Randomness vs. God's interventions?

(George Brooks) #1

I’m a little puzzled that this should even be a point of contention on BioLogos boards. Is this the collateral damage that occurs when Atheists participate here?

Any Christian (or Theist) who believes God guides or intervenes in evolution is automatically claiming NON-RANDOMNESS in evolution… at least from the perspective of God. Humans may still be unable to determine if randomness is GENUINE or just perceived.

EXAMPLE: Most any scientist has to accept that THROWING DICE is not genuinely random … it only APPEARS random, because it is mostly beyond human abilities to control all the factors involved in how dice comes to a stop.

God’s interventions?
Let's talk about what happened over the weekend in the "Neo-Darwinism" comment board
(Benjamin Kirk) #2

This seems very obvious to me. Randomness is a negative.

(Chris Falter) #3

In settings above the quantum scale, I usually prefer the term stochastic over random. Stochastic implies an inability to predict outcomes, whereas for many people random implies an outcome that is inherently not subject to external forces.

(Albert Leo) #4

Hi George
This Forum has hosted many discussions about how “random” mutations supply the variation in genomes upon which selection acts in neo-Darwinian theory to produce new species. Mathematicians and scientists might make a case for NON-randomness in this process, but for the average PIP (person in the pew, including me) this still remains a matter of chance in which God does NOT take a role. On the other hand, if (as de Duve suggests) there are a number of inheritable traits, acquired through individual life experience, that are NOT written into the DNA sequences but accompany the DNA in germ cells and influence subsequent events in the fertilized egg, a type of non-random, Lamarkian evolution should be included in any improvements in neo-Darwinian theory. Even if this addition to evolutionary theory does find experimental support, it will probably only apply to the Homo sapiens whose brain has been transformed into Mind and experiences can be passed on to succeeding generation through language.

Much of this is well beyond my field of expertise, and so I welcome comments by those better informed, including, of course, Dennis Venema.
Al Leo

(George Brooks) #5

@Aleo, !!! Wow, really? I honestly didn’t see that coming!

I have a million questions about your PIP viewpoint! So, you are comfortable with God taking no role in evolution?

I trust you are a Trinitarian, yes? What’s the point of being a Trinitarian if there isn’t enough “transcendence” in the Godhead to design the humans that worship him?

Obviously I need to broaden my basis of understanding of this PIP viewpoint!

(Albert Leo) #6

George, it seems I have again managed to express myself poorly. I do believe that God directs evolution and has a purpose in Mind for it all. But I do not believe He does so (in the case of humans) through genetic mutation (which I still see as random, for all practical purposes). In his book, Genetics of Original Sin, de Duve makes a good case for human evolution to proceed in a Lamarkian, as well as a Darwinian, fashion. It does this through epigenetics which allows cetain aspects of parental experience to be passed on to their offspring in how their genes operate. In my view, this gives a greatly expanded view of Purpose. I am not just a “gene carrier” subjected to cosmic rays that have a greater chance of passing on damaged genes than good ones. I have the chance (even if only a small one) of passing on some improvement through my own efforts.
Al Leo

(George Brooks) #7


Very interesting! I’m a little surprised that this is what you think is the general P.I.P. view? I would think it is a bit high-brow and a bit … I don’t know… shall we say “vague” for the average church-goer.

The average churchy kind of person might imagine God hurling lightning bolts as needed … but you (and Roger too!) both seem to blanch at the thought that God might aim a single photon into specific DNA junctures.

I learn new things every day…

(Albert Leo) #8

Wouldn’t this result in a belief that God is no more than a Wizard of Oz, frantically pulling levers and pushing buttons to keep the Universe ‘on track’? With the limits that have been placed on my human mind, I can’t help but anthropomorphize God to some extent. But there are limits!

I am surprised that no one has “taken the bait”: a Nobel Prize winning cytologist has postulated that some Lamarkian evolutionary mechanisms accompany random chance mutations in providing the variability upon which selection operates. I would think that would be of great interest to evangelical Christians.
Al Leo

(George Brooks) #9


My problem with this vague kind of skepticism is that it seems to want to REMOVE God from the scenario …

You complain of portraying God “as Intervener” as a Wizard of Oz … but I’m not sure I see the point of this criticism. Let’s look at the extinction of the Dinosaurs - - presumably by a direct hit by a 6 or 7 mile meteor.

Did this surprise God? Or did God plan it?

If the latter, did he wave a want and POOF … the speeding meteor appeared? Or did he create a universe that would invariably and inevitably produce that meteor … of the right size and the right direction and the right speed?

If you reject the idea that God would cause genetic mutations … then don’t you ALSO reject the idea that God sent that meteor? And if you do reject God’s role in the meteor … I don’t see how you could reasonably expect God to EXPECT and/or plan for the Rise of Mammals.

(Albert Leo) #10

Of course I believe that evolution proceeds through genetic mutations and that probably most mutations are harmful. And most of the species of plants, animals and microbes that have arisen on this earth are now extinct. Does this indicate that God is NOT CARING? Well, His caring may be a bit different than we humans view it. The Trinity Hymnal expresses it thus:
God sees the little sparrow fall,
It meets his tender view;
If God so loves the little birds,
I know he loves me too.
That’s comforting, but didn’t God also make the sparrow hawk that brought the little sparrow down? Did God direct the bolide that wiped out the dinosaurs? Perhaps they had been around for over 100 million years and hadn’t met the advanced level He had set for them; so he opened up a niche for the more promising mammals to take over?? I, for one, would NOT be drawn to worship that kind of God.

It is just wishful thinking on my part (and anthropomorphic, to boot) that God is NOT omniscient to the extent that He knows the exact future. He may know the likely future and has plans for it, but He may be surprised at the exact outcome. It keeps Him from becoming bored. Evolution is the mechanism that He set up to keep Life advancing, becoming more complex and capable–but all advances coming only at the cost of struggle and effort.

The Chicxulub event makes us wonder if another such meteor was headed out way, would God save us from the dinosaur’s fate by diverting it? Perhaps He already has given us the tools to do so….IF we can can build a co-operative human society that can coordinate the effort. Otherwise……… Well, maybe there is another life form somewhere in our galaxy that is struggling to become imago Dei. Maybe they will listen to the Good News.
Al Leo

(George Brooks) #11


I’m not really interested in the controversy about whether God is abusing his “caring” in evolution.

I was talking about how INTENTIONAL God’s plan is …

Was he just WAITING to see if a METEOR hits the earth … to take the moment to work Mammals into humans?

Or did he arrange things for that meteor to hit the earth EXACTLY as he wanted … so that he could make mammals into humans?

If the meteor never came … Aleo, would God have made humans from REPTILES instead?

You write: "It is just wishful thinking on my part (and anthropomorphic, to boot) that God is NOT omniscient to the extent that He knows the exact future. He may know the likely future and has plans for it, but He may be surprised at the exact outcome. "

As I’ve said in other threads, I am much more inclined to think God has limited powers rather than limited knowledge.

(Albert Leo) #12

George, you may claim DIS-interest in whether evolution shows God is caring or abusing, but this is at the heart of the mission of BioLogos. And in spite of the above disclaimer, I still think you are deeply interested. Furthermore, you say:

I would agree if phrased as: "God chooses to limit His powers so that when any life form reaches the level of consciousness, they can claim at least partial credit for any further advance."
Al Leo

(George Brooks) #13

@Aleo… Wow. Very interesting.

  1. I don’t agree that theodicy is at the heart of the BioLogos mission.

  2. But I do believe you have MADE BioLogos your way of addressing theodicy.

  3. I address theodicy by allowing God to be omniscient but NOT all powerful.

4) I would wager that there are not many who find BioLogos to be their means to resolve theodicy.

(Albert Leo) #14

"Theodicy’, in its broadest sense, may be the attempt to reconcile the concept of a good God with all the imperfections we perceive in the *whole universe, but for practical purposes (for the majority of Christians) it can be limited to how a God who is totally good could allow the evils we see Humankind being subjected to. If science proves that humankind appeared on this earth through some unintended, random, accidental, mutation-driven process, then it makes little sense to call our Creator good. I believe that the attempt by BioLogos to reconcile the scientific theory of evolution with the concept of a caring God of Christian faith is the most important task in Theodicy. Or am I using the term incorrectly?
Al Leo


You raise a very interesting point. As a retiree, I no longer attend the academic conferences and just don’t know if the term theodicy has consistently adopted that “broadest sense” within the academy. I’m prone to retain a more traditional definition of theodicy but it is very possible that my view is atypical.

I’ll be curious to see others weigh in on this.

(George Brooks) #16


I think it takes a very creative spirituality to resolve theodicy issues ADOPTING Evolutionary Science … I couldn’t do it. I just don’t think along those lines.

And so I would say this presents the opportunity to SURVEY the BioLogos audience to find out just how diverse the audience is. Until meeting you, Albert, I never would have dreamed that this position existed!

You may remember reading some postings by Atheists who directly challenge the whole idea that a “loving God” would use evolution at all… and my standard response was that the BioLogos is not INTENDED as a solution for theodicy issues.

Albert, your position is Very, Very interesting…

(Albert Leo) #17

George, since I accept evolutionary science and have (to my own satisfaction at least) resolved most theodicy issues, I presume I qualify for your classification of: "creative spirituality". That pleases me. However, I realize that one man’s creative spirituality is another man’s heresy. What would the Christian world be like today if Pelagius had won the argument with Augustine? I am one of many of Teilhard de Chardin’s admirers who consider him creative spiritually, but his superiors in the Vatican did not. They exiled him to China so he could no longer poison his French students with the heresy of Original Blessing. (Young Chinese were in no danger since they were heathens to begin with.) More recently the Dominican priest, Mathew Fox, followed the same route, except it seems to have led him into what most people would class as New Age religion.

In a later post you put at the top of the list of objections to Evanagelicalism: wanting to blame an imperfect universe on Adam. That headed my list, too–until I explored the blogs and responses in BioLogos. Like you, I never dreamed that such a wide variety of “flavors” of Evangelism existed–some held by folks with apparently a higher level of intelligence than my own–certainly better-read. And I especially enjoyed the contribution of at least one atheist (@Patrick) because our early lives seemed to have run on quite parallel paths.

Religious life in the current parish where we reside is rather barren from an intellectual standpoint since our Religious Studies leader left. (Tom Lennert, Ph.D. in theology, former priest, now married with a family.) So I am truly grateful to the folks who run BioLogos as an oasis in the twin deserts of materialism and YEC fundamentalism. I don’t agree with all the positions you hold, George, but I am a better person for having learned of them.
Al Leo


Did Philosophers Resolve the “Theodicy Problem” Years Ago?

In the philosophy academy, the “theodicy problem” was considered resolved in the early 1980’s, if I recall the timing. I can no longer remember the names of the authors of the major papers but philosophers moved on to other topics after concluding the theodicy problem addressed. I don’t recall any significant challenges to that resolution at the time but I’ve not researched it in a long while. Perhaps others can address this.

I’m not saying that there are no philosophers today who continue to pose it as a significant issue. I am saying that philosophy is such a broad academic discipline that I’m often amazed at what even some of the most respected philosophers fail to know or recognize outside of their fields of specialization and experience.

So Has the Theodicy Problem Been Solved?

Now I don’t expect the resolution of the theodicy problem among philosopher-specialists to necessarily satisfy everybody else. Yet, their rather common sense resolution of the problem can be quite instructive for all. To put it colloquially and rather simply, the philosophers concluded that if God exists and has the attributes the standard definition assigns to him, then it is impossible for the logician to claim that God could not have valid reasons/justifications for great evil and suffering in his creation due to some higher purpose unknown to us.

Whether one is dealing with a young child or with an adult unfamiliar with medical treatments, it can be very difficult for medical professionals to convey to some patients why they must first endure some significant or even extreme pain before their health condition and comfort can be improved. The pointy needle precedes the protective inoculation. The noxious, painful, and even nausea inducing treatment is a necessary step on the path to much better health and longevity. If human parents and physicians understand this nugget of common sense, surely there is hope for coping with the theodicy problem. That may seem trite but it is also reasonable.

Now, the come-back is typically this: “But God is omniscient and omnipotent. He allegedly can do anything so shouldn’t he be able to bring the benefits or higher purpose or noble goal or whatever it may be without the pain and suffering we see throughout the world?”

Answer: That is a very common misunderstanding of God’s omnipotence. Many assume that the Bible says, “God can do anything! Whatever we can manage to imagine, God is capable of doing that.” But that is not what the Bible says and respected theologians have not defined God’s omnipotence in that way.

The Bible describes God’s omnipotence as God never lacking the necessary capability for doing that which he chooses to do. God will accomplish his purposes. God never resolves to do something and then falls short in executing it because of a lack of power, knowledge, or ability.

Thus, the philosophers who dealt with the theodicy problem realized that God’s omniscience does NOT entail an abandonment of logic. William Lane Craig often cites the traditional example with statements I will paraphrase like this: There are lots of things God can’t do. Yet that doesn’t detract from his omnipotence. For example, God can’t make a married bachelor. Why? Human language includes the capability of describing scenarios and conditions which do not correspond to any meaningful reality. So even though a “married bachelor” can be posed in an English sentence that complies with various grammatical rules, it has no value in describing reality.

I’ve heard some detractors try to spin that as “You are saying that God is not sovereign! You are saying that the power of God is limited by logic and that God himself must submit to the rule of logic.” Not at all. I’m saying that God is real and therefore I fully expect God to be consistent with all that is real, including logic itself. If God were to “function illogically”, how could God exist in reality?

Philosophers considered the “theodicy problem” solved because they found it unnecessary to assume that reality allowed for other “better solutions” or other “reality paths” which could lead to whatever good goal or condition which the present reality of a world of evil, pain, and suffering will eventually conclude. Indeed, my understanding of the God of the Bible tells me that if some other better path to the eventual reality (even one without so much of the evil, pain, and suffering) which God has planned for his people in the New Heaven and the New Earth, I believe God would have exercised his omniscience and omnipotence to bring it about.

The typical counter-argument is to say, “But God can allegedly do anything! Therefore, God should have exercised his omnipotence and omniscience to create a different kind of LOGIC which could have allowed for a better solution path which omitted all of that suffering and pain.” Again, that would be replacing the Biblical and traditional doctrine of Divine Omnipotence with one of our own manufacture. “God can do anything” is not a Biblical claim. It is not a correct definition of omnipotence.

Just as God cannot make a “married bachelor” because that is not a meaningful concept within the reality which exists, I contend that logical reality did not and does not make possible a less-painful, less-evil, less-suffering path to the ultimate conclusion which God in his wisdom has chosen. Thus, the “theodicy problem” is just a more complex version of the tiresome “Can God make a rock so big that even he can’t lift it?”

I’ve had academics who should know better claim that that traditional rock question and the “irresistible-force meets immovable-object” class of problems “disproves the existence of God”. (Not one of them had any academic background in philosophy, needless to say.) The folly of that position should be just as obvious as is the fact that the “married bachelor” challenge to God’s omnipotence is an exercise in bad logic. What is much more difficult to recognize is that theodicy problem is actually in that same class of “problems”—but it was not until recent decades that the philosophy generally made that connection.

Now that’s my humble effort to try and explain that class of problems. No doubt others can do a better job of it. Whether or not any particular individual finds it a satisfying resolution of the theodicy problem is an entirely different matter. (As the old saying goes: Your mileage may differ.) People make decisions about such things for many reasons other than logic. We all do at times.

Whatever the case may be for others, I don’t expect Biologos to solve the theodicy problem because I saw it solved long ago. I’ve moved on to other mysteries which bother me a lot more.

(George Brooks) #19

Frankly, @OldTimer, this is as good an answer as i would expect.

So imagine my surprise when I found someone here at the BioLogos boards who considers Evolution to be HIS ideal solution to theodicy issues…

Sometimes you just can’t expect the way some people can use a point of theology …

(Christy Hemphill) #20

I’m inclined to agree with you there.