Portraits of Christians – Blaise Pascal

For those keeping count, this the 6th portrait of a great, world-renowned scientist who was also a Christian. This compatibility of science and Christianity may surprise some of you. Well, keep reading!

Blaise Pascal was born in 1623 and died in 1662 at the age of only 39. Yet in that time, he set a high bar. With his mother having died when he was 3, and himself being ill most of his life, his father homeschooled him.[1]  Publishing his first mathematical treatise (on conic sections) at only 16, and inventing a mechanical calculator at the age of 22, he went on to contribute much to our understanding of hydraulics and probability theory. In fact, his mechanical calculator, considered the first computer,  is the reason the first computer programming language I ever learned was named after him. If you’ve used hydraulic brakes in your car, or used a forklift, or a shop press, you’ve applied Pascal’s Law. What he discovered was that pressure increases are equal at all points in a confined fluid, so applying a small force to a small area of confined fluid (like pushing the brake pedal in your car) resulted in a multiplied force at a larger area (like the pistons clamping down on your brake rotors). And if you’ve ever given or been given a shot of any medicine, you’ve benefited from another invention of his: the syringe.[2]

But Pascal realized, like the apostle Paul, that all his accomplishments were rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.[Phil 3:7-8] And so Pascal undertook composing a defense of Christianity against the attacks of the skeptics of his day. Though it was never finished, the fragments of his would-be magnum opus were collected posthumously into what has been titled “Pensées”, or “Thoughts”. Some are barely a sentence or two, while others are meticulously edited, rigorous examinations of deep philosophical ideas. The overarching theme of Pensées is what has been called Pascal’s Anthropological argument: that mankind exhibits a greatness and a wretchedness that is best explained by Christianity,[3] and this is just as powerful an argument today as it was then.

You see, while some will try to reduce humans to simply “talking apes”, most people do recognize that there is something different about us compared to all else. Socrates defined man as the “rational animal”, acknowledging that we have a fleshly, animal nature, but that we are different from animals in our reasoning and self-awareness. Humans hold a unique position in the scheme of life, and it is not arrogance to recognize there is a degree of “greatness” associated with that. Pascal would say that “man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but a thinking reed,” and so nobler than all the unthinking universe.[4] But our wretchedness, as Pascal calls it, is perhaps even more obvious to the casual observer than our greatness. For as long as we have had recorded history, we have recorded incessant war, brutality, murder, theft, poverty, greed, corruption – vice after vice. If we are the top of the line, the most advanced of all intelligent life, why do we find it so difficult to “act that way”? And it’s not just the obvious cases like the Hitlers and Stalins of the world that have failed to do the right thing; it’s each one of us. When we’re alone, away from all of the distractions and busyness of our modern lives, and can take a minute to look in the mirror of our minds, we recognize our wretched condition. In those times of self-reflection, we can truly commiserate with the apostle Paul,  “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate…. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good…. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”[Rom 7:15,19,21,24] Paul strikes a chord there that Pascal builds on to make his case for Christianity. For this sense of greatness is at odds with our clear observations of our baseness. And as Pascal points out, no other view of life makes sense of this dichotomy as well as the Bible, with its description of our creation in the image of God (our greatness), but also our fall into rebellion against our Creator and the attendant consequences (our wretchedness). To put it in terms of abductive reasoning, Christianity has superior explanatory power than the competing views (atheism, false religions).

Pascal also strove to show man the need for urgency. Perhaps his own chronic illness was a daily reminder of the frailty of our physical life, and a motivation to not delay the most important of decisions and to strongly encourage others to do likewise.  Apathy regarding the truth of Christianity is the worst course of action: “It affects our whole life to know whether the soul is mortal or immortal.”[5] As Peter Kreeft points out in his analysis of Pascal’s Wager, “to every possible question life presents three possible answers: Yes, No and Evasion. Death removes the third answer…. Death turns agnosticism into atheism. For death turns “Tomorrow” into “Never.”[6]

In closing, Pascal’s life was a candle that burned quickly, but brightly. And his legacy as a prodigious scientist is only matched by his legacy as a profoundly insightful Christian. Rather than incompatible parts of his life, his faith and his science worked together. As Encyclopedia Britannica put it, “his religious writings are rigorous because of his scientific training”.[2] Think about that term “rigorous.” Synonyms include: extremely thorough, exhaustive, accurate, careful, diligent. Could your beliefs be described that way? Dig into Pascal and make yours a more rigorous faith that will withstand any assaults from false ideologies.[7]

[1] Clarke, Desmond, “Blaise Pascal”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/pascal/ , accessed 2016-12-14.
[2] “Blaise Pascal”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Blaise-Pascal, accessed 2016-12-15.
[3]Douglas Groothuis – Christian Apologetics 101, session 19 (audio course), published by Credo House, 2014.
[4] Blaise Pascal, Pensée #200, as found in Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées, Edited, Outlined & Explained, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 55. Pensée numbers are Krailsheimer’s numbering scheme.
[5] ibid., Pensée #164.
[6] ibid., Pensée #418, footnote J.
[7] If you’ve ever started Pensées, struggled, and given up, I highly recommend Kreeft’s work, available here.

“I Fought the (2nd) Law & the Law Won”

Messier 96 galaxy viewed by Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy Nasa.gov.

No, today’s title doesn’t mean this post is about misremembered lyrics to 60’s songs. This is a different law, and one even harder to win against. Today, I want to review some basics of thermodynamics that point to the need for a nonmaterial, transcendent, first cause of the universe. This is a problem for atheists because the most reasonable candidate for that position is the God whose existence they deny. Let’s jump in.

The first and second laws of thermodynamics may be summarized as follows: 1) energy is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes form, and 2) the amount of usable energy in any closed system is always decreasing. The first deals with the quantity of energy, while the second deals with the quality of that energy. The measure of that decrease in usable energy is called entropy. A low-entropy system is highly ordered with much energy available to do work. A high-entropy system is approaching (or has reached) a state of uniform, random distribution, with little to no usable energy available. What does this have to do with anything? Let me quote from my college thermodynamics textbook:

Since no actual process is truly reversible, we can conclude that the net entropy change for any process that takes place is positive, and therefore the entropy of the universe, which can be considered to be an isolated system, is continuously increasing. … Entropy increase of the universe is a major concern not only to engineers but also to philosophers and theologians since entropy is viewed as a measure of the disorder  (or “mixed-up-ness”) in the universe.

S_{gen} = \Delta S_{total} \begin{cases} >0 & \text{irreversible process}\\ = 0 &\text{reversible process}\\ < 0 & \text{impossible process} \end{cases}

This relation serves as a criterion in determining whether a process is reversible, irreversible, or impossible.[1]

There’s a couple of relevant statements in that section. One is that the entropy of the universe is an issue for philosophers and theologians as well as engineers. The textbook author correctly realizes the implications of the 2nd Law. It has been our consistent observation that usable energy does not increase without a contribution from outside the system being studied. At best, it stays constant, like the idealized reversible process mentioned in the text (that doesn’t actually exist), but otherwise it’s always decreasing. And it can’t have been decreasing forever or the amount of usable energy in the universe would be exhausted already. This leads to the second noteworthy statement above:  the last case of the system entropy equation above defines what is an impossible process. Now, in science, we don’t take words like impossible lightly. This isn’t like watching a basketball game and seeing an “impossible” shot. No, this is more than just our typical hyperbole. If the universe is an isolated physical system that can never increase in total usable energy, and is clearly decreasing, then we have to recognize that there had to be a starting value. If the fuel tank of our universe is getting closer to “Empty”, there had to be a “Full” at one time. Things run down, disperse, and seek equilibrium, or their lowest energy state. We see this with our own sun, which should burn out in roughly 5 billion years.[2] And this is happening throughout our world, our solar system, our galaxy, our universe. Closer to home, this irreversible dispersal of energy is also why we have to keep our coffee cup on a warmer to keep it from equalizing to room temperature; it’s why we have to do preventative maintenance to keep our equipment from rusting if it’s exposed to the environment; it’s why perpetual motion machines are simply not possible.[3] Consider how bluntly Sir Arthur Eddington, the astronomer who first observationally confirmed Einstein’s theory of relativity, put it:

The Law that entropy increases—the Second Law of Thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations— then so much for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation— well, these experiments do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation[4]

Now, perhaps you might say that that initial description of the universe as an isolated system is rendered inaccurate by the existence of a multiverse. Although completely unsupported by any scientific observation, and believed to be beyond the ability to ever observe by our event horizon, the multiverse is a popular escape for many – a kind of magic place where anything is possible.[5] Well, that might make our universe an open system briefly, until you simply label the multiverse as your isolated system, with our universe being one subsystem and the surroundings – i.e. the rest of the multiverse – being another subsystem in the arbitrary isolated system. So, appealing to the multiverse to get around the 2nd law doesn’t really help.

Maybe there is an escape in the idea of a cyclical universe that recycles itself. Consider then this statement from Alexander Vilenkin:

It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.[6]

But what are we to do if there is a definite beginning to the universe and it can’t simply have existed eternally? Things always require a cause outside of themselves to come into existence. And that’s what worries atheist scientists. When you’re talking about all of our physical reality, what’s outside of that? Nothing according to a materialistic worldview. And so their presuppositions actually make them close-minded to viable options – options that match up with our daily commonsense observations: basic cause and effect, that things don’t simply pop into existence for no reason, that things running down can’t be running down forever. The Second Law reminds us of our finitude [Is 51:6], the existence of a beginning [Gen 1:1], and by implication, the need for a Beginner. And the Second Law… always wins. Take care 🙂

[1] Yunus A. Çengel, Michael A. Boles, Thermodynamics: An Engineering Approach, 2nd Edition, (Ney York: McGraw-Hill, 1994), pp.304-5.
[2] http://www.space.com/14732-sun-burns-star-death.html
[3] In fact, a perpetual motion machine is defined as a device that violates either the 1st or 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics. But their inviolability is why the US Patent Office has not accepted patent applications for perpetual motion machines since 1918. Thermodynamics, p. 255-257.
[3] Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World, 1929, Ch 4.
[4] In the words of Alan Guth, “anything that can happen will happen—and it will happen infinitely many times.” Quoted by Paul Steinhardt in “Theories of Anything“.
[5] Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, 2006, p.176, quoted in  William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith (3rd edition), p. 140.

Mission Failure

Anybody else remember the 3rd Terminator movie where the T-850 (Schwarzenegger) has been programmed to go back in time to protect John Connor, the future leader of the Resistance, but the new evil Terminatrix has reprogrammed him to kill John? Schwarzenegger comes lumbering toward John warning him to stay away from him because he can’t control his actions anymore. As he has pinned John on the hood of a car choking him, John asks the T-850, “What is your mission?” He replies, “To secure the survival of John Connor and Catherine Brewster.” John then delivers the classic response, “You are about to fail that mission!”

Now what does this little bit of movie nostalgia have to do with anything? Well, some skeptics try to lay the blame for a lot of the injustice in the world at the feet of Christians. Christianity is supposedly to blame for wars throughout history, slavery, the repression and abuse of women, minorities, and a host of other categories of people, the hindrance of science and technological development, the holding back of society from advancing, and so on. There’s only one problem: a lot of the things blamed on Christianity, even if perpetrated by Christians, are not compatible with the mission of Christianity. Let’s look at some of the tenets Jesus Christ and His early followers passed on to us that the skeptic needs to take into account before blaming Christianity for societal ills.

  • Love even our enemies [Mt 5:43-47, Rm 12:14] and turn the other cheek (i.e. don’t seek revenge) [Mt 5:38-42, Rm 12:17-21]. This is the very opposite of hatred, jihad, starting wars, picking fights, bullying, or any other malevolent violence. Anyone who commits murder or terrorism in the name of Christ either is not a Christian to begin with, or is failing his mission badly.
  • “Bear one another’s burdens” [Ga 6:2]. It’s not all about me.
  • Care for widows, orphans, and family members [Jm 1:27, 1 Ti 5:8]. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world if everyone that couldn’t care for themselves were lovingly taken care of?
  • The thief who becomes a Christian should no longer steal, but rather work hard so that he might be able to give to others instead of taking from them [Ep 4:28]. Christianity doesn’t simply ask the thief to stop stealing, but to start giving!
  • God created humans in His image, both male and female. [Ge 1:26-27] Therefore, women are not inferior to men. In fact, all humans have intrinsic value by nature of being created in God’s image, regardless of sex or skin color. Discrimination because of sex, race, age, social status or nationality cannot exist where true Christianity is practiced [Ac 17:26-27, Ga 3:28, Co 3:11, Lv 19:32, Rm 12:16, Jm 2:1-4, Lv 19:33-34].
  • Us husbands should love our wives with a self-sacrificial love exemplified by how Christ loved the church and gave His life for her. Repression or abuse is the last thing a husband should perpetrate against his wife, for she is a “fellow heir of the grace of life”. Rather, he should care for her as he would his own body and show her honor [Ep 5:25-30, 1 Pe 3:7].
  • We Christians should never act such that we could be accused of evil. If we should be slandered for doing good, so be it; but we dishonor our Lord and Savior if allegations of evil conduct are ever warranted [1 Pe 4:14-15]. We are to be above reproach, avoiding even the appearance of evil [1 Th 5:22].
  • We Christians should exhibit love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law [Ga 5:22-23]. Indeed, what police chief wouldn’t love to see a community full of people exhibiting those traits?
  • Even in the slavery-ridden culture of the Roman Empire, Paul commanded slave owners to be fair to their slaves, knowing that they also had a Master in heaven [Co 4:1] and for slaves to work for their masters sincerely, as for the Lord [Co 3:22-24]. All jokes about slave-driving bosses aside, that kind of work relationship sets a good model for current employer/employee relations.
  • Except where civil governments order us to go against God’s commands, we are to be good citizens, obeying our civil leaders [Ac 4:18-20, 1 Pe 2:13-17, Rm 13].
  • As for the charge of hindering science and technology, see my series, Portraits of Christians (here), for a series of articles on some of the “fathers” of modern science who were Christians and who were scientists because of their Christianity. For you see, the Bible tells us that God is a God of order[1 Co 14:33], and if such a God created a world, it would likely exhibit order and rational systems of laws that could be discovered through observation and be reasonably expected to be consistent and repeatable [Ps 19:1-4a, Ac 17:27, Rm 1:19-20]. Without that basis, science is simply not possible.
  • Lastly, regarding the charge of Christianity holding back civilization, see Alvin J. Schmidt’s book Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization for a very thorough historical survey in response to that claim.

You see, a true Christian will live a life in line with Christ’s teachings, for we are disciples, and a disciple emulates his master. We won’t do it perfectly, especially at first, but God gives us His Holy Spirit to indwell us. He works in us to mold us and conform our desires to match His. Think of it like getting on a diet – your appetites don’t match up with the new healthy diet at first, but you choose to conform your appetites to the diet because you know it’s better for you than your old way of living, and gradually, you learn to actually enjoy the new foods. Then, living on the diet is not a burden but a pleasure because your will now matches the diet plan. But spiritually, that realignment of will can only happen through the Holy Spirit’s regenerative work in us. But many who claim the title of Christian, aren’t. In fact, Jesus gave the sobering warning that there would be many at the last judgment expecting entrance to heaven, only to hear Him say, “I never knew you.” [Mt 7:21-23] We are known by our fruit – i.e. our actions. Talk is cheap, and, as they say, “actions speak louder than words.” And indeed, the Bible repeatedly affirms that the proof of our faith is not in mere words but in our character and the actions that flow from that [Jn 13:35, 1 Jn 4:20, Jm 2:14].

Maybe you’ve seen someone claiming Christ on Sunday and living like the devil the rest of the week, and thought that Christianity really is just a big show with a rotten core underneath, that religion really does “poison everything”. But we must remember that “abusus non tollit usum” – the misuse or abuse of something is no argument against its proper use (i.e. just because a person can use an axe to murder someone doesn’t mean that axes are inherently bad). Look at the fruit of true Christianity, the fruit of those truly on mission for Christ, and you will not find any viable source for the atrocities and horrors with which atheists try to saddle Christianity. It is only in counteracting the commands of God and failing His mission for us that those kinds of results are possible.

The Fallacy of “Sub-Optimal” Design

Ever hear people like Richard Dawkins rant about the so-called “sub-optimal designs” in nature that must obviously disprove the existence of any omniscient Supreme Designer? As a practicing professional engineer, I find it a little annoying. Let me explain why.

What exactly is an “optimal design”? When I worked for a steel joist manufacturer, our designs were typically all about minimizing weight. It was often a very tight-margin business, and if we could save another pound of steel, that was a good thing. But, least weight doesn’t always equal least cost to produce. Sometimes, it was worth it to consolidate a bunch of different optimized least-weight designs into a big run of identical pieces, even if it meant some of them were a little heavier then needed. Just think about how much faster you could work at producing something if your instructions said that the next 1000 pieces would be made exactly like the first one, instead of having to look at the directions before every piece to see what had changed. The efficiency of repetition in our shop sometimes made a design that was not optimized for weight actually the most optimal design for us regarding least total cost (i.e. we traded a small material cost increase for a large labor cost decrease).

In my current role as a structural engineer, I’m reviewing shop drawings right now on a colleague’s project where I designed the seismic bracing for him. He unfortunately had some severe architectural constraints on his project with regard to permissible beam depths and flange widths in the walls these braces were in. After spending a couple of weeks trying to work out a solution with more conventional means, I finally came across an example of a different configuration in one of my reference books that we were able to make work in our situation. Would I call it an optimal design? Not hardly, but I was thrilled just to find anything that would meet those kinds of high demand loads with the restrictions we had.

Why do I bring up these two examples? To illustrate a couple of general points regarding optimum designs.

  • Optimization is always with respect to specific parameters. If you’re paying by the ton of steel, the most optimum design may very well be the one that weighs the least. If you’re the contractor erecting the building, the most optimum design might be the one that can be erected the fastest, or with the fewest jobsite workers. If you’re the owner of the new building, the best design may be the one that balances material costs, construction costs, and lifecycle costs for an overall lowest cost of ownership. Parameters like weight, cost, speed, strength, resilience, flexibility, lifespan, redundancy, etc. are always optimized at the expense of others. It is meaningless to talk of an optimal design without specifying what parameter is optimized. By the same measure, it is also meaningless to speak of something being a sub-optimal design without knowing what the original designer was trying to optimize for. I can say a military tank design is suboptimal for speed, and that may be true, but that isn’t where the tank was designed to excel: that heavy 4″ thick armor that slows it down so much also responds to incoming fire far better than trying to drive a race car into battle! Just because you would optimize for a particular parameter, doesn’t mean the original designer (or anyone else) would.
  • Constraints limit what is possible with regard to optimization. Looking at the end product of our seismic bracing design might appear to the fabricator to be a little odd when building it, not knowing the limits we were having to work within. Even a peer reviewer, knowledgeable of engineering design, might wonder why we didn’t simply use a much bigger beam, as is typical for these types of braced frames. But, if they’re like me, they’ve learned to ask why a puzzling design was chosen before they start throwing stones at it. In engineering, we deal with design every day – creating our own designs, reviewing the designs of colleagues, even sometimes having to try to guess the original design intent behind 100+ year-old buildings being renovated. And though it can be tempting to immediately deride some design that isn’t how I would design it, I’ve found an attitude of humility very appropriate when looking at the designs of others. For sometimes, the designs I thought were poor were actually quite innovative solutions to constraints I wasn’t aware of. But then I tried to run an alternate design that should’ve been “better,” and I ran into the same constraints the original designer did, and found the original design to be the only viable option after seeing the complete picture.

This is just a couple of reasons I think the bad design argument fails. It essentially reduces to saying “Because I, a person of limited knowledge, can’t comprehend some particular design chosen by an allegedly all-knowing Designer, He must not exist.” What hubris! Moreover, it seems to go even further by thinking that these odd cases outweigh the abundance of cases of brilliant-appearing designs in nature, many of which have spawned a whole field called biomimetics.  This field of study, which attempts to improve existing human designs or innovate new ones based on designs seen in nature, would not exist except that so many natural objects solve design problems we struggle with in ingenious ways. Indeed, I would say we have sufficient positive examples of exceptional design in nature to warrant an humble, inquisitive stance toward the supposedly “sub-optimal” cases we don’t fully comprehend yet. But really, isn’t that the attitude good science is founded on anyway?

Photo credit: By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-23805-1665 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5349654

Manuscript Errors

An erasure in the Codex Sinaiticus manuscript

In preparing to write about Nicolas Copernicus recently, I bought a 2-volume set of his complete works, translated into English (a big help since I am only beginning my study of Latin). However, I wasn’t expecting a translation of a Christian astronomer’s theories in the 1500’s to help me better understand how we can be confident in the integrity of biblical manuscripts from a thousand years earlier. How so? Let’s “sharpen our pencils,” as we say in engineering, and work through this problem.

The translator’s notes on the Commentariolus, Copernicus’ first draft of his geokinetic theory[1],  caught my eye for several reasons. First, we don’t have any surviving copies of the original treatise that Copernicus had dispatched to a few close friends. Second, Copernicus never put any title or claim of authorship on it. We owe that to Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe years later. These are such common objections from skeptics regarding surviving Gospel manuscripts and their lack of direct claim of authorship, and yet in other historical investigations, those circumstances aren’t deal-breakers.  But third, and most significant to me, was how the original content could be rebuilt from copies with errors.

We have 2 surviving copies made from one of the originals by professional scribes hired by Brahe. These are known as the “S” and “V” manuscripts for Stockholm and Vienna, where they eventually came to reside, respectively. A third manuscript, known as “A” for Aberdeen, was made by a student copying the text of Commentariolus into the margins of his copy of Copernicus’ Revolutions in an abbreviated fashion. One scribe, it seems, was copying the original text by sight, and got off a line. He saw the same word (“orbis”) he’d just written used 6 words later, and proceeded from that point, skipping those intervening words, and garbling the sentence. The other scribe did not make the same mistake there, so that portion could be reconstructed from his copy. He did make his share of mistakes in other places, though. One in particular, was the writing of the words “ac si” for the word “axi”, a mistake that only made sense if he were taking dictation. The two sound similar, so he wrote what he thought he heard. Even if he were to read it back to the one dictating, it would sound correct. Since the first scribe was seeing the original words, he was not liable to that type of auditory error, but he was susceptible to visual errors like skipping a line. Now with only two formal copies of a text, we are able to be quite comfortable that we have the message of the autograph (the original manuscript) intact. Even the “A” manuscript, not attempting to be a word-for-word formal copy,  has still proven useful for corroborating some differences between the 2 formal copies, which were made by copyists likely not trained in astronomy. That’s because the “A” copy was made by another scholar who was  able to spot some of the copying errors in the manuscript he was reading (based on a non-surviving sister copy of the “S” manuscript) and correct them, thus bringing his copy into agreement with manuscript “V” which he never saw. The point, is the more copies we have of a manuscript, even partial copies, the more confidently we can reconstruct the original message.[2]

This is the same tactic used in data backup with RAID storage. RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Drives. There are different levels of redundancy with RAID 0, RAID 1, all the way up to RAID 6 (currently). But the basic idea is that different hard drives will not all crash at the same time, and will not all get corrupted at the same data location. This means that if one drive crashes, the data on it can be reconstructed from the remaining drives in the array. Or if a particular file goes “bad” and won’t open anymore, the system can rebuild that file from the information in the other drives.

Now, consider how we have reconstructed an original amount of data from 2 copies of a manuscript, or from several computer drives. Do you see why objections that we don’t have any original biblical manuscripts fall flat? Or why the comparisons of the Bible to the “telephone game” don’t really pose a problem? We have thousands of manuscripts, and we keep finding more and more of them. Are they all complete? No, many are only fragments, but they overlap with other copies to provide better redundancy than any other ancient manuscript. Do some have copying errors? Sure. Do some have additions? Yes. But witness the genius of God, in that He basically set up a geographically-distributed redundant array of data stores for His Word from which we can reasonably reconstruct the original. Just as some of Copernicus’ manuscripts that only had one surviving copy were destroyed in different wars throughout Europe, one original manuscript of the Bible would be a very fragile thing. But a worldwide network of copies could never be taken out by floods, or earthquakes, or wars, or vandalism. The absence of an original manuscript isn’t a liability, it’s actually evidence of brilliant planning. But that’s the kind of God we serve.

[1] Commonly called the “heliocentric” theory, Copernicus technically theorized that the sun was near the center of the known universe of the time, not necessarily at the center. His primary postulate was that the earth moved, so “geokinetic” is more technically correct.
[2] Nicholas Copernicus – Complete Works, Volume 2: Minor Works, translation & commentary by Edward Rosen & Erna Hilfstein (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Paperbacks, 1992), pp. 75-80.