Re: Random from Professing evolution column

From: Don Winterstein (
Date: Thu Feb 13 2003 - 04:39:45 EST

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    Upon rereading my paragraph below that starts with "OK," I found it so convoluted as to be possibly unintelligible to all but the most dedicated readers (assuming such exist). It may help to describe the model I was assuming: There is a background field of mutations generated by strictly random processes. "Strictly random" implies a complete absence of intelligent input. Although these background mutations can cause measurable changes in life forms, including perhaps some creation of new species, they are incapable of generating the major changes implied by the fossil record, the changes which presumably required complex ordered sequences of mutations. Those major changes came when God inserted himself into the processes and deliberately caused the needed mutations.

    The insight I gained is that, because of the nature of statistics and statistical fluctuations, an external observer monitoring processes that involve a mixture of events that are strictly random and events determined by God could rarely justify calling any relatively small subset of the data nonrandom even if God had determined every data point in that subset. The observer could do so only by calculating probabilities and finding them unreasonably small. For genetic mutations I suspect such nonrandom events would always fit within the random model, provided they aren't present in overwhelming numbers. To be really definitive here, of course, one would have to be really specific--something I'm not capable of when it comes to genetic mutations.


      David Campbell wrote:
    > New species emerge all the time. There is no physical evidence that the
      occurrence of the mutations involved (if any) cannot be mathematically
      described by a probabilistic function.

      OK, and when the really big changes occurred all those times way back when, even if God had implemented a highly nonrandom series of events in each case, scientific observers would still be forced to say, even if such a sequence looked nonrandom, that what happened was unlikely--a statistical fluctuation--but nevertheless in no way violated the basic randomness assumption! So, yes, the scientific description would presumably always fit randomness even if a short sequence of a large, random matrix was highly nonrandom. I guess that's a theological problem with randomness: We can never disprove strict randomness (meaning no intelligent input), as long as we're dealing with an underlying process that is random, even if the truly random (i.e., unintelligent) part would never be able to cause the kinds of major changes in life forms that we see. Very interesting.

    >On the other hand, theologically I think that every mutation is determined
    >by God. .Thus, random appears to me to be
    >a good scientific descriptor of certain aspects of evolution but a poor
    >theological descriptor of evolution at an ultimate level.

      The world is rigidly determined but appears to evolve randomly.

    > How would you distinguish between a mutation "known to be random in the
      scientific sense" and one that is not?

      Can't. That's one of several reasons why the test I suggested would not be practicable.

    > Part of the issue is the extent to which we assume that everything is

      This is a key point. I'd now characterize your view of evolution as a
      process that is rigidly determined by God but described by people as
      random. I could live with this, but my own view is that God is not that
      much of a (pardon the expression) control freak. I prefer to see God as punctuating the equilibrium, now that I've decided that's how God works in the world.

      Thanks for leading me to these insights.



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