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


You will see in my upcoming response to @Eddie that while i have added vocabulary… it is not because it is different from Behe… but to anticipate Behe.

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I also am in complete agreement with everyone here, of course this is aside from all those points where I am not.


George has said so many different things, and sometimes apparently incompatible things, at different times over the past few years, that I lose track of them. If he wants to restate his view on the role of cosmic rays in evolution, or of anything else in evolution, I’m all ears.

In particular I’m interested in whether the cosmic rays (or anything else) are conceived by George as simply further entirely natural bounces produced by the initial divine pool shot, or as actual interventions, intrusions into normal operations of nature. If I could figure that out, then I would understand his position.


You are so full of garbled memory i dont even recognize the portrait.

I became notorious for my cosmic ray discussion, and despite the mocking, i never backed away from it. And when newly arrived YECs tried to challenge me by asking just how much mutation was in God’s hands in the God-Guided Evolution model, i always supported a single position: “all of it”.

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So it would seem that you have already made up your mind that Behe’s Pool Shot Scenario doesnt include even the New Testament miracles? And/or doesnt include free will?

A deist god doesnt perform a string of miracles… thats why he can leave the pool table. But the Christian God cant let natural law execute all the necessary cosmic operations… because, by nature, natural law cant do miracles, right?

And then there are roughly two categories of miracles: the ones that are designed to change the local timeline… but with suppressed effects on the future timeline…

And there are miracles designed to MAGNIFY the local timeline changes into massive future changes (like butterfly/chaos models).

Both categories cannot function by natural laws alone.

Right, but the question is whether you think organic evolution occurs entirely without miracles (divine interventions, special divine actions outside of lawful natural behavior, call them what you will) being involved, or whether you think miracles are involved. If you think special divine involvement is involved (e.g., maybe you said that God created certain mutations by personally directing certain cosmic rays to strike genetic material, rays that wouldn’t have struck that genetic material without God’s manipulation), then I’m not going to say you are wrong, or attack your view. I think that is quite possible, and quite compatible with orthodox belief.

But note that if you think that, you are not proposing a cosmic pool shot. In the cosmic pool shot model, there are no miracles (beyond the miracle of the initial creation of matter and energy in the first place). So I don’t object if you call manipulating cosmic rays “God-guided evolution,” but in the interview you mention, Behe wasn’t talking about God manipulating cosmic rays, or manipulating anything. Manipulation, post-Big Bang, is ruled out in the cosmic pool shot model. That’s the whole point of the model, in fact, to harmonize divine design with totally natural evolutionary causation.

That’s why I’ve pointed you before to Denton’s Nature’s Destiny, where the front-loaded model is asserted not just as a possibility (as in Behe), but as what actually happened. If you want a clear version of a cosmic pool shot, Denton gives a clearer and less hesitant one than Behe. But Denton would reject any notion of God tinkering with cosmic rays to produce certain mutations, etc. He wants nothing of “God-guided evolution” in that sense.

Are these distinctions I’m making helpful at all?


And so you think, as i said just above, that Behe has zero miracles in his model… and then i would say you are wrong for three reasons:

  1. just because the Pool Shot Model uses non-living pool balls does not mean the model should be treated as though there are no living things involved;

  2. if there are no miracles or free will incorporated into the model it automatically becomes a deist model; and

  3. Item (2) becomes even more obviously true when we are reminded that answering prayer is ALSO a miraculous activity.

So… its past midnight, @Eddie, which means im going to bed and you have the whole night to contemplate hiw you missed the boat.

@swamidass will be able to comment upon this and my subsequent expansion of my thesis tomorrow.

And @Dan_Eastwood will have the pleasure of knowing that i am generally reliable in my dealings with your particularly acute form of mercury tolerance.

Why do you think I put the word in scare quotes? The term is philosophically and theologically misleading, but it’s commonly used among lay people trying to think out these issues. The usual lay picture of divine action is of God “intervening” in the regular mechanical workings of the world by “miracles” which “break” or “suspend” the laws of nature momentarily. This sort of language comes to us from people like Hume, but it has become part of the popular consciousness, and the popular consciousness can’t be changed overnight. So I use the terms, for ease of recognition, while putting them in scare quotes to indicate my awareness that they are of questionable merit.

If you want me to use more accurate language, I would speak of “special divine action” (as opposed to the “general divine action” which sustains gravity, magnetism, etc.). God could control the outcomes of evolution by “special divine action.” But if he can make a perfect cosmic pool shot at the beginning of creation, he would never need to engage in special divine action. All he would need to use is “general divine action” – sustaining the laws of nature, and nature would kick out all the designed outcomes of evolution. Do you see the difference now?

If so, then surely you see that Behe’s divine pool shot analogy is not talking about God personally manipulating or magnifying or altering anything. It is not a model involving “special divine action.”

I’d call Russell’s scenario one of “special divine action” – as he does. My only difference with him is over his timidity; he is so eager not to offend the naturalistic dictates of mainstream biologists that he calls it “non-interventionist” special divine action, when in fact it is in reality interventionist, only the intervention can’t be detected scientifically.

If you believe that God deliberately manipulated some cosmic rays to produce certain mutations, Russell would have no problem with that. But he would stress that the action takes place at a micro-level where we cannot tell the difference between a chance event and a divinely staged event. So for him, we can never prove that anything supernatural happened – though he personally believes that God actually does manipulate outcomes.

In vulgar layman’s language, Russell believes in “intervention”. Denton, on the other hand, doesn’t. And Behe’s pool shot analogy also rejects “intervention”. Your own view of how evolution works, insofar as I understand it from my memory of your statements about cosmic rays and asteroids, is that God sometimes performs special divine actions to guarantee certain outcomes. And that’s fine – but again, it’s not what Behe is talking about in the interview when talks about a perfect pool shot. That is where you are confusing others – and yourself; you are equating two views of divine action in evolution that are quite different.


Bed time for me. It is a “general divine action” because sleep is part if the natural order. Good night.

@Eddie ( cc @swamidass ):

Ahhh… brilliantly subtle. But wrong (or at the very least, not always right).

You say God’s Pool Shot Scenario does NOT include any “Special Divine Action”… because this is the term we reserve for “miraculous” engagement with the Universe. The weak-of-mind think of it as the same category as “God’s Intervention”. To be technically strict, i suppose we can agree that “Supernatural Actions”, by definition, intervene in the Natural World. But this frequently leads to the confusion that God’s miracles are interventions in the Universe; this it cant be. Because the Universe, in the viee of most Christians, includes both the natural and the supernatural. The safest term to use is “engagement” - - where God has two ways to engage.

But lets proceed back to whether “Special Divine Action” can be found in God’s Pool Shot Scenario. I will discuss this in my next post!

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Yes, those God-guided cosmic rays (Gamma Ray Bursts) created billions of year ago in merging neutron stars. God guides the GRB straight to one base pair in one cell on my unprotected skin 50 years ago and then 50 years later Dermatologist says I have skin cancer. If God is responsible for this, God should at least pay the co-pay to have the cancer removed.

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I’m still waiting for my secular humanist award…to a Christian…

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There is the alternate form of this idea: rather than using the precise configuration of the Big Bang to make these mutations… God can also be seen as “poofing” cosmic rays out in deep space, aiming at the target of his choice! Same result!.. but with less bandwidth!!

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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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