Professor of Engineering Design Stuart Burgess talks to Philip Bell of Creation Ministries International
Prof. Stuart Burgess is an experienced engineer, turning his design eye on the biological wonders of the natural world in his book Hallmarks of Design.1 He has also authored books on topics as diverse as the stars and human origins.
Stuart has published widely in his field, and co-edits a scholarly journal. His contributions to the field have been recognised by various prestigious awards over the years, most recently the 2019 James Clayton Prize - Britain's premier mechanical engineering award for his "exceptional contribution to mechanical engineering and related science, technology and invention".
Stuart has loved engineering since he was small.
"When I was a child I was always building cars and houses with Lego and this got me interested in designing for a job rather than just for fun. I feel very privileged to have worked for the European Space Agency on several big space projects and I now really enjoy my teaching job and researching engineering design at Bristol University."
Stuart is also a Christian who believes God created the world in six days.
So is it more difficult for engineers—who spend so much time considering designed objects—to embrace Darwinian evolution than it is for biologists? Stuart explains:
"Yes, for two reasons. Firstly, since the design by human beings is not limited by the step-by-step change that evolution is limited by, human engineers should produce designs which are far more sophisticated than those found in nature. Yet the opposite is true. Nature has by far the most sophisticated designs. A second reason is that engineers know that you cannot design by making random mistakes. If you randomly change a single parameter in a car engine it will always result in a retrograde step. Design improvements always require careful planning and careful changing of many parameters at the same time."
Stuart has ample experience of this, including working on the design of a solar array for the Envisat ESA satellite, as he explains:
"The Envisat satellite cost £1.6 billion and has hundreds of thousands of components and several million separate pieces of design information, like dimensions and material properties. It would only have taken one or two errors in the design information and the whole mission would have failed. This kind of project illustrates how difficult design is and how design does not happen by chance."
Dr Burgess is impressed with many designs in the natural world, but one stands out to him:
"My favourite evidence is the peacock tail feather. It has beautiful iridescent colours produced by thin film interference. The feather has layers of keratin with precision thicknesses comparable to the wavelengths of the individual colours of white light. The feather barbs are also incredibly well aligned to produce mathematical patterns.2 The design of peacock feathers is so precise that engineers cannot replicate it. Yet the feathers seem to exist purely for decoration! I think that the peacock feather shows not only that there is a Creator but that the Creator is supremely wise and very caring. I have no doubt that God wanted humans to enjoy the beauty of the peacock feather."
Dr Jonathan Sarfati discusses many more amazing examples of such exquisite structures in his book By Design.3 A recurring theme in the book is the way in which today's biologists are mimicking things they observe in the natural world. Stuart explains:
"Biomimetics involves copying or being inspired by design solutions from nature. Engineers are very interested in biomimetics because the natural world contains supremely optimized design. For example, birds and insects are supremely well designed for flight. Birds have inspired aeroplane designers for many years, including the Wright brothers who invented aircraft turning mechanisms after studying how birds turned in the air.
"Flying insects like dragonflies are another strong evidence for design because their flight mechanisms (and navigation systems4) are incredibly sophisticated. My own research group at Bristol University is developing micro air vehicles based on the wings of dragonflies. We have filmed dragonflies with high speed cameras and recorded the exact flapping and twisting motion of their wings. We have then produced linkage mechanisms that can copy that motion in man-made micro air vehicles."
So God's designs set the standard to which engineers aspire in their work, even if they don't always acknowledge this.
"Sadly, I find that many scientists do not want to discuss "Intelligent Design" ID. One reason for this is that they are worried by the implications of there being a Creator, that they are then accountable to that Creator. Another implication is that they have a responsibility to give credit and glory to the Creator. But there are serious implications to every theory, including the big bang and evolution.
"If the big bang theory were true, then the Earth and man would be unimportant because we are lost in eons of time and megaparsecs of space. If evolution were true, then it would mean that the world had been created via a process of violence and death. So the fact that ID and creation have serious implications is not in itself a reason to avoid debating ID and creation."
Stuart explains how his Christian faith connects with the work he has been involved in all these years.
"Engineering is a great profession for a Christian because it involves creativity. Man's ability to create is one aspect of our being made in the image of God. The difficulty of designing and building things that are relatively simple makes you realize how great is the wisdom and power of God who has made all things.
"I think the key to accepting Genesis as a literal account is to remember that God is infinite in wisdom and power. When you really grasp this, then you realize that creating the world in six days was never a problem for God."•
References and Notes
This article has been edited from one on the creation.com website and is used with kind permission.