I am currently reading Random Designer by Richard G. Colling. (I will be offering a review here soon.) Colling owns up to the seemingly oxymoronic nature of his own title in the first chapter. According to the definitions above, randomness implies a lack of purpose, while design implies purposefulness. Can randomness ever be “by design” without ceasing to be random? Can randomness be purposeful? In this post, I will explore these questions and invite your comments. In future posts, I will further develop the prospect of randomness in evolution/creation, and the theological possibilities suggested by randomness.ran’dom•ness, noun, a lack of order, purpose, cause, or predictability; proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern.de•sign’, noun, the purposeful or inventive arrangement of parts or details.
Randomness is the linchpin of naturalistic evolution. A continual stream of apparently unguided genetic mutations form the potential raw material of gradual change demanded by the Darwinian model. Only an extremely small percentage of these mutations actually result in useful adaptations that offer improvement to the species. The great majority are neutral in effect, and some are damaging. This vast pool of mostly inconsequential mutations yielding only rare adaptive changes gives rise to the notion of randomness as the driver of evolutionary processes.
But does such a view of randomness (which I accept) necessarily translate into purposelessness? Can randomness be intentional? Can randomness be teleological (that is, can it serve a long-range purpose)? Can randomness be a tool to generate desired effects which would be unattainable otherwise? The answer to all these questions is yes!
This has been, and promises to continue to be, a politically charged election year in the United States. And in the ever changing fortunes of the candidates, we have been reminded again and again of the power of the unofficial poll. Just this morning I read that both John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani are likely to drop of their respective party’s nomination races. In each case, their decisions seem to be guided by the poll numbers in states which will vote next week. Polls may be useful, but their accuracy and usefulness hinge on one very essential polling principle: random sampling. Because a relatively small number of potential voters are actually polled, and the results are extrapolated to predict how the full electorate is likely to vote, polling organizations recognize that their sample of voters must be random. Randomness is a necessary tool to accomplish a desired purpose. Poll takers thus go to great efforts to ensure randomness.
Or consider the example of random number generators (RNG). An RNG is a physical device, and/or computer based program, which is designed to do just what the name implies: spit out sequences of numbers that are genuinely random. In cases where absolute randomness is required, an RNG is sometimes more difficult to design than one might think. Random number generators are used in applications where unpredictability is desired such as in cryptography, statistical sampling and, of course, in gambling. So again we can see that the principle of randomness can be planned, intentional, and purposeful.
Back to the title of the book I’m reading: Random Designer may not be as self-contradicting as it at first appears. Perhaps an Almighty Creator, able to accomplish his purposes in any manner he chooses might use randomness as His tool of choice. But, we may well ask, is it even possible for a sovereign God to leave things to chance? In Ecclesiates, Koheleth puzzles over such questions. In 3:1 through 17 he sees all that happens as falling in line with the timings and eternal purposes of God. Yet in 9:11 he observes that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, and he laments that all is governed by chance. Koheleth seems content to live with the paradox; he offers no sure sounding logical solution.
When I consider the possibility of randomness in the purposes of God, my thoughts range far beyond arbitrary genetic mutations and adaptive changes in species. I’ve considered how randomness may function beyond evolution in the purposes of God. It may be His tool of choice to accomplish desired ends attainable through no other process. God may even now be using randomness.
As we move forward in this series of posts, we will discuss some possibilities about why God may be doing just that. We may discover how randomness provides meaning and texture to existence. We may find that randomness offers relevant answers to some very troubling questions about life, and about God. But first, in the next post, we will consider a common assumption: that randomness implies atheism.
Have you considered the possibility of randomness in the purposes of the Creator? Or does it seem impossible to you that a sovereign God could or would allow randomness to function in his Creation? Please comment ...