How something works is not how it was made


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Understanding the laws by which an engine works tells you nothing about how the engine was made.

In the 1980s South African movie, The Gods Must be Crazy, a coke bottle is dropped from an aircraft flying over the Kalahari Desert and lands on the head of a San tribesman who has never been exposed to western technology. Thinking it has been sent by a god and could be a lucky talisman, he takes it back to his people. The bottle soon results in the outbreak of all sorts of conflict and problems and so he decides he has to take it to the edge of the world and throw it off to return it to the god.

Let us suppose that the tribe had decided that the bottle could be useful and needed to be studied. Over time they studied the bottle and developed technologies and different fields of expertise to comprehensively describe its shape, composition and qualities. Even if they came to a total understanding of the physical characteristics of that bottle, that process would tell them nothing directly about how the bottle came to exist.

For the sake of this argument, say the object had been an internal combustion engine instead and they had subjected it to the same analysis and observation, and were able to describe the minerals that went into its make-up, the function of all the various parts, and even managed to repair it and get it working. A perfect understanding of all the motor’s physical properties and workings would still tell them nothing about how it came to be made. Unless there was an extension of their own experience of intelligent design and manufacture, a perfect grasp of the physical properties of the engine would otherwise reveal nothing about the process of design by scores of engineers, nor the mining, milling, synthesis, casting, machining, testing and refining of the engine. They would know nothing of the factories, machines and assembly lines which had been designed, built and manned in turn by scores of other intelligent beings. In short, gaining a perfect understanding of the function of the machine would provide no knowledge of its creation.

The same can be said of all scientific, observational studies of how things work in the present, whether geological or biological, astronomical or microbial. It is generally acknowledged that the mindshift from biblical thinking in western science on origins came through men like Hutton and Lyell in geology, who developed the uniformitarian idea of the present is the key to the past. They prepared the ground for others to follow in fields such as biology. Darwin took Lyell’s book Principles of Geology on his sea voyage to the Galapagos Islands and was personally influenced and supported by Lyell in his application of the same naturalistic ideas to biology and the origin of species.

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In any case, a canyon is not created; it is actually the destruction or erosion of pre-existing minerals, rock layers, silts and soils. One could carefully observe the formation of a canyon from beginning to ‘end’ and one would still know nothing about how those basic components came to be. Whether we’re describing the formation of mountains, rocks, volcanoes or even galaxies, how they form tells us nothing about where the ingredients came from. They are the re-arrangement, shaping and even reconstitution of pre-existing matter.

Geology today is moving back to the reality of catastrophism in the formation of the major features on the earth. This is something that the Bible has told us all along. But even if we could have observed the Flood and studied every force and cause and effect in that catastrophic cauldron, it would not tell us of the creation of the stuff that went into that mixing bowl.

When it comes to biological entities the problem gets exponentially greater. We now not only have matter, but matter arranged into mind-blowingly specified complexity and design. We now not only have a problem of knowing where the matter came from, but how it came to be arranged in such information-rich patterns and mechanisms. No matter how intimately we came to know the operation of cells and molecules and even atoms by observation, we would know nothing about their origin. The form and function of an entity on the one hand and the creation of that entity on the other are two totally different and separate events and operations.

The creation of all these things is something that happened in the past, isolated from man’s ability to observe, and so any belief in how it happened is essentially metaphysical. There are then only two possible sources of our beliefs about origins. One is man’s speculation and storytelling—endlessly changing and, by the nature of the matter, never able to come to a knowledge of the truth, and never able to know even if something really was true. The other source would have to be a personal being who transcends our existence and is able to communicate to us how creation happened. And He has, starting with: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’

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Published: 15 July 2008(GMT+10)
Published: 15 July 2008