Systems of Systems Require a Good Designer

We think of science as providing modern conveniences, but in actuality scientists provide less of the things that make our lives more enjoyable than we realize. Instead, engineers take the things of science and make them work in practical ways. Newton may have demonstrated laws of motion and friction, but it was an engineer who took Newton’s laws and made practical machines that will do work for people. Engineers are responsible for cell phones, automobiles, air conditioners, space ships, and potato chips. A chemist may have figured out the periodic chart of elements, but chemical engineers figured out how to make the chemical compounds that are in so many of the products we use every day.

As any engineer will attest, getting a system to work is quite difficult. Getting a system to work correctly for a long time takes an extreme amount of effort, and even then the systems break down at some point and need maintenance. If we look at the development of things such as electric motors, which are a type of system, we see a long, difficult journey to create an efficient motor that could be depended upon to do useful work. To keep motors running requires periodic maintenance, including complex troubleshooting to find the root cause of breakdowns.

Further, the more complex the system, the more difficult it is to get it to work. Machines as routine as automobiles have taken armies of engineers many decades to make systems which work as well as they do today. Even today, after over a century of work by many thousands of engineers, our cars take regular maintenance or they would quit running rather quickly. Consider a system as complex as a space station and how many orders of magnitude it takes to keep such a system running.

Any engineer will tell you that to get a system to work as intended takes time and effort, and is a major achievement when it does.

In our natural universe, we also find systems. Our bodies, for example, have many systems: a circulatory system, a nervous system, a muscle system, a skeletal system. When we examine these systems, we find complexity. The nervous system is both electrical and chemical; the circulatory system has several major components, such as the shape of the veins and the nature of the blood components.

Further, the more we look, the more systems we find. Our bodies are composed of systems of systems. The several systems in the body have to work together to maintain life. The circulatory system has the heart, which is a pumping system. The heart valves are another system, the lungs yet another system, and blood cells are still another system. The more we dig, the more systems we find. As modern microbiology has well proven, living cells are extremely complex, and have major systems of their own, most of which have subsystems within subsystems.

So in many parts of nature, we see systems of systems of systems, many levels deep. We have yet to even discover all the systems, let alone determine exactly how they all function. Interlocking and interwoven systems that depend on each other.

While they do indeed break down, as arthritis and death are a reminder, the systems seem to work rather well overall. They have been repairing and reproducing themselves for quite a long while. We marvel at the human heart, which beats an average of 70 to 80 years.  Systems of systems, keeping life going for millennia, reproducing themselves, functioning quite well.

Which brings us to our problem: If God does not exist, then these systems are natural to the world, and the world naturally produces systems of systems of systems that work quite well for a very long time. They come together through natural processes, which hone out the poor systems and leave the good ones, naturally and inevitably. However, this is not what we encounter when we try to make a system. In fact, it takes teams of the brightest human minds to make one system that works. To get systems of systems, several layers deep, to work at all would be an engineers dream. Usually they find themselves trying to keep the old simple systems running at all, and have no time to try to design complex new systems. No engineer intentionally makes Rube Goldberg machines, for systems of systems do not work.

If nature has no design and no purpose, as Richard Dawkins has claimed, yet produced complex systems of systems, then it would seem that a guided effort by the brightest minds would be able to put complex systems together rather easily. Yet what we see is exactly the opposite. To get simple systems to work is difficult, and getting systems of systems of systems to come together and function well over a long time without intervention is not what human efforts produce.

It would seem that what we see in nature is a strong evidence for a master engineer beyond our wildest dreams. The fact that our brightest engineers fail more than they succeed should be strong evidence that anything that runs as well as the universe does not come together without intervention. The skeptic and atheist must answer the problem of why the universe runs so well all by itself, with no intelligence behind it, while our best intelligent efforts have so much difficulty. If the natural order was that systems come together and work well without an intelligent intervention, then our human engineers would have an easier time of their work. The fact that they do not demonstrates that the universe is not an accident but very well designed. Good designs require a designer. This we call God.

Posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Evolution | 7 Comments

Fragments of Truth

I saw a new documentary titled Fragments of Truth (see here). It features Dr. Craig Evans, who leads us through a series of locations, libraries, and archaeological digs to tell a story of early Bible manuscripts. The film also includes some top scholars such as Daniel Wallace and the keepers of the libraries which house the most important Bible documents.

The scholars in the film maintain that that they’ve proven that the papyri lasted much longer than what most people originally thought. Papyrus was a relatively cheap form of paper made from plant fibers, which compared to parchment, which was made from animal skins. The common modern myth has been that the papyri only lasted a few years, maybe 20 or so, and that in the early centuries the NT was copied many times over lots of iterations…..a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy.  But scholars in the film maintain that the average life of a papyrus was about 150 years, with many of them in use for 200 and some even 300. This is significant, for it could be that two copies from the autographs lasted until 500 or 600 AD.

Next, they now know that a good number of the early NT manuscripts were from secular, professional scribes, getting paid by the line. They would have no reason to redact the text, nor is their work as sloppy as many think.

Further, it would have been common for Paul or Luke or John to make several originals; keep one and send a few originals to different churches. Thus more than one autograph probably existed.

Next, the church was the first to make widespread use of the codex (book form), which makes the pages last much longer than scrolls.

With the huge number of copies, we can be assured that the Greek texts that are used in most translations for the last 1000 years are made from a small number of generations from the autographs. All the evidence points to a large number of manuscripts, each of which lasted a long time, and were available to trained scribes to copy for many years. The Greek texts that have been used for the life of the church were from a small number of generations from the autographs. Some of the extant manuscripts from the second or third century could have been first generation copies from the originals, done by trained scribes.

This further attests to the accuracy of the New Testament. Daniel Wallace, the author of a widely-used Greek grammar book and one of the world’s leading document experts, put the accuracy of the modern New Testament research to only 0.06% error, being 99.94% accurate. With this level of surety, we can be confident that what the Bible teaches about Jesus is what the original authors wrote. The film argues that the burden of proof is now on the skeptic, since the evidence for the text of the Bible is so strong.

We can be confident of what Jesus said. The question then appears before us: Why do we not follow His teachings? He tells us that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, a concept that is missing in our lives.

Posted in Bible | 3 Comments

Can Animals Be Guilty of Hate Crimes?

A somewhat bizarre news story recently arose where a man tried to create a joke that backfired. His girlfriend had a too cute pug dog, and he taught the dog to do a Nazi salute upon the command “Do you want to gas Jews?” You can read the story here. 

The man is certainly guilty of extremely bad taste, but he has also been charged with a hate crime. He claimed he did it as a satirical joke just to annoy his girlfriend, but the court thought differently and convicted him of a hate crime. He may face jail time.

The event brings up a few interesting issues. Not the least of which is where does offensive humor stop and a crime start? Should the intent of a statement be worse than the statement itself? How do we know this man’s true intent when all we have are his words?

I look at this event with a philosophical eye. Let’s say we hold the man truly guilty of a hate crime and think he should indeed be arrested and kept in prison as a menace to society. But what about the dog? The dog was the one actually doing the salute to the offensive statement. Why did the police not arrest them both?

Many atheists tell us that we do not have free will, that humans are moist robots, and that our actions are conditioned responses to stimuli, just more complex versions of the dog being trained to salute. Further, the differences between humans and the dog are time and evolution, with the only differences being in the nature of what is called for in survival. So fundamentally there is not a difference in the man and the dog; both are merely responding to external stimuli.

Indeed, the atheist naturalist tells us that rapists and murderers do what they do because of a causally-closed universe, and that humans are not free agents and cannot originate a cause of their own actions. Therefore both the human and the dog are doing what they do for the same reasons.

How then can it be a hate crime, for the man is not truly hating? If we hold that the man is hating but not the dog, then we have no basic explanation for why this is so.

Of course, we do not lock up dogs for tricks that their owners teach them, and we know that the man should have had more compassion while the dog had no concept of the meaning of the command to gas Jews. For all the dog knew, the man could have been saying “Greep nackle harbing stu.” No society would lock up a dog for a hate crime. The only meaning the dog knew is that if he raised his paw, he got a treat. The ideas behind the words were lost on the dog.

Hate crimes exist because there truly is a meaning in our statements when we talk about gassing Jews or any other hurtful thing. Meaning exists, ideas have consequences, and in this case, widespread consequences of life and death. Further, if we can hate bad enough to be convicted of a crime, then mere non-material ideas have ethical consequences. Why is this so? Because there is an objective moral law that transcends the physical world. Moral laws require a moral law giver. This we call God.


Posted in Atheism, Morality | 2 Comments

Is the Bible to be Taken Literally?

Billy Graham’s recent death brought many people in the press to recognize and compliment his life. In one article, a columnist published an article doing just that. The headline talked about Billy Graham, and the first third of the article gave a tribute to the famous evangelist.

The last two-thirds of the article was on an entirely different subject. The author rambled about her being a member of a Methodist church, and as such did not believe in forcing her views on anyone else. She talked about how the Bible was not to be taken literally and how she had no place to insist her views be held by anyone else. Did I mention that she talked about how she did not impose her views on others? She mentioned that a lot, as if she was wanting to make everyone aware that she would not let her Christianity impact those around her. So much so that a tribute to a great Christian leader turned into the author’s attempt to make sure no one around her felt threatened by her private beliefs.

I was also struck by the categorical statement that the Bible was not to be taken literally, which is like saying the books in the library are not to be taken literally.  Such a statement does not make much sense, for the library has many kinds of books: fantasy books, how-to books, poetry, history, and reference books. Some  of them, such as nursery rhymes, are not intended to be literal, while a history of World War II would certainly be literal.

To say categorically that the Bible is not literal can only be made by someone who has not seriously read their Bible. Like a library, it is not one book but many, including history, poetry, private letters, and biography. It is obvious that some passages are not to be taken literally, but  some are. Nevertheless they are all true, whether they be literal or not.

When Jesus says “I am the door” in John 10:9, no one concludes that He is claiming to be made of wood and has hinges. Nevertheless, the verse is still true. The whole verse says “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus is not literally saying He is a physical door with hinges and a knob, but it is true that Jesus is claiming to be the entry point to salvation.

It is not valid, as the news author seems to try to claim, that because one holds that the Bible is not literal, then the Bible’s claims are somehow not binding on us and those around us. Rather, even the figurative statements are still true, and still true for those who reject the Bible. For example, when Jesus claims to be the door in John 10:9, and later claims in John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father but through Me,” then we cannot wave the meaning away by saying it is not literal. The meaning of the statement is still there and still true. It is literally true that Jesus is claiming to be the one true door to get to the Father. It is also literally true for both Christians and non-Christians that Jesus is making this claim, for whether or not we believe Jesus was correct, the language is nevertheless saying the same thing for anyone who reads it, whether they be Christian, any other religion, or atheist.

It seems odd to try to explain to people that when the Bible says Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus, then it is talking about a literal road, where a literal man was literally walking to a literal town. When the Bible talks about Jerusalem, it is not a symbolic meaning of a false poetic literary device. And when Jesus says “You shall not murder” then He literally means to not murder, and when He says “No one comes to the Father but through Me” then He is literally claiming to be the literal only way to the literal Father.

But even on a wide scale, the Old and New Testaments both mention names and places that we know for a fact exist. Are we to really dismiss entire historical books with a wave of the hand by saying they are not literal?

Perhaps some Methodist Bible study teachers should try to impose some ideas onto their own congregants.

Posted in Bible | 1 Comment

Ancient Mosaic Presents Jesus as God

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient mosaic that presents Jesus as God. You can read about it here.

Since this dates to about 230 AD, and directly mentions “God Jesus Christ,” it is just one more proof that Jesus has always been held to be God Almighty, and has been so since the first. The doctrine of the deity of Christ was not invented at the Council of Nicea in 325, as some have claimed. Of course, this is nothing new, for there exists plenty of direct evidence that Jesus was God back to the first century, even in the Bible itself. (See here and here.

Posted in Church History, Theology | 1 Comment

Purposelessness Contrasted with Love

Agnostic / atheist Bertrand Russell wrote a clear description of the atheist worldview:

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving, that his origin, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collections of atoms, that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave, that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1917), p.47-48)

By contrast, God speaks to us through the apostle Paul:

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39). 

We could go on to quote many atheists who state clearly that we all live a purposeless lfie, upon a purposeless planet, doomed to a purposeless end. We can also go on to quote passages where God tells us that love truly exists, that He has a plan and a purpose for us and for His creation, and that goodness does indeed exist. The place to put our trust is clear: in the Lord God of the universe. Do we build on a foundation of unyielding despair, or do we build upon the firm rock of Jesus Christ? The choice is yours.

Posted in Atheism | 4 Comments

A Fantastic Story on the Life of Muhammad

Ibn Ishaq was a biographer of Islamic prophet Muhammad. He collected stories of the prophet which can now be found in his book The Life of Muhammad: Apostle of Alllah. The book was written in the early years after the death of Muhammad.

In the work, we find the following story:

The apostle of Allah himself described what had happened. ‘Whilst I and my milk-brother were pasturing some animals in the rear of our house, two men came to us dressed in white garments and bearing a golden platter full of snow. They took hold of me, opened my belly, extracted my heart, split it open and took out of it a black lump of blood which they threw away. Then they washed my heart and belly with snow, until they had purified them. Then one of them said to his companion, “Weigh him against one hundred of his people.” And he weighed me with them, but I proved heavier than they. Then he said, “Weigh him with one thousand of his people.” This he also did, and I was again found more heavy. After that he said, “Leave him; for if you were to weigh him against his whole nation, he would outweigh it.'” (London, the Folio Society, 2003, p.20)

This story is interspersed with other more standard ones describing the life of Muhammad.

The New Testament has a few miraculous stories of Jesus: He is born of a virgin, walks on water, and his body briefly glows with light.  When we compare these stories, what do we find?

We find distinct differences. The stories of Jesus were seen by many and reported by eyewitnesses and recorded in the New Testament by first-generation eyewitnesses.  This story of Muhammad was seen by no one and is only handed down to us through the long line of people telling the story to the next generation, who told it to the next.

The stories of Jesus in the New Testament are presented in a historical narrative that reads like a history book: Jesus went to this town, sent the disciples ahead on a boat, came to them walking on the water, taught some spiritual truths, and went to the other side of the sea. By contrast, the stories of Muhammad presented here are isolated vignettes with such a fantastic tone that we have trouble taking it any way except allegorically or completely symbolic. The story of Jesus reads like a miracle and is preceded by a normal historical narrative, while that of Muhammad leaves us wondering whether anyone would take it seriously. Yet it is in Ibn Ishaq’s narrative like all the other stories.

Another important difference is that the stories of Jesus are told by His followers to bring praise to Jesus. By contrast, this story of Muhammad is told by himself  to bring glory to himself.

We are also left to wonder how they weighed 1,000 people, or how such a heavy man would not collapse whatever it sat upon.

For these reasons, we reject this historical narrative of Muhammad as fancy. However,  since it is early and corroborated, this story gives us some indication that we can extend the rejection to the body of historical knowledge of Muhammad.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment