Randomness in Theological Perspective

(system) #1
The randomness in evolutionary processes does not need to conflict with God's governance of creation.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/kathryn-applegate-endless-forms-most-beautiful/randomness-in-theological-perspective

(Taz Daughtrey) #2

One helpful resource on this topic might be _Random Designer by Richard Colling: www.amazon.com/Random-Designer-Created-Connect-Creator/dp/0975390406/

(David Thurman) #3

well at least you touched upon Kairos and then flipped it into Chrono’s which is not surprising. How old is Christianity?

(Michael Panao) #4

I wrote a paper about the role of chance as a meeting point between science and faith. In that paper I used a Bayesian approach to evaluate the hypothesis “God exists” given that “there is life on Earth”. The result was interesting.


Why? Because it depends on the probability you give to God’s existence, no matter how low. But if it is \varepsilon > 0 higher, your beliefs should move in the direction of God’s existence. This is why the most rigorous conclusion we get when trying to use statistics on this kind of hypothesis is to have no conclusion at all.

However, chance has a role. If it is understood as contingency, it is interpreted as an opportunity, rather than randomness. In another paper I remember arguing how this opens our mind to chance as the “creative relational condition” allowing the emergence of novelty in an evolutionary world.

Your post inspired me to summarize these thoughts in a post I should publish soon in my blog.


Dr. Reeves: …The larger lesson I draw from this discussion is that science cannot speak to the question of God’s providential purpose.

Exactly! We Christians seem eager to find a way to use science to ‘prove’ the existence of God to non-believers. Or at least to counter their claims. Why? Isn’t it obvious that our Creator doesn’t want to be made visible via the tools of science? If this is true, then any efforts in this regard are futile and misguided.

So how does God want to revealed? Didn’t Jesus make it clear when he said ‘You are the Light of the world’ and ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’? But this requires ‘true’ love of God, not ‘lip-service’.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #6

Many Christians worry that if we evolved through the mechanism of natural selection, it means creation is unguided and Christianity is untrue. - See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/kathryn-applegate-endless-forms-most-beautiful/randomness-in-theological-perspective#sthash.czwvPh7Z.dpuf

Dr. Reeves, you are going about this in the wrong way. We do not need a lecture about God and randomness. We need an understanding of randomness and evolution. The mechanism of Natural selection is not random! Nature does not chose fish to fly in the air. No wonder many people are skeptical about evolution. Few people understand it.

Natural Selection is determinate which means that it is not random. When are people going to accept this scientific fact. Sadly evolutionists including those at BioLogos constantly will not acknowledge this basic truth.

The fact of the matter should be the “Christians realize that humans have evolved by natural selection, which means Creation is guided and Christianity is true.” Natural Selection was created by God, so it carries out God will.

Variation is the random aspect of evolution, but it is secondary. Evolution is a combination of random and determinate so it is not predictable, but it is determinate.

Roger's views on Darwinism and natural selection
(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Roger, I think you paint a picture of “random” that is so wildly broad so as to be useless, and indeed unused. Of course things are constrained --just as a coin flip is generally constrained to two possible outcomes, and could even further be constrained if one began monkeying with the outcomes (e.g. removing every other heads-up result, thus heavily weighting the sequence to favor tails --just as environment, ecology, what-have-you are among the instruments constraining reproductive differentials). But even with all that, we still rightly call it random from our human perspective. Even the heavily weighted coin toss is still unpredictable --just around a new mean of ~67% occurrence of tails. To insist that these things have no random component is to deny a very real human observation – an observation of a human limitation, not a divine one.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #8


You misread my post.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

My reaction was to these sentences. It sounds like you are implying there is no random (to us) component involved. If I misunderstood and you are merely saying that there are other constraints in play along with a random (to us) component, then I’ll happily agree with you. But saying that nature does not choose to have fish fly (as your denial of randomness), is like claiming that there can’t be any random component to a coin toss because coins never finally land on their edges.


Dr. Reeves,

We may not be able to derive theological conclusions from probability, but we are able to derive design conclusions from it. If Joe gets a royal flush every time he deals the cards, it’s safe to believe he was cheating.

If the probability of creating life by random processes is too small to be taken seriously, it is reasonable to believe that someone designed it. At that point we look to theological background information to help us to determine who that someone might be.

(George Brooks) #11


You need to understand @Mervin_Bitikofer comments a little better.

Look at the text from your posting that I’ve highlighted in this post:

First: You say that Natural Selection is DETERMINATE.

Second: You define DETERMINATE as non-random.

Third: When Christians realize that humans evolved by natural selection, it means Creation is GUIDED!

Hoooo boyyyy… are you really going with that? Using your logic, a person doesn’t have to believe in God at all … and he can still say that Evolution is “not random”.

The problem here is how you are defining Random, Determinate and Not-Random. You’ve thrown an axle, and you refuse to believe it.

I bring us back - - YET AGAIN - - to the example of dice. Any physics student who accepts that dice do not have their behavior guided by the rules of quantum mechanics can tell you and me that the behavior of dice is DETERMINATE - - in other words… driven by LAWFUL CAUSALITY … in other words, driven by NEWTONIAN PHYSICS.

Does this mean GOD guides the throwing of dice? No. Of course not. So … you need to wean yourself of this idea that if Natural Selection is DETERMINATE/LAWFUL that God is driving evolution.

The only way to get to that last conclusion is:

  1. using the “front loaded” scenario of God’s creation, where God uses his foreknowledge to plan his every response.


  1. God’s constant interaction to sustain natural events … as well as the non-natural non-lawful events.

This is a metaphysical description of reality … something which cannot be established by simply saying NATURAL SELECTION IS DETERMINATE.

George Brooks

(Michael Panao) #12

Although the discussion is around Darwin’s metaphor of Natural Selection, I’d like to get back to “chance” and share a recent reflection on it including some observations to Josh’s ways of relating chance with divine providence which I think might lead us to think that God don’t care.

It’s entitled “Let’s give chance a chance”: http://bit.ly/2aYO7Zm

(Jon Garvey) #13


This was an argument that Asa Gray used in discussing Darwin’s theory at the outset. Seems just as valid now as back then!

(George Brooks) #14


You do understand, right?, that the people who would dispute this with you are those exotic BioLogos supporters who don’t think God did anything specific (or general) to arrive at human creation.

I hazard the guess that MOST BioLogos supporters DO agree that God DID design the living creations we find on Earth…

We should have a BioLogos poll to see how many different kinds of BioLogos supporters there are, and their approx. percentage representation. SOME - - I just don’t think it is even HALF - - think God did not intentionally harness evolution to do anything.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #15


I said that Natural Selection is not random. Selection is by definition a determination. Darwin took selective breeding of both plants and animals from agriculture (artificial selection) and transferred this model into nature as Natural Selection. It is still selective and thus determinate. It is not random. Variation is random as I have said. It occurs by chance.

Nature does not chose fish to fly in the air, it chooses fish to swim in the water. That too is a fact that has nothing to do with denying the random aspect of life. The fact is that Natural Selection chooses or selects alleles that are well adapted to the particular environment in which they live. This is how Natural Selection is determinate and why evolution is not random.


Yes, one does not have to believe in God to know the truth that evolution is guided and determinate.


Biblo, I don’t really understand your confidence on this point (unless that sentence really is just hypothetical); if we know that something happened but we don’t really know how it occurred, how can we even begin to work up a probability assessment?

Someone with a better grasp of probability theory can correct me, but I guess the probability of the event occurring naturally would be something like the total sum of the probabilities of each possible naturalistic pathway (few of which we could possibly expect to be able to guess at a few billion years later) over the prior probability of some intervention, divine or otherwise (which we don’t know either). You can’t stack up unknowns on both sides and then confidently assert “the probability of creating life by random processes is too small to be taken seriously”.

Even if we work out one or two possible scenarios fairly specifically, we can only ever hope to figure out the probability of the origin of life occurring in that specific way, completely failing to account for any other possible scenario that we didn’t think of, including scenarios that involve slight modifications on our specific scenario. Are we really so creative that we can be sure we’ve accounted for and worked out all possible pathways to life in this 3.5 billion year old black box? That sounds absurdly unlikely to me, as does any confident statement that appears to assume it.

You aren’t the only one who keeps saying this, and I guess I’m starting to wonder if I’m missing something here, so I would appreciate if you can let me know how you reach this conclusion.

(Richard Wright) #17


IMO the correct thought of this should be, “if the probability of a universe creating life by random processes is too small, somebody designed the universe”. That way you can still have God and randomness involved.

(Richard Wright) #18


I can only speak for myself. While I do believe that God did something specific, that would be the creation of the universe that was designed for man to evolve through natural processes. No need for God to do anything beyond that, He is more than capable of using his natural laws to get us here. He obviously wants us ensconced in a world of natural processes, it just makes sense for us to come about through them.

Though I can’t say for certain, I would say that I am in the minority of Biologos supporters who hold that God didn’t intervene for the purposes of evolution (unlike for spiritual purposes).

(GJDS) #19

I would agree with your general assessment, but not with your line of reasoning. There is a world of difference between saying we do not know how (and if) life came about, and the statement that somehow random processes led to life on earth. If someone claims random processes (of whatever description) then a probability assessment is inevitable. If that assessment shows a virtual zero-probability, then that notion is incorrect. That is what science would conclude.

(George Brooks) #20


Ah yes … but what you also said was perfectly circular …

You said natural selection is determinate - - in other words, it is ruled by natural law.

There’s nothing objectionable about such an idea. But “determinate” is linked to “detrminism” … not to “design”.

All you are saying is that Natural Selection is ultimately no more random than a waterfall…

But this is not the same as saying non-random is PURPOSEFUL. Purpose comes from mindful activity. Natural law without God is not PURPOSEFUL.