Subject: The Statistics of Christianity: A Designed Universe and Jet Engines
Ephesians 3:9 “God who created all things through Jesus Christ.”
Last Tuesday, one of Southwest Airline flight 1380s engines exploded in midflight, tragically killing a passenger (the first airline passenger fatality since 2009). Experts think one of its 18 fan blades broke due to metal fatigue. The pilot was able to land the plane with one engine, even with such devastating damage. At the time, I was in the Kansas City terminal, boarding a flight for a business trip to Detroit.
As people in the terminal watched the events unfold on the airport monitors, the mood was not panic nor fear. Passengers continued boarding their flights. Wouldnt you think people would be terrified after seeing an engine blow up with 250 passengers 10,000 feet in the air going nearly 300 miles per hour?
When the media interviewed technical experts for their explanation of what happened to SW flight 1380, the unanimous opinion was that the CFM56-7B engine failure was a fluke, issuing the following statement: You cant completely rule out a manufacturing error. You cant rule out external damage. You cant rule out isolated wear and tear. But given the amazing run this CFM56-7B engine has had, you can rule out a design flaw. How can the experts so quickly dismiss design as the cause for the failure?
In my professional career, I have run a jet engine service shop, where companies like UPS, Boeing, Southwest, United Airlines and the military have sent their engines to be completely disassembled, their over 9,000 parts sent all over the world for refurbishment or repair, and then returned, the engine reassembled, tested and shipped to the airline to be remounted on the airplane. I am well versed on the depth of design, manufacturing and service control necessary to ensure proper engine function.
I have also spent over 25 years leading teams in statistical process control, responsible for implementing improvements in products and processes as well as teaching statistics techniques and tools to employees.
One of my favorite teaching methods is to go through examples of jet engine failure modes to explain how statistics is used to tell the difference between a system or process that is designed versus one based on unguided, random events. It isnt that difficult to recognize design vs. random when you see it. And that is why no one panics at an airport when another flight somewhere in the world fails. They know jet engines are reliably designed, even without ever working in a jet engine facility. How do they know this?
About 100,000 airplanes take off every day from airports around the world. That equates to 37,000,000 flights every year. The engine that exploded on the Southwest flight is the single most-used engine ever, powering over 6,700 aircraft worldwide since being introduced in 1997 (over 20 years ago).
In the world of statistics, that means jet engines (and especially this one) have about 1 chance in 10,000,000 opportunities (or, in scientific notation, 1×107 chance), of failure. With about 37,000,000 flights around the world, that means you can expect about 3 failures somewhere in the world every year. That means any open-minded person can see how improbable it is that jet engines would fail during flight.
Our verse this week, from the New Testament book of Ephesians, is one over nearly 200 unique verses throughout the Bible where God is called out as the Designer of the Universe, all life, and us. And even more so than the jet engine, the level of design throughout the universe is staggering.
For example, if the number of electrons in the universe doesnt equal the number of protons to a precision of 1×1037, electromagnetic forces would overwhelm gravitational forces and galaxies, stars and planets could not form… so life would not exist. And when it comes to life, the probability that the DNA code found in each cell occurred by unguided, random processes is 1×10600!
In both these examples, the levels of precision (1×1037 and 1×10600) are much greater than the precision required to convince people jet engines are safely designed (1×107). So why isn’t the obvious conclusion taught in our schools as possible explanations for the origin of our universe and of life: that it was created by a Great Designer? Just as with the jet engine, any open-minded person knows design when they see it.
As the noted Cambridge Professor of Astrophysics Sir Frederick Hoyle once said, The probability of life originating at random is so miniscule as to make it absurd. The favorable properties of physics on which life depends are in every respect deliberate. It is therefore inevitable that our own measure of intelligence must reflect higher intelligences, even to the limit of God. Such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lees Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called Faith: Substance and Evidence. He can be reached with your questions through the Lees Summit Tribune.