So I was eating dinner recently with my family and my brother-in-law begins talking about a show he saw recently about embryology and the development of the fetus in the womb. So naturally I, with my recent introduction to some of the most spectacular aspects of embryology, eagerly join in the discussion. It is truly an incredible feat to behold; to see all the inscrutable parts of a person mold themselves into position and function with such synchronal grace. So he concludes that it's a wonder anyone can not see the implicit design there.
My mother then speaks up, referencing a previous discussion I had with her, about how a high number of physicians are atheists. Sam Harris puts the number at 60% of US physicians who believe in a personal God, though I'm not sure where he gets his numbers since a recent survey puts the number at 76% of US doctors who believe in God. Perhaps he's putting his stock on the afterlife question of which only 59% of doctors state belief.
Curiously, Sam Harris' issue is why the number is so high as compared to other groups highly educated in the sciences. He hypothesizes that it is the nature of the doctor's job, which deals with death on so regular a basis, that leads them to faith. Yet my brother's-in-law issue is why the number is so low. He hypothesizes that perhaps doctors need to feel in control and are not comfortable with a higher power. (Though, of course, that hypothesis is a non sequitur since recognition of design has nothing to do with perception of control.)
Personally, I suspect the reason why the number is lower than the US average is because of education and higher than other fields of science because of selective issues. The ethic of medicine, helping the sick etc, is an idea that resonates well in many religious traditions. More religious people are attracted to medicine than they would be to the natural sciences.
Anyway, back to the story at hand. I have to point out that my brother-in-law is solidly MO. He saw the embryological tail and gill arches and said, "Gee, I wonder what we used to be?" But the point is that the wonder of embryological formation is truly, well, a wonder. The intuitive conclusion of design is easy to understand.
But as we bask in the awe of miraculous design, few people are willing to see the results of when things don't go according to plan. The fact is that errors in embryological development are common. Things can go missing, stuff can form badly, there can be too much of something else - and the consequences can be horrifying. I trust that I don't need to pull out some gruesome photographs. We've all seen the horrors that embryological malformation can produce.
How do theists deal with it?
In a time not too long ago, such birth defects were considered a sign from the supernatural. An omen of bad times to come or a punishment for sins committed. Indeed, the old non-PC word to describe such unfortunates was Monster, which originally meant sign or omen from the Latin root monere, to warn.
Yet this approach is no longer acceptable nowadays.
Even diseases, the staple of superstitious belief in the wrath of God, are now understood mechanistically. People don't get sick because they did something wrong. Diseases can strike anyone. Our bodies are machines. Marvelously complicated and incredible machines, but machines nonetheless. We become ill when we make too much of something or not enough of something else. When our internal defense system gets confused or when some individual part starts acting up. When something gets clogged or tears or breaks. This is what makes us sick.
Is it not clear that our bodies' ongoing maintenance is running on autopilot? When a car breaks down we don't suppose the car deserved it. It's a machine - one much simpler than the human body of course - and things go wrong. The longer you keep using it the odds of something going seriously wrong is inevitable. So we die.
Embryological development, as amazing as it is and as much as it instills in me the desire to cry 'Mah rabu maasecha Adonai!', it must be recognized that it too is running on autopilot. There's no need for some complex metaphysical explanation. When mindless machines are running on their own - shit happens. That's why doctors need to exist in the first place.
I find the human body to be an incredible machine and it amazes me that people can so easily dismiss such incredible things under the matrix of cosmic happenstance, but does it lead me to see a personal God and a theistic outlook on the universe? Hardly.