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?
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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).
Calling a phenomenon ‘random’ is merely a statement of ignorance: “I can find no pattern within it.” The picture of the thing is not the thing: it could have a pattern I just cannot detect with my current methods of detection. All of the science (not the barnacle of philosophy) of evolution could be true, with mutations being pseudorandom instead of random.
I have a question if someone wants to chime in: “How does one make a distinction between complexity and design?” There are MANY things that are complex, but appear to have no design involved, like pi (3.14…) or the patterns on a snowflake, and so on. Dembski’s Explanatory Filter only seems to distinguish between chance and design. I think complexity vs. design is another thing.
On the topic above, I see absolutely no issue with thinking that God wanted a universe (maybe like Henry Ford wanted to build cars), so He made the universe using what we currently call evolution as the process (much like Ford’s process was machines doing the monotonous tasks and heavy lifting.)
Unwittingly, I have created an analogy in support of Progressive Creationism rather than evolution! The analogy of the Ford factory is accurate only if you also include all of the direct human activity involved.
You might like Owen Barfield’s view on directed creation, which he spells out in Unancestral Voice.