In Computers We Trust


Joshua 10


Say I need a 6-foot piece of twine. I go up in the attic, and I find some twine sticking out from underneath a pile of miscellaneous things that comprise a pile. The twine is tangled on some items near the bottom. Is the twine long enough to suit my purpose?


With that information alone, we can rule out both yes and no. I need to retrieve the whole twine to answer the question – or at a minimum, 6 feet of it. Or, I could use my computer to help you tell me the length of the twine. After all, computers can do amazing things today.


No, I’m afraid that even a modern day computer would need to have the same inputs that we would need before it could solve the problem.


It was the spring of 1971, and James Reid was speaking at a local coffee house. A speaker was rare at the coffee house. It was usually more of a musical theme. To me, it was a way to fabricate a social life. I didn’t know Reid’s credentials. I could look them up, but it hardly matters. He seemed to know what he was talking about. Reid talked about how the Bible makes occasional statements about science. And he talked about how science was confirming what the Bible had said long ago. And he had me mesmerized.


He talked about how the invisible things in Hebrews 11:3 are “things” we today call “atoms.” He lamented the colonial medical treatment of bleeding patients, including George Washington, inasmuch as Leviticus 17:11 says that the life is in the blood. Example after example, and there was one 11th grader who was sucking in every word he spoke.


A question came from the side of the room (not me). It went along the lines of: “Do you have any comment on the recent discovery by computers that there was an extra day some time several thousand years ago?” Reid had no patience for this question. News of this computer discovery had been spreading over the past three years. Few Christians even bothered discussing it. But there was a certain glow in Christian community that Joshua’s long day had been confirmed. But even as we had started celebrating, Reid – a man who clearly understood the Bible, and clearly understood science – described one of the few instances where science and the Bible evidently agreed as “BALONEY!”


Without paraphrase, I remember part of Reid’s answer: “The only way a computer could have found an extra day is if the programmer put it there himself.” [He also added, “And you would already know that if you knew anything about computers.” But we don’t need to go there.] The answer to the Long Day problem is the same as the answer to the twine problem: Without a data base that includes an extra day, even the mystery of a computer – that seemed much more mysterious to the average person in 1971 than in 2012 – does not have the capacity simply to “find” an extra day in history.


I engaged Reid in sidebar after he was done. He told me that since God gives instructions both to people during the day, and in the middle of the night for action at the moment of Jesus’ return, we need time zones just to make it possible to be night and day both when He returns. I bought two of his books, “God, the Atom, and the Universe” and “Does Science Confront the Bible?” I still have them today. And I paged through them before I started to write this. I like this insight:


“To find the fact that science knows today mirrored in the Bible is exciting, but the Bible is not limited to today’s knowledge. It even indicates facts that today are over the horizon for science – facts which science suspects, but still remain to be proven…. As a result man is often in the unfortunate position of having only enough knowledge of a particular fact, and of what the Bible says, to see apparent differences.”


Today, I am not as interested as I once was in reconciling science to the Bible. It’s not that I’m not aware that there are “apparent differences,” and it’s not that I don’t understand where the apparent differences are . But Reid’s quote is really all we need to know – albeit I take issue with the word “exciting.” Our knowledge remains incomplete, and I have long ago abandoned any hope of filling in all the blanks all by myself.


You cannot use a computer to find a missing day, any more that you can use a computer to measure a piece of twine that is entangled beyond your sight. [And while I’m at it, Carbon-14 dating suffers the same shortcoming. Carbon-14 dating is like measuring a burning candle’s present height, knowing its burn rate, and calculating from that information alone how long the candle has been burning. Nobody seems to ask the question, How tall was the candle when the wick was lit?]


But more seriously, Why does Reid see the reconciliation of the science and the Bible “exciting”? Would he be “deflated” if science ever came down on the other side? Is there a long line of scientists somewhere who have proven something in the Bible, and are now knocking down Church doors so they can be saved? And most importantly, Why are we accepting Science to be the judge over the truth or falsity of the inerrant words of the Creator of the universe?


The Bible says that the sun stood still, and that’s all I need to know about the sun standing still. You perhaps do not agree: I am saddened for your lack of faith, but I am otherwise disinterested. And it’s no cause for excitement if the world suddenly concedes that point, yet does not turn their hearts to Christ.


Luke 16:31 says, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” We could show restored video clips of the death and resurrection, and Jesus foretells that would persuade nobody. Why the excitement over a fraudulently programmed computer – or perhaps a better question is Why the excitement over a fraudulent rumor that a team of anonymous computer programmers who proved Joshua 10:13 to be accurate with a machine then feared by the masses called a computer?


More solemnly, John 3:12 tells a commonsense conclusion that if you do not believe God at His word when He talks about things you CAN confirm – if you require the confirmation of science to judge the truth of that subset of statements God made that CAN be confirmed, simply because you can – if you are incapable of viewing confirming evidence with the attitude that you are perhaps willing to give it a look, but that you already know the answer, and nothing can persuade you further – then you are absolutely incapable of reading statements God made about spiritual matters that you cannot confirm, and believing God simply because He is God.


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