Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Science and the Bible

A Christian friend asked me, "What are the boundaries between all science theories and the Bible? As a Christian, to me, the Bible is the truth. So what position and conclusion do we give to these theories?"

That's an interesting question, and I'll try to answer it here.

A Christian scientist (not the cult that calls themslves that) realizes that he is examining God's creation. The facts never contradict the Bible, but give glory to God. It is the theories that are sometimes the problem. When the theories are based on non-biblical principles, the Christian should doubt them. So we must know what is the basis for the theories and put biblical principles first.

In my blog, Thinking Outside the Box, I said "Evolutionists don't want to think outside the box of materialism." They like the definition of science as "systematic knowledge of the physical or material world", because materialists believe that everything is material, and that science explains everything.

But there is a broader definition of science: "a study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws". Science actually includes immaterial things like information, and abstract mathematical concepts.

And Christians know that there is a spiritual realm that is part of God's creation, but beyond the reach of science. And of course, God is also beyond the reach of science, because He exists outside of His creation. Yet He can reach inside His creation to communicate with His creatures and to intervene in our affairs. The epitome of that was when He made himself a human body in the womb of a virgin, and putting aside His power and glory for a while, indwelt that body as Jesus.

So Christians see science as an incomplete study of God's creation -- we can study some parts in enough detail that we can partly understand and thus enjoy and use.

We realize that science doesn't explain everything. We don't even claim that it potentially could explain everything, given enough time for study. We realize that there are things outside the scope of science, even important things that our Creator has revealed to us.

The Bereans were commended for comparing the apostle Paul's preaching to the Scriptures, to check whether they should believe what he said (Acts 17:10-11). And Christians today should also check Bible teachers against the Bible. Likewise, Christians should check scientific ideas against God's Word, knowing that science is incomplete and developed by fallible men, but the Bible was inspired by God. In fact, scientific theories should also be checked against scientific facts, because some theories are inspired by political or philosophical agendas.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Thinking Outside the Box

First, I'll explain how, I think, the expression "thinking outside the box" originated.  Then I'll give two examples of how great strides in math / science / engineering were accomplished by "thinking outside the box".  But the most important point that I want to make is that evolutionists are stuck inside the box of materialism because they are afraid to think outside the box.  I discuss a vibrating string as an example of the limitations of materialism.  Outside the box of materialism (but not outside science) is information theory, and in particular, the structured information of design.  Here, the evolutionists are "out of their element".

The Puzzle
I think that the expression "thinking outside the box" was inspired by the following puzzle.  You are presented with an array of nine spots arranged as shown below on the left, and are challenged to draw a sequence of four connected straight lines such that they will pass over all of the spots, touching each spot only once.  The lines must be connected end-to-end, and are allowed to cross over each other, for example, as shown on the right.

It was reported that the puzzle is difficult for most people because they mentally think of the array of nine spots as defining a square area as depicted in the next diagram, and they assume that the puzzle operates within this area.

The puzzle does not require the lines to stay inside this assumed 'box'.  Adding this restriction prevents a solution, because the puzzle solution must go "outside the box", as shown next.

Science and mathematics have grown by "thinking outside the box".

Imaginary Numbers
For example, it was once thought that it was meaningless to speak of the square root of a negative number.  It could be proved, for example, that the square root of minus one, if it had a value, could not equal any known numeric value.  But if we IMAGINE that it had a value -- call this value 'i' (for Imaginary) -- then, logically, we could compute the square root of any other negative number.  The square root of -9 would equal the square root of 9 (that is, 3) times i.  So 3i would be an "imaginary" number, while 4 is a "real" number.

But then it was reasoned that we could think of these out-of-the-box numbers as newly discovered numbers rather than "imaginary" numbers.  We could even add "real" and "imaginary" numbers to create "complex" numbers.  It all made sense (it didn't lead to contradictions), and it opened up a new world of mathematical discovery.  At first, it appeared that this branch of mathematics was an abstract, theoretical-only world unrelated to the physical world; but scientists and engineers found that it could precisely describe the behaviour of resonant electronic circuits.  Our modern electronic devices could not be designed without the aid of this out-of-the-box mathematics.

Finite Numbers
I'll give one more example from mathematics and engineering, but I'll keep it extremely simple.  We are all familiar with doing arithmetic with integers (whole numbers), and we know that we have an infinite supply of integers, because no matter how large an integer we might be given, we can always add one to it and get a larger integer.  Wouldn't it be weird if we had a finite supply of numbers, and no matter what arithmetic operation (add, subtract, multiply, or divide) we did with any two of them, the result would be found in our finite supply of numbers?  Well, mathemeticians have discovered how to construct a finite set (of any size) of 'numbers' with associated arithmetic operations that operate like this.  (They are called finite fields, a kind of finite algebras.  Math geeks, see  The arithmetic is weird, but easy to learn to do in most cases.

Like the "imaginary" numbers, these weird systems of arithmetic seem like mathematical toys or games that bear no resemblance or relationship to the real world.  Why don't we stick to normal math that describes how the real world operates?  But engineers have used this weird math to construct codes used to detect and correct errors that occur in the communication or storage of digital data.  For example, CDs and DVDs would not function without Reed-Solomon error-correction codes, which are based on these "finite fields".

The Box of Materialism
Evolutionists don't want to think outside the box of materialism.  One of the definitions of science (from, is "systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation", which limits the scope of science to the material world.

Of course, evolutionists have a problem with the "observation" part, because nobody has observed genetic changes from one kind of creature to a completely different kind (such as dog to horse, rather than dog to another kind of dog).  So they mostly content themselves with inferring (by theory) past events from current observations.

And of course, evolutionists also have a problem with the "experimentation" part, because a true experiment requires control over the conditions of the experiment.  Their experiments only show things such as that one can breed flies just like one can breed dogs, not major changes of kind.  Even by broadening the concept of experiment so that "predictions" can be made and tested regarding past events fails.  For example, evolution predicts that there should be millions of intermediate forms ("missing links"), but none are found.

But the evolutionist argues, and rightly so, that the creationist also has similar problems with the "observation" and "experimentation" parts of the definition of science, and thus feels that he is on a 'level playing field' with his game of 'my story is more plausible than your story'.  (He considers this story-telling to be "science", but if it weren't based on a theological / philosophical battle, it would be called "science fiction" instead.)

But the evolutionist thinks that the "physical or material world" part of the definition of science works to his advantage, because it rules out the supernatural, which is the essential part of the creationist's "theory".  And, after all, his main objective is to rule out God.  But is it honest to 'win' an argument by virtue of a definition?

Vibrating String Example
Consider, for example, the vibration of a guitar string.  If we know certain characteristics of the string, we can apply the laws of physics by means of a branch of mathematics called differential calculus to determine how the string will vibrate, and the nature of the sound that it will produce.  We need to know:

(1) the weight (such as ounces per foot) of the string
(2) the tension (such as pounds of force) of the string
(3) the length (between fixed points: a fret and the bridge) of the string

These, which can all be measured, suffice to compute the 'steady state' vibration of the string.  To determine the initial 'transient' component of the vibration that quickly fades before settling into the 'steady state', we would also need to know if the string were plucked or struck, and where on the string.  To know the intial amplitude and how quickly the vibration will fade, we would also need to know how hard the string was plucked or struck, and other details.

So by observing (measuring) a guitar string, we can use science to predict precisely what will happen when we pluck the string.  But what if we are not in control?

First, we have a 'future' problem.  We might observe the string vibrating and make a prediction, only to find that the guitarist (the one in control) stops the vibration, without our permission, before our prediction can be fulfilled.

Second, we have a 'past' problem.  If our observation of the string began after the 'transient' component of the vibration has faded, we will have insufficient data to determine when the vibration started, and we will be unable to determine if it were plucked or struck, or were given its inital energy some other way.

Note that our problem, essentially, is not that the guitarist is a material object too complex for us to analyze, but rather that the guitarist has a mind outside of the scope of our observation and control.  If the guitarist were a robot, our problem would be difficult, but not impossible.

So what do we learn from this vibrating string parable?

We realize that the size and age of the material world makes nearly all of it beyond the scope of our observation and control.  And science that is limited by definition to apply only to the material world is, by definition, limited in its application.  Defining this box does not prove that there is nothing outside the box.  If there is a Creator outside the box who is ultimately in control, and if you want to be the one in control, you may be inclined to hide inside your box, but you can't make God go away.

A Broader Definition of Science gives a broader definition of science, one that precedes the definition that we quoted earlier: "a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences."  So more generally, science is not limited to material things, but anything that can be studied "systematically" such that it can be explained in terms of "the operation of general laws".  For greater clarity, "mathematical sciences" is mentioned, indicating that there should be sufficient precision that the language and methods of mathematics can be applied.

So what is immaterial that can be included in this broader definition of science?  Information is immaterial, and is studied systematically and operates in accordance with specific laws with sufficient precision so that the language and methods of mathematics are applied.  This area of science consists of information theory and related theories of formal languages, algorithms, etc., and the corresponding applied science consists of the technologies of information storage, communication, and processing.

In a previous blog, ALL Things, I made the case that the material world consists of four interrelated elements: matter, energy, space, and time.  Then in a later blog, Is Encoded Information an Essential Part of the Universe?, I made the case that encoded information is an optional fifth element, not required by the laws of physics, but nonetheless present where (and only where) life is present.  The reason why information is found only where life is found is that the design paradigm of life is chemistry guided by DNA information, as I explained in the blog, Life is more than chemistry.  Without the guiding information, chemistry can only make inorganic molecules.  DNA information is needed to make organic molecules, which are much larger and more complex.  (Some simple molecules such as certain amino acids are traditionally classified as 'organic' if they are used as components of large organic molecules, but that is like listing raw iron as a machine part, along with the nuts, bolts, and cotter pins.)

Information Outside the Box
Before the functions of DNA and RNA, and the genetic code were discovered, evolutionists could take advantage of the mystery of genetics to tell imaginative stories of how evolution might operate.  But these discoveries irreversibly brought information theory into the scientific arena of the creationism / evolutionism debate.  Just as someone caught in a lie feels forced to tell new lies or to modify the first lie to maintain credibilty, the evolutionists felt compelled to change their story; and just as a gang of liars are not likely to agree except on their innocence, the evolutionists don't agree except that God is not involved.

Some evolutionists insist that there is no information in DNA and RNA, as though closing their eyes will make the information bogeyman go away.  Some insist that information theory is not a valid science (because information is not material).  Some claim that information can come from nothing, or from randomness (which is zero information according to information theory), attempting to prove this by equating patterns and information.  And some claim that new information can be generated by random re-arrangements of scraps of information, as though it were possible that if you scrambled parts of the Koran long enough, you might end up with the Bible.  Even those that admit that information always originates from intelligence deny that God is a plausible source of that intelligence, but prefer an "extraterrestrial" source, replacing the question "How did life information originate on earth?" with the question "How did life information originate on planet X?"  (Do I need to explain the fallacy of that logic?)

So the evolutionists that dare to wander outside the box of materialism either flounder like someone diving into water without learning to swim first, or they retreat to the more comfortable zone of materialism.

But that is only the beginning of the problems for the materialists.  The information in DNA is not just information, but more specificly, DESIGN information.  And here the evolutionists are completely lost in an unfamiliar world.  Most of the contributors to the science of intelligent design have a background in the applied science of engineering, because this is familiar territory that they understand.

Structured Information (Top-Down Design) Outside the Box
The key to understanding the evolutionary problem is that design information is structured information.  Let me give a simple example to make this clear.  In a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, letters are arranged to make words, words arranged to make phrases, phrases arranged to make clauses, clauses arranged to make sentences, sentences arranged to make paragraphs, and paragraphs arranged to make make chapters.  Does any author start with letters and play with different sequences to make words, etc., finally making chapters?  No, the author starts with an array of related concepts, and starts at some high level of organization and works downward, finally working out the details of how best to arrange a sentence and how to spell the words.  Rarely does the author accomplish the final work in one pass, but each revision starts with a new concept at some level and works downward.

Does a designer start with an assortment of parts, like a box of legos, and wonder what he might do with them?  No, he starts with a concept, such as using suction to remove household dirt, and designs a vaccuum cleaner "top down", as designers like to say.  He may begin with a simple set of features, and add features such as exchangeable attachments, but additions and revisions are always "top down".  For example, when he decides that he needs a hose to connect attachments to the vaccuum pump, he first determines its desired properties (lightweight, flexible, does not collapse like a fire hose, etc.) and then works out the details, such as using a wire coil to keep the hose from collapsing.

Unlike the book example, a design typically mixes different technologies.  For example, the engineer needs to choose appropriate materials, and so depends on experts in metallurgy, plastics, etc.  Or he needs a motor, and orders one meeting his specications designed by a specialist.

Living things, even single-celled organisms, are likewise complex designs, systems made of subsystems that are made of sub-subsystems, etc.  And they mix mechanical, chemical, electrical, communication, etc. 'technologies' to acheive coordinated purposes.

So, the evolutionist, in re-telling his story to adapt to the undeniable presence of design, imagines that accidental genetic changes can modify designs to make new designs.  But experienced designers recognize this as "bottom-up" design: that is, a foolish, unworkable strategy.  Fiddling with the details never makes a truly new design; it only 'tunes up' or adjusts a design.

For example, the first television sets had about a dozen adjustment knobs in front, which was dangerous, because people that had no clue about the internal technology would fiddle with them with disasterous results.  It took a while for the engineers to design automatic adjustment mechanisms to replace all of those knobs except for the channel selector and the volume control.  But note that a billion adjustment knobs on the television will never suffice to make it function like a cell phone or a vaccuum cleaner.

Complex systems generally require many automatic adjustment mechanisms.  And that is exactly what scientists observe in biology.  Genetic adjustment (adaptation) is just one category of these mechanisms.  So species are designed to adapt to environmental changes, and we can influence the process by breeding (outside intelligence).  But breeding dogs to make horses takes a leap of imagination, and supposing that inorganic matter can turn into human beings with no outside intelligence in something less than an eternity takes a enormous leap of faith.

So if and when evolutionists dare to wander outside the box of materialism, they are likely to discover that evolution is a religion, after all, not a science.  That is, if they are willing to be honest with themselves.