I have appreciated your posts recently concerning detecting design. Thanks
for the interesting thoughts.
At 04:30 PM 4/28/1998 -0400, Brian D Harper wrote:
>I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but according
>to my understanding evolution is not a random process in the
>usual statistical sense of the word random. Here I don't have
>in mind the usual statement that Natural Selection is not
>random. I mean that the parts of evolution we usually refer
>to as "random" are not necessarily random. IOW, in evolution
>random usually just means that an event does not anticipate
>the needs of an organism. One can have highly deterministic
>processes that satisfy this definition of "randomness".
Perhaps you are right about this. The randomness in evolutionary processes
is not the statistical randomness of a stochastic process. But certainly
"chance" or probability comes into play, for example, in whether a
particular mutation better enables a particular organism to survive a new
environmental pressure and reproduce offspring with the mutation. So
'random' may be the wrong term to use here. Nevertheless, the point I
tried to make about the counterfactuals of chance still applies, for I
think that indeterministic laws or causation, in which several outcomes are
possible with associated probabilities, gives rise to these troubling
counterfactuals and hence to God's ability logically to be able to create
an indeterministic process which has a guaranteed outcome (Glenn Morton's
example of a Sierpinski gasket notwithstanding).
>Now to change the subject. It struck me that there seems to
>be a parallel between the concerns being expressed here
>(concerns which I certainly share) and those that one often
>hears in a theological discussion about God's sovereignty
>versus man's free will.
There certainly is a parallel. The counterfactuals of chance in the
evolutionary scenario are parallel to the counterfactuals of freedom in
many attempts to reconcile God's sovereignty and human free will. But it
can be argued that the ground of the truth-claim in a counterfactual of
freedom is metaphysically possible, while that in a counterfactual of
chance is not. (I confess I'm not entirely sure if that argument is sound
>For example, I might ask myself
>"does God know what I'll be doing two months from now?"
>Of course I want to answer yes, but as soon as I do I'll
>argue with myself "well, how can I be free then?". I
>really don't want to get into this theology, I just wanted
>to note the parallel.
It has long been recognized that foreknowledge, even infallible
foreknowledge, does not necessitate anything. Aristotle, in his famous
discussion of the "sea fight tomorrow," seems to have concluded that there
is a truth-value gap for future contingent propositions. Much later,
William Ockham proposed what is now called the theory of soft facts: God's
past knowledge of my future actions is a soft fact about the past. Suppose
God believes that in two months I will freely do A. If I am truly free with
respect to A, then I have it in my power to do not-A, and so bring it about
that God believed in the past that I would do not-A.
>What I would like to argue is that chance, indeterminacy
>and randomness (as these words are typically used in science)
>are necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for free will.
>Consider a thought experiment. Suppose that several of us
>got together and observed the behavior of an intelligent
>agent (IA) over a period of several months. Suppose that
>we were able to develop a model from which we could predict
>how this IA would behave in the future. Wouldn't we conclude
>that this IA was not free? If the IA insisted that it was
>free, wouldn't we just smile knowingly at one another?
>If an IA has free will, wouldn't this freedom appear to us
>>From the above considerations I would say that while the
>thought of a universe with chance and indeterminacy makes
>me a little uneasy, the idea of a deterministic universe
>makes me even more so.
>Now for a really speculative thought. Is it possible that
>the creation of an intelligent agent with true freedom
>requires some sort of evolutionary process with some
>amount of chance and indeterminacy?
Are you saying that no free agents could be produced except by an
indeterminate process? I don't see how that argument would go.