The Brain: Our Matchless Computer that Interprets Electrical Signals
You see everything going on around you, can easily distinguish sounds from one another, and can recognize flowers that you first smelled in early childhood. You immediately feel pain when you prick your finger with a needle, feel chilly in low temperatures, and sweat when it is hot. You depress the clutch pedal with one foot when driving and at the same time, turn the steering wheel with one hand while changing gears with the other. You tap your fingers to the beat of the music you’re listening to, while chatting to the person in the passenger seat. As you speak, you also listen to the other person and try to frame logical replies. At this point, a number of details from the past may enter your mind, and remembered images are conjured up before you. All the while, you still clearly perceive many surrounding details around you. Indeed, even while you are performing all these actions, if another vehicle suddenly pulls out in front of your car, you immediately stamp on the brakes while not losing control of the steering wheel.
The processes needed for all this to take place are under the control of the brain, the main management center. From the moment we are born, it identifies all that we need in order to survive. It plans, organizes and makes the necessary adjustments so that these goals can be fulfilled, then issues commands to have them carried out, without the slightest error.
While performing all these functions, the brain works as the body’s control center at two levels, the first of which covers the activities we perform consciously, such as walking, reading and learning things by heart. The other includes the unconscious activities that we cannot control, such as heartbeat, respiration and the digestion. The brain automatically directs all these latter activities at every moment, rather like an automatic pilot.
In addition, events constantly take place in our bodies of which we are sometimes unaware. Thanks to signals coming from nerves at every point in the body at once, you can perceive the shape of the chair you are sitting in and the temperature of the air around you and see and interpret hundreds of other such details. Even a breeze touching the back of your neck is transmitted to the brain as a sensation with the same flawlessness and timing. Consider the tasks of the brain by assuming that millions of people want to give you information and ask you questions, all at the same time. Each of these questions requires a separate field of expertise, and incorrect answers could result in serious illness or even death. Also, you have to respond in less than a second. Furthermore, what is doing the responding is a piece of tissue consisting of unconscious fats and proteins. Therefore, it is not enough to say that your brain does everything, no matter how perfect a structure it may possess. A Creator, possessed of superior intellect and knowledge, inspires these duties in our brain and creates it with the features necessary to carry them out. That Creator is Almighty Allah, Lord of us all.
He directs the whole affair from heaven to Earth. (Surat as-Sajda: 5)
The Flawless Communications Infrastructure of Our Brains
The 100 billion cells in the brain and their extensions can be compared to a network that pervades every point in the human body. This network collects messages arriving from all over the body and forwards them to the brain, establishing flawless communication between brain and body. Thanks to this link, there is never any interruption inside the nervous system. And again thanks to this flawless structure, you can easily adjust the dials on the car radio while driving, as well as maintaining control over the steering wheel. You do not hit any oncoming vehicles, despite performing several tasks at once. You can also understand every word being spoken on the radio, and carry on a conversation from where you left off. In short, thanks to the brain’s extraordinary capacity, human beings are able to perform several tasks at the same moment.
Every neuron inside an adult’s brain is connected to around 100,000 nerve extensions. There are some 100 trillion of these, which permit the great harmony in the brain’s functioning.55While city planners still find it difficult to find a solution to traffic congestion, there is never any confusion in the communications among the 100 billion neurons. Professor of Biochemistry Michael Denton describes the magnitude of the brain’s communications network with this analogy:
Numbers in the order of 1015 are of course completely beyond comprehension. Imagine an area about half size of the USA (one million square miles) covered in a forest of trees containing ten thousand trees per square mile. If each tree contained one hundred thousand leaves, the total number of leaves in the forest would be 1015, equivalent to the number of connections in the human brain!56
In her book The Human Brain, Oxford University Professor of Pharmacology Susan Greenfield, an expert in the field of neurochemistry, touches on the number of neural connections:
If we took a piece of brain the size of a match head alone, there could be up to a billion connections on that surface. Consider just the outer layer of the brain, the cortex. If you counted the connections between neurons in this outer layer at a rate of one connection a second, it would take thirty-two million years. As for the number of different combinations of connections in the cortex alone, it would exceed the number of positively charged particles in the whole universe!57
In order to grasp the magnitude of these numbers, which stretch far beyond the bounds of the imagination, we can cite a few examples from astronomy: There are around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, and the number of galaxies in that part of the universe we can observe is around 100 billion. But even these numbers fail to equate to the number of connections among the cells in the brain.
Isaac Asimov, biochemist and author, states how there can be no evolutionary explanation for this structure:
. . . in man is a three-pound [slightly more than a kilogram] brain which, as far as we know, is the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the universe. How could the human brain develop out of the primeval slime?58
In order to conceive of the magnitude of the number of nerve cell interconnections in the brain, the Amazon rain forest can provide an appropriate analogy. These forests extend over an area of 7,800,000 square kilometers (3,011,596 square miles) and contain around 100 billion trees. The number of connections between the neurons is much greater than all the leaves on the trees in the Amazon rain forest. If those 100 billion neurons send a signal in just 1/10 of a second, the density of the chemical and electrical activity that arises still shows the extraordinary nature of the brain. If only 10% of the 100 billion neurons transmit a signal at any given moment, the intensity of the chemical and electrical activity that results shows its extraordinary nature.59
On the other hand, the area covered by the brain is remarkably small to contain such a detailed network. Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent adherents of the theory of evolution, compares the neurons in the brain to transistors and offers the following analogy about the area taken up by neurons in the skull:
But the individual neuron is a much more sophisticated data-processing unit than the transistor. Instead of three connections with other components, a single neuron may have tens of thousands . . . there are some ten thousand million neurons in the human brain: you could pack only a few hundred transistors into a skull.60
In every brain cell, there is a system consisting of tiny connections in a small surface area that can transmit hundreds of messages at a speed of 100 meters (328 feet) a second and that never forgets, becomes confused or causes delays. In addition, in order to be able to transmit messages, these nerve cells possess large numbers of extensions known as axons and dendrites, which undertake responsibilities depending on their lengths. For instance, while one axon transmitting a message from the spinal column to the big toe is 1 meter (3.2 feet) long, an axon extending from the eye to the brain is only 5 centimeters (1.97 inches) in length. Each one of the billions of axons and dendrites extend to the length needed to reach the region where a message must be conveyed, and then stops when it reaches a sufficient length. Had these extensions been random and haphazard instead of controlled and conscious, then you could never perceive your surroundings or react to them in an appropriate manner.
For example, if the neural extension leading to your fingertip were too short, then you would have no feeling in that fingertip, and might not withdraw your finger from a hot stove in time to avoid a serious burn.
Furthermore, each one of these 100 trillion connections is in exactly the right location. If any one was in the wrong place, the consequences might be very serious indeed; and it might not be possible for vital functions to continue. Yet nothing of the sort actually happens. Except for the case of rare diseases, trillions of miraculous processes take place in your body, one after the other, and seem perfectly natural to you.
Darwinists, on the other hand, maintain that nerve cells and the connections between them came into being by chance. According to their claim, 100 billion of the 100 trillion cells in the body in some way adopted the form and properties of nerve cells, and used 100 trillion connections to bind themselves to one another in a flawless manner. Moreover, not one of these 100 trillion connections headed in the wrong direction. These Darwinists’ claims are even more illogical than suggesting that the electricity network of a large city like New York came into being one night as the result of a powerful thunderstorm, and became connected up to every single apartment. The existence of a Superior Power that constructed and controls this system is self-evident. That power is Allah, the Creator of us all.
How did 100 billion nerve cells combined together in order to carry out thousands of difficult and vital processes? How did their extensions form, and how were they able to receive reports from different parts of the body? How could a giant network of 100 trillion connections have formed in such a perfect and flawless manner? And how can cells accomplish this duty of such incomparable sensitivity every second? These questions pose major dilemmas for Darwinists, who refuse to accept the fact of creation.
For us to lead healthy lives, these countless connections in the brain must have been established without the slightest imperfection. The least breakage or error among them could lead to innumerable diseases. For a human embryo, which grows by the division from a single cell, to implement such a complex design, each cell needs to be in the correct place. The right connections have to be built between cells, and they all must be inside a structure that will preserve them. None of these conditions can be met in the absence of conscious direction and planning. That plan is the flawless plan of our Almighty Lord. In one verse our Lord’s superior creation is revealed:
He to Whom the kingdom of the heavens and the Earth belongs. He does not have a son and He has no partner in the Kingdom. He created everything and determined it most exactly. (Surat al-Furqan: 2)
The Essential Nature of Our Bodies’ Communication Network
Due to the magnificent communication carried out by the brain and nervous system, your fingers can feel the page you are holding. You see everything around you in the form of bright and flawless three-dimensional images, and hear even sounds coming from a distance. The mechanism that gives rise to the sensation of burning when you scorch your hand is just one of the trillions of connections leading from your hand to the relevant region in the brain. Were you not to feel that discomfort, no doubt your hand would suffer severe injury. These connections from your nerve cells turn even the touch of a feather into an electrical signal and transmit it to the brain. That is why you are able to see every detail around you, feel everything that touches you, and why you feel hunger, thirst and pain. It is quite impossible for any human to build such an error-free and rapid mechanism artificially. Yet the nervous system carries out all its functions in the same perfect manner in billions of human beings.
The axon—the extension of the nerve cell discussed in the previous chapter— may be compared to a long tube surrounded by a membrane. Everything to do with message transmission takes place in this axon membrane, just 1/100,000th of millimeter (0.0000039 of an inch) thick. There are very different molecules in the fluid inside the axon membrane and in the fluid outside. This tiny extension that transmits data is a tube filled with liquid protein and potassium. How does chemical substance receive and transmit data from the outside, in a flawless perfect manner, to exactly the right region, at the right time? No doubt this system is an indication of creation.
In this chemical liquid is carried every detail that permits you to determine that the chunk of ice you are holding is actually ice—such as its coldness, wetness, slipperiness and the way it melts. The single neural connection perceives this information and transmits it within this chemical mixture. But how does this liquid know that it needs to transmit this information to the brain? If there were no conscious control system here, then the information might perfectly well head not for the brain, but for the liver or stomach. The dendrite extending to the eye might be too short or too long, the neural networks could become mixed up with one another, or the messages to be transmitted could be overlooked. But except in cases of illness, none of these errors ever arises. Thanks to this complex mechanism—which has not yet been fully understood even with today’s technology—information is transmitted, completely and at exactly the righ3t time, at a speed of 380 kilometers (236 miles) an hour.
The Brain: The Headquarters That Runs on Electricity
No matter in what form the information may be—data regarding taste, touch, smell, sound or sight—to transmit it, the body always encodes it as electrical signals. When these signals reach their target, any nerve or muscle fiber, they give rise to a chemical change, which in turn causes the formation of a sensation, or a movement or facial expression through muscle contraction. The way that such a system establishes such rich, wide-ranging communications reveals the perfection in our nervous system.
The brain regulates and monitors the body by using electrical energy. Indeed, everything that you see, feel, imagine or remember constitutes a world made up of electrical signals. The brain is where everything you know about yourself and your surroundings comes into existence. The entire universe and everything in it, everyone you know and every detail about them are all determined in your brain. The brain is sovereign over every outward detail and over every point in your body, thanks to the design created by Allah.
As the brain fulfils all these functions, the fundamental resource it uses is electricity, thanks to which, information and commands jump from one brain cell to another. In your brain, there is sufficient electricity to power a 15 to 20 watt bulb. Thanks to that energy, the brain communicates with all other parts of the body, sends them commands and interprets the electrical messages arriving from them.61Not only the cells in the brain, but all the cells in the body produce and run on electricity.62The daylight reaching your eyes, the images on the television, the music played on the radio, the way you tap a rhythm out with your fingers and the expressions that appear on your face—all set a series of electrical vibrations in motion. So how does this electricity production take place?
The voltage that carries signals from one neuron to another is generally very small (tens of millivolts), and these signals travel at a speed of 100 meters (3,937 inches) per second, or two hundred miles an hour.63 Neurons can activate to produce a signal once every five milliseconds (1/1000th of a second).
The brain performs all its functions by use of the nerve cells known as neurons, as described earlier. Brain cells, no different in terms of their chemical constituents from cells in the hand, foot or skin, exchange information about the entire body by using electrical energy as a language among themselves to transmit all the necessary messages and information belonging to the body.
Despite all our scientific advances, this special design in the brain still remains largely a mystery. Evolutionist scientists despair when faced with the human mind and the functioning of the brain. Two evolutionists express their thoughts concerning the brain in the book Signs of Life:
The human brain is the most astonishing and mysterious of all known complex systems. Inside this mass of billions of neurons, information flows in ways that we are only starting to understand. The memories of a summer day on the beach when we were kids; imagination; our dreams of impossible worlds. Consciousness. Our surprising capacity for mathematical generalization and understanding of deep, sometimes counter intuitive, questions about the universe. Our brains are capable of this and much more. How? We don't know: the mind is a daunting problem for science.64
Nerve cells possess many of the same properties as other cells, but exhibit one extremely important difference: They process data. Their ability to process information depends on characteristics peculiar to the nerve cell membrane, which controls those substances (sodium, calcium, potassium ions) to be taken into the cell. Since ions are electrically charged, these particles’ movement in or out through the cell membrane gives rise to a number of electrical changes within the cell. A nerve signal is the transmission of this electrical change arising along the neuron membrane.
No doubt that the electrical transmission of data and the performance of any action by means of electricity are signs of a superior knowledge. The matchless technology in the body demonstrates the existence of a single Creator possessed of that knowledge. Our omniscient Lord is He Whose might is sufficient for all purposes, as is revealed in the Qur’an:
Does He Who created the heavens and Earth not have the power to create the same again? Yes indeed! He is the Creator, the All-Knowing. His command when He desires a thing is just to say to it, “Be!” And it is. Glory be to Him Who has the Dominion of all things in His Hand. To Him you will be returned. (Surah Ya Sin: 81-83)
A Processing Capacity More Advanced Than the Most Highly Developed Technology
The processing capacity in our brains reveals a superior communication that no computer can match. The processing capacity of the human brain has been calculated to be equivalent to the total capacity of a thousand of the most advanced computers.
… [T]he brain holds at least 1014 bits (binary digits) of information. Actually, it is a much greater number, since the neurons also show intermediate firing states, somewhat like a light-dimmer switch. Consequently, the brain shows both digital and analog characteristics. At any given moment, perhaps 10% of the brain cells are firing, at a frequency of about 100 hertz. This implies a rate of 1015 signals or computations every second. For comparison, the Cray-2 supercomputer's speed is 109 computations per second, with a storage capacity of 1011 bits. Thus, the storage capacity of this supercomputer is 1,000 times less than that of the human brain.65
This comparison clearly shows how much more advanced the human brain is over present-day technology. One striking dramatization of the brain’s superior design is a project undertaken by Dr. Kerry Bernstein, technology director of the IBM computer firm. In an interview carried on a website and titled “Brain Teaches Computers A Lesson,” Bernstein describes how yearly conferences attended by neurologists are held at IBM headquarters, where their engineers are briefed on the design in the brain. Bernstein also states that it is impossible to replicate the brain’s functioning exactly:
That makes it [the brain] exponentially more efficient than the fastest computer. The reason is because of something that we can’t do in electronics. It’s this notion of massive parallelism. Meaning one bit of data can spread to 100,000 other neurons.66
In short, Bernstein says, it is impossible to electrically imitate the brain. Michael Denton, the molecular biologist known for his works demonstrating the invalidity of the theory of evolution, says that even using the most complex technology, it would take the best engineers forever, to design an object even slightly resembling the brain.67
Martin S. Banks, a professor of optometry (the measurement of visual impairments) and psychology at California (Berkeley) University, says the following about its efficient functioning:
The brain is efficient in that it doesn’t waste energy maintaining information that it will not likely need in real life.68
A computer’s electronic components are arranged in order to perform specific tasks. Even if we do not witness its being constructed, it is still clear that the computer was designed by an engineer with its functions in mind. No one can claim that these components combined together haphazardly. But the brain is a marvel of design, with a processing capacity far greater than a computer. Therefore, considering this design, we can realize that the brain has a Designer with great breadth of knowledge. Every stage in the creation of Man is an example of the infinite knowledge of our Lord, a manifestation of His words in the Qur’an, “We may make things clear to you” (Surat al-Hajj, 5). This is revealed further in verses:
O Humanity! If you are in any doubt about the Rising, know that We created you from dust then from a drop of sperm then from a clot of blood then from a lump of flesh, formed yet unformed, so We may make things clear to you. We make whatever We want stay in the womb until a specified time and then We bring you out as children so that you can reach your full maturity. Some of you die and some of you revert to the lowest form of life so that, after having knowledge, they then know nothing at all. And you see the Earth dead and barren; then when We send down water onto it it quivers and swells and sprouts with luxuriant plants of every kind. That is because Allah is the Real and gives life to the dead and has power over all things. (Surat al-Hajj: 5-6)
The Brain’s Parallel Data-Processing Ability
The brain’s activities are controlled by electrical currents and chemicals. In this system, millions of different processes operate in parallel to one another. You can wiggle your fingers and toes at the same time, extend both your arms and then rotate them in different directions, and move your head first to the right and then to the left, while humming a tune at the same time. Even while you manage all of this easily, the complexity of the processes being carried out in each of your muscles would fill many volumes. For example, the way that you can read the words on this page is made possible by signals from the optic nerve being processed simultaneously in the nervous system.
For every action and thought, signals travel along the nerve axons extending from the brain to the muscles. Sodium channels in the axon membranes open and close; sodium and potassium pumps regulate the electrical energy balance in every cell membrane. Signals are deposited at the synapses at the ends of the axons, and the neurotransmitters permit communication between the axons. Muscle fibers, on the other hand, perform the joint action of a million connections making five circuits a second. In this way the necessary power is produced for you to tense your arms, move your head from right to left, hum a tune and wiggle your fingers and toes. The relevant muscles are permitted to contract, but neither too much nor too little. The way that these can all be carried out in great harmony simultaneously is of vital importance, even if many are unaware of that.
About to cross the street, you turn your head to check the traffic, step forward with your leg muscles, and analyze the time it will take approaching cars to reach you. You then turn your head to check the traffic coming from the other direction.
And at that point, you hear a familiar voice, one you recognize, from across the street. You compare that voice with records in the other regions of your brain. The face, identity and name of the speaker all come into your mind together. Adjusting the tension in your vocal cords and the shape of your lips, you call that person by name. You wave a greeting with your hand, while crossing the street safely, and then shake the person’s hand.
Thanks to your brain’s ability to process parallel information, you can perform all these actions at once. The brain does this millions of times a day while you are awake, without your giving any special consideration to how all this comes about.
When you are cold and feel that the air has become chilly, several of your organs are affected by this change. A series of activities spontaneously go into action. Tiny pores in your skin and the outermost blood vessels contract. The muscles tremble, helping maintain normal body temperature by increasing heat production.69 In order for all these different functions to combine in harmony for a common purpose, a command center needs to initiate them. That center is our brain. However, as we have stressed throughout, this extraordinary capacity cannot be the work of a piece of tissue. It’s through Allah’s creation that the brain can perform its millions of actions at the same time, in a flawless coordination. Our Lord’s might is sufficient for all purposes, as revealed in the Qur'an:
Everything in the heavens and the Earth glorifies Allah. He is the Almighty, the All-Wise. The kingdom of the heavens and the Earth belongs to Him. He gives life and causes to die. He has power over all things. He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward. He has knowledge of all things. It is He Who created the heavens and the Earth in six days, then established Himself firmly on the Throne. He knows what goes into the Earth and what comes out of it, what comes down from heaven and what goes up into it. He is with you wherever you are—Allah sees what you do. The kingdom of the heavens and the Earth belongs to Him. All things return to Allah. (Surat al-Hadid: 1-5)
Chance Cannot Have Brought About the Regions Comprising the Brain
The more we examine details regarding the brain, the more illogical all claims of evolution appear to be. The brain possesses a number of components all working together in perfect coordination. Everything with which a human being deals with is transferred through a series of highly complex physical and chemical processes to be analyzed in the relevant regions of the brain. And then the decision is made as to what reaction will be taken. These processes require a chain of exceptionally complex and detailed stages, but we feel none of them.
We hold our arms out when someone throws a ball to us, also carefully examining the ball’s angle of approach. Yet at the same time, the electrical signal reaching our eyes is being carried by the axons to the nerve cell, and transmitted from there to the brain for analysis. This way, we recognize everything we see, whether it is dangerous, and what kind of reaction we need to take. Again through the same communication system, the brain commands the arms to catch the ball. The details of the physical and chemical processes are so complicated they would fill many pages.
The Cerebellum That Harmonizes Actions
The cerebellum, that part of the brain responsible for balance and movement, consists of millions of neurons, despite representing only a tenth of the brain’s volume. This small piece of tissue constantly gathers information regarding the position and movement of the body, keeping track of all its movements. It enables a person to react without thinking and directs all the muscles in the body. It regulates a balanced posture by sending commands to all the muscles in the body, and ensures smooth movement. Thanks to the coordination provided by the cerebellum, you can perform such actions as walking and running in a flawless manner. For example, if you come across a stone when you are out jogging, you either jump over it or run round it. Identifying the stone, determining how high you need to jump by analyzing how large it is, planning not to fall over it, and deciding which of your legs to raise first and the overall timing—all consists of exceptionally detailed stages. Yet there is no need for you to waste any time thinking over these. The cerebellum immediately sends a command to the various muscles telling them the stone needs to be avoided, and the process is thus carried out in an impeccable manner.
In short, the cerebellum lets every organ be aware of its position in relation to other organs when the body is in motion. This action, here summarized in just a few lines, is actually of the very greatest importance. Your ability to remain aware of the position of your feet should not be underestimated. If your brain did not exercise such control, then you would fall over at every step. All these systems, operating so flawlessly, are proofs of creation. It is impossible for even one of these systems to come into being by chance.
The Brain Stem: The Body’s Automatic Pilot
The second part of the central nervous system is the brain stem, which is about 7 to 8 centimeters (2.7-3.15 inches) long and maintains a connection between the brain and spinal column. This structure contains more complex cell connections than does the spinal column, and essentially links the brain to the spine. This region is indispensable to the performance of vital functions. Respiration, blood flow, blood pressure, heart rhythm, sleep or wakefulness, attention and a great many other vital activities are all controlled from this region. It would be utterly impossible for you to make a conscious effort to regulate the rhythm of your heart beat, if you had to fulfill that responsibility without sleeping and without directing your attention to anything else. That once again reminds us how much we need this system established in our bodies by Allah. In fact, every function of the cerebellum is of vital importance.
The Hypothalamus and the Other Regions of the Brain
The hypothalamus, no larger than a pea, manages such things as fat and carbohydrate metabolism, the sensations of thirst, sleeping, growth, appetite, body temperature, the size of the blood vessels, digestive secretions and behavior. It also supervises the working of almost all the glands in the body by means of various hormones it secretes. Yet while carrying out these important duties, it represents only 3% of the brain by volume, and weighs a mere 4.5 grams (0.009921 of a pound). Hormones released by the hypothalamus are like chemical messengers that reach every part of the body, carrying various instructions with them. In addition to carrying messages, hormones also set various regions into motion and fully discharge their responsibilities.
For example, if growth hormone is being secreted, it sets into action all the systems concerned with growth. That the hypothalamus constantly produces such secretions, spreading throughout the entire body and adjusting its equilibrium, is of the greatest importance. However, even though the growth hormones travel throughout the body, it will affect only the relevant locations of the body.
These mere secretions, that is to say hormones know which parts of the body they need to act on and affect only these, despite traveling through the entire body. Yet these actions all require consciousness and intelligence. The way that the secretion finds its way and recognizes every region inside the body, arrives at its destination with impeccable timing, initiates the requisite changes and at just the required level— causing hair to grow, for example—are all phenomena that cannot possibly be the result of chance.,
Also exceptionally important is the way this secretion knows whether the body is a man’s or a woman’s and establishes a different equilibrium accordingly. In men, hormones cause the beard to grow and the voice to deepen, whereas in women they prevent these changes. The way an unconscious fluid with no ability to make distinctions can operate such a planned, accurate and conscious system definitely cannot be accounted for in terms of chance. This system is the creation of Allah, Lord of infinite intellect and knowledge.
In addition the thalamus in the brain translates signals in such a way that the brain can perceive them, so that the brainstem regulates such important functions as respiration, blood flow in the veins, heartbeat, sleep and wakefulness. It is impossible for a human to maintain even respiration by conscious control. If that control were handed over to you, then in all probability you would die the moment you fell asleep. Yet even though breathing is one of your most basic needs, you need pay it no conscious attention at all. Without your being aware of it, a mechanism in your body works in a systematic and uninterrupted manner.
The Spinal Column That Assumes Control in Emergencies
The spinal column, the main pathway of the body’s communication network, transmits data to the brain and sends commands to other regions of the body. Like a broad bundle of electrical cables, it enables commands on the nerves to travel with ease between the brain and the body’s other regions. In the same way that the brain is protected by the skull, the spinal column is protected by the vertebrae that comprise the backbone. Here, nerve cells analyze the signals coming to the body from the brain, and form complex electrical circuits that determine where and how they are to be transmitted.
Sometimes the spinal column can perform its duties in a partially independent manner, without control from the brain. A reflex may be described as an automatic, fixed reaction to a specific stimulus. Reflexes allow us to react swiftly against risks and threats. The brain normally represents the human body’s command center, but for emergency situations, a faster system has been constructed in the nervous system. Many reflex actions are directed by a group of nerve cells in the spinal cord.
The sudden movements we refer to as reflexes take place extraordinarily quickly by means of the circuits in the spinal cord. The very swift decisions to move come not from the brain, but from the spinal column. Were this mechanism directed by the brain instead, then when you touched a hot oven by mistake, there would be a time lag between your feeling the heat and retracting your hand. Yet you immediately retract your hand, preserving your fingers from getting burned. Thus the important spinal cord must be protected in a most secure manner.
We can compare the spinal cord to the cables inside a computer. If you constantly bend and twist them, they will eventually snap, and your computer will not work at all. Similarly, the spinal cord transmits important data, and every precaution for its protection has been taken. For one thing, the backbone is much longer than the spinal cord, so that the latter is entirely encased in bone.
If, for any reason, one or more vertebrae fail to develop fully while the fetus’s backbone is forming, the result is the condition known as spina bifida, in which significant gaps remain between the vertebrae, and the spinal cord and nervous system are impaired. Important messages cannot reach their destinations. The failure of nerves to reach the brain results in paralysis—an inability to move and lack of sensation.
As we have shown, for our bodies to function fully, every component must be fully formed and possess a flawless design. The slightest alteration here may lead to serious consequences. The measure in the creation of man is referred to in these terms in the Qur’an:
From what thing did He create him? From a drop of sperm He created him and proportioned him. (Surah Abasa: 18-19)