The parable of the two computer programs
Published: 4 May 2013 (GMT+10)
Illustration: by Caitlin Smartt
One night, in a student Bible study, one of the students asked the Pastor, “Can science alone explain why I am here?” He answered by relating this parable:
One day, two computer programs were taking a break, having a cup of tea in the hard drive of a laptop. Recently, another computer program had failed to respond and had been deleted from the laptop. The two programs, feeling philosophical about their old friend, started talking about the meaning of life, where they had come from, how they should live and what happens after deletion. They were specifically concerned with where they came from. However, after much conversation and many cups of tea they could not decide.
The past course of events can neither be directly observed nor repeated. When people work within the realm of origins science they come to it with a set of presuppositions, or a worldview.
The first computer program decided to use the scientific data left behind by programs that had come before him, about how the laptop worked, to try and work backwards to the very creation of the laptop that he was in. He studied the various programs that were running, various prompts and commands, and could see the enormous complexity and design behind them. He could figure out how things worked around him. But by solely looking at the programs, he could not understand why they worked the way they did, who made it so that they work that way and where they had come from. Somehow these answers eluded the first computer program.
The second computer program decided to try a different scientific approach. She decided to read the instruction manual for the laptop instead, realising that it was the work of the laptop’s creator, the law giver. Only this could tell her why things were the way they were, as well as how and why they were made.
The two programs met back in the hard drive of the laptop some time later and shared their findings with each other. The first computer program was able to demonstrate the various laws that he had worked out by examining the programs, but explained that he couldn’t figure out why they were the way they were. The second computer program showed the first the instruction manual for the laptop. “Ah ha” exclaimed the first program, “Now I understand!”
The parable explained
When people use the word ‘science’ they generally use it as an all-encompassing word. They rarely understand or even acknowledge that there are at least two widely varying categories of scientific endeavour, and fail to specify which one they are referring to. The first computer program represents a person who is focussed totally on operational science. This is all about the way the world works, or operates—hence the name. It deals with things which are observable, testable and repeatable. The Collins dictionary defines science as, “the systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement.”1 It is this type of science which has led to the discovery and elucidation of scientific laws. We are then able to use these to develop the vast array of scientific and technological devices which we can see within our societies—for instance, manufacturing the computer or smartphone on which you are probably reading this article.
Even naturalistic/atheistic thinkers, no matter how much they would like to think that it has lasted forever, inevitably come up against the fact that the very laws of the universe point to such a beginning.
The second computer program represents a different type of person who understands that when it comes to working out what happened in the past, one basically is dealing with history: origins science.2 Like operational science, this deals with objects in the present, but tries to explain their origin and history. The past course of events can neither be directly observed nor repeated. When people work within the realm of origins science they come to it with a set of presuppositions, or a worldview. This means that they are constrained to look at the data in a particular way. For example a fossil fish found in sedimentary rock laid down by water may be viewed by a Christian as part of the evidence for the world-wide flood in Noah’s time, whereas an evolutionist may try and place it within a chain of ancestors living millions of years ago. Same fish, very different conclusions.
Evolutionists start with the presupposition of naturalism, studying the natural world as if nature is all there is—no divine action is allowed to be used as an explanatory tool for what they see. However, a Christian’s presuppositions, or worldview, should always start with the Bible. Just as the second computer program went to the manual to explain her origins, we too should do the same. We worship a God who was there in the beginning and who has told us how He created everything.
Evolutionists, on the other hand, use a different manual, whether or not they profess to be Christians. In practice, this is relying on man’s own intelligence and God-rejecting creative desires, which leads to attempts to explain all things without God. Like the first computer program in our parable, their thinking has its basis in purely naturalistic methods, which insist on considering only things confined to this universe when searching for answers.
As we saw with the two computer programs, all that the first did was to make observations inside the laptop; he could never explain anything much more than that. Operational science isn’t intended to do so. He could figure out how things worked but not the reasons why they had been set up that way, or—even more importantly—by whom.
However, the second program read from the instruction manual which the creator of the laptop had written. This explained why it was created, and what function it was to serve. The creator was there before the laptop; he created the rules of operation and the reasons for these rules or laws. We can discover and verify the laws of this universe by scientifically testing them; however we cannot explain the origin of these laws by looking ‘inside’ the universe.
The universe had a beginning, a creation. Even naturalistic/atheistic thinkers, no matter how much they would like to think that it has lasted forever, inevitably come up against the fact that the very laws of the universe point to such a beginning.3 To understand this universe, then, we need to look to the Creator of the laws—One who is outside of this universe (though able to operate within it). God was there in the beginning. He has given us an instruction manual, the Bible,4 and by reading His word we can find out where we came from, who we are and the purpose for our lives—which is ultimately to repent of our sins and acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.
References and notes
- Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2006, p. 1077. Return to text.
- Perhaps better called ‘historical’ science; it has similarities to ‘forensic science’, as used in crime scene investigation. Return to text.
- Primarily the fact that whether or not one tries to postulate some endless cycle of cosmic birth and rebirth, if the universe were infinitely old, it would have long ago run out of usable energy—one consequence of the immutable Second Law of Thermodynamics. See CMI’s DVD Understanding the Law of Decay. Return to text.
- It has been said that BIBLE can stand for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Return to text.
A modern parable that uses age old principles.
I'll be forwarding this to my grandchildren.
Well that pretty much trumps the two fleas on a car seat analogy. Excellent article as usual. Keep up the good work. God bless :)
Firstly, a computer program cannot think, has no self-awareness, and no ability to retrace it's own creation.
Secondly, computer programs are inorganic, and without the ability to evolve, while humans are organic, and able to evolve.
Thirdly, if God existed, his fingerprints would be all over creation, and a scientist starting from naturalism would always be able to find Him. It is a false assumption that "no divine action is allowed to be used as an explanatory tool for what they [naturalists] see".
If we start with naturalism and scientific investigative processes, we are far more likely to find the truth, than use the presupposition that the Bible is right, and that God exists, because even without proof, such a presupposition already rules out the investigation of naturalistic processes.
I think you've entirely missed the point. A parable is a story told to to teach and illustrate something important. I very much doubt that all but a tiny minority of readers would have thought the author of this article was arguing for the reality of self-aware, volitional software programs!
Your statement that humans are able to evolve is an ipse dixit, simply a bare assertion that reveals your own faith position.
God's fingerprints are all over Creation and it is foolish (Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1) and inexcusable (Romans 1:20) to think otherwise. This website has thousands of articles testifying to this fact, discussing in detail a vast number of lines of supporting scientific evidence.
Naturalism is a philosophical stance that rules out any supernatural role in ultimate origins; aka atheism, a godless religious ideology, alien to empirical science.
In relation to the above, atheists claim that there must be higher laws that direct the physical laws to act within prescribed templates. I feel that this is illogical but I appreciate reading your logical refutation of that claim.
Thank You for providing yet another wonderful resource to help counter the atheistic presuppositions that underlie much thinking.
The parable approach to illustrate the differences in thinking one can take, when being "scientific", really struck a chord with me.
I am looking forward to having an opportunity to use this parable.
Thank you so much. I am a lay Bible teacher among the older folk (what we call nursing homes in the USA), and this will be an interesting parable for me to use when the occasion arises.
Using the Computer story, Why are we here? God the designer made us to be a present for his Son, who can fix anything. And he has!
good article, thank you.
I work with computers in both software and hardware areas. Apart from the great presentation of biblical truths in a modern context, I personally find the choice of context (computer programs) [helpful] because they are so similar to how the human body is complex; when you consider some programs, like the one which allowed people on Earth to see what the Mars Rover was looking at on Mars. Fantastic! Brilliant minds, only because of an all-knowing, all-loving God.
Thank you for the article, God bless!
Very Good. I look at the Computer code, a series of "0" & "1"s Created by the intelligence of man. Look at the DNA code, a series of ACTG's created by the intelligence of God. The evolutionists see the similarity of the DNA codes from one species to another and think it's a key to evolution, yet these same people would never say that computer programs simply evolve into a more advanced program simply by errors made in successive copies. No advances in computer program design have resulted from 1000s of man hours of design. God is the supreme design[er] of creation down from the components of a simple hydrogen atom right up to the wonderfully made man. God bless you all at CMI.
I ran a Children's Address at church one day. I displayed on the Altar a series of random and obscure objects (screw driver, odd piece of plastic, component of a car, very old 11 inch floppy disk, telephone, end cap of a clothes line, etc) and asked everyone to explain what the object was, how it was used, what it was used for, and who designed/made it. Without exception they all identified that someone/something clearly made each object but couldn't answer who or what the creator was but that 'it' must have been intelligent. A child was the last object - enough said.
The fingerprint of a creator IS clearly seen in things that have been created. However, the ramifications evident in acknowledging that WE have been created are unpleasant to those who have an a priori commitment to not accepting that there is a creator of them. And so they choose to 'blind' themselves with convoluted explanations for their own origins. Continue the good and blessed battle to help people to remove the scales from their eyes to see the wonderful creation that they are and to give their Creator all the praise and Glory He deserves.