Standing upright for creation
Jonathan Sarfati chats with human spine expert Richard Porter about his science and faith.
Professor Richard Porter’s experience qualifies him as a world authority on the human spine. He marvels at the incredible design in our bodies and testifies to the hand of our Creator evident in Creation.
Richard Porter was Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, from 1990–95 (in universities in the UK and many British Commonwealth countries, the title ‘Professor’ is given only to the highest rank of university lecturers).
Then he was Director of Education and Training for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from 1995–97.
He has published over 120 papers in peer-reviewed journals (50% on spinal disorders), mostly as senior author. He is the author of five textbooks and over 30 contributory chapters. In 2001 Edinburgh University awarded him a D.Sc. degree for research on spinal stenosis, and he was awarded the Syme professorship for work on congenital talipes (formerly called ‘club foot’). Retired for the last five years, he still continues with research and writing.
[Update: we were sorry to learn that Professor Porter died on 20 July 2005, aged 70. His obituary in the British Medical Journal noted both his extensive contributions to spinal research, including scoliosis, osteoporosis and club feet, his medical inventions, TV documentaries about him, and sponsoring overseas doctors. It also pointed out his strong Christian faith, and his strong support for hundreds of Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers, many of whom he helped lead to Christ.]
Most important to Prof. Porter, however, is his Christian faith, as he explains:
‘My own spiritual journey began when my mother and father shared with me the way to find a simple close relationship with the Lord. At 11 years of age, I accepted Jesus personally—life’s most important choice—and I have never been disappointed. My main objective is to encourage others to know Jesus, and experience the new life of the indwelling Holy Spirit—that is, the New Birth.
‘Because of the amazing miracle of God coming to us in Jesus—miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary—and rising from the dead (which doesn’t usually happen!)—the whole thinking of a Christian is inevitably quite different from that of an unbeliever.’
Asked about the book of Genesis, Prof. Porter replied, ‘It makes sense that because we are children of a loving God, who has shown Himself in Jesus, then a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis (that God chose to create that way) is no problem. It was clearly the way Jesus read it (Matthew 19:3–6, Mark 10:6–9).’
With his record of scientific papers and awards, Prof. Porter would have to smile at those who claim that no creationist publishes in the scientific literature or does real research. Some evolutionists, forced by such indisputable facts to grudgingly admit that some creationists do real research, try the tack that such creationists are really using evolutionary, not creationist, principles in their research. On the contrary, Richard says, ‘It is just the opposite. A person who begins with the premise that God has made an excellent design is at an advantage—he is able to ask questions that the evolutionist never thought about. The most important thing in research is to begin by asking the right question.’
Back pain vs evolution
Richard pointed out that evolutionary theory can be unproductive for research:
‘For example, the curve of the lumbar spine towards the front—the lordosis—was thought by evolutionists to be a problem, the result of man having recently adopted an upright position. So, some researchers blamed back pain on this, saying the spine had not yet evolved satisfactorily. If therapists have the wrong starting assumption, then it’s not surprising that treatments for lordosis are unhelpful. If a spine fracture causes a lumbar kyphosis (curvature in the opposite direction), that spine is significantly weakened.’1
He added that the creationist perspective has always been foundational to his research:
‘I start from quite a different position. From my understanding of human anatomy and physiology and my understanding of God, I say that the form of God’s creation always matches its function. So you can be sure that the form of the spine is perfectly designed for its function. God has made a wonderful spine. If you start with that premise, it gives you a head start when trying to understand the mechanism of the spine.
‘When you start to examine the biomechanics of the curved spine, asking why it’s that shape, and what’s good about it, you find that the arch of the spine has a beautiful purpose. Like the arch of a bridge, it adds strength. Because of that arch in the lumbar spine, a person with a lumbar lordosis can lift proportionally more weight than a gorilla with its kyphotic (opposite curvature) spine! So it’s not surprising that treating back pain with postures and exercises that restore the lordosis works exceedingly well.’2
The splendid spine
Our human spine is among the most ingeniously designed structures to be found anywhere. In this fallen world, it is estimated that 70–90% of all people in the US will suffer at least one back injury in their lives. Up to 25% become chronic. Much of this is exacerbated by failure to keep the surrounding muscles strong.
Since the spine is his specialist field, he could tell us about more of its amazing features:
‘My inaugural lecture in Aberdeen was “Upright Man”? and I tried to explain how the wonderful human spine is a perfect match between form and function. Things go wrong with the spine when we abuse it (if we fail to keep ourselves fit, or overload it, or have an accident). We are learning to use “foam filling”? in building (a sandwich of honeycomb material between two plates) to make something that is both light and strong, but the bones of the spine have been “foam filled”? with cancellous bone (with an open, latticed, or porous structure), surrounded by harder cortical bone, since the Creation.
‘The vertebral bodies increase in cross-sectional area as you go further down the spine, because in the upright position, the lower ones take more load. The bones are not denser, just bigger. By contrast, animals that walk on all fours have a roughly horizontal spine that is equally loaded all the way. So all their vertebrae are of similar cross-sectional area. Form matches function. If evolutionists were right in saying we had recently attained upright posture, our vertebral bodies should be like those of quadrupeds, but they are not.
‘We designed radial-ply tyres for motor cars, but God constructed the rim of the intervertebral disc with radial-ply fibres from the beginning. That construction makes a healthy disc stronger than the bones. When one examines the way the human body is formed and how it works, one is constantly amazed. It’s like looking at a piece of beautiful bone china and seeing the maker’s mark beneath.’3
More creationist contributions to medicine
The contributions of modern creationists to scientific research are well-kept secrets by the modern media and scientific establishment, but Prof. Porter is not the only one. He talks about a leading pathologist:
‘Denis Burkitt (1911–1993) was a good friend with an enquiring mind. In Africa, as a missionary surgeon, he constantly asked questions, and noticed a lymphoma [a type of cancer] localized to certain parts of Central and East Africa. With only a £50 grant, he visited many mission hospitals and mapped the geographic location of the disease. He then correctly deduced that the tumor was caused by a mosquito-borne virus. This tumor, the first recognized as having a viral origin, is now known as Burkitt’s Lymphoma.
‘Denis also won world acclaim for observing links between many killer diseases of the Western world and lack of fibre in our diet. He was responsible, more than anyone else, for Westerners turning to a high fibre diet. He was also a great man of God who took the Bible at face value. He believed that God has spoken the truth in Genesis.’
The ‘age’ question
We find that an increasing number of Christians are rejecting biological evolution in favor of direct creation, but some still balk at taking the timescale literally. Prof. Porter counsels:
‘We can look at cosmic and biological science and say perhaps that sometimes the observations don’t seem to fit Genesis, but wait a bit—there are lots of suppositions. Keep thinking, and you can be confident that eventually science will show God did it the way He said He did.
‘Different scientists may examine the same facts about biology, geology or cosmology but reach quite different conclusions. The evolutionist will reach one view probably because he never thinks about, or rejects, a young Earth.
‘I’m greatly encouraged that an increasing number of scientists seem to be accepting a straightforward reading of Genesis. Even though the number actually carrying out research in that framework is small, it is exciting to see the number of insights that have arisen, and models that have been developed that seem to show how the facts fit Genesis exceedingly well. So even though there is a long way to go, the creationist is asking the right question and keeps thinking. Whereas the evolutionist stops asking the right question, so in the search for truth it is the creationist who is likely to come up with the right answers.
‘Many of the discrepancies between evolutionists and creationists revolve around our concept of time. My hunch is we are going to find that there is more than one timeframe. The issue is not ultimately the observations of the Earth sciences, but the conclusions the evolutionists have drawn from them.’4
Advice for students
When he was a professor in Aberdeen, Richard led what colleagues said was a highly productive research unit, and he enjoyed helping to train young surgeons. He says:
‘We need lots of young people who love the Lord to make a career in science, including biological science. They will discover that God’s thoughts, which match His revealed Word, are written into creation. For too long I think Darwinism has undermined confidence in God’s Word—the good news of His eternal salvation, which is available to everyone who turns to Him in Christ.’
Professor Porter’s family is very important to him. He and his wife Christine have four adult sons and nine little grandchildren [update: 11 by the time of his death]. The eldest son is a Senior Lecturer in Orthopaedics, the second a Methodist minister with a heart for revival, the third an Anglican vicar in a growing church, and the fourth is a doctor, now in training for the Anglican ministry. Prof. Porter says:
‘My wife and I are just so thrilled that our sons, whether doctors or preachers of the Gospel, share in the one ministry. The main thing for us all is to be serving God wherever we are.’
References and notes
- See also Bergman, J., Back problems: how Darwinism misled researchers, Journal of Creation 15(3):79–84, 2001. Return to text.
- Smail, R., Oh my aching back!, Creation 12(4):20–21, September 1990. New Zealand physiotherapist Robin McKenzie discovered this lordosis-restoring treatment by chance in 1956. While not a creationist, McKenzie’s work lends considerable support to creation. Return to text.
- See also Wieland, C., Adam’s rib: creation & the human body, Creation Ministries International, 2001. Return to text.
- Physicist Dr Russell Humphreys has a variant on this idea, using the well-documented principle of Einstein’s general relativity that gravity slows time. See the Starlight and Time book and video available from CMI. Return to text.