A Theistic Apologetic from the Design of Human Movement and Athletic Performance
In his 1976 debate with Antony G. N. Flew, Professor Thomas B. Warren used his first affirmative speech to set forth a compelling argument for the existence of God. His argument was as follows:
If there is even one characteristic, attribute or property of even one human being which could have come into existence only by the creative power of God, then that one human being constitutes proof that God does exist.
There is at least one characteristic, attribute or property of even one human being which could have come into existence only by the creative power of God.
Therefore, that one human being constitutes proof (when the evidence is recognized and reasoned about properly) that God exists. (Warren and Flew 136)
Laying the foundation in this valid argument, Dr. Warren then added subsequent material in support of his minor premise. This is where we enter with information from the field of human movement and athletic performance. We believe there are characteristics of human beings found in the way we move which could have come into existence only by the creative power of God. This being the case, then God exists.
Similar to Warren’s argument, our reasoning will primarily follow what is, traditionally, identified as the teleological argument. Hackett stated:
[T]he teleological argument . . . attempts to show that the detailed character of the experienced world embodies such adaptations of means to ends . . . that the whole is explicable only in terms of a personal intelligent will whose nature is goodness. . . . The argument has two basic orientations in proportion as it focuses attention on the universe as a whole or on man in particular. In the first orientation—the macrocosmic—thought moves from the sum total of what appear to be adaptations in nature and from the progressiveness of the cosmic process through levels of matter, life, and mind to the positing of an intelligent will as the sole sufficient explanation. . . . In the second orientation—the microcosmic—thought moves from the distinctive character of mind or personality and from the nature of values as absolute to the positing of a Mind with absolute goodness as the sole sufficient explanation of man. . . . (181-82, emp. added)
Proof of this argument comes from numerous fields (i.e. “levels of matter, life, and mind”), but the human body contains some of the most obvious proofs of design. It is our aim through this study to present a case for such design and a Supreme Designer from the field of human movement and athletic performance.
Discovering Function through Exercise Prescription
Carefully note Hackett’s explanation of the teleological argument from the above cited statement in which he referenced “the detailed character of the experienced world embodies such adaptations of means to ends that the whole is explicable only in terms of a personal intelligent will” (182, emp. added). It has been our experience with human movement and athletic performance in which we have encountered the following apologetics information. More precisely, it was in our experience of formulating training programs through exercise prescription. In recent years, the emphasis in exercise programming has moved toward sport- specific training. This means appropriate exercises for a given sport should be utilized after an assessment of the specific movements and needs of that sport. The text of the National Strength and Conditioning Association states:
Specificity is a major consideration when one is designing an exercise program to improve performance in a particular sport activity. The sport movement must be analyzed qualitatively or quantitatively to determine the specific joint movements that contribute to the whole-body movement. Exercises that utilize similar joint movements are then emphasized in the resistance training program. (Baechle and Earle 90)
This emphasis in sport-specific training has influenced other general physical fitness programs to do the same in regard to achieving general fitness. Life-specific training, or functional training, has become the emphasis. Whereas an athlete should be sure to use specific exercises that target respective athletic movements, fitness enthusiasts have begun to realize the benefits of exercises which have more transfer to natural human movement. The CrossFit organization has recently become the leader in exercise programs returning to true functional movements. In their Training Guide for exercise prescription, we read:
The CrossFit prescription is “constantly varied, high- intensity, functional movement.” Functional movements are universal motor recruitment patterns; they are performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity; and they are compound movements—i.e., they are multi-joint. They are natural, effective, and efficient locomotors of body and external objects. But no aspect of functional movements is more important than their capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly. Collectively, these three attributes (load, distance, and speed) uniquely qualify functional movements for the production of high power. Intensity is defined exactly as power, and intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing favorable adaptation to exercise. Recognizing that the breadth and depth of a program’s stimulus will determine the breadth and depth of the adaptation it elicits, our prescription of functionality and intensity is constantly varied. (Glassman 3)
Functional training, as a method of exercise, appeals to movements of the body, rather than individual muscle groups. Function, rather than form, is the quest. Instead of the emphasis of bodybuilding, where larger, more sculpted muscles are the goal, functional training asks the question: How are muscles useful in the most common movements of everyday life? Thus, for exercise programs such as CrossFit, the exercise prescription involves movements that develop strength for these actions.
Movements in exercise can be termed functional when they mimic the natural movements of the human body. When exercise programs are constructed with a proper understanding of the body’s natural, functional movements, we become aware of how the body is intended to be used. Much like any machine, if the human body is used correctly it will perform optimally. However, if a machine is not used in the manner it was designed, it becomes useless. It is absurd to recognize design in machines like an automobile, but not recognize design in the one who made a machine (cf. Hebrews 3:4). This is precisely the point Warren made in his debate with Professor Flew:
. . . I have shown, by clear precise logical argument, that the respiratory system had to be made by the eternal Creator of the world. I have further shown that even in the case of the car, while the car has a maker—given his theory—the maker of the car has no maker. You might just as well have figured that a whirlwind blew through a junk yard and blew him together absolutely by sheer chance. Dr. Flew, give some attention to the maker of the car. We grant the car was made, but who made the maker of the car? (170)
If a machine possesses a proper way to function, then we can infer a designer planned these processes. In the same way, if the human body possesses natural functions that must be observed in order to operate properly, then it can be deduced that a designer must have purposely planned these functions. If the human body is not used in the way it is meant to function, the results are most likely injury, and, in some cases, even paralysis. In our experience with athletic performance, we have seen many instances of this occurrence. To present our case, we will use two of the most common movements utilized in exercise—lifting and running.
Practically every day we perform the most basic lifting movement without even thinking about it—the dead lift. Dead lifting is simply retrieving a weight off the ground. It is ordinarily performed with a barbell; however, one can also use dumbbells, medicine balls, sandbags, or even odd objects like logs and stones. In everyday life, we must perform a dead lift when we pick anything off the ground. It is a basic, but necessary daily task. However, this movement is also a major culprit for back injuries. This happens when a weight is lifted improperly with the body functioning in a way it was not designed. Everett Harman (U. S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine) describes why great care should be taken in learning proper lifting mechanics using the back:
In contrast to quadrupeds, whose vertebral columns hang like the cables on a suspension bridge, humans normally stand upright, with the vertebral bones stacked one on top of another, separated by rubbery disks. The advantage we gain from our upright posture and free use of the arms and hands is accompanied by the disadvantage of having our intervertebral disks under compressive force even when we are merely standing, sitting, walking, or running, and under even more compressive force when we are lifting and carrying. (qtd. in Baechle and Earle 84)
When proper posture of the back is ignored, the vertebrae, disks, ligaments, and musculature are prone to injury. However, when correct technique is used, the body’s mechanics can produce unfathomable forces. Power lifters have been known to dead lift more than 1,000 pounds! Coach Leyland, Senior Lecturer at the School of Kinesiology, Simon Fraser University, states:
It is universally agreed in the literature that the spine is well designed to withstand compressive forces. A suggested safe cutoff point was established by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) in 1981. This is around 760 pounds of force (3,433 Newtons, to be precise). However, this is a standard for an occupational setting where unconditioned workers of all ages and both sexes might have to lift objects. World championship powerlifters can easily generate 20,000+ Newtons (approximately 4,000 pounds-force) of compressive force on their spines with no ill effect. (3, emp. added)
When a person prepares to lift an object from the ground, spinal position is extremely important. This is due to shearing forces in the collection of joints of the vertebrae. Through his study of these shearing forces, while analyzing the dead lift, Leyland concludes:
. . . [A] fully flexed spine inactivates back extensors, loads the posterior passive tissues (ligaments), and results in high shearing forces. In contrast a neutral to-slightly- heightened extended lumbar spine posture disables the interspinous ligaments and reduces joint shear. So, as you may have heard before, form matters. (5)
Through its magnificent design, the human body is intended to utilize its back musculature in conjunction with the spine, tendons, and ligaments to produce mechanical levers which permit lifting objects. When we fall out of this intended design, we prohibit its natural function and injury is likely. Exercise scientists must be diligent in the study of biomechanics, so performance will be optimized while injury is minimized.
Another area we can observe the designed mechanics of the body is in the way we run. It is well known that running has become one of the most popular modes of exercise. However, like dead lifting, it is also a predominant way people sustain injury. Exercise professionals are becoming increasingly aware of the reasons behind these injuries. Technique flaws resulting in the body falling outside its natural function are now understood as the cause for numerous running injuries. Dr. Nicolas Romanov, world-renown running specialist, believes technique must be addressed to avoid running injuries. He says, “The majority of runners have never learned to run because everybody can put their shoes on and out the door they go. . . . Whatever training a few underwent was never technique oriented. Running was never accepted or assumed to be a technique sport.” Through recent research, exercise professionals are now advocating a return to a more natural method of running—barefoot or with minimal shoes. This is due to the realization that the common flaw of heel-striking causes the most stress to the body. In his study on the impact of foot-strike, Lieberman states:
Kinematic and kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers. This difference results primarily from a more plantarflexed foot at landing and more ankle compliance during impact, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground. Fore-foot and mid-foot strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, and may protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners. (531)
Running performance specialist, Brian MacKenzie, further comments, “The human foot is designed with enough padding on the ball of the foot for the Tarahumara Indians, certain indigenous peoples of Africa, and our ancestors to get around without Nike Shox. It is not designed for the heel to strike the ground first and to roll through to the toes” (1).
This research has led at least some exercise scientists back to an admiration of the beautiful design seen in the human body. Lon Kilgore of Midwestern State University remarks about the foot in his writings on this topic:
The foot is purposeful and wonderfully engineered, perfectly constructed to carry out its function. Da Vinci’s Renaissance depiction of foot anatomy, drawn from specimens, led him to state, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Due to its ability to support, the arch plays a central role in many of Da Vinci’s architectural works. (emp. added)
Much like the mechanics of the back musculature functioning along with the spine to lift objects from the ground, the foot is designed to function beautifully to optimize running performance. When we fail to recognize the foot’s intended function, poor running mechanics will inevitably limit performance and likely cause injury. [Through his argumentation concerning the evidence of design in the human hand (illustrated at the conclusion of this article, p. 88), Professor Warren made a similar theistic apologetic as I have in my defense of theism through design in the human foot.]
God’s Functional Creation
Do these observations found in human movement and athletic performance demonstrate evidence of design within the body’s mechanics? We believe we have clearly shown the human body is filled with purpose in its mechanics to lift, run, and move. Everyday tasks are performed optimally when we learn to use the body through its natural functions. These purposes are the product of a Master Designer. From a different context than that with which we have been concerned in this essay, Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote: “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose” (1 Corinthians 12:18, ESV, emp. added).
The term arranged comes from the Greek root tithemi which means “to set, put, place” (Thayer 622-23). God’s design of the human body was purely intentional. The natural functions of the body are not a product of accident, or even environmental adaptation. Within a healthy human body, God has provided purposed functions that allow us to operate within His creation optimally.
We conclude with Professor Warren that the human body, in its magnificent design, is filled with evidence of the Creator. Our argumentation, within the framework of Warren’s second premise, is demonstrated to be true. There is at least one characteristic, attribute or property of one human being which could have come into existence only by the creative power of God. In fact, the characteristics that prove God are too numerous to count. A theistic apologetic from the design of human movement and athletic performance is sound. Warren stated:
… When one considers his body, he is aware of the fact that it is a marvelous mechanism—a single system which is comprised of a number of sub-systems, all of which must work together in concert if one is to live or even to be very healthy. . . .
… [W]hile we recognize the possible complexity which might be involved in argumentation for the existence of God, we insist that the evidence is so obvious and, in a sense, so simple that everyone in the world (of sufficient intelligence to be held accountable for his actions) is capable of seeing that evidence and of drawing the conclusions which it warrants, namely that God does exist. (3-4)
Truly, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Chip Pugh, former Director of Athletic Performance at Tennessee Tech University, now serves as the director of a campus ministry to the Tennessee Tech University campus. He also serves as a character coach. He holds both the undergraduate (BS Sport Industry) and graduate (MS Physical Education) degrees from Ohio University. His certification as Strength and Conditioning Specialist includes C.S.C.S., S.C.C.C., and U.S.A.W.
Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2008.
Glassman, Greg. “CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide.” The CrossFit Journal. 15 May 2010. Web. 25 May 2011.
Hackett, Stuart Cornelius. The Resurrection of Theism. Chicago: Moody, 1957.
Kilgore, Lon. “Running the Wrong Way?” The CrossFit Journal. 17 March 2010. Web. 18 May 2011.
Leyland, Tony. “Spine Mechanics for Lifters.” The CrossFit Journal. Nov. 2007. Web. 12 May 2011.
Lieberman, Daniel E., et al. “Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot Versus Shod Runners.” Nature. 463: 531-35. 28 Jan. 2010. Web. 15 May 2011.
MacKenzie, Brian. “The Basics of Pose Running Techniques.” The CrossFit Journal. 1 Dec. 2007 Web. 18 May 2011.
Romanov, Nicholas. “Heel-Striking is the Worst Way to Run.” Posetech. com. 1 Apr. 2008 Web. 20 May 2011.
Thayer, Joseph H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002.
Warren, Thomas B. We Can Know That God Is. Vienna: Warren Christian Apologetics Center, 2010.
Warren, Thomas B., and Antony G. N. Flew. The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God. Moore: National Christian, 1977.
"I have asked the question, “Is it true or false that the natural hand, was planned and designed?” And he [Professor Flew] answered, “No, it is not.” On the right, the hand that is mechanical, he [Flew] says, “It was planned and designed.” Now, friends, I submit to you that the natural hand is tremendously greater than any mechanical hand that man has ever made."
Thomas B. Warren
“Warren’s Sixth Negative.” The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God. 1977. Ramer: National Christian Press, 2004, pp. 112, 115-16.