In this sometimes series, we are exploring the "fusion" of science and theology. Many Christian sites are responding to apparent contradictions between science and faith. My purpose in this series is to step beyond these problems to ask the question, "If science and the Bible are both revealing truth, what happens when we combine them? What new insights result from the fusion of growing natural revelation and special revelation?”
Einstein once declared that God does not play dice. His statement was less about theology and more about his initial distaste for quantum physics, but it serves as a backdrop to today’s post. Does God roll the dice? Did he create a universe regulated by chance, randomness? We Christians have difficulty with this idea of chance happenings. We prefer to think of God as the “Blessed Controller of all things” (J.B. Phillips translation of 1 Timothy 5:16). But physicists and biologists alike insist that all reality, from subatomic mechanics to genetic mutations, can only be understood as a flow of random events. Are they correct? Consider with me two contrasting theological frameworks:
1) God governs all creation with a “hands-on” approach, creating and then managing and superintending every detail, carefully orchestrating events to accomplish his purposes. If he did not special create each species, he at least intervened from time to time to guide the development of “irreducibly complex” biological systems. His directive influence extends not only over cosmic and biological evolution, but also over all human activity. He sovereignly guides every detail of the believer’s life, holds sway over the course of human history, even setting governments in place. In this way, the flow of creation moves unalterably toward the culmination of his over-all plan and purpose.
2) God initiates the cosmos, but then essentially leaves his hands off. He allows evolution to take its wandering course, and rarely intervenes in the affairs of human beings. But he is not the disengaged god of the deist; he is deeply interested and invested in the flow of human history (even entering into it in the person of Jesus) and interacts personally with people of faith. However he seldom exerts his directive influence; instead he chooses to let his creation take its natural course. His purposes are accomplish not by the force of his will and manipulations, but by the natural outplay of physical and spiritual laws.
In my previous Fusion post, I turned to the concept of evolutionary convergence to suggest that God might have created humankind “in his own image” using an entirely random evolutionary process. If this hypothesis were correct, it would mean that the second framework is no mere role of the dice. Rather, it would lead to this possible scenario: God created a vast cosmos, one of sufficient size to ensure the eventual emergence of planet capable of hosting life; he infused the cosmos with just the right chemistry to ensure that life could and would emerge and evolve upon that planet; and he waited patiently for nearly 14 billion years for these eventualities to transpire. After creating a universe capable of hosting and evolving humankind, despite its entropic nature, little or no direct divine intervention would have been required.
Such a scenario gives answer to the riddles posed by Richard Dawkins and others about the oddity of Christians assigning cosmic significance to human beings when we occupy an infinitesimal corner of an immense cosmos, and have been on the scene for a mere eyeblink of cosmic time. If, in fact, it best served the purposes of the Creator to allow his creation to develop according to natural laws, the scope of time and space may have been necessary.
But more importantly, such a scenario completely changes the playing field for theodicy, or the problem of evil. Under the first theological framework above, God must, in some answer for malaria, animal pain, millions of species extinctions, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and indirectly responsible for Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, 9/11, and every other imaginable human ill. However, if God’s purposes are best served by leaving his hands off of creation, all such ills are seen in a different light, assuming that God’s choice of modus operandi was one of necessity, not of whim.
While this scenario may help to solve some problems for belief, for many it raises other problems and questions. Among them,
1) What considerations might prompt God to create and govern his universe in this way? What might compel him to leave his hands off of creation even when it is assailed by catastrophic horrors and unthinkable atrocities?
2) Does randomness presuppose Open Theology, or the idea that God does not possess perfect knowledge of the future? This question was raised by a reader in response to the earlier post on randomness.
3) Can such a view of randomness be integrated into the teachings of the Bible, which might seem to favor the hands-on God?
In upcoming posts, I will offer my perspective on these and other questions.