Randomness vs. the Lord’s Will

Randomness vs. the Lord’s Will April 2, 2013

I have heard countless poorly-informed Christians say that they reject evolution because it posits things happening through “randomness.” The objection is bogus. Randomness is less a feature of biological evolution than it is of casting lots and other things which, in the Bible, are said to be indicative of the divine will. If evolution is a problem from the perspective of your worldview because of randomness, then so are lots of things, including some mentioned in the Bible.

Clearly the person who set up the vending machine pictured below grasped the point, so why can’t others?

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  • But when they cast lots, weren’t they assuming that God was making sure the right lot was picked? So if randomness happens in evolution, are we saying that God is making sure the right mutations are happening?

    • Lobi

      Problem, Bilbo? *trolldadface*

      Actually, I think it does raise a minor problem, which is this: sure, God could control random mutations, but then they’re not really random. And is God controlling all mutations, or just some?

      In short, why did God make a system in which everything looked random? Not a logical problem with theistic evolution, but it is a curious question.

      • I agree, it’s a curious question. I don’t have a good answer. I suspect it falls under the same category of free will and God’s sovereignty.

    • Gary

      There are no right or wrong mutations. They are random, and they are “sorted” by natural selection. So only the ones that are not detrimental to reaching sexual maturity, and then reproduction, are continued on, and passed on to future generations. So the process of evolution is not random. So if you are religious, you can just say God created the rules (equations, if you will) of evolution, not a specific mutation. Forcing function. I don’t see why that is so hard to accept.

      • But are all mutations random? Most mutations random? Some mutations random? Or no mutations random?

        • Gary

          All are random, as a mistake in copying DNA. The resulting variation, after being operated on by natural selection, is not random.

          • But do we know that God isn’t intentionally causing any or all of the mutations? And if He is doing so, then are they still random?

          • Gary

            If I had that answer, my life would complete. But lacking that answer, I can only cultivate my garden, and wait till I bite the dust.

          • I would want a few more answers beside that one to make my life complete, but let’s review our choices regarding this question:

            1. All mutations in the history of evolution were random, but just as with free will, somehow natural history accomplished God’s will. We will just call it a Mystery.

            2. God allows some or most mutations to occur randomly, but occasionally intervenes for mutations that He considers important to His plan.

            3. No mutations are random, they just appear to be. Actually God is controlling the outcomes of all of them.

            I can live with any of these alternatives, though I lean toward 2.

          • Guest

            “Random” is a poor descriptor. Try “arbitrary” instead.

          • Well, officially it’s “random with respect to fitness.” In other words, from a mathematical perspective, the mutations don’t appear to be occurring in order to increase the fitness of the organism’s offspring.

          • I think you guys are missing the bigger picture here. One could reasonably suggest that the entire universe is random, i.e. one out of infinite possible universes. Given a sufficiently wide scope for variation, anything can be “random”. Miracles are then thought to be particular events wherein things appear to go against the odds and result in something spectacularly unexpected according to normal rules of probability.

            One such miracle is the supposed fine-tuning of the universe.

          • Right, that would be a fourth alternative we could choose from: God has created a multiverse, in which one of the universes perfectly conforms to His will, while the others do so imperfectly.

          • I think the very idea of a multiverse is logically invalid. Only one universe can exist: one which fully encompasses all of reality.

          • I’m no longer able to follow your argument. The idea that complete randomness can accomplish anything only makes sense in an infinite multiverse.

          • If you look at my separate long comment on chance/randomness, things might make more sense.

          • Nope, I’m still confused.

          • Simply put, events just seem partially random to humans when our knowledge is partial. Things appear to be 100% random when our knowledge is 0%. When we have 100% knowledge, we will know exactly why everything happens, so that randomness becomes 0%.

            E.g. If a stranger walks up to you and gives you a hug, that would seem really random because she is a “stranger”, and your knowledge of her is 0%, i.e. you don’t know why she would hug you. However, if you later find out that the “stranger” was a long-lost friend, the perceived randomness of that hug would greatly decrease.

          • So then you seem to be denying that actual randomness exists. I can live with that alternative, also.

          • Yes! That is indeed my view 🙂

          • Another example: roll a dice, and we expect a result between 1 and 6. The randomness is limited to the numbers between 1-6, because we already KNOW that those are the only possible results.

            Now let’s say we have experimental data of 1000 dice-rolls, and notice that 1 seems to be appearing 10 times as often as all the other numbers. This gives us knowledge that the dice is loaded, which then allows us to assign a probability to each result between 1-6. This further limits the perceived randomness, so that we are able to quite confidently say that the result of a dice-roll is likely to be “1”.

          • Gary

            I’ll go with your 4th alternative, multiverse is indeed possible. And mutations are all random. But the result, through natural selection is not random. But one caveat. I don’t belief in an infinite number of universes. They are not all equally probable.

          • There’s even a fifth alternative, where there is randomness, but it is constrained, such as in Sierpinski triangles, as discussed at BioLogos:

          • Gary

            All randomness is constrained in some way. As soon as you assign boundary conditions in quantum mechanics, you get quantized solutions. (the boundary conditions are constraints). I’m not a chemist, but I don’t see anything unusual in finding rust (iron oxide), and aluminum in the dust of burning buildings. Don’t see what fractals have to do with it either. But I defer to you, if you’re happy, I’m happy.

          • If we’re talking about how God created life, then I’m happy with however He chose to do it. If we’re talking about what the red/gray chips in the WTC dust are, this certainly isn’t the place to bring that up. But I’m not happy about it.

          • Gary

            Yes, but we can’t all be happy all the time 🙂

          • Not without the right drugs. 😉

          • Gary

            I prefer beer. Going to school in the 60’s, beer surpasses drugs in theological understanding. Takes longer to kill you.

          • But beer (by which I mean Guinness) merely enhances whatever emotional state you are already inhabiting.

          • Gary

            I’d give you a high five, if I was in your presence!

          • Grand Rapids, MI

  • “Hume’s and Schlick’s ontological thesis that there cannot exist anything intermediate between chance and determinism seems to me not only highly dogmatic (not to say doctrinaire) but clearly absurd; and it is understandable only on the assumption that they believed in a complete determinism in which chance has no status except as a symptom of our ignorance. (But even then it seems to me absurd, for there is, clearly, something like partial knowledge, or partial ignorance.)” —Karl Popper: Objective Knowledge, Of Clouds and Clocks, 1972, p. 227ff

    I would say that chance/randomness is indeed properly understood as a symptom of our ignorance. The more complete (the less partial) our knowledge is, the greater the likelihood we assign to the truth. With 100% knowledge, the probability/chance that our knowledge is truth becomes 100%.

    Example: Partial knowledge (the serpent) tells me that if I eat the forbidden fruit, I will NOT surely die, whilst complete knowledge (God) tells me that if I eat the forbidden fruit, I will SURELY die.

  • “Clearly the person who set up the vending machine pictured below grasped the point …”

    Wow, that’s a really good one! (Proverbs 16:9)