Chance and Providence

I’m not sure I am more moderate…what does that mean any ways?

Quite so: as Samuel Rutherford said, “Never seek warm fire under cold ice.” It’s putting the fire to good account that matters.

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My issue with the other camps (not applied to everyone) is that they are not sufficiently committed to the way of Jesus and to Scripture. The call to follow Jesus is radical. We are called to lay down coercive power, invite suffering into our lives, and seek peace.

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I don’t agree with that.

We do not need to assume ontological chance. We need only assume that probability theory can adequately model the observations. And empirical evidence supports that.



Moderate Evangelicals don’t walk around saying Evolution is a Tautology and Natural Selection is a myth!

5 posts were split to a new topic: The Lotus and the Cross

What we need to do and what happens in practice are two completely different things.


I would agree that in many cases it is events that cause probabilities in that the macro world seems to be deterministic in many ways. We often define the toss of the dice as random, but if we were able to measure all of the starting conditions with enough precision we could predict the outcome of every roll as the dice left the hand. In these cases one could argue that randomness is equivalent to ignorance.

However, the quantum world gets a bit trickier. For example, there are no known events that cause one atomic nucleus to decay and not another. Could it be that we are ignorant of some deeper force or process that would allow us to predict which atoms will decay next? I guess that is possible, but from all appearances this type of randomness appears to be an inherent property of the universe.

I will gladly point out that I have not read up on Epicurean philosophy, so I apologize if my ideas were addressed in other posts. These are just my immediate thoughts as it relates to this topic.

It does indeed. However, there are a few considerations:
(1) Heisenberg himself considered that the probabilistic nature of quantum particles in isolation was explicable by something on the lines of Aristotelian potencies (not chance). But in the real world, he said, the very act of interaction with an experiment, or any other part of reality, exposes the particle to the influence of the whole world, making the precise collapse of the wave function (post Heisenberg phraseology) unknowable rather than uncaused or “caused by randomness.”
(2) Given the existence of God, there is no reason to suggest that he should not be as involved in determining quantum events from outside the material realm as that lawlike forces are not occurring behind a coin-toss or dice throw. Therefore ontological chance is still a straight metaphysical alternative to divine choice, and science has no ability in itself to distinguish them.
(3) It is still doubtful how, if at all, quantum indeterminacy might affect classical reality. The general opinion appears to be that the determinacy of classical laws holds because the statistical pattern irons out any irregularity. We don’t, after all, believe that the gas laws vary because of the theoretical possibility that molecular motion might in a particular case be unusual.

The commonest “maybe” seems to be the idea that point mutations in biology might be the result of quantum effects from radiation, but mutation experiments over 40 years don’t suggest that very much evolution is the result of that kind of mutation. The effect must be completely swamped by macrsopcopic evenrs like copying errors, and the whole of gamut of other genetic mutational paths.

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[note: preface all my statements with “how I as a layperson view it, and perhaps incorrectly so”]

That is definitely one way to view it. This would move the “event that causes probabilities” to the observation, be it a conscious observer or an unconscious one.

I fully agree that science is poorly equipped to answer ontological questions. Science is great at figuring out how the universe works, but it is really poor at figuring out why it works that way. The tough part is trying to discern what we can learn through science and what we can’t.

That’s my understanding as well, otherwise known as the “Law of large numbers”. It’s similar to the strategy that casinos use to make money.

You read my mind. This is definitely one of the first examples that pops into my head. QM and physics isn’t my bag, so I have no idea what qauntum effects there are at the level of nucleotides and polymerases and how they may affect matuagenesis. I would guess that it is non-QM given the difficulty that humans have in creating quantum effects in the lab (e.g. quantum computers), but it is certainly and intriguing example.

Humans have difficult in creating quantum effects in the lab… however life seems to us it fairly often.
Quantum effects have been observed in photosynthesis, how homing pigeons are guided, brain function, olfaction etc. All these are fairly recent findings and we need to wait to see how it pans out. However it’s quite possible that quantum effects are employed in life at the protein molecule level.


This is the most profound point in your reply, I think, though frustrating for the simple life! If the material cosmos is all there is, was and ever shall be, the question doesn’t arise, and science appears to have the universe at its feet.

The lie is immediately given by the human mind alone, which Descartes bracketed off from “the natural world”, and which no efforts since have successfully brought into the materialistic scheme. But that opens the door to all kinds of other “immaterial causes”, from mundane ones like “information” to divine action.

The task is not impossible, but becomes a deeply human and fallible question like “How do I know when someone is telling the truth or lying?” Once we allow for different types of causation in the world, some hard, and non-empirical, work needs to be done, and it’s fallible. But that’s life, for the most part!

My own limitation on science (as such) is that it shows us only repeatable or predictable regularities; and beyond that, it collects data on contingencies against the possibility of finding regularities in the future.

As soon as we call that regularity a “law” acting on matter, for example, we’ve started talking philosophy and metaphysics, even if only to have some vocabulary for our discoveries. But someone else could express the same regularity in terms of the “natures” of material things (eg Aristotle), and someone else could say that God simply chooses to do things the same way under certian circumstances (called “occasionalism.”)

Either way, it’s less the science itself that gives us understanding, as opposed to data or equations - and it’s the understanding that interests most of us. That should not really be surprising, for “science” was coined as a new brand name for “natural philosophy”.


@Ashwin It’s interesting to conjecture how such quantum mechanisms micht affect the “ontological chance” issue. The work on bird homing mechanisms, for example, is all about enabling the bird to get where it wants to go reliably.

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Precisely… even though quantum mechanisms seem to be based on “chance”… the results are reliable and specific.
Whether it’s the gas constant or homing in pigeons.

One thing I didn’t mention here (but did before) is that the precise statistical nature of quantum events militates strongly against their being caused by ontological randomness. The probability distribution bespeaks underlying order and rationality, whereas that which has no rational cause has no reason to have one value rather than another - or no value at all.

In other words, truly random wave functions would collapse into particles, Christmas or the leaning tower of Pisa as readily as waves.


I agree with a lot of this. The point of the scientific method is to get as much human fallibility out of the process as possible. The output of science is findings we are really confident in. That isn’t to say that all scientific findings are true, or that all non-scientific findings are false. It is much more about how demonstrable and verifiable a conclusion is.

As humans, we look at the entire breadth of conclusions and beliefs and we decide for ourselves which are convincing and what type of evidence we need to accept something. In the vast majority of cases, people accept scientific findings because the evidence is demonstrable and verifiable, and this is the space where atheists and theists exist together. As we move past that, paths diverge. This is where we get into the philosophical side of humanity.

I would also argue that there is a pragmatic reason for using science in addition to the philosophical positions that science takes.


This is entirely correct. Of note, it is grounded in Francis Bacon’s conception of the Fall (@rcohlers).

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We’re agreeing on a lot here. Just two points in reply (which I think are linked).

This is both science’s strength and its weakness: the exclusion of human fallibility ends up drawing tight boundaries about what can be studied, and how. That’s because humanity (and its fallibility) is so crucially tied up with both the world and the understanding of it.

The attempt to make a study entirely objective, when it is a subject who both initiates the study and draws conclusions from it, is a bit like lifting oneself by ones own bootstraps. It’s worth pursuing (as it is in most other fields of study such as history, theology or even counselling), but one needs to recognise the constraints.

This is what N T Wright loosely terms “critical realism” in historical studies - one must always be aware that one inevitably approaches the data with bias - but that is not to say that no good conclusions can be drawn.

This too harks back to Bacon, who initiated the idea of science as the pragmatic taming of nature, rather than its study. In that sense, “Baconian Science” isn’t interested in the ends of nature, but in how they can serve man’s ends. Yet even put thus crudely, such an aim is a philosophical one, and there is overlap because one can only divert nature’s aims by gaining some understanding of them, just as keeping slaves is only possible if you know them well enough to stop them rebelling… though of course, if you really understood your slaves, you would not enslave them at all.

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HOW DARE YOU AGREE WITH ME!!! . . . oh, wait. :wink:

This is why I was very careful to say that science removes as much human fallibility as possible. You can never remove all of it simply because humans are the ones doing the science.

You are obviously versed in much more philosophy than I, but there is one thing that I have always taken away from my limited studies. Every epistemology has to draw boundaries somewhere. If anything is true and if anything is evidence then it just isn’t a useful epistemology. Any discussion is going to be focused on where to draw boundaries, not if there should be any. I have also found that boundaries are drawn with a goal in mind, and it is that goal which defines the epistemology.

Why we humans do one thing instead of another is always going to involve some sort of philosophy. I guess the best we can do is be honest about what that philosophy is and then argue over its value.