Randomness or coherence? Is the universe marked by one or the other, or both? Is God rolling the dice? Are the dice loaded? Is God in the catalyst or in the reaction? All of these questions and more were on the minds of Darkwood Brewers during and after this week’s episode.
There is undeniably randomness in our experience of the universe. Notice that I am not asserting the objective existence of randomness, that would require a perspective humans are not afforded, ie a God’s eye view. That pesky issue of perspective (and/or our perception of reality) is back to haunt us as we ponder whether God has a plan and how it may be that God brings about God’s will. The sorts of scientific revelations that Owen Gingerich talked about on the episode demonstrate a coherence in the universe that argues against purely random chance. As Eric pointed out in his blog, if it takes multi-verses to allow the extreme number of options to allow random chance to explain how we got here then it is a metaphysical leap similar to the one some religious folks use to force their conclusions on reality despite the evidence. So perhaps the scientists need to admit to an intelligence that designed weighted dice favoring coherence in the chance. Or maybe this is just another example of the dog describing the human only in dog terms.
Well, of course it is. All we have are the observable facts, the conclusions we draw from them are going to reflect the biases that we bring to the contemplation. Those biases included our psycho-social as well as our geographic and cultural locations. If we expect to find a guiding intelligence that we want to call God then we will find it. If we want to deny that there is some deterministic entity outside the known universe then we will simply see the coherence and acknowledge it without naming it God or anything else.
A pertinent question to raise at this point is whether this coherence, whether an intelligent creator or not, is deterministic. That is, do we have free will, do we play a part, or is it all predetermined. There certainly are those religious folks who will argue for an absolutely controlling, all-powerful God. Our own experience of bad things happening to good people is one of the strongest arguments against that position, but so is the randomness in creation that we must acknowledge. Still, there is this nagging truth that evolution keeps finding ways to bring about what works regardless of the path. The scientists are calling this Convergent Evolution. Consider this thought from the Map of Life web site “… the forces of selection can lead unrelated organisms living in similar situations to acquire remarkably similar adaptive traits in response, resulting in repeated patterns that we are just beginning to explore.” The changes that happen rapidly do so because the material needed is already available in all that “extra” DNA that organisms don’t seem to be using. Just like the proud parent of Eric’s reluctant standing ovation analogy, one catalyst can cause a cascading change.
So is that catalyst God or is God the reaction? Yes. The limitations of our human perspective will never allow us to separate the two. It also leaves us projecting our concepts of mind and will onto God, for how else can we perceive a being in relationship with us if not at least in part by imaging similarities? We may not be able to know to what end the forces of creation (or God’s will if you prefer) are leading, nor even perceive that there is an end to which it is directed. But, we all can choose to be intentional both in searching for purpose and participating in working toward preferred goals. If we can talk this sort of language of ethical behavior apart from God-talk that forces facts to serve preconceived conclusions then we can experience a spiritual convergence in which theists and non-theists find themselves in a common place of commitment to the common good. At the risk of one more anthropomorphism, I think that will please God.