Re: Once again...ID

Bill Hamilton (
Tue, 28 Apr 1998 17:25:27 -0400

I wrote to Moorad Alexanian:
>>The task of discerning design in nature may be further complicated by a
>>tendency to confuse several sorts of design: the fundamental design of the
>>properties of entities in nature that God does, the descriptive laws that
>>we derive by our own investigations, and the sort of design that we humans
>>God designs the very rules by which things function. Science is an
>>enterprise that seeks to discover the laws by which entities in nature
>>function. But the laws we discover are at best approximations that will be
>>superseded by the results of later investigations.
Garry wrote

>The problem is this, I suggest. Granted that God designed the space-time
>manifold and all possible forms of matter/energy that it might contain, and
>he also designed the properties (including capacities for structuration,
>etc) of the manifold and matter/energy. (This is Howard Van Till's "Robust
>Formational Economy," I take it.) Our representations of the relations
>between these properties are what we call the laws of nature. Now it
>appears that some of the laws are indeterminate in principle, not merely
>due to the limits of our knowledge.

In the case of quantum mechanics, effects like the Heisenberg Uncertainty
principle may simply be due to our tendency to try to make mental
analogies. As I remember from a materials course many years ago, the
momentum and position distributions for say an electron are the Fourier
transforms of one another. That forces the widths of the two distributions
to be inversely related to one another. It strikes me that something that
behaves like that shouldn't be called a particle. Rather it should be
called a distribution of matter and momentum (or of matter and momentum
probability :-))

In nonlinear dynamics there is a curious failure of our intuition again. A
nonlinear system can be deterministic in the sense that if you start it
from the same initial conditions (to infinite precision of course :-)) you
will get the same behavior. But the inevitable imprecision in initial
conditions makes it impossible to predict its behavior beyond some
"coherence interval" in time. So you have a deterministic system that is
not predictable.

Certainly from the point of view of human knowledge and capabilities, some
things may be in principle indeterminate, but I'm wary of trying to extend
that to God.
>But the uneasines some of us feel derives from allowing indeterminism to
>drive the evolution of humans. Several times Glenn Morton, for example,
>has shown how there are some parameters which set limits on the phase space
>of genetic change, but he claims that such a conception can explain the
>random mutations and selection which led to humans.

It seems to me that you are assuming that such a thing as an "objectively
random" process exists -- that is a process which satisfies all criteria
for randomnes for all observers, even if the observer is God. We humans
classify a process as random when it satisfies some criteria such as
incompressibility, lack of correlation, white spectrum or the like. But we
don't know all the laws of nature, nor are we omnipresent or omniscient.
I'd be cautious about claiming that a process is random from God's point of

Yes, this trajectory
>through phase space is "possible" in the sense of nomological possibility.
>But our feeling is that this possibility has such a low mathematical
>probability of
>actually being realized that God's intervention somewhere along the way is
>not only probable but required.

Or desired by God. Suppose God created the universe because He desired to
interact with it, and He preferred some kinds of interactions to others.
Certainly He could have made a universe in which the properties of matter
made the kinds of interactions He considered less desirable unnecessary.
Part of the explanation may be that God has a sense of esthetics that lead
Him to want the universe to function as a "finished, elegantly designed"
product. Steve Jones -- who is active on the evolution reflector -- has
said to me a number of times in private exchanges that when he writes about
God intervening in nature, he means that God's interventions are planned,
not "fix-ups" to take care of things that didn't work. I agree with that.
>The problem is that if God only designs the initial entities and their
>properties, and establishes the initial conditions, then the outcome of an
>indeterministic system is governed by counterfactuals of chance. So to
>insure the process resulted in the human species, God would have to have
>taken account of these counterfactuals of chance.

I don't believe that this is what He does. But it might be interesting to
note that this is exactly what a good design engineer does: He predicts
what disturbances may occur and designs the system to perform within
specifications in the face of those disturbances. But I believe God has
ordained the scope of action of all processes -- including those we
consider random or indeterminate.

But do such things
>exist? How does God know them? And in virtue of what does he know them?
>The classic answer to this is that God knows them through his knowledge of
>his own will. But if so, then either (i) God knows when he must act to
>make determinate certain indeterminacies so that the continued evolution of
>the whole continues towards his willed end; of else (ii) the
>indeterminacies are nor really random at all, but are pseudo-random.
>(i) is certainly compatible with providence, but involves not only a
>"Robust Formational Economy" but also continual (or at least periodic)
>providential intervention, while (ii) flies in the face of the general
>conception of evolution as propelled by chance.
>So on (i), then, God is not only the "purposeful conceptulizer" but also,
>from time to time, the "efficient artisan."
You can probably guess that I will choose ii. What appears random to human
capabilities does not necessarily appear random to God. What we can
establish from the fossil record is that life developed through many stages
over many millions of years -- common descent. What we can establish from
the modern synthesis is that processes that satisfy all the tests we can
devise for randomness produce variations that are then filtered by natural
selection. But whether those processes are truly random from God's point
of view, and whether the filtering brought about by natural selection is
just "lucky happenstance" or planned is a different question -- one I'm not
convinced we are able to answer. BTW, even if there is such a thing as a
"truly random from God's point of view" process and genetic variation is
such a process, that doesn't necessarily mean God is not in control.
Engineers who design nonlinear control systems tend to like a certain
amount of noise in the system because it keeps mechanical systems from
hanging up on nastinesses like stiction. If there weren't noise in the
system, these folks would introduce it. Similarly God might deliberately
introduce noise into the dynamics of genetics to produce a sufficiently
rich set of variations to ensure that the populations of living things in
His universe would be able to adapt to all disturbances He allows to occur.

Bill Hamilton, Staff Research Engineer
Chassis and Vehicle Systems, GM R&D Center
Warren, MI / (home)