Randomness and Theology

Okay, so was God playing dice with natural history?

God doesn’t play dice. We do.


Right, which means the model is false and also incompatible with the doctrine of creation, which means you haven’t succeeded in showing they are compatible. You’ve only succeeded in showing that science cannot advance any farther in its understanding.

What is random to us, is not random to God. We roll dice, without knowing the outcome. But God knows the outcome.

The model is not a total description, and in that sense it is not false, but incomplete. No surprise there. No one is claiming the model is a total description of reality.

The model is also consistent with reality, and that is why it is still useful in science.


At the very least, it doesn’t harmonize science and theology. It’s not a harmonization when science says it’s random and theology says it isn’t. In order for God to direct the course of evolution He must be actually choosing which mutations occur, and Craig has said as much. So it’s not a harmonization to claim that when science says “random” it doesn’t preclude God’s action because science must remain ignorant on that score. The fact that theology says it cannot be random means it wasn’t random, and I don’t see why we can’t move to models, like ID, that investigate why it must have been this and not that.

If that is your argument, then evolution is hardly the only problem. Processes like thermodynamics, Brownian motion, and nuclear decay are also consistent with a scientific model of randomness. Do Christians also have to abandon these scientific theories? Is thermodynamics incompatible with orthodox theology?

We are able to build nuclear fission reactors based on random nuclear decay. We are able to understand the movement of heat within a system based on a probabilistic theory. I’d say we understand quite a bit.


Because science is empirical, and it is empirically impossible to distinguish a universe which has been selected by a transcendent God from an instance which is just the particular result of randomness.


When was this established?


That’s not entirely true. We humans use random mutation and selective pressures to get the outcomes we want. In fact, some of the earliest GMO crops were created by zapping plants with radiation and selecting for the features the scientists wanted. Perhaps God does guide every mutation, but there may be reasons why it wouldn’t be required in order to get the results God wants.

Is there anything in mainstream orthodoxy that says God guides every mutation? What role does free will play in all of this?


The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD
Prov. 16:33.

That’s the basic idea here that @jongarvey, @dga471, @Eddie, and I all affirm.

To discuss “random” mutations is really no different than discussing the cast of lots, or of dice. Just cause we don’t know what will happen doesn’t mean that God doesn’t know and does not govern it.

Well, in fact, integration with science isn’t the purpose of the doctrine. It’s just a statement of fact that God would know things we do not. What we don’t know we often describe as random. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t know. Science is concerned with what we know, not with what God knows. So it is no surprise science includes a lot of randomness in its models.

What is remarkable to me about these sorts of anti-evolutionist arguments is that they are just as out of touch with Christian theology as is open theism, albeit in opposite directions.


Do you think there is a meaningful difference between God directly causing an outcome and God knowing what the outcome will be? Does God directly interact with the dice, or does God simply know what the outcome will be?

If God is directly guiding processes towards a specific outcome then there are moral questions we would have to ask. For example, when we find a correlation between exposure to ionizing radiation and cancer rates is that a false correlation because God just happens to cause more mutations in those people without the radiation causing the mutations? Or is God guiding the energetic particles to a specific base in a specific genome so that it causes cancer? How do we ask moral questions about mutations that cause Mendelian diseases?

Don’t get me wrong, I doubt we are going to answer some of the most debated questions in the history of theology. But I do think we would ask different theological questions depending on how we view God’s relationship with randomness.


Yes there is a difference. There is also different levels of causation (sometimes divided secondary and primary causation). At the heart of this is a tension:

  1. The apparent (which may or may not be actual) relative autonomy of creation (for all the talk of randomness, the real difficulty is free will).

  2. The doctrine that God providentially governs all things (and there is a great deal of debate about what that precisely means)

  3. God is good, so any reconciliation cannot indict him as morally responsible for evil in the world.

Reconciling those facts together in a way that accounts for moral and natural evil, without imputing God with moral responsibility, is one of the fundamental tasks of historical theology. It isn’t that evolution raises these questions for the first time. Theologians have been working through this for a long time, and there are several orthodox accounts/solutions.

One of the best known accounts is Molinism, vis a vis Plantinga, which does solve the logical problem in one way. In this account, God isn’t culpable for secondary causation of evil, and he is not the primary cause of any evil that didn’t have an outweighing good. He still providentially governs all things, because (with perfect knowledge of all possible worlds) he chooses the world to be instantiated out of all possible worlds. In that sense, he is (by secondary cause) creating quite a bit of evil, but he is doing so in a way that also creates a lot of good, including many goods not otherwise possible, so he is not morally culpable for the evils.

There are other approaches to reconciliation too.

@jongarvey @Eddie @structureoftruth @deuteroKJ can correct me, but it’s my understanding that all orthodox approaches to this affirm these three points. To reject any one of these three points would be a large departure from historical Christianity.

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Isn’t that more the solution of Dr. Pangloss? Does anyone really consider it intellectually respectable? If so, I can’t see why. I actually can’t see a respectable solution, and the three “facts” seem mutually contradictory.

God has too much class for dice games. Contract bridge – he might go for contract bridge.

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Especially since he controls the shuffle. I’m reminded of a scene in a W.C. Fields movie.

Fields is about talking about a poker game. Rough paraphrase from memory:
Somebody or other: What? You’re resorting to a game of chance?
Fields: Not the way I play it, no.

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If God does not bid 4 no-trump does that call his omnipotence into question? :wink:

On the contrary, if he does it calls his omniscience into question. He knows where all the aces are already.

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Not “guide” but “govern”. There is a big difference. “Guide” seems to imply primary causation as a component, but “governance” includes fully secondary causation.

What role does free will play? Quite a bit!

Note the title of Plantinga’s book and argument:

Of course, for God to play bridge without an unfair advantage, he might have to be the God of Open Theism, and not know everything. :smile:

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Would this be similar to a casino boss understanding the probability of the table games and adjusting the pay outs so that he knows the casino will win money over the long haul?