biblically consistent wasn’t nearly enough. He urged me to search the Bible as a navigational guide with clues about nature that could point toward a sensible path of research for explaining natural phenomena. That advice was invaluable. Searching the Bible for fresh insights into how creation operates guides the Institute for Creation Research’s approach to research.
Does the Bible give indications about how creatures operate that could guide ICR’s first steps down the best path for developing a theory of biological design? If so, then we would have good reasons to anticipate a theory with the potential to fundamentally change how people interpret biological phenomena by viewing creatures in a radically new way.
Echoing the sage counsel of Dr. Humphreys, we ask ourselves some basic questions. Is there even any biblical justification for a theory of biological design? Are there clues in the Bible that could help us develop this theory, ask novel questions, frame hypotheses, and guide research? Let’s start this journey.
Using the Bible to Guide Scientific Research
Since our focus is biology, we ask, “Are there indications in the Bible about the essential operation of living things?” Two passages describe a vital characteristic of all of creation. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” Romans 1:20 states, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” In this verse, the word translated as made is used only one other time in the New Testament, in Ephesians 2:10 where it’s translated as workmanship.
So, an essential characteristic of living things is that we should expect them to show signs of workmanship or handiwork. This is a vital clue about the construction and operation of creatures.
Numerous other passages also seem to give the same message. For instance, by limiting our search for clues just to the Psalms, we read in 8:3-6 that the cosmos is “the work of Your fingers,” and He made humans “to have dominion over the works of Your hands”; 95:5 speaks of the Lord’s sovereignty over the creation that “His hands formed”; 102:25 says that God “laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands”; in 143:5 David said, “I meditate on all Your works; I muse on [ponder] the work of Your hands.”
What if the Lord is not just using beautiful figurative language to inspire awe when saying creation is “the work of [His] fingers.” If we think through the repetition and unity of the Bible’s message about handiwork, then perhaps the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something important about how we should expect creation to operate. Scientific hypotheses are built on these types of educated guesses.1
Additionally, when the Bible tells us that living things are the work of Christ’s hands, could it be indicating that our investigative methods or experimental designs should be set up to look within biological systems for the characteristic features of workmanship? If so, then that points us to another important question related to the work of God’s hands: How does anybody even know what these things we call handiwork and workmanship are? The only reference point to understand what the Bible is telling us about God’s workmanship is by our own experience with workmanship.
If Dr. Humphreys is right, then answers to these questions are important biblical clues with far-reaching implications. In the theological realm, these answers will provide fresh insights into our understanding of general revelation. Scientifically, they are invaluable to inform a biblically consistent theory of biological design to more precisely guide biological research.
Expecting Workmanship Enhances Our Intuition of General Revelation
If it’s true that we should expect workmanship as the defining characteristic of how creation operates, then that helps better explain why the general revelation of God is so powerful and obvious. I would suggest that the engineered workmanship seen in living creatures that corresponds to the engineered workmanship of man-made things is the primary and undeniable revelation of Christ’s power, genius, and wisdom.
Romans 1:19-21 is likely the most illuminating biblical passage when it comes to God’s general revelation of Himself to humanity. A key factor of why people are accountable to correctly deduce that all creatures have a Creator is due to their extensive experience with human workmanship. The fact that people should clearly see a correspondence between human workmanship and the operation of creatures is evident in verse 19. An expanded translation of the Greek could read as “because some things about God are certainly knowable [to mankind] since they are plainly recognizable by the appearance [of things all around them]; for God has made it undeniably evident to them,” while verse 21 adds that “because having gained this insight through experience, they actively did not credit the Creator God as Creator or give thanks.”2
Because of wide-ranging experience with craftsmanship, people definitely recognize it when they see it. But words to describe what they are seeing may not readily come to mind. This is a good illustration of what’s called intuition, where people have a sense that something has happened without fully understanding why.
Even without full understanding, people have a powerful predisposition to link the features of organisms and engineering design together.3 Why? Well, let’s compile a short list of what people subconsciously recognize.
For one thing, every culture has experienced the telltale sign of human agency expressed in the unique characteristics of crafted things. They know that crafted products don’t make themselves. Further, they’ve seen the characteristics of the skillful labor needed to create a work of art or fabricate multiple matching parts that are fitted together in a specific order of assembly to make a functional whole.
People who reasonably infer that God created living things do so because they instinctively associate these characteristics of highly skilled workmanship. Thus, humans’ ability to intuitively recognize the distinctive features of engineered craftsmanship in creatures—as an undeniable telltale sign of God’s agency—is what leaves them without excuse when they don’t credit Him for their origination.
Finally, there’s something else of importance that people perceive about either man-made things or creatures that have multiple interworking parts. What they naturally sense is evidence of engineering activity. The clear indicators of engineering are what bridge the realms of God’s general revelation and a new theory of biological design.
The Next Bible-Based Theory: Engineered Biology
ICR founder Dr. Henry M. Morris believed the Bible and searched it for scientific insights he developed into a new theory for interpreting geological findings that he explained in the groundbreaking book The Genesis Flood.4 In the same way, we can pull together the biblical insights from above to develop a new interpretive framework for biology. In this case, we could call a new working hypothesis to interpret biological phenomena a theory of biological design, or simply engineered biology.
Even though theories are a continuous work in progress, they’re still used to interpret observations and set research agendas. Could it be that the most efficient path to new biological insights and sensible explanations are experiments designed to identify the distinguishing marks of workmanship in living things?
With a thanks to Dr. Humphreys, we’ll start to put flesh on the bones of engineered biology. How do the biblical insights fit in? First, a word like workmanship is packed with information. It summarizes a whole litany of activities and unique characteristics of human-engineered and manufactured things. Next, we recognize that engineering principles underlie human workmanship and explain why it works. If we are looking for a correlation in living things, then engineered biology would also look for engineering principles to explain biological phenomena.
Engineering principles exist to fit a myriad of needs. Abundant evidence shows that when researchers look for the principles in creatures, they find them. Here’s a basic one that everyone knows, and it highlights characteristics we should see in biological systems: Engineers design for a purpose. Purpose is evidenced by foresight to design targeted solutions to solve problems or meet a need. Thus, purpose constrains the design.
Engineered biology begins with a rational interpretive framework offering some major departures—and benefits—to biological research compared to Darwin’s anti-design theory of selectionism. Engineered biology would assume that even though biological systems are mind-bogglingly complicated, they are purposeful. With intense work, they can be successfully reverse-engineered. Selectionists see biology as a messy hodgepodge of parts cobbled together by nature through a process best portrayed as “tinkering.” Random mutation figures prominently in aiding genetic diversity. Genetic information is fractioned out within populations through an iterative process of struggle and death.
Making sense of biomolecular, physiological, or anatomical functions is not mysterious. Just like man-made things, they operate within natural laws. Though it was within God’s prerogative to design His systems to contrast with man-made designs by operating through different laws of nature, He didn’t. This makes designing aircraft after studying birds possible. One researcher reverse-engineering biological networks likewise concluded:
We have also found that despite their vastly different substrates, biological regulatory mechanisms and their synthetic counterparts used in engineering share many similarities, as they are both subject to the same fundamental constraints that govern all regulatory mechanisms….Notions used in the study of engineering control systems such as optimality…and feedback are invaluable for understanding biological complexity.5
Biological Research Within an Engineering-Based Framework
A framework of engineered biology is essential to make correct explanations of biological functions. Thus, interpretations of biological observations are guided by the following expectations and assumptions.
1. Workmanship is an essential characteristic describing the construction and operation of living things.
2. Biological functions are best explained by engineering principles. Experiments are designed to identify the distinguishing marks of workmanship.
3. Since engineers must design all capability into an entity, research would principally be “internalistic” by searching for identifiable control systems innate to organisms. Interpretations regarding organismal form and adaptability are made with the organism as the reference point rather than environmental exposures.
4. Since complex systems are always engineered where purpose constrains the design—i.e., “top down”—the theory expects purposeful biological systems. For example, when a genetic change is observed, the default explanation will be that it was likely a regulated, purposeful change until evidence is produced that indicates it was random.
5. A core expectation is finding corresponding system elements between human-engineered devices and biological mechanisms that perform similar functions.
6. In terms of relationships, the capability for individuals to relate to each other and other external conditions is conferred by highly regulated internal control systems.
7. Organisms are expected to have targeted, preprogrammed solutions to specified challenges; solutions are not due to the challenges. A random solution to a challenge is expected to be the exception and not the rule.
8. Organisms are viewed as active, problem-solving entities that often overcome ecological challenges and continuously fill the earth. They are not to be understood as modeling clay passively sculpted by the hand of nature.
9. Explanations of biological phenomena will be restricted to objective engineering causality. This precise way to explain biological functions doesn’t omit any system element between exposure and response. Conversely, it specifically precludes from causal chains personifications of nature in lieu of system elements.
10. Something is fundamentally different about human beings and animals compared to human-engineered things, and that difference is “life.” Life itself is not explained by biological functions or engineering principles. No one has held a beaker of “life.” This indicates that life is immaterial and imparted from the ultimate source of life, God. Efforts to explain life or its origin solely in terms of chemistry or physics are misguided.
If Christ intended to confirm His incredible engineering of creatures by choosing to allow engineering principles familiar to humans to explain their biological functions, then the ICR science staff believes that by embarking on this biblically informed path of engineered biology we will greatly honor the Lord Jesus as Creator.
- Studying nature and studying the Bible are both reasonable ways to form hypotheses. The distinguished American oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, who discovered the Gulf Stream current, credits his insight to the reference to “paths of the seas” in Psalm 8:8. See Johnson, J. J. S. 2020. Matthew Maury’s Paths of the Sea. Acts & Facts. 49 (9): 21.
- Guliuzza, R. J. 2017. Engineered Adaptability: Engineering Principles Point to God’s Workmanship. Acts & Facts. 46 (6): 16-19. See the section titled “Exposition of Romans 1:18-25.”
- Bering, J. Creationism Feels Right, but That Doesn’t Make it So. Scientific American. Posted on blogs.scientificamerican.com March 19, 2009, accessed March 11, 2017.
- Whitcomb, J. C. and H. M. Morris. 1961. The Genesis Flood. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing.
- Khammash, M. 2008. Reverse engineering: the architecture of biological networks. BioTechniques. 44 (3): 327.
* Dr. Guliuzza is President of the Institute for Creation Research. He earned his Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Public Health from Harvard University, and served in the U.S. Air Force as 28th Bomb Wing Flight Surgeon and Chief of Aerospace Medicine. Dr. Guliuzza is also a registered Professional Engineer and holds a B.A. in theology from Moody Bible Institute.