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Home » Philosophy » Does God Play Dice with the Universe? The Role of Chance and Providence in Theology and Science

Does God Play Dice with the Universe? The Role of Chance and Providence in Theology and Science

“God does not play dice with the universe.”

– Albert Einstein

“Einstein, stop telling God what to do.”

– Niels Bohr, in reply to Einstein

In Gerald L. Schroeder’s book, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom, he describes the blind forces of nature that lie behind much of human grief:

“An earthquake shakes a bridge from its foundation, dropping it onto a crowded bus passing beneath.  A chance cosmic ray smashes into an ovum, produces a free radical which in its natural drive to establish electrical balance tears and mutates a chromosome.  As a result, a crippled child is born.  The same Creator that produces the beauty of a sunrise and the colors of a flower must be credited with these horrors as well.” (p. 168)

Last year, while I was attending classes at a city college, I would always pass by a cerebral palsy center.  From time to time, I would see patients from that center lined up outside, mostly in their motorized wheelchairs, waiting to be assisted upon by their caretakers or be helped unto a transport truck.

For some reason, thoughts and questions would run through my head each time I would see these patients –

What if I were them?  What made me so special that I was born normal – even though my mother had a complicated pregnancy with me, I came out relatively normal?  But what about these patients afflicted with cerebral palsy?  Was God directly involved in contributing to their physical and mental conditions?  Or was it by pure, random chance, with no discernible reason whatsoever that they were in the condition that they were in?  Didn’t God have the power to divert the cosmic ray from hitting the ovum and mutating the chromosome perhaps?  Did he do that for me?  Why me then and why them?

Or perhaps there’s just no reason or purpose whatsoever in all this.

It was by pure random, blind chance that I was born this way and not another.

And you can run a billion what-if scenarios in your head and ruminate what your life would’ve been like if you made this decision or that, etc.

Did we even have a choice to begin with?

All these thoughts bring up to mind Martin Heidegger’s concept of Geworfenheit or a person’s sense of “throwness” – that people seem to be arbitrarily placed into their environments.  For instance, you had no choice or power to be born in the year or time you were born in.  It just happened.  Why weren’t you born 500 years ago in medieval Europe while the Black Plague was going on?  Your life and existence would be completely different if you were living there back then.

You didn’t ask to be born.  You didn’t ask or choose to be placed in a particular time and place in history.  Life is like a throw of the dice it seems.  If you came up lucky, perhaps you would’ve been born to a rich family or as part of the royal family in Monte Carlo.  If you came up unlucky, you could’ve wound up born in a slum in Calcutta, India and wound up being sold as a sex slave at a very young age.

Was there a purpose behind all this, or was it just pure blind luck?

Most leading psychological and neuroscientific studies say that our human brains are hard-wired to seek, crave, and hunger for meaning and purpose, even if there really isn’t one.  Our minds will come up with a reason or purpose for anything- we naturally abhor meaningless vacuums.  We are narrative beings, and our brains will shape our subjective experiences to form them into narratives that seem reasonable or plausible to us, and we believe that that’s the exact way that it happened.  But time and time again, studies have shown how unreliable our memories are and how easily we can succumb to false memories.

How many couples have you come across where you’ve asked them how they met, and many will say that it felt like they were “meant” to be together – like God, the universe, or Fate seemed to have orchestrated everything to fall into place for them so that they could meet at that exact time, place, and situation?  It couldn’t have happened by pure chance – it was totally meant to be – they might say.

Or was it?

I’ve always been curious – or better yet, haunted – by the relationship between God’s control of all things and free will/the role of chance and randomness that we experience in our everyday lives.

What is chance anyway?

Is randomness part of the universe and God’s created order?

If so, then what does it reveal about God?  About ourselves, each other, and the world we live in?

Are we an accident and do we just make purpose up out of thin air just to make ourselves feel important and relevant?

Does God really have a “plan” or “blueprint” for your life and is everything predetermined and deterministic under his sovereign wisdom and power?  If so, then how can we be free?

Or are we just “thrown” into this world, even by God, and he seems to say, “Well, here you go.  Here’s your life for you.  Make the most of it kiddo.  Best of luck.”?

Over the coming months I’ll be exploring the role of  God, chance, and purpose under the new menu under the “Science and Theology” subcategory of “Divine Action”; I will be going over David J. Bartholomew’s book God, Chance and Purpose: Can God Have it Both Ways? 

Click here for the page.

Of course, I don’t expect this to answer all these philosophical questions, but hopefully, I’ll gain a better understanding along the way that will help me think more critically, clearly, and deeply about such questions.

This topic of God, chance, and randomness will tie in intimately with another major subject I will dealing with that I will most likely be posted up later on in the week – that of pain and suffering in the world- but more from a scientific angle, that will be similar to the more scientific bend as the investigations into chance and randomness.

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