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Mathematician Alexander Tsiaras on Human Development: “It’s a Mystery, It’s Magic, It’s Divinity”

Casey Luskin

Recently I observed that physicists appear more ready than biologists to question fundamental theories. What about mathematicians? Are they open to bucking the trend, and seeing evidence for design in nature? A while back, ENV highlighted a TED lecture, “Conception to Birth — Visualized,” by mathematician Alexander Tsiaras. It wouldn’t hurt to take a second look at that video, which amply repays the small investment of time.

The lecture shows MRI images of a human embryo growing, up to the moment of birth. As Tsiaras talks about this, the apparent freedom that he feels to think and speak in non-materialist terms creates a striking contrast with how many Darwinian biologists might describe the same thing.

Tsiaras explains that as a faculty member in the Yale University Department of Medicine, where he was Chief of Scientific Visualization, he worked with a team to develop MRI imaging. In the lecture he talks about things that he and his colleagues saw using this technology, and the complexity of the human body as it grows. Regarding their studies, he explains that “using the new kind of scanning technologies,” the team saw “things that had just never been seen before” — things that “just made you marvel.” He continues:

I remember one of the first times we were looking at collagen, and your entire body — everything, your hair, skin, bone, nails — everything is made of collagen. And it’s a rope-like structure that twirls and swirls … And the only place that collagen changes its structure is in the cornea of your eye. In your eye, it becomes a grid formation, and therefore it becomes transparent, as opposed to opaque. So perfectly organized a structure, it was hard not to attribute divinity to it, because we kept on seeing this over and over and over again in different parts of the body.

As a computer programmer, Tsiaras was amazed at the complexity of the information we find in the human body:

[A]s you can see, when you start working on this data, it’s pretty spectacular. And as we kept on scanning more and more, working on this project, looking at these two simple cells that have this kind of unbelievable machinery that will become the magic of you … building this incredible trilinear fetus, that becomes within 44 days something that you can recognize, and then at 9 weeks, is really like a little human being. The marvel of this information, how do we actually have this biological mechanism inside the our body, to actually see this information?

His comments, as a mathematician, on the complexity of human development are noteworthy:

The magic of the mechanisms inside each genetic structure saying exactly where that nerve cell should go, the complexity of these, the mathematical models on how these things are indeed done, are beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician, I look at this with the marvel of how do these instruction sets not make these mistakes as they build what is us. It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity.

I don’t specifically know where Tsiaras stands on the issue of intelligent design. But his comments confirm something we already know from previous experience: that mathematicians and computer programmers are indeed more comfortable recognizing design in nature than are many biologists. Perhaps that’s because they see it through different conceptual eyes — and, in Tsiaras’s case, with an assist from technology that has come online only recently.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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