Around the world, museums have been established to preserve some of mankind’s greatest works of art. At the Louvre, in France, you can walk the halls and discover the genius of Leonardo da Vinci in the face of the Mona Lisa and the skill of Michelangelo in the features of his famous works of sculpture. At the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, you can see examples of the finest engineering feats performed by mankind.
Yet there may be no work of art, no more wonderfully engineered contraption, than the simple human hand. It may be very easy to take the hand for granted, but it is a wonder of design, and represents the work, talent and mind of a wondrous designer.
Indeed, Sir Isaac Newton—scholar, mathematician and one of the greatest scientific minds in human history—is said to have remarked, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”
Because we use it every day, we may think of the hand as nothing so remarkable. After all, we have grown up with it. It has been with us, serving our needs, day in and day out. We use it to drink our coffee, to call someone on our cellphone and to tie our shoelaces. We may compare our hands to others’ and conclude that ours are too small or too large, too dainty or too rough.
Yet the anatomical facts and figures, alone, are enough to give us pause. A normal human hand is composed of 29 bones, 29 joints, well more than 100 ligaments, 35 muscles, and a vast array of nerves and arteries. Control of the thumb, alone, requires nine individual muscles and the cooperative effort of three major nerves in the hand.
But the numbers, themselves, are not what make the hand so astounding. What reminds us of the power of the hand’s design is what we are able to do with those bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and nerves.
The capacity of the human hand is stunning in its ability to achieve, at will, a seemingly infinite number of shapes and configurations through the use of its array of dexterous fingers. Approximately one-quarter of the portion of the brain dedicated to movement is devoted to controlling motions of this exquisite device alone. The particular combination of strength, flexibility, dexterity and fine-tuned motor control exhibited by our two hands is unmatched in the created world.
While many muscles work together to move our hands, it is noteworthy that—for all the fantastic movements our fingers can make—the fingers themselves contain no muscles at all! Our fingers are moved individually—with the finest of control and sensitivity—by tendons threaded through them and attached to muscles all the way up in the forearm! The tendons are pulled like the strings of a marionette, in an intricate, coordinated dance—working with the muscles in the hand to create the vast range of movements of which our hands are capable.
And the hands are more than a means of manipulating the world around us—they are powerful sensory organs that we use, through our sense of touch, to learn about the world around us.
The human fingertip, for instance, is a sensory device possessing an incredible capacity for detection—with a sensitivity that the finest human engineering is only just beginning to match in the realm of robotics. Recent studies have shown that our fingerprints—unique patterns on our fingertips—are much more than a means of identifying criminals; they greatly enhance the finger’s ability to feel sensations, increasing the amount of information fed to our brain about surfaces we touch and explore. Even the fingernail—a seemingly “dead” mass of tissue—is a finely tuned sensory instrument, transmitting even the subtlest pressures and movements to a network of nerves in the cuticle and nail bed, allowing the brain to create an accurate mental model of what the fingernail is touching.
It is no surprise, then, that robotics engineers find the creation of a man-made artificial hand one of the most daunting design challenges. The human hand represents a marvel of design and engineering. Consider that the same hand that can grip a blacksmith’s hammer and wield it with powerful, driving force is also gentle and sensitive enough to feel the presence of a single human hair on a smooth surface and to pick up that hair. The hand is capable of shaping itself into a watertight scoop to lift a drink from a mountain stream, or tightly closing itself into a fist to be used like a battering ram. It is even dexterous and sensitive enough to accomplish the task of tying our shoes with our eyes closed. It is the “omni-tool,” flexible and created able to accomplish a boundless number of tasks—something no human construction has come anywhere near matching in its simplicity and power!
The human hand is capable of remarkable feats of strength and endurance—serving as the mountain climber’s single greatest tool and strong enough to suspend the body’s weight for a time with the strength in the fingers, alone. Yet it is every bit as capable of communicating the love of a newborn child’s mother and father, through the most gentle caresses and the softest of touches.
Its fingers are strong, durable and sturdy, creating one of the most capable and formidable grips of any creature on earth. Yet they are nimble and artfully dexterous, able to take on a seeming infinitude of configurations to the point that entire languages, such as American Sign Language, can be built on the foundation of their flexibility.
So easy to take for granted, the human hand represents a magnificent achievement of the mind of a loving and caring God—unassailable evidence of His artistry and engineering skill, available and, quite literally, always at hand.
Nearly three thousand years before Newton marveled at the divine design of the human thumb, King David of ancient Israel understood such sentiments. Perhaps reflecting on the level of design he saw in his own human body—even possibly staring at his own remarkable hand—he noted, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:14).
Indeed, marvelous are His works. We truly are fearfully and wonderfully made!