punctuating the equilibrium: a Christian alternative to randomness

From: Don Winterstein (dfwinterstein@msn.com)
Date: Mon Feb 10 2003 - 04:22:33 EST

  • Next message: Iain Strachan: "Re: punctuating the equilibrium: a Christian alternative to randomness"

    I wrote (2/8/03):

    If God determines a
    > >particular outcome, for that event the PDF collapses to a single value.
    > >In other words, God's momentary input changes the system momentarily from
    > >a probabilistic one to a deterministic one.

    To which Ian replied (2/9/03--see Re: Random from Professing evolution column):
    > Yes, but isn't this the case whenever you make an observation of a
    variable from a probability distribution. The observed value "collapses"
    the distribution onto one value.

    The key difference here is that we aren't talking about making observations--that is, measuring phenomena over which we have no control. Instead, God is acting, and he is in control. When God acts, he isn't just observing, he determines the outcome.

    Maybe the very concept of the PDF is causing problems here, so I regret introducing it.

    >One might .
    > >expect God to make his input felt now and then, as he sees fit.
    >So in this model, one has to have God intervening over and over again, but
    subtly covering his tracks so it looks like randomness .

    Yes, one might expect God to intervene many times. 3.8 billion years or
    whatever would give him lots of opportunities to do so. But why say it
    looks like randomness? Randomness is an assumption of the current crop
    of evolutionists. No one can prove that the mutations that caused major
    transitions in life forms were random. So, once again, why say it looks
    like randomness? God by causing mutations (if indeed that's what he's been
    doing) isn't covering any tracks but just doing his thing. He would
    be causing these mutations on top of whatever other mutations might be occurring
    via random mechanisms.

    Non-believing scientists say the process is random partly because that's the only possibility
    they're willing to entertain. But there is no empirical evidence whatever
    that random mutations can cause the kinds of transitions in life forms that
    the fossil record indicates. Christians are willing to entertain the notion
    (I hope) that God may be involved, so Christians have at least one other

    >.the atheist line is that it all happened by randomness + natural selection
    and look what an unholy shambles it is. Just what you'd expect if there is
    no purpose behind it all.

    At last! Someone who also thinks it looks like an unholy shambles! In my
    very first post to asa, I wrote, "If God was behind all this, and if God is both almighty and intelligent, why do plants and animals seem to emerge haphazardly? While certain fine details of the world may suggest Intelligent Design, the absence of logical sequence in emerging life forms seems to suggest Stupid Disorder, or randomness." Until you, this didn't seem to bother anyone. Most of my friends and colleagues at work were atheists, and I'm well aware that this "haphazardness conundrum," as I've called it, has a lot to do with giving them the courage of their convictions. So I'm very interested indeed in being able to address this issue in a compelling way.

    What deeply puzzles me is why so many Christians--presumably yourself included--seem to buy readily into the randomness aspect of the mechanism. My atheist friends on observing this would simply (discreetly, of course) smirk, believing they'd won the conceptual battle. For them, randomness excludes God and makes him--if he exists--irrelevant; and anything you'd say in addition they'd very likely dismiss as emotional fluff. For them, randomness means no intelligent input, end of argument. So anyone who truly believes the accepted mechanism for evolution would hit a brick wall if he or she attempted to sell my friends religion. They would just accuse such a person of fatal inconsistency or emotionally induced blindness. The only way they would respect the views of such a person is if he/she held that God put everything on automatic pilot at the Big Bang.

    As I also said in my first post, I have an answer to the haphazardness conundrum that satisfies me and possibly in the future may satisfy also people like my atheist friends (but not my friends themselves, as they're too set in their ways by now), but I'm still not ready to divulge this.

    In the meantime I think I've found an alternative that would not convince my atheist friends--because humanly speaking they're hopeless--but an alternative that they'd at least respect. In my preceding post I wrote, "From my personal knowledge of God I get the impression that he is always actively and intimately monitoring and upholding things but only on occasion actively fiddling with the works. The entire Bible makes a similar witness." All of human history and especially biblical history gives the impression that God lets things more or less drift for possibly long periods of time, and then he aggressively inserts himself into the picture and makes a sometimes startling impact. Noted theologian Stephen Jay Gould might have called such a modus operandi "punctuated equilibrium." So according to the Bible, God's activities over the long term may be characterized as punctuating an equilibrium. If God has worked this way in human history, why would he not have worked in a similar way in prehistory, indeed ever since the Big Bang?

    Thus major transitions in life forms occurred not because of some implausible sequences of random events but because God punctuated the equilibrium. This concept satisfies me both as a believer and as a scientist. Unfortunately, we still have the haphazardness conundrum, but what the hey we also still have the problem of evil--and I know how to minimize the damage from both with one fell swoop.

    All that remains is to find some bright, creative paleontologist/biologist to come up with plausibility arguments a la Dawkins to flesh out the concept, and voila! we have a theological theory of evolution (TTE, obviously) that should be at least as plausible to believers as that other theory that requires all the implausible sequences of random events. Unfortunately for science, no one stands even a remote chance of establishing empirically which of the two theories is closer to reality.

    In practice prejudice will determine the choice. Atheists will say, "At least we know some mutations are random!" And Christians can say, "At least we know God punctuated the equilibrium at various known times in the past!"


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