May 28, 2010
To the philosophical naturalist, our existence is the result of pure accident – the product of a series of random events in a multitude of universes.
Most Christians would take the opposite stance: that the universe reflects God's intentional and purposeful design. After all, the concept of chance is inconsistent with an omniscient and omnipotent God.
Or is it?
For most of history, it wasn’t believers, but scientists that had the bigger problem with the concept of randomness. Science had always assumed “scientific determinism” – that every particle in the universe behaved in a completely predictable way in response to the laws of nature. In fact, when quantum scientists first began uncovering evidence of unpredictable behavior at a subatomic level, Albert Einstein refused to accept it, saying, “I am convinced that God does not throw dice.”
Yet the evidence for randomness in nature soon became so undeniable that science had to abandon its long-held assumption of determinism. Reknowned physicist Stephen Hawking now says, “All the evidence points to God being an inveterate gambler, who throws the dice on every possible occasion.” Even the development of life seems to be punctuated by, or perhaps even dependent on, the occurrence of seemingly random genetic mutations.
So if you accept the discoveries of science, how can you reconcile the seeming prevalence of random events with belief in a sovereign God who is in total control of the universe?
One solution is to say that acts of chance may seem random from our perspective, but from God’s perspective are not random at all. The Bible is full of stories in which seemingly chance events were later understood to be part of God’s plan. Proverbs 16:33 states this even more explicitly: “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall.”
Monopoly, His master plan also covers whether or not I land on Boardwalk? Perhaps we need to take a closer look at the assumption of God being in "total control".
Let’s assume that God’s ultimate purpose in creation was to have other beings with whom He can have relationship. But relationship is meaningless if it's with something that's just an extension of Himself. How can He create something that really becomes independent of Him, and isn't just behaving the way He’s programmed it to? The answer is: a creation which has its own creative processes built into it – constrained to advance in a general, purposeful direction, but with enough randomness built in to guarantee an outcome that's more than just its creator pulling the strings. A creation can’t have free will unless its creator willingly relinquishes some level of control.
fractal designs. I've designed it with all the mathematical equations necessary to continue adding element after element until it completes a complex, colorful, and beautiful design. But suppose my knowledge of those equations is so intimate that I’m never able to modify them without automatically knowing exactly what the final result will look like. The results never surprise me. I want to give my computer program the ability to create something that is something other than just a deterministic result of my preconceived ideas.
In order to do this, I purposely put certain random elements in the equations. Now, every time I push the button, the design is different, even though they are all equally complex and beautiful. When I run the program, I can sit back and admire a work of art which exists only because of creative processes I put in place, but I can appreciate is in a new and different way, because it now contains characteristics that were purposely independent of my control.
I can see how God might have chosen to create in the same way. At the moment of creation, all the processes had been put into place to guarantee the eventual appearance of a biological species capable of having relationship with Him. And when His creation finally gave birth to the first human beings capable of acknowledging and responding to their Creator, I can see him rejoicing over his newborn children just as any new parent would.
Come to think of it, that's another pretty good analogy. When we, as humans, give birth to children, aren't we doing the same thing? There's a generally predictable outcome of the reproductive process, but there's enough randomness built in to the genetic mix that each child is unique, capable of having relationship with its parents, yet independent of them. I see it as another aspect of what "in God's image" means -- a part of our nature that's really a reflection of the nature of God.
In the end, we’re left with a creation governed, not by total randomness (which would be chaos), and not by precise order (which would be predictably boring), but by the perfect balance of randomness (free will) and order (God’s sovereign purpose).
And we're left with another opportunity for science and faith to stand side by side – science exploring how God “plays dice” (and how heavily the dice are “loaded”), and faith exploring why He does. And with science and faith working together, we come to a deeper appreciation of both the nature of God, and the beauty and purpose inherent in His creation.
Posted by Phil Wala