email - February 2012

The Laryngeal Nerve

Is it badly designed?

In last month’s email column, “Comparative Anatomy Vindicated,” John tried to argue against Intelligent Design on the grounds that the laryngeal nerve follows a path that “no engineer, no designer would logically include.” Michael sent us this email in response.


I read up on the laryngeal nerve. There are two. One goes direct to the larynx for one vocal chord. The other loops down under the aorta, ennervating the heart, and back up to the larynx for the other chord. It makes sense if we take into account embryonic growth. The nerve supplies the heart, lengthening as the baby grows and the heart moves away from the brain. The larynx starts to grow later on. It's simpler to grew [sic] onto the end of the nerve than to tap into the middle, so that's why it grows back up to the throat. We thereby have one nerve working more than one organ, keeping it simple yet workable. How does that sound to you as an engineer?

Yes, one nerve could supply both vocal chords. Every body part has a use, so there's likely to be a reason for the heart–larynx hook-up. I won't speculate or assume what it might be, without further research. I certainly won't insist my explanation's right, without any kind of test or other true-life observation.

So, the path that John thinks is illogical may, in fact, be elegantly sophisticated. Since Michael asked my opinion as an engineer, I will share a personal story relative to that subject.

A significant portion of my career was spent doing “foreign material exploitation.” That is a polite way of saying that I reverse engineered Russian copies of American guided missiles (which I had helped design) to determine their capabilities and weaknesses. In the process, I named my Russian counterpart, “Ivan,” and tried to get inside his head and imagine what he was thinking when he designed his version of our missile.

In most cases, it was obvious why he had made the design decisions he made because I had made exactly the same ones. Sometimes he made slightly different design decisions because he was forced to use transistors with looser tolerances than those manufactured in America. What he lacked in resources he had to make up for with more complicated design.

There were cases when Ivan didn’t follow our design exactly. At first I presumed that Ivan must have been working from incomplete schematics, or damaged hardware, and therefore didn’t know how we had done it. I thought that must have been the case—otherwise he would not have done it so stupidly.

Since he had obviously made a mistake, that was where I centered my attention, expecting to find some fatal flaw which we could exploit through some clever countermeasure. But it soon became apparent that Ivan’s “stupid mistakes” were actually brilliant design improvements. He had done something clever that never occurred to me.

It was humbling, annoying, and frustrating to realize that Ivan had a better idea than I did. It made me angry, at first; but, as time went on, my respect and admiration for Ivan gradually increased.

Consequently, whenever I find myself in a situation where I don’t understand someone else’s logic, my reaction is, “What does he know that I don’t know?” Often it turns out that he does know something that I don’t know, and I am better off by learning it.

John looks at the laryngeal nerve and he doesn’t understand the path it takes. He immediately assumes it is illogical, as I initially did when I first started working with foreign material. That’s because he is starting from the assumption that the path is the result of random chance. There is no logic to a random process.

Michael looks at the laryngeal nerve starting from the assumption that it was routed that way on purpose, looks for the purpose, and probably has correctly determined the logic behind it.

Sir Isaac Newton started from the assumption that everything was created by God on purpose. When he didn’t understand something, he strove to learn the purpose. If Newton had been an evolutionist, and started from the assumption that there is no God, and everything is the result of chance, he would not have been as motivated to find the purpose. He would have simply said, “It just happened that way. There is no reason for it.”

If someone tells you that a diamond ring was lost in the park, and that there is a reward for finding it, you might go to the park to look diligently for it. Lacking that knowledge, you might go the park looking for a valuable lost item just because you have nothing better to do, but you won’t search as diligently.

The theory of evolution hinders scientific progress because it presumes the absence of reason or purpose. Therefore, an evolutionist is unlikely to discover the true purpose, and dismiss reason as mere chance.

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