The Infinity of a Single Apple Stem

Think about an apple stem. You know what I’m talking about—that reedy, brown filament you throw away when you have finished your “apple a day.” You might be tempted to think, “wait, what? It’s just a twig! It’s just some stiff organic strand, connecting the apple to the tree.”

What’s the big deal?

If you spent your lifetime trying to memorize every molecule in that single brown filament, your mind would be too small to store, much less recount, a blueprint of the stem you just threw in the kitchen trash. Remember, you would have to describe the revolution of every electron, circling every proton at the heart of the elements making up that single, unique apple stem. I’m not talking about just the apple’s baroque inventory of chemical ingredients: calcium, phosphorous, E300, E101, riboflavin, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, fructose, polyphenols, quercetin, (among hundreds of others). I’m talking about the matter-matrix making up that particular apple stem, including that cilia-like hair coming from its trunk. 

Even if you were allowed to freeze the stem in time, you aren’t smart enough to paint the super-dense picture of that single apple stem. No one is

Before becoming an apple farmer and a living historian, I programmed computers for a living. The process of describing thought itself—mapping out logic gates in a series of “if yes, then, else” decisions gave me the sense you could scale up intelligence and celebrate its speed. I learned programming back when flight simulation was first attempted on PCs, and I imagined a super-realistic, three-dimensional stored array of digitized matter on all sides of the pilot—the composition of the cockpit window, the leaves on Eucalyptus trees on the side of the runway, the density of the clouds overhead. Each matrix-cube radiating out from the pilot would have some inventory of properties—chemical composition, color, density, mass. I was leaving space for 100,000 meta properties not yet considered. 

Overall, of course, the 50-cubic-mile radius around the pilot would be subject to forces outside itself—weather, wind, sunlight, temperature and a few million more. Finally, the actions of the pilot himself—flaps, throttle, elevators, fuel weight—would govern the visual simulation of him moving through space, as millions of parallel algorithms, and the laws of perspective, cycled through a response to each action he took.  The computers weren’t up to it then, and even realistic simulations today don’t attempt to recreate an entire microuniverse, down to the molecule.

But if you have ever improved ever so slightly at the violin, day by day, measure by measure, you understand the human weakness for contemplating the conquest of utter perfection. “If I’m getting a little better at this today, I can imagine being a lot better tomorrow and maybe, someday, I can experience something like flawlessness.” Computer programming is very much like that. You experience such astounding leaps in efficiency. You keep being blessed with more storage and faster processors. You keep being given such incredible image resolution. Your algorithms get more efficient. It’s not just like playing with lightning. It’s something like commanding lightning. When you get on a big jetliner, there’s some comfort in knowing engineers can now visualize part failure, systems failure, a million different ways before you actually ascend to 36,000 feet. They can make thunderbolts hit the aircraft and assess the damage without anyone getting hurt. They play with virtual lightning, so you can be protected from the real thing.

All in all, it’s an exciting time to be alive. We can make computers do complicated tasks (we define) much faster than we can. We might even be able to teach computers to learn from watching nature, or crowds, or economies.

But omniscience and omnipresence are beyond us. There is no fiddle metaphor that works on that level. Imagine the sort of mind (the sort of computer, if you will), that can simultaneously contemplate a single electron swirling around a single hydrogen atom on the farthest side of the universe and simultaneously have compassion for, and utter comprehension of, the emotions a three-year-old girl feels as she cries, watching her daddy go off to work? Multiply that multitasking by a number too large to be described. Ponder a mind great enough to monitor it all at once. Imagine its precision and order. Imagine a Mind that can fuse sodium and chlorine together (toxic and volatile by themselves) into the compound salt, which is necessary for human life, and then scale that chemical poetry up to the spiritual poetry in the New Testament?  (“You are the salt of the earth.”)

Science is no enemy to faith in God. Science, if you really ponder it, utterly demands God. If you think the DNA molecule burst into existence by virtue of radiation zapping a little hydrogen and methane, you are the sort who imagines a Swiss watch assembled by shaking parts in a bag. Even if a long series of utterly natural conditions combined to create the life we see all around us, the “natural order” doesn’t allow for accident, only the appearance of accident made possible by complexity. The same “scientists” who insist COVID vaccines are “utterly safe” make that claim because they assume the physical world acts in a predictable way, governed by observable physical laws.

Some Great Mind wrote the book, fellas.

We are something like little boys kept from dad’s workshop by a padlock and a father who spends a lot of time on the road. We get a little older, a little more daring, and we break into dad’s workshop, find the arc welder and the rotary saw and the drill press and we think, “wait! there is no father! There’s just this fantastic accidental workshop!”

Fatherless boys playing with power tools perfectly describes a world in love with science but careless about moral law. It perfectly describes people willing to play with the genetic code of a killer virus without considering the human consequences of doing so. Even if the Chinese Communists, and their traitorous comrades here, intended the experiment for evil, they might at least consider the gallows they are building; it just might be their own. 

As C. S. Lewis observed, paraphrasing, scientific genius is often enjoyed by moral dimwits. You probably shouldn’t learn genetic engineering until you’ve studied biblical ethics for a few years.

If we are to learn anything from the COVID public policy disaster, it might be the value of pure repentance before a Holy God. With God, science can enrich our lives beyond our comprehension. Without Him, well, are you ready to see your grandchildren’s DNA fused with a timber wolf? Have you seen those robot dogs with automatic weapons on their backs? Are you ready for the horrors ahead?

Repent, America. Humble yourselves before the Great High King of the Universe.

Science, ultimately, is a servant of faith and we can’t let it go rogue.

About James Patrick Riley

James Riley is the owner and operator of Riley's Farm in Oak Glen, California and the creator of "Courage, New Hampshire," a television drama seen on PBS stations across the country. The father of six children, Riley performs "Patrick Henry" and supervises a living history program visited by hundreds of thousands of school children. He holds a degree in history from Stanford University.

Photo: iStock/GETTY IMAGES

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