Eccliesiastes and other Biblical books on chance and necessity (was Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sun Aug 23 2009 - 04:13:09 EDT

Nice try, Karl, but you'll have to do better than that.

Ecclesiastes is not representative of "the biblical writers". In fact, Ecclesiastes was not only a very late writing, but a very late entry (possibly the last) into the Hebrew Bible, and there was a major debate among the rabbis (about the first century A.D., when the Jewish canon was in the process of closure), over whether or not it should be admitted into Hebrew scriptures (George Foot Moore, *Judaism*, Vol. 1, p. 86). There was serious doubt that its teaching was compatible with the general teaching of the other Biblical books. As for the Proverbs, they vary greatly in age, ethical and religious depth, and consistency of teaching, and I don't put much more stock in most of them than I put in the sayings I find in fortune cookies. Your examples are from the two most secular books of the Bible (with the possible exception of Esther).

Far more common than "chance plus necessity" explanations in the Hebrew Bible are explanations involving either a "hands-on", intervening God, or a predetermined outcome, dictated long in advance by God's will. Such explanations are predominant in the Law and the Prophets.

One must always be on guard against the temptation to engage in "proof-texting". One can always find isolated passages in the Bible which teach or appear to teach just about anything. If one looks hard enough, one can find one or two obscure O.T. passages which are not 100% clear about the non-existence of other Gods, but few readers doubt that the main thrust of Biblical teaching is an exclusive monotheism. I don't think it can be plausibly maintained that the Hebrew scriptures teach that the major events in the human world (such as the establishment of Israel, the Babylonian exile, etc.) or in the natural world (such as its creation) have happened to a large extent by "chance plus necessity".

Of course, one can attempt, as many TEs do, to read the Bible in the light of modern understandings of nature, in such a way as to allow "chance and necessity" as a parallel, "scientific" analysis of what happens in the world, alongside the God-driven, "theological" interpretation. But whether this attempt proves successful or not, I would contend that it is historically inaccurate to say that the Biblical authors *teach* that everything happens through "chance and necessity". They taught no such thing, and they believed no such thing.


  ----- Original Message -----
  Sent: Friday, August 21, 2009 6:24 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences

  Your comment on "chance and necessity" does indicate the sticking point for ID and many evangelicals (as well as the late 19th century Princeton Sem. crowd). Curiously it didn't seem to bother the biblical writers. Qoheleth's statement in Ecclesiastes 9:11 could be used as a motto for Darwinian evolution (even as Cameron wants to define it): "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all." Similar thoughts are expressed in Proverbs.

  Karl V. Evans (asa member)

  -----Original Message-----
  From: Tim <>
  Cc: asa <>
  Sent: Thu, Aug 20, 2009 7:48 pm
  Subject: Re: [asa] historical versus experimental sciences

  Cameron Wybrow wrote:
> Note also Hebert's own rather pathetic explanation to try to get out > of the
> consequences of his research: he postulates an evolutionary cleansing
> mechanism for which he has *absolutely no empirical evidence*, merely
> because without such a mechanism he does not see how he can fight off
> "creationist" conclusions. Sadly, that's the neo-Darwinian way of doing
> science. When the facts are against you, postulate undocumented > mechanisms,
> forces, factors, etc. Do *anything* but admit that the evidence may > be more
> in favour of intelligent design than of accidental mutations and > fortuitous
> selections. In neo-Darwinism, empiricism goes out the window in > favour of
> maintaining *a priori* commitments to chance and necessity. This is why
> neo-Darwinism is an embarrassment to science. It does not meet the > minimum
> requirements of intellectual honesty, which dictate that when opponents
> score a point, it should be granted to them.
  Actually, there are many *known* mechanisms behind the accumulation of genetic changes and these often happen together. The question is which mechanisms have the strongest influence. This matters because different mechanisms produce different phenomena and this potentially allows one to distinguish between mechanisms. From those models, one can go back and examine whether those influences are consistent in similar situations. One can also work deeper, even to the core biochemistry, to see what makes mitochondria exceptional in this regard. What Herbert found was that neutral drift was likely not a dominant mechanism in reducing within-species diversity for the gene encoding cyt-c oxidase. *That* observation didn't fit with empirical results. Other researchers have confirmed this and presented evidence supporting models with more frequent sweeps. In contrast, neutral theory is more in accord when they examine nuclear genes. This points to several possible mechanisms operating with the mitochondrion, a few of which might be amenable to confirmation.
  Interestingly, the results do confirm a strong temporal correlation with between-species diversity and the proposed time since the populations split. That's certainly an unexpected result for those proposing a separate creation model for species.
  Cameron, I personally don't consider meteorology an embarrassment to science because meteorologists don't discard "*a priori* commitments to chance and necessity" when they can't predict the weather several weeks in advance. There are any number of phenomena found in all branches of the physical sciences for which we don't have refined explanations -- Some hints in many cases, but still with details undetermined. Does it raise your ire when scientists persist in investigating mechanisms of "chance and necessity" in other fields? At least in my work, I always work to exhaust natural mechanisms first. Further, if one finds that evolutionary mechanisms are too flexible, how does adding "intelligent design" to the explanatory mix help? And why is the history of life afflicted with such metaphysical uneasiness and not, say, embryological development, cancer or oil viscosity breakdown in engines?
  T. Ikeda
  To unsubscribe, send a message to with
  "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sun Aug 23 04:15:35 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun Aug 23 2009 - 04:15:36 EDT