The ear, an engineering marvel

At work this week, I’ve been tasked with diagramming and labelling the anatomy of the ear for an educational project. Not only is it an important organ to have as a worship leader, it’s an amazingly crafted structure of our bodies, and fascinating to study as part of my work. The way each component works to turn air vibrations into nerve impulses that become recognised as sound is simply amazing (you can learn more about it here).

So it’s no surprise that Tortora and Grabowski’s “Principles of Anatomy and Physiology”, a standard textbook for health science and medical students, states this: “The ear is an engineering marvel because its sensory receptors can transduce sound vibrations with amplitudes as small as the diameter of an atom of gold (0.3 nm) into electrical signals 1000 times faster than photoreceptors can respond to light.” (p.546)

An engineering marvel – and Christians would recognise God as the Engineer, since the Bible plainly states in Proverbs 20:12: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both.

Incidentally it’s also via our ears that we are able to hear the gospel call. Check out what the prophet Isaiah declares:

“Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
who are deaf, yet have ears!
All the nations gather together,
and the peoples assemble.
Who among them can declare this,
and show us the former things?
Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right,
and let them hear and say, It is true.
“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
I, I am the LORD,
and besides me there is no savior.
I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God.” (Isaiah 43:8-12)

Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17), and what a broken world needs to hear, with our beautifully engineered ears,  is the gospel.

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9 replies on “The ear, an engineering marvel”

  1. I have a (friendly!) question in response…

    What are the theological implications (if any) of the fact that man’s ear is, comparatively, far from perfect (intricate though it may be)?

    I was gonna post about the evolution of the ear, but I think this is a more interesting question (the evolution from jaw to ear is well documented, widely written about and supported by extensive fossil evidence…you can read about it yourself :D)

    Anyway, interested to hear what your thoughts are…

  2. Thanks William 🙂 I think the ear is a really neat organ.

    Heya Arron! I know I’m not william, but the way you phrased your comment made me wonder.. how do you think “a perfect ear” should function?

  3. Well, I think it’s safe to say that the more an ear can hear, the better it is. If a person’s hearing is limited, we say they have a disability. So, since there are many animals that can hear a much wider range than we can (as well as respond to them much faster), it seems to me that their ears/hearing organs are closer to perfect than ours.

    If you define perfect in a different way, for instance closeness in approximation to God (perfect=most God-like), then the fact that our ears are not the best at their function has a whole different set of theological implications.

  4. Oh, I’m not sure that increased detected input is better, personally. I have somewhat hypersensitive hearing and it hurts! You might have seen me wear non-linear earplugs when I go out to most public areas…

  5. A wider range doesn’t necessarily mean louder, simply that it covers lower and higher pitches. Then there’s other more useful abilities like being able to see by sound, as with echolocation, etc.

    Since the ear is something that has developed over millions of years, it is important to consider it in that context. A better (closer to perfect) ear is one that better enables an animal to survive, find prey, find a mate, etc, and so it’s pretty clear that the better you can hear, the better your ear is, the better your chances of survival.

    Increased perception of sounds doesn’t simply mean hearing things louder, so I stand by my original statement: quite simply, a better ear is one that enables you to hear better.

  6. Cheryl was actually referring to hyperacusis, like if you scratched a fork on a dinner plate next to her ear, or the smoke alarm’s high pitched sound goes off (irrespective of how loud it was). Kinda like that superhero movie Ben Affleck was in (Daredevil?), when he first got his “superhearing” everything was painful. It’s sometimes still painful for Cheryl!

    Since the ear is something that has developed over millions of years, it is important to consider it in that context.

    With Darwinian evolutional theory as the presupposed principle, yes you could argue that humans should have developed better ears over a long period of time. I on the other hand, start from the principles found in God’s revelation (e.g. the quoted verses, general revelation and observation) and am content with seeing evidence of intricate engineering as indicative of an Engineer. For example, anthropologists do the same when they conclude that human populations exist in an area where there’s presence of objects that have clearly been engineered or crafted.

    Going back to your first question: are there theological implications if our ears are seemingly imperfect? Not sure, especially if we are trying to define perfection on human terms. If I take on the perspective that the ears I have been gifted with is more than I deserve, then I’m comfortable with theologically affirming that God’s design is good and perfect, whether I have full hearing or not. Hope that’s a clear summary of my views, otherwise feel free to email me!

  7. I guess your answer makes sense (in terms of the theological implications). (Also, while I remember to ask, I was wondering how you understand the term “image”, as in “made in God’s image”–not really related to anything here, but the idea of image is something that’s coming up a lot in a bunch of papers I’m doing atm at it would be interesting to understand the idea of man as ‘image of God’ and how you interpret that).

    As to evolution…I dunno, I don’t wanna turn this post into an argument, but the evolution of the ear isn’t really questionable at this point. It’s well documented, widely written about, supported at virtually every stage with physical fossil evidence…what evidence of God’s handiwork do you see if you don’t see it in the process of evolution itself?

    1. Heya, sorry it’s been (as usual) a full-on weekend!

      My understanding is that we’re made in his image in the sense that we are God’s representatives on earth in function, e.g. humans are different to the rest of the animals with their ability to reason, think, be creative etc. And that these characteristics make us in the image of God. And then I also understand and see that after Genesis 3, the entire human race became tainted with sin and very imperfect images.

      I can’t link this to you as you need a login, but here is my study bible’s write-up:

      Gen. 1:26 Let us make man in our image. The text does not specify the identity of the “us” mentioned here. Some have suggested that God may be addressing the members of his court, whom the OT elsewhere calls “sons of God” (e.g., Job 1:6) and the NT calls “angels,” but a significant objection is that man is not made in the image of angels, nor is there any indication that angels participated in the creation of human beings. Many Christians and some Jews have taken “us” to be God speaking to himself, since God alone does the making in Gen. 1:27 (cf. 5:1); this would be the first hint of the Trinity in the Bible (cf. 1:2).

      Gen. 1:27 There has been debate about the expression image of God. Many scholars point out the idea, commonly used in the ancient Near East, of the king who was the visible representative of the deity; thus the king ruled on behalf of the god. Since v. 26 links the image of God with the exercise of dominion over all the other creatures of the seas, heavens, and earth, one can see that humanity is endowed here with authority to rule the earth as God’s representatives or vice-regents (see note on v. 28). Other scholars, seeing the pattern of male and female, have concluded that humanity expresses God’s image in relationship, particularly in well-functioning human community, both in marriage and in wider society. Traditionally, the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals—ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation. This “image” and this dignity apply to both “male and female” human beings. (This view is unique in the context of the ancient Near East. In Mesopotamia, e.g., the gods created humans merely to carry out work for them.) The Hebrew term ’adam, translated as man, is often a generic term that denotes both male and female, while sometimes it refers to man in distinction from woman (2:22, 23, 25; 3:8, 9, 12, 20): it becomes the proper name “Adam” (2:20; 3:17, 21; 4:1; 5:1). At this stage, humanity as a species is set apart from all other creatures and crowned with glory and honor as ruler of the earth (cf. Ps. 8:5–8). The events recorded in Genesis 3, however, will have an important bearing on the creation status of humanity.

      Hopefully see you tonight!

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