Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Can Randomness have Purpose?
The concept of chance or randomness and its relation to God’s purpose and sovereignty is one which is very interesting to me. It has applications all kinds of direct theological applications. While reading Three Views on Creation and Evolution, I came upon an application related to the origins debate within Christianity. Howard J. Van Till, who was writing in support of theistic evolutionism, considered the possibility that God could have purpose even through the process of evolution:
While we’re on the issue of purpose, let’s look briefly at a common misunderstanding–that randomness rules out purpose. It is often claimed that randomness [which]… prevail[s] in the fundamental processes and events of biotic evolution rules out the possibility… [of] any preestablished purpose… Suppose there were a perfectly honest gambling casino in which no game was rigged–every[thing]… was authentically random. Does that rule out the possibility that the outcome of the casino operation cannot possibly be the expression of some preestablished purchase? Clearly not. In fact, the operators of the casino depend on that very randomness in their computation of the payout rates to insure that they will have gained a handsome profit… (168, cited below).
Apart from the strangely worded question he asked, Van Till’s point is that there may be purpose even with randomness: a truly random casino can still be oriented toward the purpose of making money. Thus, Van Till reasons, God could have done the same thing with the entirety of creation.
Now, I think this is an interesting claim, and I also think there is some plausibility to it. However, there does seem to be a significant disanalogy as well: the casino operators don’t care about the outcome of the random games, because their overall outcome is to have monetary gain. Presumably, however, God would care about the outcome of the randomness. Just having any creatures come from evolutionary processes would not seem to fit God’s plan as established in Genesis (creation, fall, redemption, consummation). Instead, there would have to be creatures capable of participating in that plan. Of course, Van Till might simply reply by saying that God would have known the outcome ahead of time and so that’s not at issue (or some similar response).
What do you think of the notion that chance or randomness may have purpose? If not, why not? If so, do you think this may be applied to evolution as Van Till does? What other applications do you think this may have?
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
Howard J. Van Till, “The Fully Gifted Creation: ‘Theistic Evolution'” in Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).