Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?

From: Terry M.Gray <>
Date: Fri May 29 2009 - 02:22:26 EDT

This is an interesting question. I think most of the time in science
"chance" is spoken of as the cause when the cause is unknown (or
undeterminable) but is "predictable" on the basis of some statistical
probability distribution. For example, I think it's possible to argue
for a somewhat classical determinism in coin flipping. If we knew all
the initial conditions, forces, etc., we could predict the outcome. We
can also predict the outcome statistically because coin flipping
results in a rather predictable overall outcome.

Of course, statistical descriptions don't predict a given particular
result. We can predict quite confidently the number of mutants that
will result from the treatment of a population of bacteria with some
mutagen, but we can't predict which particular cell will experience
which mutation in which gene.

Contingency of history is another kind of chance, although I'm not
sure it's really different. We can talk about the probabilities of
meteor strikes that might cause widespread environmental havoc. If we
knew all the sources of meteors and factors affecting there possible
encounter with earth we might even be able to predict (although we
have a serious many body problem here). But that there would be a
meteor impact at a particular time in evolutionary history that would
lead to the demise of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals (or
however the current theory goes) is a "chance" event. Gould's A
Wonderful Life is an interesting read here.

I like to attribute unexplained computer problems and crashes to
cosmic rays. Deterministic in one sense, well, as much as the
production of cosmic rays might be deterministic.

Quantum mechanics may be a different story here.


On May 28, 2009, at 5:00 PM, Schwarzwald wrote:

> One question I have about this entire debate...
> Is ascribing something to "chance" really a scientific statement, no
> matter how thoroughly we know the conditions? I would understand if
> "chance" were just a statement about the limitations of our
> knowledge. But are "biological item X was created by chance" or
> "chance events resulted in biological item X" scientific statements
> at all, at least in the opinion of most here?
> From my layman vantage point, this seems like a foggy area to say
> the least. I could say more, but I'd like to keep this simple, if
> anyone is willing to respond.
> On Thu, May 28, 2009 at 6:23 PM, Cameron Wybrow
> <> wrote:
> Terry:
> Testing me, are you?
> Well, assuming that you want the coin tosses treated as independent
> events, and assuming a fair coin with a probability of 1/2 for each
> of heads and tails, the probability is exactly the same on any
> single flip. So, if we are talking about the fifth coin flip in
> isolation, the fact that four heads have come up previously is
> irrelevant. The probability of a head at flip 5 is still 1/2. And
> that would be the case even if we knew that there had been a million
> consecutive heads previously.
> But that isn't the whole story. Probability theorists still can ask
> the question: in advance of flipping any coins, what is the
> probability of flipping five heads in a row? This is not the same
> as asking what is the probability of the fifth coin being a head,
> given that you already have four heads. You are in a different
> position as knower in each case.
> The probability of flipping five heads in a row, given no knowledge
> of any of the coin flips in advance, is (1/2)^5, or 1 in 32.
> The probability of flipping 64 heads in a row, given no knowledge of
> any of the coin flips in advance, is (1/2)^64, or 1 in a number
> larger than the number of all the grains of rice in China, according
> to the old legend about the sage and the chessboard.
> It is the latter sort of probability, the probability of achieving a
> given sequence, that is relevant in the ID-Darwinism debate.
> Evolution, if it is to occur by wholly Darwinian means, is limited
> by natural selection constraints (not to mention genetic and
> physiological constraints) to a certain set of sequences. The
> mutations can't occur in just any old order. To make a crude
> application from coin-flipping to mutations (which is of course
> inadequate), of all the 32 possible sequences of heads and tails, it
> might be that only the sequences HTTTH and HTTHT could produce a
> bacterial flagellum -- all the other sequences either producing no
> effect or the wrong effect or producing dead bacteria -- so that
> there would be only a 1/16 probability that the flagellum could be
> produced by chance. But of course the numbers we are talking about
> are many orders of magnitude larger than that.
> Of course the application of probability theory to biological design
> can be and has been questioned. I have no problem with genuine, non-
> mean-spirited criticisms of the use of probability theory in ID (and
> by the way, Terry, I thought your essay in *PEC* maintained an
> admirable polite tone). But according to some calculations, the
> numbers one comes up with when one tries to explain the origin of
> the first cell by chance (or, mutatis mutandis, the origin of a
> flagellum or some other complex system from chance) are so
> astoundingly large that the hypothesis amounts to an expression of
> religious faith in the power of chance. And why should scientists
> have a religious faith in the power of chance? Why is faith in the
> power of chance "scientific", whereas discussion of a designer
> (which on the face of things is the more rational answer to the
> question how life originated) "unscientific"? The insistence that
> *any explanation, no matter how improbable or how lacking in
> empirical evidence, is better than a design explanation*, puts
> "origins scientists" in the odd position of having to be irrational
> in order to prove that they are scientific. Odd, don't you think?
> Anyhow, to come back to the question I asked after points 7 and 8 of
> the post to which you refer, I am interested in hearing your view on
> whether Ted Davis has correctly defined TE, and on whether ID and TE
> are compatible, if Ted Davis's definition is employed. And I am
> interested in hearing whether you agree with me that there is zone
> of overlap between some versions of ID and some versions of TE. I
> am interested in establishing a common front against Dawkins etc.
> which allows ID and TE people to work together based on their
> agreements, but some TEs seem determined to draw attention as much
> as possible to disagreements between ID and TE, and seem to find ID
> almost as objectionable as the position of Dawkins. What I like
> about Ted Davis's definition is that it allows individual ID and TE
> people to disagree with each other over various questions, but does
> not require them to do so. Ted's definition of TE is a non-
> polarizing definition. I wish more TEs would clearly embrace it.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Terry M. Gray" <
> >
> To: "ASA" <>
> Sent: Thursday, May 28, 2009 12:11 PM
> Subject: Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?
> Cameron,
> A simple statistics question for you...
> In a coin flipping experiment, if you flip a coin four times and it
> turns up heads each time, what is the chance of getting heads on
> the next flip?
> Much more to respond to in your post--but I'd like to start to
> address points 4-6 with this question. I'm quite intrigued by your
> Calvin questions--I'll see what I can come up with.
> TG
> On May 27, 2009, at 11:44 PM, Cameron Wybrow wrote:
> Terry:
> Thank your for your thoughtful reply. I cannot do justice to all
> the ideas expressed in it, and so will pick out a few.
> 1. It's my understanding that at least a couple of people here,
> namely Ted Davis and George Murphy, would agree with you
> "that an event can be seemingly by chance, yet still be under God's
> control and determination". I think they would explain this in
> terms of quantum indeterminacy, i.e., that since there is
> indeterminacy within the laws of nature, there would be no apparent
> violation of those laws in the minute changes by which God might
> guide evolution. God's interventions would be indistinguishable
> from chance events.
> 2. This might well be the way things work; I have no objection to
> the notion that God guides evolution, and if he has to be "snuck in"
> somewhere so as to guide evolution without flagrantly upsetting the
> normal paths of nature, I suppose "quantum indeterminacy" is as
> good a way as any.
> 3. However, I think that in practice, we never are in the position
> of witnessing evolutionary "events" as single items. Rather, we
> look at a string of fossil finds from which we infer a string of
> evolutionary events stretching over thousands or millions or tens
> of millions of years. In this situation, the question whether a
> given mutation was caused by God or chance is not really a useful
> question. It is the overall direction of a series of mutations
> that is important.
> 4. So for example, let's say science could determine what it is
> currently nowhere near able to determine, e.g., that it would take
> 1,000 mutations to turn a lizard into a bird, with those mutations
> having to occur in a certain sequence in order for each of the
> intermediate forms to be viable in terms of natural selection. And
> let's say that George and Ted are right in their claim that, even
> if we had a time machine and could bring the live specimens to our
> era, so that we had them in front of us at exactly the point at
> which the mutations occurred, science could say nothing about the
> ultimate cause of any of those 1,000 individual mutations. We
> could not therefore tell whether God or chance was responsible for
> any of them. Yet the question still arises: can the *sequence*
> tell us something that any individual mutation cannot?
> 5. Here is where intelligent design comes in. From an ID point of
> view, while any single mutation has a relatively large probability,
> the sequence as a whole has an extremely small probability. So,
> while the probability of a mutation affecting the iris or the lung
> etc. cannot help us to decide between God and chance, the
> probability that a certain mutation affecting the iris would be
> followed by a certain mutation affecting the lung, and that these
> two mutations would be followed by a certain mutation affecting the
> brain centres that control the iris and the lung, and that all of
> these would be followed by a certain mutation affecting the
> development of feathers and then followed by another mutation which
> enabled the brain to co-ordinate the proto-feathers with other
> parts of the organism, etc. -- that combined probability might
> help us to decide between God or chance. (If you substitute alien
> biologists for God, the reasoning is the same, so one could
> generalize that to "intelligence or chance". But since we are
> usually discussing Christian theology here, I'll use "God".)
> 6. If you treat each of the mutations as independent events, as
> neo- Darwinism generally does, then a thousand-step string of
> mutations would of course have a very low probability. Let's say
> you come up with a figure of 1 in 10^200 for the probability of the
> string. Then let's say that there might be 100 possible alternate
> sequences, of roughly equal probability with the first, that could
> have turned a lizard into a bird in a way compatible with natural
> selection requirements. The 100 possible sequences, 10^2, are a
> drop in the bucket, reducing the colossal number by only a tiny
> amount. So you still have an incredibly improbable event. And from
> this the design inference proceeds.
> 7. The main point I am trying to make here is not about how ID
> argumentation works, which I'm sure you know already. Nor is my
> point to prove that design inferences are "scientific", or that
> design inferences are sound. The point I am making is a
> theological one, i.e., that the validity or invalidity of design
> inferences is a separate question from the question of how God acts
> to guide evolution. One could believe that God guides evolution
> exactly as Ted Davis and George Murphy have postulated, i.e., one
> could be a theistic evolutionist; yet one could still argue for the
> validity of the design inference. That is, one could be a TE and
> an ID proponent at the same time. TE and ID are not mutually
> exclusive positions.
> 8. Of course, individual versions of TE and individual versions of
> ID might clash; that we all know from experience. But there is
> nothing inherent in the definitions of TE (as defined the other day
> by Ted Davis) and ID (understood as a theory of design detection)
> that prevents them from being combined. Indeed, I am not sure how
> to describe Michael Behe's position other than as a combination of
> ID and TE.
> Terry, would you agree with my line of thought thus far?
> As for your historical point about American thinkers, I am hesitant
> to talk about authors I haven't read, such as Asa Gray, Hodge,
> etc. Ted would be the better person to comment on your remarks
> there.
> I agree with you that Calvinist theology in some respects does
> better justice to parts of the Bible than do some other theologies,
> but I want to reserve a lengthy discussion of Calvinism for later.
> For now, I have some questions for you about Calvin's theology. Do
> you know where the passage is in which Calvin called Lucretius a
> "dog" or "filthy dog"? I would be interested in reading the
> context, if there is any, for Calvin's remark. Darwinism is in many
> ways a modern form of Lucretian thinking, translated into the
> biological idiom, and Calvin's comments on Lucretius (or other
> Epicureans) might give us an idea how he would have reacted to
> Darwin. Also I would be interested in references to other passages
> where Calvin speaks directly about nature, natural laws, etc. Also
> if he makes any references to Islamic occasionalist doctrines, and
> distinguishes his account of God's action and of nature from that of
> those Islamic theologians.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Terry M. Gray" <
> >
> To: "ASA" <>
> Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:49 PM
> Subject: Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?
> Cameron,
> I'm delighted to see the conversation take this direction. I was
> mentally composing a message to address several of these points.
> As you note, the Calvinist perspective on how God is involved with
> the created order allows for some considerations that have seemed
> off the table here; namely, that an event can be seemingly by
> chance, yet still be under God's control and determination. I
> discuss some of this in my on-line paper at
> gray/ GrayASA2003OnHodge.html You also see the idea in the
> Westminster Confession of Faith III, 1
> 1. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of
> his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to
> pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is
> violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty
> or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
> and V, 2
> 2. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God,
> the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly;
> yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out,
> according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily,
> freely, or contingently.
> Proverbs 16:33 captures the idea "The lot is cast into the lap, but
> its every decision is from the LORD."
> The point is that from a creaturely perspective there can be random
> events. A scientific analysis would result the conclusion that such
> events were undirected and unplanned, i.e. consistent with the
> Darwinian claim. However, from God's perspective they are planned,
> directed, purposed, etc. It's only when you push the notion of
> random and undirected and unplanned into God's perspective do we
> run into trouble. Of course, this is Darwin's original error and
> the error (from a Calvinist's perspective) committed by atheist and
> theist critic of Darwinism.
> Another way of saying this is that God is the designer of things
> that are the consequence of what to us are random processes.
> So, how does this work? What does this mean for God's involvement
> in creation? I personally hold to a radical interventionist model.
> I think this is what scripture and the Reformed confessions teach.
> God is involved via sustenance and concursus with every creaturely
> act. I don't know the details. I'm not sure we can know, it may
> well be part of what it means to be God (which we're not). I don't
> think scripture tells us. As Hodge says (cited in my on-line
> paper), that's all we need to know. Notice from the WCF citations
> above that holding this radical interventionist model does not deny
> the authenticity of creaturely actions or the reality of other
> causes than God. How can this be you may ask? I don't know. We
> affirm all the scripture affirms, which is all these things even if
> we can reason how they all fit together. We can confidently say
> that God knows how they all fit together.
> This, I think, is the fundamental theological problem in Darwin. He
> rejected a God who was in all the details, largely, I think, for
> reasons relating to theodicy. He, like many theologians in his day
> (and many in our day) rejected the Calvinist perspective because he
> couldn't reconcile his notion of the goodness of God with "nature
> red in tooth and claw". Interestingly, this seems to be the main
> point of Ayala's "Darwin's Gift". Since God is not directly
> involved any more he his relieved of any responsibility for the
> perceived gruesomeness of the biological world.
> So, Darwin rejects the Calvinist vision of the world that God
> directs everything that happens, even in random events, i.e. he
> pushes his scientific/creaturely notions of randomness into God's
> perspective. This is where I think that Hodge's critique of Darwin
> is misunderstood. Hodge cannot conceive of a world where there are
> random events outside of God's determination in both His will and
> His governance. If such events exist then God doesn't--if this is
> Darwin's view then it's atheism. Notice that even Hodge is willing
> to go to the "Darwinism" of Asa Gray (although he is clear about
> not wanting to call Gray a Darwinian) and Hodge's successor at
> Princeton, B.B. Warfield, once called himself a "Darwinian of the
> purest water".
> Gray and Warfield understood that Darwin had committed the error of
> confusing categories when comparing the divine purpose with what's
> observed from the creaturely realm. So, for them, they could affirm
> Darwinism the way Darwin understood it in the creaturely realm as
> long as you understood that you were making no claims for God's
> involvement (or not). I think that this is why the 19th and early
> 20th century Calvinists had less problem with science in general
> and evolution in particular than with many of the other
> fundamentalists. A full blown scientific description in terms of
> natural causes is not the least bit incompatible with a divine
> causation, even at the detail of quarks, protons, and molecules.
> Frankly, I think this same error is committed by Falk, Collins, and
> Lamoureux. So it's somewhat providential that my response to
> Cameron comes under this subject line. Of course, I commend all
> three for tackling this difficult subject and being bold enough to
> affirm the compatibility of their Christian faith and their
> understanding of the science. But they do not follow my Calvinist
> line here. In fact, at least Collins and Falk make much of how
> God's working through the evolutionary process helps solve theodicy
> to some degree. (A commitment to libertarian free will also is part
> of the picture, which explains, in part, a certain friendliness
> toward open theism.) But, in my opinion, they give away the store.
> If the outcome of a series of events is dependent of the prior
> events then the prior events must be as much under God's control as
> the end event. As you noted, Cameron, scripture seems to go this
> direction much more than many contemporary folk want to go.
> This leads to another thread of Cameron's on the definition of
> theist evolution. I consider the view described above to be a
> version of theistic evolution. On my view, chemistry is theistic
> chemistry, physics is theistic physics, etc. This does not
> necessarily mean that there are no miraculous interventions. As
> I've said many times, I believe that scripture teaches a special
> creation of human beings, particularly of the human soul. So while
> I affirm the possibility of evolutionary processes that lead to the
> biological form of human beings, human beings, body AND soul, do
> not derive from an evolutionary process. While this aspect of human
> creation is not evolutionistic, it does not, in my opinion,
> disqualify me from being a theistic evolutionist.
> In this view, then, everything is intelligently designed if we
> regard God as an intelligent agent. Whether something has design
> that is detected using the various tools that detect design (SETI,
> forensics, archaeology, etc.) is another question. I remain open to
> the possibility but have yet to be convinced that any of the
> examples pointed to are real (and this from the perspective of a
> professional biologist/biochemist for whatever that's worth). See
> my discussion of the general matter written now over 15 years ago
> at While I can't
> give the details that Cameron (following Behe) demands, the broad
> outlines of the evolution many irreducibly complex systems are
> present to the point that I find them highly credible.
> I wanted to refer to one other Cameron's posts in appreciate. While
> I have always appreciated George Murphy's approach in general and
> firmly advocate a Christ and cross-centered approach to theology
> myself, I have always felt that his perspective was used to
> undermine other perspectives. The thread on "Archimedes point"
> produced an "aha" moment for me. Without denying the importance of
> George's approach, I would probably advocate a more multi-
> perspective approach. I find this in some of John Frame's writings
> and in traditional Reformed theology.
> Finally, I think that it's worth saying, especially in light of a
> recent post where seem to be getting our theology from Bruce
> Almighty, that much of the resistance to the Calvinistic
> perspective comes from a commitment to libertarian rather than
> compatibilist free will. While Calvinist acknowledge creaturely
> free will (see the citations above from the Westminster
> Confession), they deny that it is inconsistent with God's decree
> and sovereignty over all things. The Confession says that "nor is
> violence offered to the will of the creatures" while affirming
> God's foreordination (not just foreknowledge) of whatever comes to
> pass. Non-Calvinists deny that such a thing is possible and that
> compatibilist free will is not free will at all (despite a long
> intellectual history that includes Calvinists and various
> deterministic philosophies).
> As an interesting aside, the Calvinistic perspective also lets us
> have a fully human and a fully divine Scripture. Warfield and A. A.
> Hodge advocate this in their view of inspiration. Their's is no
> dictation theory, but their view has God providentially forming the
> writer's of scripture, their backgrounds, context, circumstances,
> thoughts, etc. so that what they write is exactly what He want
> written and declared to be His Word. This rejection of the
> Calvinistic perspective is part of what leads Clark Pinnock in "The
> Scripture Principle" to abandon inerrancy. His more recent moves
> toward open theism is just part of a consistent rejection of
> Calvinism.
> TG
> ________________
> Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
> Computer Support Scientist
> Chemistry Department
> Colorado State University
> Fort Collins, CO 80523
> (o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801
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> ________________
> Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
> Computer Support Scientist
> Chemistry Department
> Colorado State University
> Fort Collins, CO 80523
> (o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
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Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523
(o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801

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Received on Fri May 29 02:22:57 2009

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