Dr Behe: Scenario of "God's Pool Shot"

The main problem being that the IC argument is an argument from ignorance. Behe can’t think of an evolutionary pathway for IC systems, therefore IC systems didn’t evolve. This is followed by a God of the Gaps in the form of “not evolution, therefore ID”. That’s bad science from start to finish.

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There are multiple versions of the IC argument, each with different problems. They are not all God of the gaps. Most are wrong for different reasons: Which Irreducible Complexity Argument?

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Please forgive me for dividing up some of your discussions. But i found it helpful; i wont abuse your text.

As you have already noted, it is difficult to know exactly what other divine aspects Behe might have in mind when he provides his simple Pool Shot Scenario. And so we should wait for his next work.

However, i will take this moment to GUESS at what else might be in Behe’s mind. Until we know better, i can tell you that im describing a scenario I personally endorse!

i] i believe the pool shot model can be modified to reflect Human Free Will and Answered Prayers. Lets represent them with 100 smaller billiard balls, hollow, and containing tiny ‘whirly-gigs’ that give these 100 smaller balls unpredictable behavior. Human Free will is represented by blue and God’s answering prayers can be represented by red spheres.

ii] the 100 spheres travel and move around much like the unpredictable Brownian Motion of microscooic particles.

iii] It will be assumed that despite the unpredictable nature of these 100 balls (involving choices that do not yet exist) that God knows exactly when/where/why of their movements. And this divine foreknowledge, in and of itself, does not affect these future choices.

iv] If you were God who needed his trick shot to end with all the balls (big and small) in a pocket somewhere… you would quickly realize that GENERAL natural operations alone would always be defeated by the Non-Natural nature of those smaller balls.

Not because God cant anticipate, but because there is no way for natural law to travel into a Free Will event in such a way that would consistently produce the required effects coming out if the event.

If it could it would mean Free Will isnt really Free. So Free Will, by definition has to be seen as a No-Law zone of operation. God answering prayer is a special category of the Free Will event. Not only does God’s communication depend on the unpredictable (but divinely knowable) outcomes of Free Will, God’s words are unlikely to follow a lawful sequence.

v] So in any GOOD Pool Shot Scenario, the Designer must also design and install Special Creation Actions (S.C.A.s) to re-set the lawful chain of events coming out of the Free Will event. **Please note that the reset action can include a CHANGE in the course if the lawful chain… ir can preserve it perfectly, as the situation requires!

You can imagine how many iterations God must instantaneously review in order to produce an almost infinite chain of events that puts all the balls in the pockets!!!

I posted the following at the BioLogos discussion site, back in September. It may be relevant here.

In 1995, Ken Miller, Mike Behe and I participated in a discussion of evolution and design at the annual meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, held that year at Montreal College in North Carolina. The excerpt below comes from my report about the interactions Mike Behe and I had with Ken.

This may be the place to mention Ken’s answer to a question from the audience about Ken’s own views on God and evolution, because it applies to the question of mechanism. Ken is a Roman Catholic (he elicited a great laugh from the audience by joking, “this is probably the first time Protestant scientists have listened to a debate between two Roman Catholics” [Mike Behe was his debate partner]) who has consistently called himself a theist in his writings (in fact, a “creationist,” that word, exactly, in a 1984 essay, if by “creationist” one understands “any…scientist who professes a religious belief”). In reponse to the question, “how do you think God acted?” Ken told the following story.

“I knew a nun while I was a graduate student in Colorado,” he said, “who was also a biologist. She gave a lecture on evolution, which she fully accepted, and was asked during the question period how she could believe in a God who created through evolution. How did that fit with her theology?”

“Well, she replied,” Ken continued, “that it sounded to her like the questioner believed in a God who wasn’t a really superlative pool player. Imagine a pool player who says, ‘I’m going to sink all the balls on the table,’ and he does so – but only one at a time. ‘My God,’ said the nun, ‘is like the pool player who lifts the triangular rack on the 15 balls, lines up the cue ball, and sinks all the balls with one shot.’”

“And that’s my God, too,” said Ken.

Now, one’s first intuition, on hearing this story, is to say, hmm, that would be quite a feat: sink all the balls with one shot. Wouldn’t that be the greatest design, to build the whole universe so all its design unfolded right from the start – with one shot, so to speak?

But there’s a very interesting problem buried in the nun’s metaphor.

No pool player could possibly sink all the balls with one shot. It’s impossible. The pool player can’t put enough physical information into the head of the cue stick (so to speak), transfer that information to the cue ball, and have the cue ball transfer the information (e.g., vectors) into the fifteen balls in the rack formation to have those balls roll into the pockets of the pool table.

Sure, nothing in principle prevents all the balls from rolling into the pockets. After all, after the impact of the cue ball, they have to go somewhere, so why not into the pockets simultaneously?

But the pool player can’t do it, because he can’t forsee (calculate) all the interactions, and even if he could, he couldn’t “get the information” (the interactions) into the head of the cue stick, using only his muscles (which are subject to dynamics of their own), eyes, nervous system, etc. Furthermore, as the cue ball interacts with the cue stick and the cloth of the table , even before it contacts the rack formation, some information will be lost. That’s why no one will ever lose $ betting against the player who claims to be able to sink all the balls in one shot.

Now, could God sink all the balls with one shot? Of course. It’s only a problem of mechanics. Presumably there are indefinitely many single shots, which, if only one could make them, would sink all the balls in any pattern one chooses.

But scientifically speaking, humans can’t “get at” those shots analytically – because we’re limited by our finite knowledge and the probabilities we face. Therefore we can safely declare the event impossible (meaning excluded probabilistically).

Now, here’s why I think this story becomes a problem for the theistic evolutionist who wants to use it to show how great a designer God becomes (when one accepts evolution). As our scientific descriptions of the universe run back to the Big Bang, we lose information: by that, I mean the “specifications” required, for instance, to provide function in even the simplest organisms, will disappear – they can’t be expressed by, or reduced to, physical equations.

Thus, if the theistic evolutionist starts with God creating “the laws of nature,” he lacks the explanatory resources to generate organisms later. The physical laws and regularities are too information-poor. That is, they won’t generate specified functional (or informational) structures. Well, how about giving those laws some help, by rigging the starting conditions? (Trick shots in billiards displays often begin with the shooter arranging the balls in some carefully specified pattern.)

Again, I don’t think that helps. The information required won’t go away: one simply has to encode it at another, lower level. (Mike Behe and I once argued about whether a cosmic ray burst might generate all the mutations necessary for a cilium to arise de novo ; I said, sure, it could, but then one has to explain the vastly unlikely event of simultaneous cosmic ray bursts all striking one cell, etc. The information won’t go away.)

So, when the nun says, “I believe in a God who sinks all the balls with one shot,” she’s really describing a created universe that wouldn’t work. At least, we can’t say how it would work, i.e., bring forth organisms from physical regularities in the fullness of time.

What does it mean to say, “we can’t say how that universe would work”? Exactly what it means, I think, in the billiards example. Suppose someone said, “it’s possible to sink all the balls with one shot.”

“Yes, in principle,” we respond. “In reality? Never.”

That’s equivalent to rejecting naturalistic evolution probabilistically. Then the nun says, “OK, but God could have done it.”

Sure, he could have. But, scientifically speaking, we face all the same problems. God’s knowledge is not “our” knowledge, and our science is always relativized to our limitations. Thus, to say, “God could have done it” does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of getting enough information out of the Big Bang to build organisms, and so on.

That’s why most theories of theistic evolution, when one looks at them closely, really involve God acting all along the way. One can’t tell the other story – where God acts only at the beginning, setting up just physical laws – and get organisms out several billion years later.

Standing in the line for dinner and discussing this with David Wilcox, we agreed that Ken’s story about the nun’s billiard metaphor, far from making theistic evolution more plausible, actually made it much less so. Sitting next to Ken at dinner, I mentioned this problem, saying, “do you realize how much information has to be in the head of the cue stick?” – and he smiled. Then I said, “but of course the story is a great way to get out of the question” – and he nodded.

Excerpted from here (http://www.arn.org/docs/asa795rpt.htm)


So you think Michael Denton’s position faces these problems? Which I don’t really see as a problem. I feel like that was a really long post to just say natural law can’t create information. And if you think it can I don’t see it as that much of a problem.

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10 posts were split to a new topic: Is Evolution a Great White Whale?

@pnelson ( cc @swamidass ):

Doesnt this objection in the above quote go away if God arranges for the cosmic ray blast?


George, you have the uncanny ability to make simple things unnecessarily difficult.

The pool shot analogy deliberately calls to mind the necessaritarian nature of a pure Laplacean physics. Ideally, a ball struck with force X and imparted a backspin (or top spin) Y, when striking another ball at angle Z, will force the other ball to move, inexorably, along a certain path, with a certain speed, and a certain derived spin. (Of course we always abstract from the imperfection of matter in such analogies, assuming perfect shape and material consistency of the balls, a perfectly co-operative cloth, a perfectly shaped cue tip, etc., even though we know that life isn’t so perfect – but that’s permissible because the point of an analogy is to get a rough idea across.) The mechanistic image of pool balls bouncing around a table and dropping in exactly the intended pockets is meant to suggest the general notion of an initial force applied to an initial setup would yield perfectly predictable results. The whole point of using the metaphor is to give an evolutionary scenario in which God is involved at the beginning, but need not be involved afterwards, provided all natural laws remain the same.

Does Behe himself personally think that God was so detached from evolution as this? I would guess, probably not. But the image he chose does suggest that detachment, and I think deliberately so. I think he is trying to give a logically possible way of thinking about God’s involvement in evolution that would involve no “miracles” or “interventions”.

Of course, Paul Nelson points out that what might be logically possible is not physically possible when you consider the reality of actual pool balls; but we can understand Behe’s image, even if we later decide that evolution couldn’t possibly work that way.

What you are doing is tampering with Behe’s image to turn a remote, pool-shot God into a God more to your liking. But in doing so, you change that image to a different one from the one Behe gave.

All the stuff about Free Will that you stick in shows how far you are willing to alter Behe’s image to suit yourself. Pool balls don’t have free will, so free will doesn’t come into the image, and trying to fit it in does violence to the image.

To make this as simple as possible: If one wanted to suggest a model of evolution where God was intimately involved at various stages, and not just at the beginning, one wouldn’t use a pool shot analogy.

Just to be clear, I’m not championing the pool shot analogy, nor, I suspect, is that analogy Behe’s own private conception of how God is involved in evolution (as opposed to a logical possibility Behe puts out for discussion, for those who hunger for a purely “naturalistic” model of evolution in which God still controls the outcomes). All that I’m saying is that you are distorting the analogy, changing it and retooling it to suit your own theological preferences regarding how God ought to have acted in evolution. And that’s fine – if you say outright that you are modifying Behe’s model to make a better one. But that’s not what you’ve been saying. You’ve been offering your modified model as an interpretation of what Behe meant by the pool shot model. And he didn’t mean that at all.

What I’m complaining about is not your philosophy, or your theology, or your notion of evolution. I’m complaining about your bad exegesis of Behe’s statement.


That’s all well and good, as long as Behe isnt actually a Christian. But i think he probably is, dont you?

And if he is, for the Pool Shot Scenario to scematically include human Free Will, and God speaking to his worshippers (as in prayer or as described in the Bible), we need to tweak the Pool Shot’s visual symbolism (100 smaller balls with brownian movement apparatus).

Even if we didnt tweak it, the effort to design is itself a miraculous operation and thus, according to my long held views in opposituon to many or most ID folks, not subject to scientific examination.

You write:

First, Ive certainly said that my tweaked version was my own belief would require.

Second, so you go ‘on record’ that Behe has no intention of modeling any miraculous activity in his Pool Shot model. And you feel so strongly about your position you want to ridicule my suggestion.

Third, nobody ever said you lacked an opinion, Eddie. And nobody ever said that about me.

Frankly, I can honestly say it never crossed my mind that a Pro-Design Christian would make a model that intentionally excluded miraculous activity.

So “complain away”, sir.

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There is no need for it to include those things, since human free will does not exist until humans exist, and God speaking to his worshippers does not happen until human beings exist, and Behe is talking about the process that leads from the Big Bang UP TO human beings, not how God relates to human beings after they are created. You are caught up in the same anachronistic confusion that Darrel Falk was perpetually in, when he kept going on about the need of “Wesleyan freedom” for God’s creatures. Sea slugs don’t have free will, and there is no need to construct an evolutionary model to give them free will. And mushrooms don’t pray or worship, so there is no need to construct an evolutionary model that allows them to do so. You’re trying to make the Pool Shot analogy into a complete Christian theology of God’s relationship to his creatures, and that’s not what the analogy is for. It has a single, very limited, very narrow purpose: to show that intelligent design is in principle compatible with a wholly naturalistic (no miracle) evolutionary process. You’re trying to make it do work it wasn’t meant to do, and that is why you keep distorting Behe’s meaning. If you would just let Behe make the limited point he wants to make, and stop trying to bring his thought into harmony with yours, you would not be having the problem you are having.

it’s perfectly understandable that a pro-design Christian, for pedagogical purposes, would acknowledge that a wholly naturalistic process of evolution, that required no miracles, interventions, special divine action, etc. (pick your own term) might have been set up God. That implies no endorsement of the idea by the pro-design Christian. Professors in philosophy, history, and all kinds of subjects set forth alternative hypotheses for many things, without implying that they personally agree with all those hypotheses. You are making difficulties out of something that is easy to understand.


I’m pleased with the final outcome.

With your help we have established a 2-fold mode for our kind of Front-loading (the term ‘our’ referring to you and me):

Pre-human Front-Loading (no miracles required); and

Post-human Front-Loading
(would include miraculous operations).

That suits me fine.

There is no need to talk about “front-loading” at all once humans are on the scene, so I don’t see the value of your second category. Unless you are going to argue that God “front-loaded” the history of the Macedonian, Persian, Roman etc. empires, which I doubt you would argue. But even if that is the sort of thing you have in mind, it isn’t at all what Behe was talking about in the interview, so it’s another subject altogether.

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I hate to disagree with one of my ID heroes, Paul Nelson, but here goes. He writes:

Not only is this possible; it has actually been done. The shot was made by Henry McCoy, playing against Clint Barton, at the Stark estate in New York City in 1980. The event was recorded. Here is the video:


This is a comic, not a video. I’m confused.

It was drawn by an artist who watched the video.



Well, Beast does have Super-human senses, so it might not count.

Ah, but he didn’t use his superhuman senses! He used his Texas Instruments hand-held programmable calculator (circa 1980). plus his scientific genius – so it counts!

I wonder if Texas Instruments paid Marvel for the “product placement”?

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I cant imagine NOT including them!

Why do you think i spent so much time on a model that WORKS despite Free Will?!


You have quite the magic show? Can you guess Behe’s weight too?

Im starting to think the one fellow you DONT understand is Behe. His virws seem to be closer to the views of @swamidass than to your views.

So your view is that God decreed the entire course of human history, including those parts of it that depend on decisions made by human free will? I didn’t know that you were such a Calvinist. :smile: