Why Man Cannot Be God (Reason No. 214,989,112 )

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Robert Fulton’s design for the world’s first steam-powered warship. The thing in the very middle of the ship is the paddle wheel.

Robert Fulton was a genius–right? He invented the steamboat. They called it “Fulton’s Folly,” but they were wrong: Fulton had just revolutionized transportation.

Nevertheless, Fulton did come up with one real folly, and it was the last project he did in his life.

In 1814 Fulton got Congress to appropriate $500,000–a staggering sum, in those days–to build a steam-powered warship that would sweep the British Navy from the seas. The War of 1812 was ongoing, the British had sailed into Chesapeake Bay and burned Washington, and it was feared they would do the same to New York. The young nation looked to Fulton to prevent that.

Fulton knew that the obvious problem for any steamboat entering a naval battle was the paddle-wheel: it would be shot to bits in a matter of minutes, leaving the ship dead in the water. So Fulton put the paddle-wheel inside the ship (see drawing, above), smack-dab in the middle, where no enemy could damage it without sinking the ship outright. And to make sure that wouldn’t happen, Fulton built the hull extra-thick and armed the vessel to the teeth with heavy guns.

As he designed it, so they built it. They finished the job a few months before the war ended.

Two things turned out to be wrong.

First, the design didn’t leave room for an engine big enough to move this monster into anything like a battle speed. It was slooooow.

But worst–you won’t believe this, but it’s true–Fulton’s design did not provide any way to steer the vessel! Again, look at the drawing: with the paddle-wheel in the middle of the boat, the boat could only go in one direction. If you really did have to turn it, you had to send men out in rowboats, with lots of strong rope, to drag the ship into another course. Not the most practical expedient during the hubbub of a battle.

How could Robert Fulton–Robert Fulton!–design and build a ship that could only go in one direction, very slowly? And given the hundreds of Navy men and shipbuilders involved in the project, why did no one ever speak up and say, “Uh, er, how are we supposed to steer this ship?”

The moral of the story: Before granting godlike powers to any moral man or woman, we do well to remember that even the wisest of us occasionally comes up with a plan that wouldn’t do credit to a monkey. The Bible tells us that “In a multitude of  counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14)–and even a multitude of counselors is unsafe, once they get to thinking that they’re wise. Let the Bible and King Solomon have the last word:

“Seest thou a man who is wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.” (Proverbs 26:12)

8 comments on “Why Man Cannot Be God (Reason No. 214,989,112 )

  1. And I thought I was stupid… (well, I am at times), but I haven’t yet created anything quite as disastrous as that ship. Some people might think that is questionable. We can always trust Scripture for wisdom… humans without God, no!

  2. Oh, for goodness sake! Who would have ever expected that? Wouldn’t you have liked to hear the conversation? ‘Uh, Robert, old boy, should we just plow into the enemy?’

    1. This would be great–leftids breeding themselves out of existence–if only they didn’t have the pubic schools turning our children into theirs.
      Get rid of the public schools, and you get rid of libs ‘n’ progs.

  3. The problem here was the Fulton was given a task that his type of “machine” COULD NOT fulfill. It is very much akin to asking people to create a “flying machine” when there simply was not enough knowledge to do so. As the knowledge accrued, smart men did create a flying machine. It is not an attempt to be “God” that makes man “invent,” but the gift that God gave us of intelligence and curiosity. Of course, we’re going to get it wrong! Even when we get it right things happen! But we must never decide to remain ignorant in order to avoid hubris. We must simply keep God in our mind and ask His help in doing our very best.

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