Author and Finisher

Following somewhat in the vein of my last post, there was an interesting discussion yesterday on BBC Radio4 between an author of romantic fiction and a computer programmer. The latter has developed software that can produce readable works of prose and poetry using a complex mathematical algorithm. One of the key points made by the author in defending the traditional approach to creative writing was that, if it is to have any real meaning for readers, there needs to be an intelligence behind what is written. As an example, she mentioned a poem by Robert Frost that she had studied in the past. Part of her enjoyment of the poem was in trying to understand what the poet “really meant”. A poem written by an automated process would be, in her opinion, ultimately meaningless.

I understand what she means and sympathise strongly with her position. My readership is small, but I suspect it would be a lot smaller still if those reading this blog believed it to be the output of a clever computer programme! But the debate made me think further about this issue. I understand the concerns about computer generated content, but it is not the computer programme that is ‘clever’, it is the computer programmer. The computer itself is not analogous with the author but with the medium that the author chooses to adopt (a biro, typewriter, etc) it does not autonomously generate a meaningful message. Although a computer may have been designed to sequence text in a manner that is understandable to humans it is only understandable because it has been designed. The computer neither knows nor cares if its output has been understood – not something that could be said of many human authors!

The very fact that a message communicates meaning to us informs us that there is an intelligence behind it somewhere – even if the message is transmitted via another medium: paper and ink, an mp3 file or a computer programme.

What do we say then of the messages communicated every day by our universe? Why is there order and not chaos? Why do physical things follow immaterial laws? Why is it that (in measure at least) our universe is understandable to us? These challenges are much easier to comprehend if we understand there to be a messenger behind the messages, a divine intelligence communicating a little of His vast awesomeness.

It is not an accident that in past years the word ‘author’ carried the meaning of ‘founder’ or ‘beginner’, the originating cause. In the King James Version of the Bible it is used to translate the words of Hebrews 12 vs2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith”. For the Christian, the message of Christ is the most wonderful ever communicated. He is the author, in the sense that He is the basis, the solid foundation in which we can have confidence. He is also the completer of all our hopes. In a unique sense He is both the message and the messenger, as the Apostle John writes, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

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