“If chance exists in its frailest possible form, God is finished…
If chance exists in any size, shape or form, God cannot exist.”
– R.C. Sproul,
Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology, p. 3
“We say that these events are accidental, due to chance…
it necessarily follows that chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere.
Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution:
this central concept of modern biology is…
today the sole conceivable hypothesis,
the only one compatible with observed and tested fact.”
– Jacques Monod,
Chance and Necessity, p.110
Bartholomew asserts that both Sproul and Monod oddly agree that chance eliminates God. He claims that both are wrong based on the observation that their claims rest of the conviction that chance must be seen as lying within the providence of God and not outside of it. (p.3)
It’s important to note that whatever “chance” is, it is certainly not an agent capable of causing anything.
The essential problem is how to accommodate within a single world-view the element of real chance, which science seems to require, and the existence of a God who is supposed to be actively involved in creating and influencing what happens in the world.
In other words, can God and unpredictability (i.e. chance, randomness, etc) coexist harmoniously in this universe?
This is the main question underlying this book that Bartholomew is trying to get at.
First off, what is chance anyway?
An epistemological definition: a chance event arises when something happens which we could not predict, but this may be b/c we don’t have enough information.
It is somehow inherent in the nature of things and there’s no knowledge we could possibly have which would make any difference.
The crucial issue for theology that concerns us in our everyday lives is God’s involvement in the world, b/c this depends on what view we take on the nature of chance (p.4).
What is the relationship between chance and law?
The two seem to be in direct opposition but this is not necessarily true.
Some laws have been correctly described as being statistical, or probabilistic, like for example the toss of a coin. The constancy of such ratios has the law-like characteristic we expect in dealing with a system of divine origin and concern. Lawfulness at the higher level of aggregation is thus the direct consequence of complete randomness at the lower level.
Lawfulness can give rise to chaos, which is more or less equivalent to chance. Very simply put, law-abiding processes can give rise to chance.
As we unravel the complexities of these relationships it will become apparent that Sproul’s and Monod’s categorical statements are not so much wrong as they are inapplicable to the world in which we actually live, or to the God who created and sustains it. (pp. 6 – 7)
But isn’t it self-evident that any intrusion of chance will lead to unpredictability and uncontrollability – a view that is at total odds with what most Christians have about God’s sovereignty and omniscience of all things?
Not necessarily so and quite the opposite may be true – there may be extreme constraints which render the outcome of some chance processes almost certain.
Many believers who take Sproul’s position see chance as a threat to God’s sovereignty.
But is it really true that absolute sovereignty requires that God knows and controls every one of the trillion upon trillions of events that occur in the universe every second? Might it not be that such a view actually diminishes the greatness of God? (p. 5)
And in regards to God’s omniscience, can he know, for example, what is as yet undetermined? Can we be truly free in a world in which God controls every single thing?
In other words, if the future is already determined, how can we then say that we are free? The reason why this is an important question is that it has intricate ties with the concept of God’s love: Can God truly love us if we aren’t free? Or, can any form of love truly exist without freedom? The cost of freedom implies the possibility of rejection, pain, and suffering. A high price to pay for the gift of freedom wouldn’t you say? But what we get back is pure love. As we all might attest to from real life experiences, true love is costly.
Perhaps a new paradigm is called for when we talk about God’s sovereignty and omniscience. If we find that risk taking can be beneficial and not always a necessary evil, may this not open new perspectives for theology? Can we conceive of God as a risk taker? (p. 5)
Personal Observations Of course, this will not sit well at all with many mainstream believers, b/c they always see God as being “unshakable”, “immovable”, and “unchanging” (just think back to how many praise songs, hymns, and sermons there are of this that reinforce this notion into our psyche every Sunday) – a very static and Platonic conception of God. But what Bartholomew and along with many other contemporary theologians view of God as being rather dynamic and somewhat fluid, and incorporate a more relational view of God – a God who is not only compassionate, but also a God who suffers. If it is true that God suffers, it may necessarily imply that he changes as well. As we all know, suffering inevitably produces changes – for better or for worse. However, is this another example of too much of an anthropomorphizing of God? But then again, how helpful is the Platonic, static, basically deist view of God? The question is, are we psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to believe in and worship a God who not only suffers and weeps for and with us (which I believe many would have no problems with), but also a God who changes and evolves as time goes along? Can we adjust to this view of God? How radically would it change our view of God, ourselves, the world, reality, and the universe we live in? How would this shape and alter our views of purpose and meaning in a universe where chance and indeterminacy was part of God’s blueprint for reality to begin with? How would we then react or give explanations to things like accidents, disease, death, and natural evils (i.e. earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, etc.) when they occur to others, persons close to us, or ourselves? If so, then the question arises: How can God act providentially in a world if it is not wholly under his control? The question boils down to what type of God do we believe and worship? What is the true depiction of God?