Joshua and Cornelius get to know each other

Thanks for this little history lesson, Jon. It gave me a dose of enlightenment to start my morning.


You’d have had more luck with a good breakfast, Chris…

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What the heck is that?! A rock? Manna? Do they eat sopapillas in the U.K.? (Asks the man from New Mexico. Not really new, not really Mexico. Lol)

@Cornelius_Hunter Thanks for putting up with us. Please visit again.

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I think it’s a potato chip. Or a potato crisp, depending on your English dialect.

Let’s call it an unknowable, indeterminate food. (Sorry for junking up the thread with lame humor.)

Hi Jon,

On a more serious note, I think that you can regard a contingent event as both undetermined as a scientific matter and governed by providence as a faith matter.


It’s the nearest thing I could find to a Donald Trump potato. I’d have given Chris a fried egg looking like Leibniz as an example if I’d only thought ahead…


No Chris - science cannot legitimately speak about “undetermined” at all - how on earth could scientific methodology ever show that? It can only speak about “random” strictly in the sense of "cause unknown ".

As soon as someone - scientist or not, Christian or not - says “undetermined”, they’re doing metaphysics, not science - and their metaphysics at that point is unquestionably Epicurean.

Expansion: as far as legitimate science itself goes, there is no known or proposed mechanism for indeterminate change within nature anyway. I guess the sole exception - quantum changes - would have to be seen as either having an efficient cause outside nature, or in some unsuspected part of nature, or (speculatively) as uncaused in full Epicurean dress uniform. But few people are actually considering quantum causation in the matters under consideration in life studies.

CHANCE IS NOT A CAUSE - it is an expression of ignorance of cause.

Footnote: To speak of the same event a both undetermined and governed is a flat logical contradiction. In other words it’s incoherent.

Perhaps it would help if I define my use of the term “undetermined.” What I mean is that the contingent event cannot be predicted with precision; a particular event can only be said to have a probability of happening in a particular way at a particular time.

Determined: Neil Armstrong drops a feather on the surface of the moon from a height of X meters. The feather will strike the surface at exactly Y milliseconds after being dropped.

Undetermined: A single molecule of U-238 sits inside a lead box in an abandoned mine. When will it decay? i don’t know. All I can say is that there is a 50% probability that it will decay in the next 4.47 billion years. That’s 4.47 thousand million years in England, of course! :slight_smile:

If I have not used the terminology accurately, I apologize.

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We all use terminology inexactly when speaking colloquially. But in this case the very essence of the matter is the question of whether something can occur with no determinate cause, so some exactness is necessary.

I’ve used “random” in the sense that Joshua insists it is always used in science, meaning merely “epistemological randomness”, or ignorance of cause. The word “random” itself, used colloquially, has some baggage in that (apparently) its etymology is “to gallop”, which suggests something uncontrolled. The etymology, however, is sufficiently hidden to make a constrained definition reasonable - though maybe not helpful, given how many people even in science slip into the vernacular meaning of “undetermined”.

For example, the materialist says: “Chance and necessity replace the need for God in evolution” (try making sense of “ignorance and necessity…” in that sentence!). And the Openness theology people go on about God creating randomness to allow for spontaneity or freedom or co-creation or something - and they don’t seem to mean that “human ignorance” is what’s doing the heavy lifting… They actually seem to mean that God makes lack of cause a cause, perhaps freeing him up to work out how to make a square circle.

But “chance” isn’t that much better a word (though it is a little), being derived from “fall”, ie I suppose as things “happen to fall out” - which is phenomenologically true. But there is a long, long history (at least back as far as Genesis) of “chance” being seen as subsumed in the governing activity of God, even before the English language was formed within that theological milieu.

But “indeterminate” very clearly speaks to causation, or rather lack of causation, not to knowledge, or lack thereof, so is a word to avoid IMHO.

In the context of Bacon and Descartes in which I first referred to “chance”, though, I was clearly talking not about epistemological humility, but the more common belief that “chance” is an alternative to “governing providence”, as in “mutations occur randomly - they are not designed.” That is where the Epicurean rubber hits the road, because the very idea that there is any form of contingent causation not governed by God, but by some imaginary entity “randomness”, is inherited from that non-Baconian, Enlightenment, intellectual stream of metaphysics.

That also seems to be one of the major areas of contention between Cornelius and his opponents on this thread: to some, contingency is evidence against design. But historically (and notably at the dawn of modern science) contingency was seen as one of the two signatures of divine purpose (lawlike order being the other).

What though, since Evolutionary Creation is partly a theological enterprise, if ECs in their thinking were consistently to replace “random” or “undetermined” with your term “governed by providence” in their thought? How much clarity would be gained!

Then instead of thinking, when considering the immune system, and saying in our scientific papers, that hypermutation occurs “randomly”, we would not be thinking some bizarre and irrational concept that God uses unpurposeful events to achieve his purposes, but the more parsimonious and theologically established concept that “hypermutation is governed by God’s providence”.

Likewise, when considering mutations leading to evolution, we would say “random variation” scientifically meaning, correctly, “cause unknown” and yet understand theologically “divinely governed variation” (final cause still unknown, unless revealed). That would be truly theistic evolution.

Sadly, though, experience suggests I won’t see it happen.


It seems I have misunderstood the terminology. Thanks for the clarification.

It seems you have misunderstood the argument. Evidence that a body plan emerges from a stochastic process is evidence against scientifically detectable intelligent design. (Each word is important in that phrase.)

It is not evidence in favor of Epicurean philosophy.

Nor is it evidence against intelligent design per se. It is evidence against intelligent design as defined by the Discovery Institute. It is not evidence against intelligent design defined as the theological understanding that the God who created and upholds the universe and everything in it through His providential love and governance is, in fact, intelligent.

Best Advent wishes,

EDIT: I think it is just as providential for God to uphold a probability mass function or atomic decay as it is for God to uphold the structure of a protein or the force of gravity. Would you agree? If I read you correctly, you do. DNA mutations looks entirely random to us, but God providentially governs them nonetheless.


Clarity would be gained when having discussions with William Dembski and Stephen Meyer. Clarity would be lost when having discussions with the broader scientific community.


Hi Eddie -

It’s good to chat again! Rest assured I have been praying for you, and I trust that God is at work in you in every way.

You ask a good question. The reason the “design hypothesis” is not scientific is that it is not falsifiable.

Dr. Hunter is on the money. It cannot be objective. Man’s trash is the intelligent designer’s treasure. Something looks like it’s not intelligently designed? No problem! Rational man is incapable of discerning the design of an intelligence great enough to create this universe.

None of these things can falsify the design hypothesis. Like I said, it can’t be falsified.

I have no problem, btw, with the notion that rational man cannot reliably discern the utility or beauty of God’s designs. That notion is at the heart of the book of Job and the book of Ecclesiastes, among other things.

Consequently, science – an exercise in human rationality if ever there was one – must therefore contemplate more modest hypotheses and theories.

Warm Advent wishes,


Eddie, do I understand correctly that you are equating “design” with “unexplainable by natural means”?


Hi Joshua…

(Forgive me if you have covered this. I have just discovered this thread and have only read the first 20 posts). I would love for you to flesh out this position of yours. For example, may I infer then that you do not reject non naturalistic causes for the origin of life?


6 posts were split to a new topic: Irreducible complexity and mere complexity

Chris, Good morning to you.

I confess I understood the argument differently, in that Cornelius was suggesting that “randomness” has significant metaphysical implications, but many of his interlocutors appeared to think the distinction meaningless and insist that the question was “just scientific”. In this way the sides were talking past each other.

But if I have misunderstood too, it shows how important it is to express these things with clarity and a degree of precision.

This is entirely what I mean, and where I think clarity is often missing in origins discussions, with disadvantageous results.

This addresses the detail of my previous conclusion, and I would agree that clarity would be gained by having a clear distinction in ones mind of how ones methodological naturalism and ones metaphysical theism relate, when dealing with Dembski or Meyer - and more immediately, Hunter of course. That in itself would be a good thing in achieving better mutual understanding between brethren, don’t you think?

But other conversations would be helped too, including those with non-theist scientists, I contend. First, though, consider a Christian student saying that his faith is failing because his college tutors tell him that evolution occurs from random and undirected forces. You’re able to reassure him firmly that the “randomness” in question merely means “unknown” or “irreducible to law”, and that the “undirected” part is an improper, though common, employment of a metaphysical explanation for that on the part of his teacher.

You can then say that behind the scientific randomness he correctly describes, and therefore beyond science, two opposing explanatory metaphysical positions are equally possible and valid: Epicurean “Blind chance” (which may underlie his tutor’s “undirected” comment) or divine providential governance. You’re able to reassure him that he can “eat anything he buys from the [biological] meat market” by keeping the latter firmly in mind, and that Evolutionary Creation is therefore entirely in accord with his Evangelical faith, and anything that science can properly say.

Being a bright kid (someone ought to get him to do a piece for Biologos) he immediately replies, “That’s amazing! It not only clears up my evolution problems, but it helps me to see how I can have been ‘knit together in my mother’s womb’ by God’s care, even though embryology class tells me I originated in the random meeting of a sperm and an egg. And not only that, it enables me to see how I can pray for my daily bread, or the weather, or that Mum’s medication will be effective, without either doing double-think on science or just going through the motions of prayer without any faith. You have changed my life!” “No problem, Son - just doing my job as an older brother :blush:.”

But you say clarity would be lost with the broader scientific community. This is surely not so. I was careful to speak of using scientific terminology correctly - even fastidiously - whilst having a clear understanding of how that interacts with a clearly understood and truly theistic metaphysics. So in all scientific discourse, you will be correctly using both the methodology and the terminology of naturalism.

But there may be occasions (Joshua certainly seems to report them) where colleagues over coffee ask you to “give an account of the hope that is within you” - or more likely, ask what use your faith is if your God doesn’t do anything in a random system - is your “theistic evolution” nothing more than a religious figleaf for undirected evolution? (He’s read some Coyne, it seems).

You can cheerfully reply that, behind your science, the difference between you seems to be that you have a Christian metaphysical understanding of contingency, rather than an Epicurean one. Having explained the latter over a second coffee, you are in a position to say that, for you, the idea that an entirely gratuitous class of events should generate stochastic order is incoherent. It makes more sense that the order seen in probability functions - and on the grander scale in the intuitive sense that life is designed - arises from the governance of God - and the same God, incidentally, whom one has encountered through faith in Jesus.

At this point, of course, you may lose your friend or your job - but not through any offence against scientific naturalism. But on the other hand, since your colleague too is a spiritual being, he may just begin to see that he’s not thought through this question of his metaphysical assumptions enough, and that he always thought there was something more to existence than blind chance.

Of course, he may throw back standard replies like “Wot about natural evil then?” or “You’re saying God is in the gaps, then,” or "How does your God govern those events then, and what testable hypotheses does your idea make,"but one hopes that your clear understanding of the issues will enable you to reply to such things without undue difficulty. For example, on the last question you would point out that God’s governance is as much outside the purview of testable hypotheses as the alternative view: the materialist can also give no explanation of how Epicurean randomness causes anything, nor how it can lead to order.

And so not only does a clearly understood metaphysics of providence not hinder discourse with scientists - it might even save some.