Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

Evolution News and Views
Mathematics NEWS

Rubik's Cube Is a Hand-Sized Illustration of Intelligent Design

ID and a Rubik's Cube.jpg

For those who have not made it a favorite pastime, solving a Rubik's Cube just adds unneeded stress to life. It's frustrating to twist and turn those colors, getting some to match but finding out your last move un-matched colors you had previously matched. Then to find some kid on TV doing it in seconds is enough to send you outside screaming. The world record is now 4.904 seconds by Lucas Etter, a teenager in Maryland, who set the record on November 24.

The cube has over 43 quintillion possible color combinations, mathematicians Tomas Rokiki and Morley Davidson tell us, but only one solution. For those who have screamed enough at these dastardly devices, mathematician Geoff Smith has posted the secret at The Conversation: "How to solve a Rubik's cube in 5 seconds." (It's not really fair to divulge this. We're supposed to be smart enough to figure it out on our own. But we've had enough. Help us! What is it?)

So how do the likes of Lucas Etter work out how to solve Rubik's cube so quickly? They could read instructions, but that rather spoils the fun. If you want to work out how to do it yourself, you need to develop cube-solving tools. [Emphasis added.]

Now isn't that helpful. How to open a can? Develop a can-opening tool. Gee, thanks.

In this sense, a tool is a short sequence of turns which results in only a few of the individual squares on the cube's faces changing position. When you have discovered and memorised enough tools, you can execute them one after the other in order as required to return the cube to its pristine, solved condition.

If you think the secret is going to be easy, keep reading. After defining mathematical groups and commutators, Smith takes us into the labyrinth without a string. We expect the Minotaur to arrive any moment.

Think of the overall structure of the different configurations of a Rubik's cube as a labyrinth, which has that many chambers, each of which contains a Rubik's cube in the state which corresponds to that chamber. From each chamber there are 12 doors leading to other chambers, each door corresponding to a quarter turn of one of the six faces of a cube.

"You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike." We gave that game up in 1992.

The type of turn needed to pass through each door is written above it, so you know which door is which. Your job is to navigate your way from a particular chamber to the one where the cube on the table is in perfect condition.

Aaarggh! We knew that! Our job is to solve the cube! We plead for mercy.

The mathematical result in Rokicki and Davidson's paper shows that, no matter where you are in the labyrinth, it's possible to reach the winning chamber by passing through at most 26 doors -- although the route you find using your tools is not likely to be that efficient.

Now we begin to see a glimpse of the light out of the labyrinth. 26 doors? Tough, but accessible. Actually, the mathematicians have updated "God's number" as they call it to 20. We could do that. Not blindfolded, though, like some winners Smith talks about. But there's no way around memorizing a lot of moves.

A Useful Instructional Aid

For those interested in explaining ID to people without a lot of memory work, the Rubik's Cube can be a useful instructional aid. You don't have to master the art of solving it. Save your sanity; just buy two cubes, and don't touch the solved one. Lock it into a plastic case if you have to, so that you won't have to try all 43 quintillion combinations in front of your audience. Or, rent a kid who can fix it in a few seconds.

Explain that the cube is a search problem. Take the scrambled one, and show how you want to get from that one to the solved one. You need a search algorithm. Which approach is more likely to find the solution -- intelligent causes or unguided causes? The answer is obvious, but go ahead; rub it in. A robot randomly moving the colors around could conceivably hit on the solution by chance in short order with sheer dumb luck (1 chance in 43 x 1018), but even if it did, it would most likely keep rotating the colors right back out of order again, not caring a dime. It would take an intelligent agent to recognize the solution and stop the robot when it gets the solution by chance.

More likely, it would take a long, long time. Trying all 43 x 1018 combinations at 1 per second would take 1.3 trillion years. The robot would have a 50-50 chance of getting the solution in half that time, but it would already vastly exceed the time available (about forty times the age of the universe). If a secular materialist counters that there could be trillions of robots with trillions of cubes working simultaneously throughout the cosmos, ask what the chance is of getting any two winners on the same planet at the same place and time. The one concession blocks the other. And what in the materialist's unguided universe is going to stop any robot when it succeeds? The vast majority will never succeed during the age of the universe.

Now rub it in. It would vastly exceed the age of the known universe for a robot to solve the cube by sheer dumb luck. How fast can an intelligent cause solve it? 4.904 seconds. That's the power of intelligent causes over unguided causes.

Now really, really rub it in. The Rubik's cube is simple compared to a protein. Imagine solving a cube with 20 colors and 100 sides. Then imagine solving hundreds of different such cubes, each with its own solution, simultaneously in the same place at the same time. If the audience doesn't run outside screaming, you didn't speak slowly enough.

See? You didn't even need to solve it yourself to make a powerful, visual statement.