Reflections of a Mathematician
by John N. Johnson
My math career started as a mediocre student who eventually got a
Ph.D. in applied mathematics at Cal Berkeley by persistence, and who
developed the most sophisticated navigation, guidance and control
systems at Boeing on the NASA space program. Ultimately, I became a
creationist when I realized that a small warbler has the genes coded
to navigate at night from Europe to Africa by star patterns, which
must have been recently encoded, since these patterns change
completely over thousands years (Scientific American, Aug. 1954.)
Their ability helped me realize that someone more intelligent than
an earthly being must be in control - we do not just exist.
I think that the infinitely large or small does not exist in the real world, but is merely a mathematical limit in the mind. I illustrate what really large numbers are and at what point events of that frequency are never going to occur, not just unlikely. It is rarer than winning a lottery, but occasionally bridge games generate all 13 cards of one suit, but never will all four players have just one suit. Why is this? Some events are impossibly rare. A computer filling the universe (let alone the mythical myriad of monkeys at typewriters) could not even generate the first few sentences English characters of Hamlet's "To be or not to be..." You see, the universe cannot generate just anything by random events, but it is necessarily limited by the number of elementary particle-events in the universe. This is a very small number compared with the number of combinations of sequential events that are possible, which grows exponentially.
In music, there are enormous variations on merely 13 notes, plus their octaves and overtones. Our brain is designed to uniquely correlate subtle variants on the duration of past notes and combinations. I can sometimes recognize a piano piece that I have never heard, that was probably composed by Chopin, or in that style. Scientists are befuddled as to how our ears can convert a series of musical notes into something pleasurable in our brain, let alone have a Darwinian explanation in terms of survival value. These musical combinations are not infinite, but so immense that we will continue to hear completely new music for as long as mankind exists.
I never in my life doubted God's existence or that Jesus was the Son and incarnation of God who lived a sinless life, and died on the cross as a payment for man's sins. For most of my life, it just didn't make much difference in how I lived, since as a token liberal church-going supposedly Christian person, it was merely a philosophical exercise. I was essentially an agnostic, blinded to my faults, especially after being indoctrinated by the Christian-bashing film "Elmer Gantry", and a high-school play "Inherit the Wind." In anthropology classes at the University of California at Berkeley, I was indoctrinated that we were just higher apes, and we were free to act like them. I was told there was no absolute right or wrong, just as in the animal kingdom. They neglected to mention that animals have no justice court. In anthropology class, I was erroneously told in 1960 that Ramapithicus was a known human ancestor, but now (after finding an intact skull) it is known to be definitely not an ancestor! I regret that I was so naïve as to believe them, which caused me to stumble in my faith.
My life’s direction was gradually re-directed toward God’s will for my life, by the changed lives of Bible-believing Christians like my joy-filled parents, who changed completely after going to Bible Study Fellowship, and my Uncle Joe who was paralyzed by polio, but handed out Gideon Bibles and counsel for weary souls at every motel. I realized I was missing something essential for my life, let alone eternity. In 1980, I recognized that I was lost and in need of a Savior to help me, for now as well as for eternity, to have him take control of my life, instead of allowing the nether world to destroy it. I was blessed that my life was not shattered by my negligence before that.
I then turned to the question of Bible reliability, and was astonished to find out that many pastors and Bible scholars dismissed it as just containing guidelines or good suggestions for living, but nevertheless full of allegories and mistakes. I saw this in the religion columns by Pastor Dale Turner in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. They presumed the Bible is mostly man’s fallible words, but concede it is perhaps "God inspired". It occurred to me that God should be able to preserve his word, and that mathematically it could be determined if it (as originally composed) was the work of either man or God. Logically, there was no third alternative.
In analyzing the prophecies, in the book Science Speaks by mathematician Peter Stoner, and the Moody Science film "The Professor and the Prophets," I found so many precisely fulfilled prophecies, that it was absurd not to acknowledge that these prophecies were not an accident. They are very specific: Tyre was razed to bedrock, and even the dust cast into the sea. It was later a place for casting of nets and never rebuilt (Ezekiel 26, written c. 593-571 BC.) This was fulfilled by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, who built a causeway to the island where they retreated. However, the surprising accuracy is inversely used by skeptical scholars to date the writing of the book after that!
But the most compelling feature about the prophecies is the surprising lack of clearly erroneous ones. Skeptics have to really strain to find an apparent discrepancy, like in Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) that Immanuel (literally: God is with us), the Messiah, is to be born of a "Virgin" (as quoted by Matthew 1:23). Bible critics say the word in Hebrew is merely a "young maiden." They overlook the fact that the Hebrew word for maiden is synonymous with virgin, as with Rebekah described with both words in Genesis 24:16, 43. Moreover, the Hebrew scholars who translated the Old Testament into the Greek Septuagint used the Greek word for virgin (parthenos.)
Invariably, skeptics point to semantic translation "errors" that have an easy answer. In a radio debate with me in 1994, a noted anti-Bible skeptic (J. Farrell Till) naively charged a Bible error to Luke, in that Saul (later called Paul) on the road to Damascus heard a voice (Acts 9:4), but the others did not hear it (Acts 22:9.) Till was negligent of the Greek cases that the latter verse should be better translated "did not understand," which is later confirmed (Acts 26:14,) since the voice was in Hebrew, which the servants did not comprehend.
More significant, however, is the unexpected lack of obvious errors and internal discrepancies that are abundant in every ancient as well as modern works. Skeptics like to call the stories myth, but myths do not have specific detail that can be checked. Mathematically, it is astonishing that the Bible is so accurate, in stark contrast to the current best science of the ancients, like when speaking of the number of Abraham's descendants being as innumerable as the stars, (Genesis 15:5), and comparable to the grains of sand on the sea shore, (Genesis 22:17.) Estimates for both are similar, and vary from 1020 (1 followed by 21 zeros) up to 1025.
Ignoring the abundant examples of consistency, skeptics turn to Bible passages they can't accept, like people that routinely lived to over 200 years, up to Methuselah's 969 years. However, our eating habits and internal body clocks age us, not degeneration by wearing out. Children of 12 sometimes die of old age symptoms (Progeria), about the age of dogs. By contrast, reptiles don't age as fast as us. In fact, turtles apparently never age; there has never been a turtle reported to have died of old age, just accident or disease. The Captain Cook turtle lived to over 200 years. We replace all the soft cells of our bodies every few years, except in the brain. Cell life studies of the maximum cell replacement indicate a maximum body life of several hundreds years, but not thousands. The Babylonians recorded their Kings often lived for 10,000 years, which is supportive of old ages, but likely an exaggeration of real history.
Time is destructive to genetic patterns, much faster than any possible benefit of mutations to engineer new structures that integrate with existing ones. However, mutations can express a recessive gene, which gives the illusion of creating. Mutations in the blood (hemoglobin) must continue to be able to transport oxygen in every generation or their offspring will die. Also, the mutation load on any population will cause it to self-destruct rapidly. Natural selection is only beneficial in slowing this downward spiral. Moreover, mankind is certainly not on a path to evolutionary improvement, since we heroically save the lives of our children with genetic disorders, who go on to have babies.
The rate of growth in human population is best explained as a geometrical increase from eight persons from Noah’s family about 5000 years. Strangely the population statistics are rarely shown on a log scale, which would demonstrate this. There is a paucity of humanoid skeletons and burials, let alone the myriads that should be there, which gives lie to the proposed millions of years of ancestors. The earliest ant, spider, bat (which was already echo-locating), starfish, shark, and crab are all are very similar to the modern variant. This is no problem for the creation model, but logically devastating for the evolutionist model of common descent. Species of life cluster into groups that are similar enough to have a common ancestor, like the dogs and wolf, or almost totally different, like the cat family is to dogs.
My deductive study has convinced me that it is compelling to believe in the reliability of the Bible (in the original writing,) recognizing that by now some minor linguistic misunderstandings and transmission difficulties can occur. But I think any such problems are negligible, as demonstrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls complete copy of Isaiah in Hebrew, and early Greek papyrus fragments of the book of John, like the Rylands manuscript, in the early Second Century. The Greek manuscript variations are miniscule compared to most ancient documents.
It is hopeless for us to live a Godly life, unless we accept the awesome Power and Judgment of God for sinful behavior as described in the Hebrew Old Testament Bible, and unless we accepts God's redemptive plan of atonement for Sin by Christ's blood as described in the Greek New Testament Bible. How else could we really trust Proverbs 3:4-5: "Trust in the LORD and do not lean in your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight?"
The many pastors and congregations who claim to believe in the Bible, but reject Genesis as an allegory, thinking that step-by-step evolution over millions of years is a fact, have really been deceived. They are living their lives and teaching without real confidence in God’s trustworthy direction, as I was also, giving only lip-service to the Bible and Jesus. Many of them abandon their faith when confronted with family tragedy, convinced that God doesn't care about them. It is largely neglect of Bible authority that causes this. And its authority is undermined by the constant barrage of evolutionist mantras only showing animals eating each other but neglecting their complex design.
The Christian who doubts the Bible's accuracy in Genesis also can't really trust the Bible's words that say: Jesus walked on the water; he turned water into wine; he was hidden (Greek passive) from the eyes those that wanted to stone him, rather than furtively hide himself (John 8:59,) i.e., they couldn’t see Him! He was never surprised or introduced; he taught others, but was never taught. He always knew the thoughts of his enemies and desires of his friends, even when he was a baby, and before he had an earthly body (John 8:58).
What kind of picture do we get of God the Father and Jesus the Son in most Christian churches and books today? Just the opposite - more of a God just like us (anthropomorphism), but kindlier, just like the one my anthropologist professor told me that the primitive people invent. This fallacy alone would be enough to convince me that the Bible must be a supernatural work. We rarely hear in church about the Hebrew Bible, and almost never about Genesis, except a concession that we have an ambiguous "sin nature." It is totally opposite from what man will invent, even by those who claim to believe the Bible, but are mislead into buying into eons of evolution, the trapped by its dogma.
When I accepted progressive evolution at Berkeley, I did not believe it any more than my token acceptance the Bible. By contrast, today you must believe as fact these just-so stories from the past are true, or be denied an advanced degree or tenure. To be even suspected of being one is like being suspected of being communist professor in the 1950’s. Forrest Mims (who even denied being a creationist) was fired from his Amateur Scientist column in the Scientific American when the editor found out he was skeptical of Darwinian evolution. Creationists need not bother to apply for a teaching job, even at most Christian universities, and if they speak out they will not get tenure (Jerry Bergman), and if they already have tenure they will be shunned or denied classes (Dean Kenyon at San Francisco State.)
Real belief means trust - are you willing to die for it and why? Jesus says that "Greater love has no man than this: that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). What an illogical statement! What rational person would do this? Perhaps only a fictional character would, as in Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities? Actually, only a God who really cared about His Creation would care, who cared for us so much that he would send His Son Jesus to model his life for us, and to lay down his life as an example for us to follow his example.
Since the First century, Christians the world around have given unceasing testimony to the transforming power of the Word of God by serving in hospitals and dangerous parts around the world to give testimony to the life-changing power of Christ if would only heed his Word. The Apostle Paul writes: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2) [Scripture quotes are NASB]
John N. Johnson, Ph.D. (Mathematics).