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The Theology of a Stapler
by Dan Vander Ark
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My brother sent me an email a couple of months ago titled “Through A Child’s Eyes.” It was simply a compilation of short letters that kids had written to God. Among them was one by Nan that said, “Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.” And Larry wrote, “Dear God, maybe Cain and Able would not kill each other so much if they had their own room – it works for me and my brother.” Robert wrote, “Dear God, I am an American, what are you?” Denise said, “Dear God if we come back as something, please don’t let me be Jennifer Horton because I hate her.” And another by Joyce said, “Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy.” They all brought a smile to your face as you pictured each child, deep in thought, penning their deepest questions to God.

But there was one that caught my attention. It was written by Ruth and said simply, “Dear God, I think the stapler is one of your greatest inventions. “ Can’t you just see some little red haired, pig-tailed 5 year old watching her dad staple a bunch of papers together and thinking, “Wow!" How does that work?” I was a pretty inquisitive kid and took a lot of things apart to see how they worked. But much to my parents chagrin I rarely put them back together correctly.

As adults we immediately dismiss Ruth’s conclusion. We know that the lowly desk stapler was invented by and constructed by man. It’s a pretty simple machine – am guessing maybe around 20 parts. And yet when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in the summer 1969 if they had found a stapler laying in the dusty lunar surface, the immediate conclusion would not be, “Pretty cool how this evolved.” It would rather be, “Hey, how did Swingline get here first?” (That’s one small staple for a man, one giant Stapler for mankind!”). Or maybe NASA would hold a news conference and say, “We have concluded that the only feasible way that a stapler would find its way to the moon is that it was planted there by intelligent life from the Swingline Spiral Galaxy!”

For a machine as simple and basic as a stapler to come into existence, it takes intelligent design. That’s a given. Even if you placed the raw materials in a room full of 6th graders for an entire year, you would probably still not get a functioning stapler. And yet when astronomers peer into the outer reaches of space or microbiologists examine the immense complexity of a single cell, the conclusion that “it just sort of randomly happened without any purpose” seems to go against the evidence before us.

There is design everywhere we look. You witness design in the spiral pattern of a sunflower head (the Fibonacci number sequence), in the heavenly beauty of a spiral galaxy, and even in a Ford Galaxy! (I think Chevy guys would disagree right about now).

In fact every cell in the human body seems to cry out, “Designed!” Within each of the about 2 trillion cells in the human body there is contained a microfine five foot long strand of DNA -- our genetic code. EVERY CELL! And each of those strands contains as much information as is contained in a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica – about 44 million words. Now if Jodi Foster suddenly hollered, “CONTACT!” (Get it?) – and began downloading 44 million words from the Vega System, wouldn’t the immediate conclusion be that SETI had encountered an extraterrestrial civilization? And yet each of our cells is sending us a message, “Yo Adrian! It’s me, God! You are fearfully and wonderfully designed for a purpose. (Psalm 139).

A prominent critic of intelligent design and creation, Richard Dawkins says, “A key feature of evolution is its gradualness. This is a matter of principle rather than fact. . . . Evolution is very possibly not, in actual fact, always gradual. But it must be gradual when it is being used to explain the coming into existence of complicated, apparently designed objects, like eyes. For if it is not gradual in these cases, it ceases to have any explanatory power at all. Without gradualness in these cases, we are back to miracle, which is simply a synonym for the total absence of explanation. —*Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, p. 83 (1995) quoted on www.answersingenesis.org.

Charles Darwin said in his “Origin of the Species": “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Perhaps the “simple” cell is just such an example. The following is quoted from www.ideacenter.org: “Michael Denton, in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, states "Although the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing less than 10^-12 grams, each is in effect a veritable microminiaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world." In a word, the cell is complicated. Very complicated.”

I believe it was Michael Behe, a biochemist from Lehigh University and author of the book, “Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, that penned the concept of “irreducible complexity.” Behe believes that evolution could explain the later development of animals, but he gravely doubts if evolution can explain the existence of the cell. That term “irreducible complexity” basically means that a cell can only function as a complete unit and could not have come into existence through the process of “gradualness.” To illustrate he uses the example of a simple mousetrap. If any of the parts are missing (I think a total of 7 parts) the mousetrap ceases to function smoothly. Thus with the cell: unless all of the parts are there, the cell will not function. Another example that is given to refute the theory of evolution and gradualness is the amazing process through which blood clots – if any of the steps are missing the process will not work. There are those that refute this idea of “irreducible complexity” and point out that Behe’s mousetrap could indeed function with less parts. But it seems that what they fail to point out is that a) they begin with a full set of parts already in existence and work backward from that, and b) they are using “intelligent design” to reduce and rearrange the parts and still be able to catch a mouse!

To illustrate this enormous complexity and mind-boggling intricacy of the cell, an example that is sometimes given is the bacterial flagella. (Or is it flagellum? I never get that singular/plural Latin thing right). Behe points out, "In 1973 it was discovered that some bacteria swim by rotating their flagella. So the bacterial flagellum acts as a rotary propeller — in contrast to the cilium, which acts more like an oar."—Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, p. 70.

But the flagellum (or flagella ) tail doesn’t just simply rotate – it spins at an amazing 10,000+ RPM! And not only that, it can stop in ¼ turn and reverse direction. There is NO (NONE, ZILCH, NYET) engine on planet earth designed by any car/plane/motorcycle manufacturer that can do that! (Very few can even rev past 10,000 RPM). To suddenly stop an engine spinning at that velocity would really really mess up your garage. David J. DeRosier says, “More so than other motors, the flagellum resembles a machine designed by a human" (David J. DeRosier, Cell 93, 17 (1998)). Quoted from www.ideacenter.org)

If you Google “rotating flagellum” (or flagella) you can find a mammoth amount of information about this fascinating microscopic machine. There are also some amazing artistic renditions of this thing. It looks like something out of a futuristic Chilton’s Car Repair Manual or something that George Lucas designed for Jar Jar Binks to ride around in Star Wars II: The Attack of the Clowns (or maybe it was Star Wars I, I can’t remember…I was just glad when Jar Jar went bye bye).

In his book “Darwin’s Black Box” Behe makes the following statement, “In summary, as biochemists have begun to examine apparently simple structures like cilia and flagella, they have discovered staggering complexity, with dozens or even hundreds of precisely tailored parts. It is very likely that many of the parts we have not considered here are required for any cilium to function in a cell. As the number of required parts increases, the difficulty of gradually putting the system together skyrockets, and the likelihood of indirect scenarios plummets. Darwin looks more and more forlorn. New research on the roles of the auxiliary proteins cannot simplify the irreducibly complex system. The intransigence of the problem cannot be alleviated; it will only get worse. Darwinian Theory has given no explanation for the cilium or flagellum. The overwhelming complexity of the swimming systems push us to think it may never give an explanation. (p. 73)” quoted on www.veritas-ucsb.org

Back to our lowly stapler and little Ruthie’s statement, “Dear God, I think the stapler is one of your greatest inventions.“ I don’t have a degree in biology. I don’t have a degree in astronomy. I don’t have a degree in philosophy. And if I were to debate Richard Dawkins or another eminent evolutionist I would probably wind up as a blithering glob of goo. But I do have a degree in Common Sense (or at least my wife does). And it just seems utterly absurd to me that we can look at something as simple as a stapler and draw the conclusion of intelligent design, and yet we can view the Ferrari of the cell world and think, “It just sort of happened.” Perhaps we think Ruthie’s statement as cute and funny and amusing. But I think in her innocence she strikes closer to the truth than those who, after viewing the intricacy of the cell (and in particular the little flagellum/flagella), conclude, “Wow! It sure has the appearance of being designed. But I guess it’s just some random forces at work through the magical potion of natural selection and gradualness.”

Alvin Allison wrote a book titled “From Monkeys to Men and Back: A Preposterously Essential Science Lesson According To A Darn Good Ex Chicken Farmer. In it he said something like, “If a giraffe can evolve a longer neck by stretching, what might yawning end up doing to us humans?” But he also says this about his reason for writing the book, “I wrote From Monkeys to Men and Back in hopes that those who feel as I do about the teaching of evolution might get a laugh out of it while at the same time receiving even more reason to continue believing that the only possible way humans could’ve gotten here is not because some monkey lost practically his entire ability to scamper up a tree, but because of an intentional creative act by a loving Creator.” (Found on www.authorhouse.com”)

Psalm 139:14-17
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!

Dan Vander Ark
2009 All Rights Reserved

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Leah Nichols  19 Feb 2010
I really liked this article. Thank you for taking the time to write it.


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