This is Fun

Mike Flynn, when he is not busy writing great science fiction that will be read for many years to come, is a statistician by trade.  His specialty being the contemplation of things like “randomness” and “chance” and other such things, he has been afforded an opportunity to think about the hoo hah that typically accompanies arguments between Christian fundamentalists and atheist fundamentalists as they ignore the Church and engage in sideshow arguments about evolution, “chance” and such like.  As a result, he brings a perspective most people don’t have (such as seeing evolution as a prefigurement of the Eucharist) or, in this case, making the rather tongue-in-cheek Thomistic argument that randomness points to a Creator:

The Argument from Chance

The sixth way is taken from the randomness to be found in things. Among  things that exist we observe that some come to be by chance, as for example the striking of Earth-1 by a marsbody at precisely the right angle and speed to throw off a lunar divot.  Or the end of a ball in a slot on the roulette wheel.  Although the motion of the ball is governed by deterministic laws, the final cause – viz., which numbered slot it winds up in cannot be predicted.  However, we note that in paradigmatic random situations, such as a casino, great care and planning must be taken to ensure the requisite randomness.  Equipment must be fabricated and installed, rules enacted, systems established for accounting for the results, attracting players, and so on.  Thus while much of what happens in a casino happens by chance, the casino itself cannot happen by chance.  It is thus clear that a random universe does not arise by chance, but by careful planning.  But careful planning requires a Planner.  Etc.

(Sexta via sumitur ex fortuiti qui in rebus inveniuntur. Invenitur enim in rebus aliquid in esse veniunt a casu, ut pro exemplo quod planeta magnitudinis Martis percuciet terram-I justum ius celeritate et angulus ut planeta magnitudinis Lunae abruptus est.  Etc.)

One of the things I love most about the Faith is that it really does give us full scope for genuinely creative thinking.  Flynn exemplifies this.  More people should read him.

For myself, I’ve never been able to see a problem with the notion that God works through what we call “randomness”.  This just seems to me to be God wearing Fuzz Puss glasses and preferring not to be noticed.  After all, one of the *major* ways that Israel sought God’s guidance was with the Urim and Thummim (essentially rolling the dice).  Matthias was chosen to replace Judas by drawing lots.  Ahab’s death was prophesied by an inspired prophet, but accomplished by an archer who shot “at random” according to inspired scripture.  So what the big deal with God working through the normal shuffle of randomness in nature to create man?  This is simply what we call “Providence”.

  • jimby

    The immortal soul part could not be random though, right?

    • Mark Shea

      What do you mean by random?

  • jimby

    meaning that because it is a directly divine act, the creation of an immortal human soul–each one at conception–it does not follow the same physical rules of bodies which include randomness, right?

    Meaning that animal soul, because it is not individuated in the same way, with the same one of a kind immortality, does not require a specific divine act of ensoulment at the moment of creation in the way a human does. Doesn’t that make sense? Seems to be accounted for in Genesis even, when the shaping ends and then God breathes into the clay etc. Something more direct, special, less like passing over the water or shaping something. More like a special insertion into the other sorts of acts. More like a miracle of life and less like the normal ebb and flow of matter–i.e. randomness.

    I agree with you in general (I think), and to add to the argument, I think operating through and in randomness (with the above exception) highlights God’s power and spirituality by means of that often overlooked attribute: subtlety (by which I don’t mean gentle hints but rather the spiritual quality Thomas talks about). Subtlety is also highlighted by the above exception too.

    • Mark Shea

      Since souls are not material, then laws applying to material bodies don’t apply to them. Also, the rational soul is created directly by God, not inherited from parents. So yeah, I would basically agree.

  • c matt

    The problem with most atheists is they think randomness = lack of purpose. The casino games and lotteries (and life insurance and many other things) are purposefully designed with randomness – in fact, they rely upon it. And their creators certainly have a purpose for them.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    Randomness on our level, not God’s level. Omnipotence is not semi-potence.

  • NoahLuck

    Fun, but not valid. There’s a total disconnect, a big jump from “Thus while much of what happens in a casino happens by chance, the casino itself cannot happen by chance” to “It is thus clear that a random universe does not arise by chance, but by careful planning.” The big T Aquinas would not add this broken twig to his five mighty hammers. But he was also pre-stats and doesn’t have a chance to recraft it. If this was more than a lark for Flynn’s amusement, I’d love to see a real argument be developed from it!

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Well, randomness is not something achieved by chance. cf. random number tables. Even the outcomes of dice throws are based on a strictly determined model consisting of a balanced, six-sided solid with the numbers 1 through 6 distributed across the faces.
      If the outcomes of throwing a pair of dice were truly random then the result of one throw might be 7 while at other times it might be purple, an armadillo, or a Chevy Impala.

      • Mark Shea

        That happened to me once. I threw the dice and a whale appeared in the sky. It hung in the air in exactly the way a brick doesn’t.

  • Sandy

    it happened by abiogenesis.

    i love the manipulation of language.


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