Is PS Against Using Scientific Arguments as Evidence for God's Existence?

You are supplying a context that is not always there when the term “accident” is used. The term is not used exclusively when discussing human beings or other voluntary agents. We can speak of the accidental collision of two asteroids, and we aren’t implying that either asteroid intended not to hit the other. Your statement incorrectly generalizes.

And even for your example, your phrasing is confusing and misleading. You said “accident implies intent” when you could have said “accident implies lack of intent”, and thus made your meaning clearer and more precise.

“Supposed to happen” is vague. To be more precise, it implies that those mutations were not produced by design. I.e., no organism was thinking, “This mutation would be really useful if I want my great, great … grandchildren to have wings and be able to fly, so I will generate it.” And that is exactly how the vast majority of evolutionary theorists have represented mutations – as things that happen to an organism’s genetic material, without the organism’s foresight, planning, or consent.

In science, “accident” isn’t a very good term. We don’t say that light accidently produces an interference pattern in the double slit experiment. Instead, that pattern is due to the random distribution of photons within areas defined by the wavefunction.

Random is a much better term since it defines the observed pattern as a product of natural laws, which is exactly the case for mutations. “Accident” introduces a lot of metaphysics that simply isn’t present in the actual science. I doubt you would describe Brownian motion as the accidental collision of particles.


As far as I have seen the term used, “random” doesn’t bear any necessary connection with the notion of “natural laws.” It describes a mathematical pattern of outcomes, without necessarily making any statement about causality. A “random” pattern might be generated by the operation of a combination of natural laws, but it isn’t natural law as such that characterizes randomness. If you are dealt a royal flush, it isn’t any “natural law” of playing cards that produced that result; no law compelled the dealer to shuffle the cards in exactly the way he did.

Agreed, but that is not parallel to the examples I have been talking about. Natural regularities and chance occurrences are not the same thing. The double slit experiment, when performed in exactly the same way (size of slit, etc.) always produces the interference pattern, does it not? The result is therefore the product of law rather than chance. But you don’t always bump into a friend you haven’t seen in 20 years at your local grocery store at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. That’s said to be the result of chance rather than law.

The typical presentation of origin of life accounts, certainly at the popular level, has been couched in terms of chance rather than law. If you want to say that “introduces a lot of metaphysics,” then fine, but that is how many of your colleagues in fact think about the origin of life – as a contingent event that need not have happened, and could just as easily not have happened. Indeed, I have frequently seen the argument that all life on earth almost certainly goes back to one progenitor (if you take it back as far as possible), because it would be unlikely for life to have originated twice on earth by chance. Such an argument implies that the origin of life was accidental, in the everyday and quite clear sense of the word.

Further, if you object to the “metaphysics” implied in “accidental”, you need to consider the metaphysics implied in the notion of “natural laws” – a notion you use above freely and without critical caveats. This is one of the big problems here when scientists here keep saying that we must separate ideas like design, which are metaphysical, from science proper. You can’t do even “science proper” without recourse to metaphysical conceptions. It’s just a question of what metaphysical conceptions one is willing to employ uncritically, vs. what metaphysical conceptions one protests about.

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That’s how it is used in science.

Sure it is. The chances of being dealt a royal flush are described by a random model that follows natural laws.

Chance defines natural laws. Where a photon lands on the photographic film in the double slit experiment is random within the probability defined by the wavefunction. The laws of thermodynamics are defined by random interactions of particles and energy.

I don’t think you understand how chance, randomness, and natural law are tied into one another.


That’s one interpretation of the existence of natural laws. Philosophers of science and scientists do not all have the same interpretation.

Even if that is true, it does not follow that all natural laws are so defined. You are massively over-generalizing, and using examples outside of your field of scientific expertise, to boot.

You’re not responding to what I said. I said that the particular outcome of the royal flush was not dictated by natural laws. I was not talking about “the chances of being dealt a royal flush.” There is no law of nature that says that if Jesse James shuffles the cards at 7 p.m. at the O.K. Corral, he must deal someone a royal flush. The parallel regarding the origin of life would be that a particular outcome (life) is not dictated by natural laws; only the possibility of that outcome is. The fact that a probability for that outcome can be calculated by the use a model doesn’t affect my point one way or the other. You seem almost determined to misunderstand simple points by tossing in all kinds of scientific jargon that aren’t necessary.

I don’t think you know how to make proper intellectual distinctions. You are badly blurring concepts, and your definitions are careless. You started out with a sloppy statement, “Accident implies intent”, which is not universally true, even in the sense you meant it (which was not clear). You have continued with sloppy responses (confusing what a probability distribution allows with what it guarantees), and large generalizations about the cause of natural laws which you lay down arbitrarily without any reference to hundreds of years of discussion among scientists and philosophers about why there are natural laws and what the term “natural laws” means.

That’s why I have stressed the idea that randomness in science is a statistical model. When the observations are statistically consistent with what we would expect from a random process then it is tentatively considered to be random. Scientists don’t make any other claim about gods or supernatural deities producing patterns that just look random, but aren’t.

Of course I am generalizing. You don’t expect me to go through every single theory, do you?

I understand physics enough to know the basics. I even took Quantitative Chemistry as an undergrad, so I at least have the beginnings of an education on the subject. All of biology comes down to chemistry, and all of chemistry comes down to quantum mechanics. It does boil down to natural laws that are defined by stochastic processes.

Where does this chart come from? How was it calculated?


I’m not seeing anything that contradicts what I have described.

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I’m fully aware of this, and I’m surprised you would think that I wouldn’t be.

I have nothing against scientists concluding that something is random, in the technical sense that you set forth. But your wording skirts the metaphysical issue. “What we would expect from a random process” – do you mean by “random process” there nothing more than a “natural process”? And if so, what do you mean by “natural”? You can’t define random by natural, and then turn around and define natural by random, or you’d be offering a definitional circle which settles nothing.

I am aware of this, and don’t contest it. I don’t see your point. When Meyer etc. talk about the origin of life, they aren’t talking about “patterns that look random, but aren’t.” In their view, the patterns in living things don’t look random. That is where they differ with you.

I also took Chemistry and Physics courses as an undergrad, as well as courses in Probability Theory at both first and second year level. And I’ve been reading history and philosophy of science for about 50 years now. So I’m not completely without understanding of general science and the use of terms like “random.”

Again, these are huge claims that not all philosophers of science and not all scientists would assent to. You are imposing your conceptions as the voice of “science.” I would rather you spoke as one particular scientist, who has drawn particular grand conclusions, and not as the authorized representative of science itself.

Irrelevant. I said that no particular outcome is generated by any natural law. Nor is any particular outcome generated by any mathematical model, such as someone would use to generate the table. Probability distributions don’t cause particular events. They are mathematical abstractions, not causes of anything. The cause of a particular poker hand lies in the physical particulars of the card deal. Similarly, the cause of the origin of life is not a probability distribution, but a particular sequence of contingent events which the probability distribution can assign a number to, but does not create.

What exactly do you mean by “natural laws” and how are they defined by “stochastic” processes.

Can you apply this to a delayed choice experiment and show me how it “boils down” to natural laws and stochastic processes?


I think you aren’t understanding the novel stance I have in all this:

Though I am from a “liberal” denomination (Unitarian Universalists), I am okay with God performing special creation for Adam and Eve … in exchange for accepting the mountain of Evolutionary evidence for the origins of a large “Pre-Adam” population of humanity …

I am an “i.d. supporter (no caps)”… because I accept that God executed creation by means of Evolutionary processes, sometimes referred to as God-Guided Evolution (or EGG - “Evolution, God-Guided”).

“I.D.” < historically linked to the idea that “Intelligent Design” can somehow be introduced to public schools, is flawed because perfectly competent scientists don’t seem to understand that there is no experimental procedure that can successfully isolate God’s design as a “variable” to be tested.

(This paragraph is my gift to you this week, Joshua! @swamidass)
This is explosively ignored in Behe’s new book!: he points out how brilliant evolution is when it is guided, and how flawed and degenerated evolution is when God does not guide it … but he has absolutely no way to test (or explain) how God’s Billiard Ball Shot of Design can bring important evolutionary steps into existence … while leaving other steps in evolution ignored and unguided.

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Well, of course I wasn’t aware of what your novel stance is, apart from your title of UU. Now I do. Thank you.


Randomness is defined independently of natural laws. That breaks the circle.

“Looks random” is not scientific. They need a statistical model if what they are doing is scientific.

I’m not seeing anything that contradicts my claims.

When you are ready to address my post, let me know.

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I agree!! That is why I was puzzled by your remarks that seemed to tie up the definition of randomness with the idea of natural laws, e.g.:

I probed into this connection you were making, because your exposition was not clear.

You are the one who first used the phrase “looks random”:

I incorporated your phrase into my answer, because your statement implied a misunderstanding of how ID people think about appearances.

I’m not contradicting them so much as saying they are arbitrary. You don’t provide a broad range of passages from leading philosophers of science, or leading scientists who write philosophically about the nature of natural laws. You simply assert your own understanding as the understanding of science.

I did address it. I showed exactly why your table was irrelevant to the point were were discussing. Probability distributions aren’t a cause of anything. It isn’t a “probability distribution” that caused the particular person on that particular night to get the royal flush, and it wasn’t a “probability distribution” that determined that life would first emerge on earth on a particular day at a particular spot in the primeval ocean. Natural events have physical causes. A mathematical analysis isn’t a physical cause.

Natural laws appear to produce patterns of randomness. That’s the point I was trying to make.

Apply that same criticism to your posts.

That’s ignoring it, not addressing it.

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Natural laws appear to produce patterns of randomness. That’s the point I was trying to make.

You didn’t make it very clearly, because the way you worded it, I wouldn’t have got the above statement out of it. :slight_smile:

Anyhow, I granted you that the interaction of various natural laws might sometimes produce patterns we could call “random.” But natural laws don’t always produce patterns of randomness. The order of the solar system is not what anyone would call a “random” pattern. The great triumph of early modern physics and astronomy was to show that the solar system was characterized an order, an order produced by the workings of natural laws, not of randomness.

If celestial events occurred “randomly” we would not be able to predict solar and lunar eclipses a century in advance.

The average educated citizen understands things like this, and therefore rightly distinguishes between events that occur by law and events that occur (at least apparently) by chance or accident.

And that conceptual distinction remains useful even when we eventually show that some apparently accidental events are actually law-governed. E.g., a meteoroid’s striking one’s home and destroying it remains “accidental” with respect to both the non-existent “intentions” of the meteoroid and the location of the home – chosen without knowledge of the coming meteoroid – even though it might eventually be shown to result from the same laws of mechanics which keep the planets in regular orbits.

I also don’t see what is “random” about the processes studied in developmental biology. A hen produces chicks, not alligators, and a monkey produces monkeys, not chimpanzees. No one would call such regular results “random.” Biologists don’t say that it’s the result of “randomness” that a hen produces a chick rather than an elephant. Thus, your geneticist’s bias (randomness is a necessary concept in population genetics) causes you to misrepresent other areas even of biology, let alone parts of other natural sciences. It’s no wonder you aren’t interested in reading Denton, who emphasizes the lawlike aspects of nature, as opposed to its “random” side.

I addressed it. There was no need to deal with the particulars of the table, because you were introducing the table to establish a falsehood, i.e., that a probability distribution can be responsible for a particular event. There was no need for me to disprove that for each line of your table. Your whole premise in introducing the table was faulty. You implied that a human mathematical analysis has causal power in nature. But never in the history of the universe has a “probability distribution” (a product of human minds reflecting on events, not an event itself) caused anything. So your table had zero relevance to explaining why Jesse James got a royal flush on a particular night, or why life arose on Earth in exactly the place and time that it did.

By the way, on another closed thread, you asked me how Shapiro’s view differed from that of Weismann. That discussion doesn’t belong here, but from the account of Weismann in Gould, Str. Ev. Th. , pp. 201 ff., it’s pretty clear that Weismann lays down strictures about the isolation of the germ plasm which are rejected by Shapiro. If you want to take this up in detail, you will have to start a new discussion on Weismann and Shapiro. I presume you know how to create a new topic here. If you reply here, instead of by creating a new topic, I won’t respond, because I want to keep this thread on the “big issues” between science and theology that Terrell is interested in, and not wander off into disputes between biologists over evolutionary mechanism.

I noticed a lot of theists on this topic so I wanted to alert and invite everybody to a topic I created so we can have a more diverse range of objections and views in the discussion. More importantly, I will allow me to address every objection that can possibly be mustered up and reply to all of them all at once. This will make it a lot easier for me and everyone else:

Can God be a useful “scientific” hypothesis? Yes - Peaceful Science

Anyone tempted should be warned that he generally ignores objections and replies by repeating this original claims in, at best, slightly different language.


No, In my next response, I will rehash and showcase all the important objections that have been made on the subject new or old and then show everyone why I did address all there objections and why they fall short in one way or another. However, my next response will take awhile because I am going to be much more thorough this time to make sure we don’t go in circles. So stay tuned!:slightly_smiling_face: