Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Nuclear Submarines and Living Cells (part #4 in the Why I Believe series)

In part three of this series I wrote about how seeing evidence of God in creation helps us to believe in Him and gives us courage to keep serving Him, even in the face of opposition and difficulties. In that post I focused on the “everyday experience” of God’s beauty and power seen in His creation.  There is also a scientific side to seeing God in creation, and that is the focus of this blog post.

I’ve had an unusual life.  Before I was called to be a pastor, and before I was called to share Christ’s love and truth overseas, I served in the US Navy for 5 years.  As an undergraduate, I had majored in Mechanical Engineering.  I was accepted into the Navy’s Nuclear Power program, where I received a year of intense training, then I was assigned work as a nuclear engineer on submarines for four years.

I bring this up because a nuclear submarine is one of the most complex and advanced machines which man has ever made.  From salt water we could make fresh water, and from fresh water we could make O2 to breathe so that we could stay underwater for months at a time if needed. And that’s just a tiny taste of the complexity.  Because I was on a submarine while it was built and then while it was being tested, I got to see this marvel of technology in great detail.

I served on a submarine like this one.

Yet, as amazingly complex as a nuclear submarine is, it pales in comparison to the wonder and complexity of even the “simplest” living cells created by God.

Steel Hulls and Living Cell Membranes

It is obvious that a submarine has to have a strong hull.  What is less obvious, is that the hull has to have many penetrations.  As a new submarine officer, I remember having to memorize the location and function of every “hole” in the hull.  There were several for letting sea water in and out for cooling in the power plant.  Of course, there were the hatches that we could climb in and out of.  Then there were also the torpedo tubes.  Less glamorous, but just as important, were holes through which we could get rid of trash and waste.  The point is, the hull had to allow us to get everything into the submarine we needed inside and allow us to get everything out that needed to go out, all while keeping us safe from the ocean, which would kill us if it got in!

Every living cell faces a similar situation.  It needs a cell wall to separate the contents and chemicals inside from the environment outside.  But it has to be able to take in food, water, and other chemicals it needs while expelling waste products of various kinds.  To achieve this the cell membrane (it’s “hull”) has a very complex set of the equivalent of tiny hatches and pumps, which let in just the right stuff, get rid of other stuff, and keeps the cell interior safe.

Nuclear Reactors and Mitochondria

A submarine needs energy.  Nuclear submarines use nuclear reactors to produce energy.  It is important that energy production is carefully regulated.  If the reaction in the core went too quickly, that would be very bad for the submarine.  A similar situation exists with the car you drive.  If all the gas burned at once, you would be in big trouble.

A cell also needs highly regulated energy production.  Energy in the right amount in the right place gives life.  Too much energy too fast would damage or destroy a cell.  Submarines have nuclear reactors, living cells have mitochondria.  These miniature power plants are very complex and produce all the energy a cell needs in a way that is safe for the cell and amazingly efficient (much more efficient than your car engine or the nuclear power plant I operated!).

Now, if you imagine that mitochondria might be less complex than nuclear reactors, try watching this short, awesome animation which gives just a glimpse of these amazing molecular energy factories:

Computers and DNA

Like many modern man-made machines, submarines have computers which help process complex information like using underwater sound waves to find enemy ships and target them.  But a long time before the first computer was invented, God placed incredibly complex information processing systems inside every cell.

Since the discovery of DNA, it has become increasingly clear that a fundamental characteristic of all life is that it stores, processes, and transmits vast amounts of information.  The methods it uses are very similar to computers.  There are coded instructions in DNA just like there are coded instructions on the hard drive of your computer.  The cell has very complex molecular machines which read the coded instructions and use them to produce proteins and control the cell.  You can get a taste of what’s involved by watching this short animation:

The coded information in the cell would be useless without the complex molecular machinery which executes the instructions.  But the machinery itself is built by the very same coded instructions!  This goes far beyond anything man had been able to create up to now.  Which brings us to our next point . . .

Submarines Get Left in the Dust

Up to now, I have compared the complexity of living cells to the complexity of a nuclear submarine.  But the analogy eventually breaks down because cells are far more complex than submarines.

There is something which all living cells are designed to do which no machine made by man has been able to do.  Using raw materials found in nature, the cell can reproduce itself.  It can also grow. God gave the ability to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:22) to living things. No submarine, computer, or human made machine can do that. 

To imagine a cell coming into existence by mere physical forces and chance, would be like imaging a hurricane blowing over a junkyard and by chance assembling a fully functional nuclear submarine.  The only plausible explanation for the immense complexity and magnificent design found in even the simplest living organisms is that they were created by a very wise and intelligent Creator.

Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Going Deeper

As you can probably tell, I love science.  Science is one of many types of evidence which strengthen my belief in God.  But I’m not a scientist.  For many years, learning about scientific evidence which points to God has been a type of intellectual hobby as well as an encouragement to my soul. If you want to go deeper, I would like to share with you one website and three books which are written by scientists which I have found especially helpful.  These resources do not focus on theology (there are plenty of others that do).  They focus with laser clarity on the scientific evidence and reasoning which point to a great, intelligent Creator.

Recommended website:

Recommended books:

1.  Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer
2.  Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
3.  The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe

This is part 4, you may find other posts in this "Why I Believe . . ." series below:

Blog Posts in the “Why I Believe Enough to Keep Following Jesus” Series

                 Note:  Part 2 includes a poem I wrote

Seeing Evidence of God in Creation

Seeing Evidence in the Bible

note:  Yes, I’m aware that part 6 is out of order.  That happened due to an article I read about scientific evidence for God that came out after I had written part 5

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing and wonderfully made thing, the human body. How could anyone not believe in our Powerful and Awesome God, creator of this magnificent, complex world and all that is in it? Thank you for posting this explanation and illustration of just a small part of how things work together.