Many hands made the lights go on
Light bulbs are ubiquitous and apparently simple—a metal filament enclosed in a glass container with electricity passing through it.
Then why did it exercise the minds and time of large numbers of scientists and technicians around the world for over a hundred years, before it was generally useable? Scientists have often looked to God’s handiwork for inspiration, but there is no precedent in nature for powerful lights from electric energy, so they had to start from scratch.1
The light globe was the result of much effort and thought, trial and error. Its history goes back into the 18th century, when many people experimented with various uses for the newly-discovered phenomenon of electricity. The biggest problem in producing light was finding the right material for the light-producing element.
Thousands and thousands of different materials were tried. English chemist Humphry Davy tried a charcoal strip in 1809. That was the first arc lamp, but it didn’t last long enough. In 1820, Warren de la Rue successfully used a platinum coil, but that was too expensive. The best results seemed to come from various forms of carbon, such as Edward Shepard’s charcoal filament and Joseph Swan’s carbonized paper during the 1850s, but they all burned away too quickly. In 1854, Henricg Globel, a German watchmaker, offered the solution of putting a glass bulb around his bamboo filament. Herman Sprengel improved on this in 1875 by inventing a pump that would create a good vacuum inside the globes many people were by then trying out. This slowed down the deterioration of the filament material. By 1878, Sir Joseph Swan managed to make his carbonized cotton filament last for over 13 hours—a record!
Perhaps the most famous inventor associated with light bulbs is Thomas Edison. He and his team continued doggedly trying out all sorts of materials, extending the duration record to 40 hours in 1879, and then to over 1,200 hours the next year. His improvements were due to greater vacuum, reducing the oxidation of the filament, and a better incandescent filament with high electrical resistance that made power distribution feasible. However, he still experimented with carbonized filaments from every plant imaginable: hickory, flax, cedar, bamboo. He even sought plants from tropical countries to try.
In 1902, Willis Whitnew coated his carbon filament with metal to stop it deteriorating, and also to stop the bulb going dark with the burned-off carbon. Metals seemed the way to go, so in 1906, the General Electric Company patented a tungsten filament, because tungsten has the highest melting point of all metals. When William Coolidge discovered a cheaper way of making them, they became the standard.
When trying to produce something completely new like a light bulb, it is unlikely we will get it right the first time. Our intelligence will guide us toward some likely possibilities, but we then have to try them out to see if they work. Our first guess rarely works perfectly, if at all, so we try another idea.
It is also obvious that the material we are working on doesn’t stand alone: it is only part of something bigger and more complicated. The light bulb filament would be useless, no matter what material was used, if we didn’t have a vacuum pump, glass for the bulb, a way to seal the bulb, the right size bulb (so it doesn’t melt from being too close to the hot filament), a source of electricity and so on. All of these need to be working successfully before the bulb can be any use. Even a little break in one of the components will stop the whole thing in a fraction of a second.
If it took so much effort to produce such a simple device as the electric light bulb, imagine how difficult it would be to design something as complicated as a human body. Imagine finding or inventing the right materials for just one part—the lens in the eye, for example. This has to be transparent, able to change shape (but stay fairly firm), able to repair itself, and last a lifetime. Also, like the light bulb, the lens needs lots of other working parts such as muscles to shape it, an eyeball to protect it, a system to supply nutrients, a retina to detect its focused light, nerve connections to the brain, a brain able to make sense of the image, a body to move about, and so much more. It has to be in the right place, too. The material that makes up a lens wouldn’t be much use in an elbow joint!
Yet many today believe that such complicated inventions as living things have just ‘happened’ by some kind of luck, with no intelligent inventor to solve the problems. They think that something like the human eye came into existence by a series of lucky accidents over eons of time—evolution! They think even the materials to try out were made by the same pure luck, no matter how hard it is to make an organic material, or how many wrong guesses there might be, or how many places in the body each material could be tried out. But, like with the light bulb, if all the necessary parts are not present and functioning in the right places, you don’t have a useful eye, and the body that houses the eye does not survive so that more experiments can be tried to complete the eye—evolution just can’t work.
Surely it makes more sense to believe that living things were designed by Someone who was intelligent enough to think it all through properly and get it right the first time, with no need for experimentation. That is pretty obvious from the fact that no creatures on earth are experimental prototypes, even so-called ‘primitive’ ones. There are no experiments in progress—all materials and systems operate efficiently already, and even contain the instructions for making a new one of the same kind. Instructions point to an intelligent Instructor—like the Creator-God we read about in the Bible.
- They did not know about bioluminescence. See Sarfati, J., Octopus suckers: glowing in the dark, Creation 21(3):6, 1999; <creation.com/octopus>. Return to text.