Here’s a different take on this metaphor, which has been around for a long time. Context: Ken Miller spoke at the 1995 ASA meeting in Montreat NC, and brought up the God-as-master-pool-player thought experiment:
This may be the place to mention Ken’s answer to a question from the audience about Ken’s own views on God and evolution, because it applies to the question of mechanism. Ken is a Roman Catholic (he elicited a great laugh from the audience by joking, “this is probably the first time Protestant scientists have listened to a debate between two Roman Catholics” [Mike Behe was his debate partner]) who has consistently called himself a theist in his writings (in fact, a “creationist,” that word, exactly, in a 1984 essay, if by “creationist” one understands “any…scientist who professes a religious belief”). In reponse to the question, “how do you think God acted?” Ken told the following story.
“I knew a nun while I was a graduate student in Colorado,” he said, “who was also a biologist. She gave a lecture on evolution, which she fully accepted, and was asked during the question period how she could believe in a God who created through evolution. How did that fit with her theology?”
“Well, she replied,” Ken continued, “that it sounded to her like the questioner believed in a God who wasn’t a really superlative pool player. Imagine a pool player who says, ‘I’m going to sink all the balls on the table,’ and he does so – but only one at a time. ‘My God,’ said the nun, ‘is like the pool player who lifts the triangular rack on the 15 balls, lines up the cue ball, and sinks all the balls with one shot.’”
“And that’s my God, too,” said Ken.
Now, one’s first intuition, on hearing this story, is to say, hmm, that would be quite a feat: sink all the balls with one shot. Wouldn’t that be the greatest design, to build the whole universe so all its design unfolded right from the start – with one shot, so to speak?
But there’s a very interesting problem buried in the nun’s metaphor.
No pool player could possibly sink all the balls with one shot. It’s impossible. The pool player can’t put enough physical information into the head of the cue stick (so to speak), transfer that information to the cue ball, and have the cue ball transfer the information (e.g., vectors) into the fifteen balls in the rack formation to have those balls roll into the pockets of the pool table.
Sure, nothing in principle prevents all the balls from rolling into the pockets. After all, after the impact of the cue ball, they have to go somewhere, so why not into the pockets simultaneously?
But the pool player can’t do it, because he can’t forsee (calculate) all the interactions, and even if he could, he couldn’t “get the information” (the interactions) into the head of the cue stick, using only his muscles (which are subject to dynamics of their own), eyes, nervous system, etc. Furthermore, as the cue ball interacts with the cue stick and the cloth of the table , even before it contacts the rack formation, some information will be lost. That’s why no one will ever lose $ betting against the player who claims to be able to sink all the balls in one shot.
Now, could God sink all the balls with one shot? Of course. It’s only a problem of mechanics. Presumably there are indefinitely many single shots, which, if only one could make them, would sink all the balls in any pattern one chooses.
But scientifically speaking, humans can’t “get at” those shots analytically – because we’re limited by our finite knowledge and the probabilities we face. Therefore we can safely declare the event impossible (meaning excluded probabilistically).
Now, here’s why I think this story becomes a problem for the theistic evolutionist who wants to use it to show how great a designer God becomes (when one accepts evolution). As our scientific descriptions of the universe run back to the Big Bang, we lose information: by that, I mean the “specifications” required, for instance, to provide function in even the simplest organisms, will disappear – they can’t be expressed by, or reduced to, physical equations.
Thus, if the theistic evolutionist starts with God creating “the laws of nature,” he lacks the explanatory resources to generate organisms later. The physical laws and regularities are too information-poor. That is, they won’t generate specified functional (or informational) structures. Well, how about giving those laws some help, by rigging the starting conditions? (Trick shots in billiards displays often begin with the shooter arranging the balls in some carefully specified pattern.)
Again, I don’t think that helps. The information required won’t go away: one simply has to encode it at another, lower level. (Mike Behe and I once argued about whether a cosmic ray burst might generate all the mutations necessary for a cilium to arise de novo; I said, sure, it could, but then one has to explain the vastly unlikely event of simultaneous cosmic ray bursts all striking one cell, etc. The information won’t go away.)
So, when the nun says, “I believe in a God who sinks all the balls with one shot,” she’s really describing a created universe that wouldn’t work. At least, we can’t say how it would work, i.e., bring forth organisms from physical regularities in the fullness of time.
What does it mean to say, “we can’t say how that universe would work”? Exactly what it means, I think, in the billiards example. Suppose someone said, “it’s possible to sink all the balls with one shot.”
“Yes, in principle,” we respond. “In reality? Never.”
That’s equivalent to rejecting naturalistic evolution probabilistically. Then the nun says, “OK, but God could have done it.”
Sure, he could have. But, scientifically speaking, we face all the same problems. God’s knowledge is not “our” knowledge, and our science is always relativized to our limitations. Thus, to say, “God could have done it” does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of getting enough information out of the Big Bang to build organisms, and so on.
That’s why most theories of theistic evolution, when one looks at them closely, really involve God acting all along the way. One can’t tell the other story – where God acts only at the beginning, setting up just physical laws – and get organisms out several billion years later.
Standing in the line for dinner and discussing this with David Wilcox, we agreed that Ken’s story about the nun’s billiard metaphor, far from making theistic evolution more plausible, actually made it much less so. Sitting next to Ken at dinner, I mentioned this problem, saying, “do you realize how much information has to be in the head of the cue stick?” – and he smiled. Then I said, “but of course the story is a great way to get out of the question” – and he nodded.
Excerpted from here (http://www.arn.org/docs/asa795rpt.htm)