Ever heard of a Game called Whizz Ball? There was a game that I played on my Commodore 64 that was frickin’ awesome called Wizball - the game I am talking about isn’t that game. This game is kind of like that old ‘Mouse Trap’ game where you build a complicated mechanism to get a ball from a starting point to an end goal. But this is a ‘kids’ game that has been commandeered by a lot of much older people who have used the game’s inbuilt level editor to make a whole bunch of extra levels. Levels that they subsequently label ‘very hard’. That is to say, levels for kids are few and far between. When I started, I picked out a few easy and medium levels, and found the ones I tried to be fairly simple - a matter of finding pieces that fit the holes on the game board. A few of the harder levels got me thinking beyond this simple matching game. I found I had to start at the end point and kind of work backwards towards the beginning, working out which piece would take my ball to the previous piece I laid.
A combination of these approaches worked until I tried a level that was labelled ‘very hard’. Every tactic I had broke down. I tried every piece I could think of in every conceivable spot that would advance my ball to where I wanted it to go, and failed miserably. I even used the game’s little ‘hint’ feature to start having my pieces automatically laid, but the pieces it laid made no sense. Once I succumbed to my curiosity and watched the computer solve it, I could see how it worked.
The trick is that every piece has certain rules governing the way it works, but every piece also has rules governing what happens to the ball if a piece is laid incorrectly. Normally these negative rules make the ball do undesirable things leading to failure, such as flinging off the board, or bouncing back the wrong way. The author of this particular puzzle had used these negative rules to actually advance the ball instead, making solving the puzzle reliant on knowing the negative behaviours of each individual piece as well as the correct behaviour. At the time I was very annoyed, and cursed the author for their fiendish ways.
Then I was driving in my car. Not straight away, as my life is not edited for brevity like an episode of ‘24’. Anyway, driving along it occurred to me (I cannot remember the chain of thought) that life is rather like that puzzle. My puny brain is always trying to determine the logical outcome of events/thoughts/interactions based on ‘if this, then that’ reasoning. For example my thinking often goes:
The bible says that the world was created in six days. Currently accepted scientific thought says that it took millions of years. If these two ideas are mutually exclusive, then one must be wrong. If the bible is wrong on this matter, how much of the bible can be believed? Where does the cut-off lie - somewhere around Deuteronomy? And if the bible is correct, what are the implications for science? Did God create the universe in six days already looking really old?
Can you follow what I mean about ‘if this, then that’ reasoning? As with the game, I can’t help but look at the pieces I’m given and say, ‘If I put that piece there, then I must put the next piece here.’ What my short experience with this game has got me wondering is: are there facts (pieces) in life that still work when they look broken? That is, if another smarter person were to observe something about the earth that seems to work one way or prove one thing, could they also see how it might be used another way to prove another thing?
I’ll be honest. In my musings, the smarter person is God. Could an infinitely smart God create a world that seems wacky from our view, but makes perfect sense to Him? Apologists and theologians would say yes absolutely, and I’m not going to argue one way or another. I mean only to point out that in a silly computer game with limited rules, there are ways that a designer can bend the rules to make something seemingly broken work beautifully in the end. How much more so could God create a world full of contradictions and inconsistencies that actually makes sense in the end?
That’s some what ifs yeah? Now I’m gonna flip it around, cause I can’t leave a post sounding like I’ve actually sorted out what I think.
The game also got me thinking about evolution. Current creationist and intelligent design arguments go that there are some things in life that are too complex to have sprung up by chance. These things must (the argument goes) have been designed, ‘cause their individual parts are useless - only the whole has a point.
What the game kind of helps me understand is how complex things might evolve. Some game parts can be used in ways that they weren’t intended, shoehorned into different roles. Perhaps (perhaps nothing, this is the theory as I understand it) some organisms started with one role, and by chance were grabbed and used by other organisms. This chance happening benefited both organisms, and over time they both lost the other functions that they once performed, settling into their new roles. Overly simplistic explanation - yes, useful explanation - yes.
OK. I’m sure there are many reasons why both applications of this one example are flawed. However, it helps me understand some very complicated ideas, and perhaps it can help others as well. Let me know if it’s useful for you.