The parable of the two computer programs


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 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.

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.

Published: 4 May 2013

References and notes

  1. Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2006, p. 1077. Return to text.
  2. Perhaps better called ‘historical’ science; it has similarities to ‘forensic science’, as used in crime scene investigation. Return to text.
  3. 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.
  4. It has been said that BIBLE can stand for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Return to text.