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Randomness and God’s Governance, Part 3

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May 21, 2012 Tags: Divine Action & Purpose

Today's entry was written by Randall Pruim. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Randomness and God’s Governance, Part 3

Note: This essay is Part 3 of a three-part series from Randall Pruim’s chapter in the book Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church, edited by Deborah Haarsma & Scott Hoezee. Other essays from the book appear at The Ministry Theorem.

The first post in this series explained what scientists and mathematicians mean when they speak of something being “random.” In part two, Pruim addressed God's use of apparent randomness in creation. Today, he concludes by considering why apparent randomness pervades nature, and whether it matters if God did use randomness in the process of creation.

If God Doesn’t Use Randomness, Why Does it Look That Way to Us?

Perhaps, as Einstein famously claimed, “God doesn’t throw dice.” Some may find the view in which God utterly controls all the minutia of everyday life—each coin toss, each radioactively decaying particle—simple and comforting. In this context, randomness only reflects our lack of knowledge and represents our best coping strategy for things we cannot understand any other way.

This belief alone doesn’t answer everything, however. In particular, it doesn’t explain why things look so random. As I already mentioned, making things appear random is non-trivial—and constraining. So does God choose all of the outcomes of all of the things scientists model with randomness, but then just happen to do so in a way that all the laws of probability are satisfied?

Even supposing this scenario is true, scientists—including Christian scientists—will not abandon their stochastic models and probabilistic explanations for the simple reason that they are the best thing we have going. For the most part, we do this without considering any deep philosophical or theological implications. We do it because it works. When pressed, most of us would probably admit that the world feels random to us, not because we deny God his proper role, but because the random models fit the available data. In some cases, like quantum mechanics, it is difficult to even describe the phenomena without the language of probability. Randomness in this context isn’t so scary. It helps make sense of the world around us.

One must be careful not to retreat to the position that randomness is incompatible with faith out of a sense that science is the antithesis of faith and that anything scientists believe must be misguided. At the height of the Enlightenment, scientists like Pierre Simon Laplace were convinced that mathematics could describe the deterministic workings of the world without the need for a “God hypothesis.” In A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, he wrote:

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.

At the time, many felt that this mathematical determinism left no room for God. At best, it relegated God to the clockmaker of a clockwork universe that now runs without any divine intervention. As the discovery of systems with sensitive dependence on their initial conditions and especially quantum mechanics made it clear to scientists that the deterministic perspective was insufficient, they turned to random models. Now, some fear that randomness leaves no room for God and must be rejected.

Does it Matter?

At a practical level, it probably does not matter how we think God relates to randomness. It is an interesting question why stochastic models work so well, but there is no denying that stochastic models have been incredibly effective in a wide range of situations, and there is no reason to expect that this will change any time soon.

However, how we interpret seemingly random events can matter at a personal, subjective level. In churches, where lots are cast to select leaders, do we imagine that God is picking individual people for these positions— and rejecting others? Or do we think it is merely the luck of the draw? Our answer might affect how we draw up the initial slate of candidates, and it certainly can make a difference in the feelings of those selected or not selected in the process.

When “coincidences” occur in our daily lives, do we see them as evidence of God directly intervening to achieve some purpose? If so, are we as willing to do so when the immediate impact is negative as when the immediate impact is positive? Or do things “just happen?” Do we interpret these events in a broader context in which, given enough opportunities, unlikely things are sure to happen to someone, or in a narrower context in which things are very unlikely to happen to me?

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord,” writes the author of Proverbs (16:33). How broadly does this verse apply, and when is it appropriate to cast lots to make decisions? Should we flip a coin to decide what house to buy, what job offer to accept, what college to attend, whom to marry, or which dessert to order? If not, why not? Does God treat a casually tossed coin or a decaying atom differently from a prayerfully cast lot?

Some Christian communities are opposed to insurance, but most of the Christians I know insure their homes, vehicles, health, and lives—at least to the extent they can afford to do so. Where do we draw the line between putting God to the test and trusting?

These challenging questions do not have simple answers. The contemporary scientific way of treating these situations is by modeling the randomness and using the resulting models to gather information and make effective decisions. Regardless of how we resolve the theological issues, it is a mistake to think that scientists use stochastic models because they are atheists and leave no room for God, or that this approach represents an attack on our faith—even though there are some scientists who would like to make these claims. One way or another, this approach works, and scientists of every religious persuasion are using it to make sense of the world around them. I choose to view this as part of God’s care for us and his preparation of us to care for his creation.

Further Reading

For a more thorough treatment of probability aimed at the educated layperson, see The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow. Several scientists have explored ways in which God could make use of randomness in creating and sustaining the cosmos. Among them are John Polkinghorne (a physicist and priest), David Bartholomew (a statistician), and Richard Colling (a biologist).

  • Bartholomew, David J. God, Chance, and Purpose: Can God Have It Both Ways? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Colling, Richard. Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with Creator. Bourbonnais, IL: Browning Press, 2004. Laplace, Pierre Simon. A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, 6th ed. Translated by F. W. Truscott and F. L. Emory. New York: Dover Publications, 1951.
  • Mlodinow, Leonard. The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. Polkinghorne, John C. Quarks, Chaos and Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion. London: Triangle, 1994.
  • Polkinghorne, John C. Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2005. Pruim, Randall. “Review of The Drunkard ’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 63, no. 3 (2011): 210.

Randall Pruim is Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His research interests include biostatistics, statistical genetics, and the relationships among statistics, philosophy, and religion.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #70033

May 21st 2012

Please, let us stop misusing the word “random.”  Accidents do not happen randomly.  They have all have causes.  That does not mean that we can’t statistically determine how often they will probably happen.  On the other hand when conditions change, the statistics change.  Insurance costs are going up with the growing events of bad weather around the world.

Einstein was talking about quantum physics which seems to indicate that the world on the quantum scale is truly not predictable, but it remains so on the macro-quantum scale.  YThe world itself does not appear random.  There are still 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year, 2 + 2 = 4, amd E = mc2.

Please deo not mix app-les and oranges.


Merv - #70034

May 21st 2012

Are you suggesting that Dr. Pruim misused the word ‘random’ in this article, Roger?  If so, how.  And then also what would you suggest is a correct usage of the word ‘random’?

I think the questions raised are good ones and are not easily settled by Biblical references, but as the author suggests we can probably just become more comfortable with the concept of randomness within our faith context as we see others before us have.

I find it interesting that when Matthias was selected to replace Judas, they first discerned two worthy men before then casting the lot to decide between those two.  If we took the Proverbs reference to an extreme, we could ask why they narrowed down the field?  If God was choosing anyway then why not just let the lot decide among the widest possible field of candidates?  Obviously they felt okay exercising their God-given discernment and then incorporating the lot as the final stage of selection.

—Merv


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70036

May 21st 2012

Ther clearest misuse of the word random is implying that Einstein was talking about random non-quantum events when he was not.  Also indicating that accidents or acts of God are random, when they are not.

Today we elect leaders.  Then this was not part of their tradition, although you are very correct that in Acts the disciples narrowed God’s choice between two persons.  Alcuin wrote in 800 AD, The voice of the people is the vioce of God.       


Merv - #70037

May 21st 2012

But if you don’t apply the label ‘random’ to any of these things, where or for what DO you apply the label ‘random’?  Or do you deny that such a thing even conceptually exists at all?  If there is no such thing as ‘random’—as in: “everything is deterministic”, then I understand (even if I don’t agree with) your objection.  But if you do see a proper role for the label, I’m curious what you think that role is.

-Merv


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70039

May 21st 2012

Merv,

There is a problem because we have a false dichotomy, random vs determined.  It is as if everything that is not white is labelled black, instead of different shades of gray.  I do not know if we can blame the problem on Western dualism, but it seems to me as good as any.  It can also be called the fallacy of the missing middle.

All that is not purely random is not determined, nor is all that is not purely determined is not random.  Most events are primarily determined and secondarily indeterminate.  Most events are a combination of both, so neither term does justice to the complexity of their reality as opposed to gray in all its shades.     

Maybe I can’t slave this problem, but I can point it out and protest the fact that no one takes it seriously, which is the reason why it causes so much confusion.  Language was made to convey meaning and when it does not do this effectively, it needs to be changed.


GJDS - #70041

May 21st 2012

I want to make some points without directly addressing random events per se. Often discussions have pointed to determined or pre-determined outcomes, as opposed to random events. This subject is vast as it would encompass free will, cause and effect, amongst other things. I want to confine my remarks to human activity, scientific facts, the world of objects, and interactions in this context. If we take a view that scientific law somehow governs all events, we would seek to place human beings in a ‘non-random’ world. In this case, we must believe that the world must be predetermined in all things, and we, as physical beings in this world, must also be likewise determined. The question is, ‘In such a world, why would a human being ask any question; indeed would he or she be able to inquire?”  A fully determined world must by definition be just that; this would not require any intelligence, as understanding would surely be given by what is usually termed instincts. I am not referring to the ‘clockwork universe’. Even inanimate matter would be what it is, and any intelligence that is brought to the world would by necessity be useless, or an aberration.

What of the alternative? What if the world were truly chaotic? My brief response would again be, “why would anyone question this?” Chaos is another version of a fully predetermined world; in this case, everything is certainly uncertain. Any activity must, by definition, be chaotic, as such a world cannot be otherwise.

I am suggesting that the presence of human beings in a world that is rendered comprehensible by activities that spring from human beings points to a ‘uniqueness’ that can only be rendered comprehensible as a unique project, so to speak. It is within this context that I feel discussions on random events can become meaningful.

Notice I have not mentioned God until now!


Merv - #70042

May 21st 2012

I can sympathize with that, Roger; there are many issues including some of the main ones discussed on this site where either/or thinking is harmful at worst, detrimental to full understanding at best.  Shades of gray need to be acknowledged.

That said, language must necessarily make use of categories since we only have a finite number of words at our disposal.  We will, for the sake of communication and understanding lump many similar things together to make a category which will fall short of full reality; but the tool gained may be well worth the price.   “Randomness” is a useful statistical and mathematical tool to weild and need not be imposed as a metaphysical statement or limitation on reality.  It’s just a useful mathematical observation about many behaviors in our world.  I think Dr. Pruim does a good job discussing that.  And you are right that it need not be ‘either/or’.  When I flip a coin, its outcome is determined by many factors.  But for all (and I mean *all*) practical purposes to us, it can be called random.  Which is not to say that God does not have a hand in its outcome.  I believe He may well influence some or all circumstances.  But it is still going to look random to us.  I think that is the hardest ‘both/and’ pill for most folks to swallow—understandably so since popular definitions and usages often include catch words like ‘unguided’ or ‘without purpose’.

—Merv

 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70043

May 22nd 2012

Excuse me, Merv.  I am going to take out some of my anger now.  I am not angry with you.

First of all, it is a serious error in thinking to mix the quantum world (the Einstein quote) with the non-quantum world,

Second, Dr. Pruim mentioned in an earlier part of this series that scientists do recognize that all randomness is not the same and thus have established a “hierarchy of randomness.” 

However he did not see fit to share with us “non-scientists” what this was or how it worked or even how to access this information.  Thus we are left with two different worlds and two different languages and scientists complaining that people do not understand them. 

You say that randomness need not be metaphysical.  In a sense that is the whole argument between Dawkins, Dennett, & Co and Christianity.  They maintain that that the universe is random, the product of chance, as evidenced by evolution.  You seem to argue that the universe is random but that God still determines it.  I would argue that the universe is not random because the Logos, Jesus Christ, the rational Word of God is its Center and its End (Teleos.)   

Flipping a coin is not the “real world.”  It is a human activity.  It is randomness at its lowest level.  It is Western dualism at its most simplistic level.

Dawkins tries to tame evolution and ramdomness, so that chance can somehow account for it.  I know that it cannot.  I hope that you know that it cannot.  Evolution only works when it is not based on pure chance, which means that it is part of a plan or process.    


Merv - #70044

May 22nd 2012

GJDS wrote:  “Chaos is another version of a fully predetermined world; in this case, everything is certainly uncertain. Any activity must, by definition, be chaotic, as such a world cannot be otherwise.”

This sounds contradictory, though I think I can see your point ... essence being:  we are now certain that nothing is certain (in the world of mechanics, and motion).  I would have phrased it as “‘Chaos theory has just shown that sensitivity to any ‘initial conditions’ has been pushed back into the infinite.”—which doesn’t metaphysically rule out determinism, though theological revelation may give us other good grounding to rule it out.

Roger,—so you have some passion about this!  It’s good to know your thoughts are anything but random.      I’m curious what you do think about quantum uncertainty.  Can you say more about your objections to that, or the way we may couple it with the ‘non-quantum’ world? Do you think it wrong to speak as if there were inherent (beyond merely ‘apparent’) uncertainty built into the fabric of reality?

—Merv


Jon Garvey - #70045

May 22nd 2012

To have a “purpose” necessarily involves determining sufficient means to achieve it.

“Wisdom” is the capacity to determine effective means to reach ones goals.

“Foolishness” is setting a goal but determining insufficient means to achieve it.

A wise person could use randomness as, understood by statistical laws, to achieve a purpose, eg “This system is of a scale that will guarantee that Brownian motion will facilitate this reaction”.

But a wise person could not wisely achieve a goal by a process dependant, say, on one toss of a coin (or even less by an outlying sequence of heads), unless he found a way of loading the dice.

God has purposes, yes? God is wise, yes? Then we know how he stands  in relation to using randomness to achieve his purposes.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70046

May 22nd 2012

Merv,

The best explanation I have heard for quantum physics is that it is the realm of the “strong” force, which governs the nano world, while our world is governed by the “weak” gravitational force.  Thus the nano world should work differently from the macro world, but they are both governed by natural forces.  Noether’s Theorem helps explain how this works

In terms of uncertainty it seems that humans can measure the speed or the position of a particle but not both, so we can know where it is or we can know how fast its going, but are uncertain about everything else. 

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says our best understanding of this world is that it is relational, which could be the reason why we can measure only one relationship at a time.  It does not mean that it is random, except maybe from our human point of view. 

Maybe God wants some privacy.      


Merv - #70052

May 22nd 2012

The quantum world is also the realm of the substantial wavelength (in relative terms).  I.e.  Whereas wavelengths of macroscopic objects like dimes or baseballs are buried among Planck length magnitudes far beyond our detection abilities, the wavelengths of electrons in the nano world, however, begin to substantially impinge on how that electron can behave in an atom.  I.e. the electron’s location as a particle becomes an inherently meaningless question at precision levels smaller than its wavelength.  Hence its jumping between discrete quanta as explained by Bohr.     At least that is my limited understanding of one interpretation of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. 

Again, I’m not so sure this rules out determinism as the metaphysical level, though many others seem to have that conclusion.  But combinging this with chaos theory sure does the slam dunk on any delusions we may have ever had that chaotic systems (even big ones like weather!) will ever look anything but random to us.  And that ‘randomness’ (I’ll start referring to it as ‘apparent randomness’ if that makes you feel better, Roger, because that is really what I mean with the word) is not totally unconstrained—I don’t think anybody is insisting that it is.  Weather forecasters can still do their good work because such ‘randomness’ still has predictability on short term macroscopic scales.  They just have to concede helplessness in the face of the particulars (what temperature will it be in Durham, KS two weeks from now? —the forecasting equivalent of trying to guess a coin flip)

-Merv


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70055

May 22nd 2012

To be sure but that does not mean that the temperature is random, just that we are unable to foresee the conditions that will produce those conditions in advance of a certain period, because of the large number of variables involved. 

Thus the coin flip is indeterminate in a narrow range, while the temperature is determined in a broader range by a broad range of variables which are difficult to predict.  This is why I find it hard to say that it is random. 

The issue of course is that scientists say something is random if it is difficult to predict, not if it is not determined by known forces.  

I expect you are right in saying that our understanding of the nano world is limited by the relatively clumsy nature of our tools.


GJDS - #70057

May 22nd 2012

Merve wrote, “This sounds contradictory, though I think I can see your point ..”

I think that within my limited understanding of Nature and the scientific method, I end up with two alternatives: (1) we do not know and thus must profess our own limitations before making various affirmative statements that are at the edge of our insights about objects and energy, or (2) ultimately we may need to show how we can sustain contradictions.

Presently I am struggling with a philosophical work that addresses absences as causes. Good stuff for philosophers, odd and/or difficult for the scientists and the scientific method.

Science may, by identifying a cause with an effect, be it singular or an even in a multiple sense (I am trying to be thorough),may infer from this purpose. However, I contend that we as human beings are capable of acting with purpose, and it may be that we also confir this to matters that interest us (or are important to us). This does not negate purpose, but rather tends to bring it into some sort of focus.

On quantum mechanics (QM), I am not a theoretical physicist, and thus I regard myself as an observor rather than a practitioner; as an enthusiast I take the view that even observing or measuring quntum effects, I would assume, would mean what is observed as QM effects is subject to the same theoretical aspects of QM that are being investigated. Where do we identify uncertainty? in the event or in the measurment? or both? Thus conditions appear to me as extreme when considering things at a quantum level. Or perhaps we may end up with contradictions if we are not fully conversent with QM. Physicists consequently stipulate conditions that need to be met before they accept a measurement or an observation. This also infers purpose derived from human understanding and not implied in the events studied.

My guess is that a similar statement may be made on evolution and biochemists; natural events can be extremely complicated at the molecular level. This in itself is problimatical, and science simply provides us with tools that give insights, but it also show our limitations.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70065

May 23rd 2012

GJDS,

Scientists often differentiate between the physical or natural sciences and the life or social sciences, and I thibnk that this is good, because living beings can think and have a purpose, so they are3 not governed completely by mechanistic cause and effect.

A major concern for me is that many scientists want to obliterate the line between the physical and life sciences and treat all of reality as if it were non-living.  Of course statistics is one way to do this.  This of course overlooks the fact that usually statistics give us a description of what is going on, but it does not explain why it is happening, unless we use a non-explanation explanation, such as, to get a evolutionary advantage.

Math is good, but math is not an end in itself.  When math is used in reductionist manner as is the case, it reduces science to the lowest common denominator which is hardly the full truth, even though many people want to believe that it is.      


GJDS - #70071

May 23rd 2012

Roger,

Scientists have differentiated between the exact sciences, the bio-sciences, the medical science, and I think the social sciences. This is done because the criteria inherent in the disciplines may differ, although all endeavour to use the ‘scientific method’ (another subject for discussion I would think).

I do not practive the bio-sciences and thus am an observor; my criticism in the past of this area is their inability (understandably) to meet the criteria of the exact science because of the nature of their studies. I think molecular biology is progressing towards partially meeting some aspects of this criteria, but it has some way to go (my subjective view only).

The social sciences is a broad area and I am not sure how scientists have oblititirated the line between living and non-living (it is usual to consider inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry, but I think you may mean something else). Maths is the language of science; I do not understand how it may be used otherwise. Reductionism has been widely discussed, and it oftem is taken to mean that complex systems such as bio-systems are reduced to ‘simple’ chemistry (another large subject for discussion).

The truth that we often discuss in this blog is that of the Faith; my position has been that this is revealed by the Grace of God. Science within this context informs us of the world we are in; it must not become pretentious by claiming to inform us of , or on, matters pertaining to the Faith.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70081

May 24th 2012

GJDS,

Thank you for your point of view, which I expect is quite typical in your profession.  Please do not take anything that I say as critical of you personally, but critical of the culture and science of our day. 

I understand that this is difficult because we are all prodeucts of our culture, but the only way that we are going to move forward in our understanding of ourselves and our world is to be critical of both.

I understand that you recognize the limits of science and put Faith outside the limits of science.  There is much truth in this position, which could be characterized as Western dualism which has served our culture well for many years. 

It is not my position that Western dualism (or it twin scientific monism) is dead wrong, but they are both insufficient to creatively address the complex issues of our day, which are both scientific and non-scientific. 

Where you emphasize the disconnect between science and the Christian faith, and clearly rthere is a big difference, I am trying to explore the connections between science and Christianity, because I believe it is here that we will find the key answer to puzzle of life and the universe.

The first problem as I have been trying to describe it, and I thank you for your help in this, is that science is oriented to physical (matter/energy) Nature, while Faith is based on a Personal view of ultimate Reality.  As you have said, Science is based on the “scientific method” which is according to my understanding and yours configured to study and analyze the physical, natural world, rather than the bio and the human worlds. 

My position is that this “one size (or method) fits all” does not work, and those who insist that it must work are in danger of undermining the whole system.  If we are studying three different worlds, the physical, the bio, and the human, we need to make proper allowances for the differences in these different worlds.  Noether’s Theorem would be helpful here.

However, and this is serious problem, the only way that I can see this being done is to acknowledge that Reality is more than matter/energy, which is something Science shows no sign that it is willing to do.  It seems wedded to the view that nature in all its forms, including human, is solely matter/energy, and is thus uniform, rather than diverse.  This is my point and issue.

Science it appears is afraid of the Personal view of reality.  It is afraid that it will undo the scientific method.  However there is strong evidence in my view that the old impersonal view reality is not true. Now the scientific evidence points to a relational understanding of reality which is best found in a Personal Model. 

Scientism could well be the last ditch stand of a dying impersonal world view, which does not make it any less dangerous because it is dying.  It still has the ability to take the world down with it.           


liberale - #70074

May 23rd 2012

//I choose to view this [randomness] as part of God’s care for us…//

This is stretching the meaning of the word “care” beyond recognition.

If I see a baby clawing towards a cliff and choose not to interfere, let him/her fall and be killed, this act cannot be called “care.”

Permitting cancers and fatal accidents falling on us cannot be called “care.”

If God does not permit them and they just occur by physical laws and chance, that is no “care” too.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70078

May 24th 2012

Liberale wrote:

Permitting cancers and fatal accidents falling on us cannot be called “care.”

God’s care must be seen as part of the “big picture.”  If you think humans would be better off without sin and death, living in their own small garden of Eden, fine. 

I really do not think so, and humans choose not to live that way, so we must deal with the world as we and God made it.  We are not perfect and God is not going to save us from our own mistakes. 


GJDS - #70079

May 24th 2012

Liberale wrote:

Permitting cancers and fatal accidents falling on us cannot be called “care.”

If God does not permit them and they just occur by physical laws and chance, that is no “care” too.

This is the area that takes the discussion into our personal world view, of us as human beings (our soul or as physical entities), and what Christians proclaim as their Faith.

The observations concerning nature are articulated as laws that are the result of human beings inquiring in a world of objects and activities (phenomena). I cannot see how these in themselves can cause us to speculate on whom and what God may be. Formally, (and I will speak only for myself) those who profess to be taught by the Christian Faith, take the view that we have all sinned and are cut of from God. The basis for this is again a teaching of Faith, in that the only Law that has validity is the Law of God. Thus I see the consequences around us as the result of our own actions, but Christ makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God.

Within this context, physical laws enable us to discuss information on Nature as provided by the scientific method. Random events are observations within this context that we deal with using stochastic methods. It is difficult for me to relate random events with care by anyone, nor as a means to govern. I think the question of evil in the world is highly formalised within Orthodox Christianity; thus Satan is the originator of evil, and we must resist following his lead. The question to my mind rests on our how we regard freedom and personal responsibility. It is difficulty in this short response to making specific statements about God. Sound bites like Interventionist, Theist, Deity, (and Atheists) that claim to provide descriptions of God, are inappropriate in my view, as we cannot make God an object of our inquiry, or as an intellectual construct, nor can we make God act according to our wishes, no matter how well intentioned we may be.  

Studies of nature and information from the sciences are informed by Faith; for those who do not profess the Faith, it probably would not be so informed. I cannot see how science would inform me of Faith. I can see that people who think seriously come to their own views, and I am comfortable with this.


GJDS - #70080

May 24th 2012

(something went wrong with the last post and I am resending it) 

liberale wrote:

Permitting cancers and fatal accidents falling on us cannot be called “care.”

If God does not permit them and they just occur by physical laws and chance, that is no “care” too.

This is the area that takes the discussion into our personal world view, of us as the human beings (our soul or as physical entities), and what Christians proclaim as their Faith.

The observations concerning nature are articulated as laws that are the result of human beings inquiring in a world of objects and activities (phenomena). I cannot see how these in themselves can cause us to speculate on whom and what God may be. Formally, (and I will speak only for myself) those who profess to be taught by the Christian Faith, take the view that we have all sinned and are cut of from God. The basis for this is again a teaching of Faith, in that the only Law that has validity is the Law of God. Thus I see the consequences around us as the result of our own actions, but Christ makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God.

Within this context, physical laws enable us to discuss information on Nature as provided by the scientific method. Random events are observations within this context that we deal with using stochastic methods. It is difficult for me to relate random events with care by anyone, nor as a means to govern. I think the question of evil in the world is highly formalised within Orthodox Christianity; thus Satan is the originator of evil, and we must resist following his lead. The question to my mind rests on our how we regard freedom and personal responsibility. It is difficulty in this short response to making specific statements about God. Sound bites like Interventionist, Theist, Deity, that claim to provide descriptions of God, are inappropriate in my view, as we cannot make God an object of our inquiry, or as an intellectual construct, nor can we make God act according to our wishes, no matter how well intentioned we may be.  

Studies of nature and information from the sciences are informed by Faith; for those who do not profess the Faith, it probably would not be so informed. I cannot see how science would inform me of Faith. I can see that people who think seriously come to their own views, and I am comfortable with this.


Merv - #70084

May 24th 2012

liberale wrote:  If I see a baby clawing towards a cliff and choose not to interfere, let him/her fall and be killed, this act cannot be called “care.”

How many babies have you seen clawing their way over cliffs lately?  Usually a mom or dad nearby scoops the tot up & puts up a safety fence near the edge to prevent an accident.  Good thing God gave us parents.  That’s called “care”.

—Merv


Merv - #70085

May 24th 2012

Liberale, your challenge deserves more than just my flippant response above to your weakest example (I couldn’t resist the easy target). 

But since disease and fatal accidents are a part of our existence, theologians had better not ignore their existence.  Nor have they.  Nor does God.  I do love my children and I care about them very much.  But that doesn’t mean I prevent (or even try to prevent) all pain they may face.  You may respond that this is because I’m not capable of preventing all pain.  But I don’t think we can safely conclude even on God’s behalf that prevention of all pain and death represents the “most caring” option he could choose for us in this world even if we personally want that for those we love.  To insist on a deathless, painless program for this physical life seems to me to create more problems than it solves.

-Merv


GJDS - #70099

May 24th 2012

Reply to #70081 Roger,

I accept that you have a definite view of reality, including that of science, nature and Faith. I am unsure however, if you have articulated this with sufficient clarity. The dualism that I think the West has struggled with, in my view, stems mainly from neo-Platonic, and also Aristotelianism, teachings that deal with the soul and materialism. I lump such things into the term physicalism; I am becoming familiar through this interesting Biologos web community, with Evolutionism. These are intellectual constructs rather than information of the scientific disciplines, as I am sure you well know. As they endeavour to provide such wide ranging views and teachings, they assume the authority of the sciences to bolter their untenable positions. This is my central argument against these points of view; otherwise I treat them as simply points of view. Since the Christian Faith teaches that only God can show people his truth, I therefore do not find such things offensive or challenging; indeed it is us who profess Faith that have a responsibility regarding matters of Faith, not those who do not (unless of course they knowingly seek to do wrong).

These matters perhaps take us away from our discussion; to try and address your point, which I think is that “they are both insufficient to creatively address the complex issues of our day, which are both scientific and non-scientific…” I agree completely. The problem with this however, is what can adequately address the complex issues of today? I do not think that science can, but nor do I think philosophy or politics can provide the answers. The complexity of these problems is as great as that of the communities of the world. Your view is, “I am trying to explore the connections between science and Christianity, because I believe it is here that we will find the key answer to puzzle of life and the universe.” I am not as confident as you that science or the scientific method would find the key to life, but I am confident scientists would address many puzzles regarding the universe.

The big challenge to our community and the world is, “how can we use what science and technology provides to benefit humanity and this planet?” We are aware of how much harm can be done, but I am unsure that we are sufficiently equipped to bring benefits to all humanity. Perhaps scientists should spend more time reflecting on these matters!

“Science it appears is afraid of the Personal view of reality.” I do not agree and I am not sure that we can talk of a Personal view in the first place, let alone one that causes fear to science. My personal view is that many sincere scientists have become disenchanted with religion (and I think other activities); this is not because they fear any Personal view of reality. I refer to what you term Scientism, as Physicalism, and I think it is fundamentally humbug.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70106

May 25th 2012

GJDS,

Thank you for your comments.

You are certainly correct in saying that I have not articulated my world view with sufficient clarity.  In large part this is by design because I have found from long experience that the internet blog does not provide the proper venue to articulate and exposit an innovative worldview. 

Thus if you are interested in learning more about how I would reconcile science, philosophy, and theology, I would invite you read my book, Darwin’s Myth.  Contact me by email and I will gladly see that you receive it.  

We are in agreement that Scientism or Physicalism is wrong, but it seems to have an attraction to many people.  I do not think that this is a random coincidence.  I think that Physicalism is an attempt to bring intellectual meaning and structure to their lives without God. 

When I point out that this does not really work, this does not rationally make sense, many feel threatened, just as we Christians often feel uneasy when others challenge the reality of our faith.  Scientists or people with a scientific mentality need a workable scientific world view.  Physicalism is supposed to provide it, but it does not. 

As you say many are alienated from Christianity, some I expect for good reason.  I am looking for a new Christian world view that addresses the issues that the new sciences of Relativity, Quantum physics, NeoDarwinism, and Ecology pose for traditional theology.  I would appreciate you input if you are interested.

I certainly agree that we need to work together to improve our planet.  The problem now seems to be that most people are content to blame others for not doing what is right. 

We know some of the problems posed by climate change and we are finding that perhaps that others might be more serious than we expected.  However people do not want to change how they think and how they act, and they are willing to use whatever excuse available, be it religious or scientific to avoid change, particularly when it means sacrifice.

Then too there is conflict between liberals and conservatives; Christians, Muslims, and Jews; East and West; etc.  which prevent people from working together.  Science cannot solve these problems, but as long as the West is divided by issues associated with science, I do not see how we can make much progress.                      


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