In light of the recent "Big Bang" experiments, I thought I would post this talk given at BYU by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Russell M. Nelson, “The Magnificence of Man,” New Era, Oct 1987, 44
From an address delivered at Brigham Young University on March 29, 1987.
The human body is a marvelous manifestation of the Divine Creator’s art, worthy of our deepest gratitude.
I invite you to ponder things magnificent. The word magnificent is derived from two Latin roots. The prefix magni- comes from a term meaning “great,” and the suffix comes from the Latin facere, meaning “to make” or “to do.” A simple definition of magnificent, then, might be “great deed” or “greatly made.”
Think of the most magnificent sight you have ever seen. It could be a meadow in springtime filled with beautiful wildflowers. Or perhaps you have been awestruck, as have I, at the magnificence of a single rose. I have come to appreciate the magnificence of an orange, with each droplet of juice packaged in an edible container, joined with many other packets, grouped in sections, and all neatly wrapped in a disposable, biodegradable peel.
Some would say the most magnificent sight they have ever beheld is looking heavenward on a summer night, seeing stars beyond number dotting the sky. Some might choose the view of the Grand Canyon at sunrise; others, the beauty of a mountain lake. Some might select a peacock with its tail in full fan, or a hummingbird seemingly suspended in midair while feeding. These magnificent sights are wondrous beyond measure. They are all “great deeds” of our divine Creator.
Now, ponder the magnificence of what you see when you look in the mirror. Ignore the freckles, the unruly hair, or the blemishes, and look beyond to see the real you—a child of God—created by him, in his image. If we lift the lid on the treasure chest of the marvelous attributes of our bodies, we can discover, at least in part, the magnificence of man.
In the first compartment of the treasure chest, we might look at the magnificence of human creation itself.
We don’t know precisely how two germ cells unite to become a human embryo, but we do know that both the female cell and the male cell contain all the new individual’s hereditary material and information, stored in a space so small it cannot be seen by the naked eye. Twenty-three chromosomes from both the father and the mother unite in one new cell. These chromosomes contain thousands of genes. A marvelous process of genetic coding is established, by which all the basic human characteristics of the unborn person are determined. A new DNA complex is thus formed, and a continuum of growth is instituted—which results in a new human being. Approximately 22 days after two germ cells unite, a little heart begins to beat. At 26 days the blood begins to circulate. Cells multiply and divide, some to become eyes that see. Some become ears that hear, while others are destined to become fingers.
In our treasure chest of understanding, each jewel merits admiration. The eyes with which we see are magnificent. No doubt you have stood before the mirror, as have I, watching pupils dilating to let more light in, constricting to reduce the light allowed to reach the sensitive retinas. A self-focusing lens is at the front of each eye. Eyes are connected to the brain, ready to record sights seen. No wires, no batteries, no external connections are needed; our visual apparatus is marvelous—infinitely more priceless than any camera money can buy.
If we admire good stereophonic equipment for sensing sound, we can appreciate the magnificence of the human ear. Compacted into an area about the size of a marble is all the equipment needed to perceive sound. This marvelous sound system is also connected to the recording instrument of the brain.
A large portion of my life’s study and research has been focused on the jewel of the human heart—a pump so magnificent that its power is almost beyond our comprehension. To control the direction of flow of blood within it, there are four important valves, pliable as a parachute and delicate as a dainty silk scarf. They open and close over 100,000 times a day—over 36 million times a year. Yet, unless altered by disease, they are so rugged that they can stand this kind of wear seemingly indefinitely. No man-made material developed thus far can be flexed so frequently and for so long without breaking.
Each day the heart pumps enough fluid to fill a 2,000-gallon tank. The work it performs daily is equivalent to lifting a 150-pound man to the top of the Empire State Building, while consuming less energy than that used by a small light bulb. At the crest of the heart is an electrical generator that transmits energy down special lines, causing myriads of muscle fibers to beat in coordination and in rhythm. This synchrony would be the envy of any orchestra’s conductor. All this power is condensed in the human heart—only about the size of one’s fist, yet energized from within by an endowment from on high.
One of the most wondrous of all jewels is the human brain, with its intricate combination of power cells and recording, memory, storage, and retrieval systems. The brain serves as headquarters for the personality and character of each human being. The capacity of the brain is seemingly infinite. Experience builds upon previous experience. Indeed, continuing exercise of the intellect brings forth increased intellectual capacity.
We could spend a lifetime studying the incredible chemical capacity of the liver, the kidneys, and any or all of the endocrine and exocrine glands of the body. Each is a shimmering jewel, worthy of our deepest gratitude.
Now let us turn our attention to jewels in another compartment. Let us consider some concepts that go beyond that of individual organ systems.
The first concept I would mention is that of reserve, or backup. In the theater, major actors have understudies. In electrical instruments, backup in the event of a power failure may be provided by batteries. Think of the backup provided by a number of paired body organs such as the eyes, ears, lungs, adrenal glands, and kidneys. In the event of illness, injury, or loss of one of these organs, the other is there ready to keep our bodily functions intact. In the event of loss of sight or hearing altogether, other sensory powers become augmented in a miraculous manner.
Some backup systems are not so apparent. For example, crucial single organs, like the brain, the heart, and the liver, are all nourished by two routes of circulation, which minimizes damage in the event of loss of blood flow through any single vessel.
Consider another concept—the body’s self-defense. Think of the protection provided by the skin. Could you make, or even conjure in your mind how to create, a cloak that would protect you and at the same time perceive and warn against injuries that excessive heat or cold might cause? The skin does that. It even gives signals which indicate that another part of the body is ailing. The skin can flush and sweat with fever. When one is frightened or ill, it pales. When one is embarrassed, it blushes. It is replete with nerve fibers that communicate and often limit possible harm through perception of pain.
Pain itself is part of the body’s defense mechanism. For example, sensory areas of the mouth guard the delicate esophagus, which has very few nerve fibers.
The body also produces chemical antibodies in response to infections. These antibodies not only combat infection; they persist with memory to strengthen resistance in days to come.
Closely related to the concept of self-defense is that of self-repair. Broken bones mend and become strong once again. If I were to break one of the legs of a chair, that leg would never heal itself. Yet many of us walk on legs that once were broken. Lacerations of the skin heal themselves. A leak in the circulation will seal itself. Circulatory systems outside the body do not have this power—something I gained appreciation for early in my research career when working to create an artificial heart-lung machine. Whenever tubing in the machine sprang a leak, it meant long hours cleaning up in the lab. Never did a leak in the machine seal itself.
The concept of self-renewal is remarkable. Each body cell is created and then regenerated from the earth’s elements according to the “recipe” or formula of our unique genes. The average red blood corpuscle, for example, lives about 120 days. Then it dies and is replaced by another. Each time we bathe, thousands of dead and dying cells are scrubbed away and replaced by a younger crop. To my thinking, this process of self-renewal prefigures the process of resurrection.
Another remarkable concept is that of auto-regulation. In spite of wide fluctuations in the temperature of man’s environment, the body’s temperature is carefully controlled within certain narrow bounds. Auto-regulation limits the time you can hold your breath. As breath is held, carbon dioxide accumulates. Carbon dioxide is monitored continuously by two carotid bodies situated in the neck. They transmit signals through nerves to the brain, which then sends stimuli to muscles of respiration, causing them to work so that we inhale oxygen and eliminate the carbon dioxide. Sodium, potassium, water, glucose, protein, and nitrogen are but a few of the many other constituents continuously monitored by chemical regulators within our bodies.
As we consider self-defense, self-repair, and self-renewal, an interesting paradox emerges. Limitless life could result if these marvelous qualities of the body continued in perpetuity. If we could create anything that could defend itself, repair itself, and renew itself without limit, we could create perpetual life. That was what our Creator did with the bodies he created for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. If they had eaten the fruit of the tree of life, they would have lived forever. According to the Lord as revealed through his prophets, the fall of Adam instituted the aging process, which ultimately results in physical death. We do not understand all the chemistry, but we are witnesses of the consequences of growing old. Those consequences assure us that there is a limit to the length of life upon the earth.
Of course, our bodies can develop troubles that do not repair themselves with time. Death, when it comes, may seem untimely to our mortal minds. But we need to have a larger view—that death is part of life. Alma tells us that “it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8).
When severe illness or tragic injuries claim an individual in the prime of life, we can take comfort in this fact: The very laws which could not allow life to persist here are the same eternal laws that will be implemented at the time of the resurrection, when that body “shall be restored to [its] proper and perfect frame” (Alma 40:23).
Thoughts of life, death, and resurrection bring us to face crucial questions. How were we made? By whom? And why?
Created by God
Through the ages, some without scriptural understanding have tried to explain our existence by pretentious words such as ex nihilo (out of nothing). Others have deduced that, because of certain similarities between different forms of life, there has been an organic evolution from one form to another. Many of these have concluded that the universe began as a “big bang” that eventually resulted in the creation of our planet and life upon it.
To me, such theories are unbelievable! Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary? It is unthinkable! Even if it could be argued to be within a remote realm of possibility, such a dictionary could certainly not heal its own torn pages or renew its own worn corners or reproduce its own subsequent editions!
We are children of God, created by him and formed in his image. At least 55 verses of scripture attest to our divine creation. I have selected one to represent all the verses that convey the same conclusion:
“The Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness. …
“So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them” (Abr. 4:26, 27).
I believe all of those scriptures that pertain to the creation of man. The decision to believe is a spiritual one, not made solely by an understanding of things physical, for we read that “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
It is incumbent upon each informed and spiritually attuned person to help overcome such foolishness of men who would deny divine creation or think that man simply evolved. By the Spirit, we perceive the truer and more believable wisdom of God.
With great conviction, I add my testimony to that of my fellow Apostle Paul, who said, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16, 17).
Duality of Man
The Lord said that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15). Therefore, each one of us is a dual being—a biological (physical) entity, and an intellectual (spiritual) entity. In the beginning, man, the intellectual entity, was with God. Our intelligence “was not created or made,” nor can it be (see D&C 93:29).
That spirit, joined with a physical body of such remarkable qualities, becomes a living soul of supernal worth. The psalmist so expressed this thought:
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? …
“For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (Ps. 8:3–5).
Why were we created? Why are we here? Why are we upon the earth?
God has made it plain over and over again that the world was made for mankind. We are here to work out our divine destiny, according to an eternal plan that was presented to us in the great council of heaven. Our bodies have been created to accommodate our spirits, to allow us to experience the challenges of mortality and continue our eternal progression.
Avoid Desecration of the Physical Temple
When we understand our nature and our purpose on earth, and that our bodies are physical temples of God, we will realize that it is sacrilege to let anything enter the body that might defile it. It is irreverent to let even the gaze of our precious eyesight or the sensors of our touch or hearing supply the brain with memories that are unclean or unworthy.
Could any of us lightly regard precious seeds of reproduction—specifically and uniquely ours—or disregard the moral laws of God, who gave divine rules concerning their sacred use?
We know we are children of God—that he created us and that he has given us agency to choose. We also know that we are accountable to him. He has defined the truth and prescribed commandments. Obedience to his law will bring us joy. Disobedience of those commandments is defined as sin. Because we live in a world that seems increasingly reluctant to designate dishonorable deeds as sinful, the scriptures warn us: “Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favour” (Prov. 14:9).
No one is perfect. Some may have sinned grievously in transgressing God’s laws. But God is merciful. We can repent and learn to control our appetites of the flesh.
Substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and harmful drugs are forbidden by the Lord. We have similarly been warned about the evils of pornography and unclean thoughts. Appetites for these degrading forces can become addictive. In time, physical or mental addictions enslave both the body and the spirit. Repentance from these shackles, or from any other shackles to sin, should be accomplished in this life, while we still have the aid of a mortal body to help us develop self-mastery.
When we truly know our divine nature, we will want to control our appetites. We will focus our eyes on sights, our ears on sounds, and our minds on thoughts that are a credit to our physical creation as a temple of our Father in Heaven. In daily prayer, we will gratefully acknowledge him as our Creator and thank him for the magnificence of our physical temple. We will heed his counsel.
Beware of False Doctrine
Of course, we know that “there is an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11). In the world, even many so-called “educators” teach ideas that are contrary to divine truth. We must be mindful of this prophetic counsel:
“O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
“But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Ne. 9:28–29).
We need not be reminded that the work and glory of the Lord are opposed by the forces of Satan, the master of deceit. Remember, “Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave” (JS—H 1:71, footnote).
Let us be wise and keep away from temptations and snares. Let us cautiously avoid “foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” Let us “flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” Let us “fight the good fight of faith” and “lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:9, 11–12).
The magnificence of man is matchless. But, glorious as this physical tabernacle is, the body is designed to support something even more glorious—the eternal spirit, which dwells in each of our mortal frames. The great accomplishments of this life are rarely physical. Those attributes by which we shall be judged one day are spiritual. With the blessing of our bodies to assist us, we may develop spiritual qualities of honesty, integrity, compassion, and love. Only with the development of the spirit may we acquire “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, [and] diligence” (D&C 4:6).
Let us pattern our lives after our great Exemplar, Jesus the Christ, whose parting words among men included this eternal challenge: “What manner of men ought ye to be? … even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).
We are sons and daughters of God. He is our Father; we are his children. Our divine inheritance is the magnificence of man. I pray that we may honor and magnify it.