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Beyond our Best Skills

Beyond our Best Skills


Book Review – Inspiration from Creation: How engineers are copying God’s designs

Some years ago, I remember meeting a lady who was very excited at the realization that God is an artist! Similarly, I am very excited about a new book that portrays God as an amazing engineer. The lead author is engineer of exceptional experience and honours, yet he admits that mankind’s skills in engineering practical devices are woefully lacking compared to what we see in nature.

The book’s cover displays a photograph of an adult dragonfly. At first you probably do not notice the robotic flyer below, a pale imitation of the natural prototype. To develop this insect-inspired micro air vehicle, would-be designers found themselves armed with nets and chasing dragonflies around the university grounds. Once they had some specimens, the engineers used high speed videos of their specimens in flight. Upon viewing the flight in slow motion, they discovered that the insects utilize a “four-bar” design system that allows four pivot points in the wings. They found that replicating this system was extremely complicated. In all there were nine variables that could be tweaked in endless fashion. Having eventually come up with a design, they needed to figure out how to manufacture the component parts. Using fancy wind tunnels, they tested their prototype. Their design exhibited only one third of the flapping capacity of the real dragonfly and beyond that their components failed.

Apparently a four-bar mechanism which produces specific motion paths (like wing flapping) is irreducibly complex. The whole system must be in place or none of it works. The authors describe other four-bar systems. They sought to develop, for example, a flexible thumb for an artificial hand. Their inspiration in this case turned out to be the jaws of a highly unusual fish from China. Again, of course, their system when developed, was nothing like as flexible as their fishy prototype.

Again and again, the authors describe highly engineered systems that come nowhere near the capabilities of natural models. One system caught my eye: phage viruses. There is a saying “Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them.” Well bacteria are frequently attacked by phage viruses which shoot their DNA under high pressure into the host cell. The DNA is stored under such pressures in the virus head that it explodes into the victim’s cell once an opening is made. During manufacture of a virus, a simple molecular motor pushes the DNA into the head by means of a force ten million times greater than an equivalent man-made motor pushing cable into a box. (pp. 100-103)

(For anyone who is interested in the highly remarkable process by which phage viruses push their own DNA into new virus caps (all manufactured inside a victim bacterial cell that did not have a firewall) see www.create.ab.ca/imagine-problem-solving  )

Inspiration from Creation: How engineers are copying God’s designs [2018 Creation Ministries International (US) Inc.] by Stuart Burgess and Dominic Statham is a delight to read. The discussion and full colour illustrations are all first rate. Even for systems which we already know, the engineering perspective enriches our understanding. (Paperback full colour 129 pages)

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M.J. Masters
January 2020

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