In the 40 years that this journal has been in existence, we have had many articles dealing with the evidence that chance is not the cause of what we see in the natural world. Our use of the word “chance” in these articles has not always been clear, and some of our critics have justifiably complained about the use of the word. My response has always been that it means the process is without direction or purpose. The issue has been whether we can statistically and rationally believe that all we see around us in the natural world came to be spontaneously with no direction or intelligence involved in the process. The philosopher Peter van Inwagen said it this way: “The event of the state of affairs is without purpose or significance; it is not a part of anyone’s plan; it serves no one’s end; and it might very well not have been.” (ASA Journal, March 2009, page 3).

The role of chance can actually be quite complex, and in discussions of natural selection there are many different opinions about how chance operates. A brown animal has a white offspring in an area that becomes covered with snow. The brown animal is eaten by a predator because he is easily seen, but the white animal escapes because he is well camouflaged. What is the role of chance in this situation? Did God miraculously cause the white animal to be born white because God had a plan for that particular animal, or is this whole situation a matter of chance? On a broader plain, does God micromanage everything in nature, or is there another way He functions that incorporates chance?

To get you thinking about this, let us assume we are watching a football game between two teams with identical talent at all positions. One team punts the football and the kick sends it forty yards down field. The ball lands on its pointed end and bounces backwards towards the punter hitting a player who is blocking for the receiving team in the back and causing the ball to bounce high in the air. When it comes down it lands in the hands of a defensive player covering the kick who catches it and allowing the punting team to eventually score a touchdown. No fan of football would suggest that the punter did this based on his skill. We have the word “luck” to describe the bounce of the ball, but the fact is that how the ball lands to cause it to bounce in a most unusual way is both a designed and a chance-driven situation. The scenario just described has in fact happened in a variety of different ways in football games. One of the reasons people like to watch football games is the unpredictable nature of the game.

The point of this example is that there are things intelligently built into the game of football that allow chance to function within certain limits. The shape of the football was critical to the example in the last paragraph. If the ball was a soccer ball then such a backwards bounce could not happen in the same way. The fact that a team will punt is designed into the rules of the game to make that part of the game interesting. The rule that says if any player on the receiving team touches the ball in any way it becomes a free ball also was intelligently drawn up to allow such a scenario to exist. The shape of the football field and the rules for blocking, are also involved in this example. What happened had a lot of chance involved in it, the actual way the game comes out is not controlled by the people participating and watching, and that is why we play the game. The game and the equipment are designed to allow chance to operate. There are countless other examples of this principle that could be given. The entire gambling industry is based on the fact that the system is designed so that the players in gambling lose and the owner of the gambling system wins. However, each individual game is a matter of chance functioning within a prescribed set of rules to ultimately make the house win and the player lose—even if they win a few games along the way.

To what extent does God use chance in His processes? In the example at the start of this article with the brown and white animals, does God set up a system which allows life to survive when the climate changes the environment, or does God personally strike each animal He wants to survive with a change that allows survival when the environment changes? Why are there billions of galaxies, each having billions of stars with massive numbers of planets orbiting those stars? Why do we have comets, asteroids, meteoroids, and Oort cloud objects orbiting the Sun which appear to be leftovers from the process of the creation of the solar system?

It appears that God created a system in very much the same way that we set up a football game. In the football game the ultimate result could be said to be a winning team. A physical system (the field) is created and designed. A set of rules for the conduct of the game is put in place. The clock is started and the teams play within the constraints of the designed system in which they find themselves. Ultimately, a winning team is produced. A set of experts could have selected a winning team without the game being played by looking at the physical characteristics of all of the players involved, but the beauty of the game of football is that sometimes the best team physically is not the winning team.

In the cosmological example, God has created space and time—the playing field. He has taken energy and in a bewildering process has placed it in the space/time field with a set of carefully designed rules. We have come to understand that those rules operate at two levels—one set of rules for the very small (the quantum mechanics world) and a different set of rules for the physical world in which we exist. The Bible summarizes all of this in the simple statement “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The actual start of the creation process does not involve chance. The system that is ultimately produced (the heavens and the earth) is accomplished because of a designed system within which chance operates leading to God’s intended result. Some theologians may object to this suggestion. They want God to micromanage the creation process so that the one result (the heavens and the earth) are produced by continuous miraculous activity with no wasted matter or energy and nothing that does not participate in man’s environment.

The problem with such a suggestion is that the evidence does not support it. Within our own solar system we are seeing that there is a massive amount of matter outside the orbit of Pluto circling the Sun. We now have over 300 planets orbiting other stars with more observations taking place daily as our instruments get better. We have 100 billion stars in our galaxy and literally billions of galaxies that we can see and measure strewn across galactic space. The cosmos is far bigger and far grander than we imagined even 10 years ago, and our concept of God and His actions and processes should grow as well. It is not that God has changed, but our information and ability to understand has grown.

The more we understand about the genomes of living things, the more we see pattern and design in what controls the physical characteristics of an organism. This design feature allows life to survive on a changing earth, but it is clear that some forms of life have become extinct when environmental conditions exceeded the limits of the characteristics of the individual. A current possible example is that the warming of the earth may cause the polar bear to become extinct. Forms of life do become extinct on a regular basis, and that is a part of the plan, driven by chance, not because God individually kills off every bear.

Even the conception of a child can be viewed by this approach. A woman has many eggs and the one that is fertilized has to be at the right place at the right time for conception to occur. Large numbers of sperm, each carrying different DNA, try to penetrate the egg to fertilize it, but only one does. Does God select the one sperm and the one egg that ultimately becomes a child? If your answer is “yes” then what do you tell a couple that has a baby born with massive, genetically caused birth defects? What do you say when those defects take the baby’s life a few moments after birth, or send it through a life of pain and disability while financially ruining the family? These are difficult questions, but perhaps we create our own theological problems by placing God in the position of direct control that He in fact does not exert.

If we understand this methodology of God, it may not only help us in understanding why there are multiple stars, galaxies, debris in space, and forms of life that come and go; but we may also be better equipped to understand some historical and spiritual matters as well. Why has God allowed everything from the Crusades to slavery to Hitler to the Ku Klux Klan? Why did He not just strike the errant leaders dead and eliminate the misery that they cause? Why allow chance to produce all kinds of leaders who in turn drive politics. The consequences of not following God’s way of doing things cannot be denied when you look at the lessons of history.

Unity among believers is a basic theme of the whole New Testament. Jesus and the apostles prayed and pleaded for our unity over and over (see John 13:22–35; 15:12–17; 1 John 4:7–12; 2 John 5). The fact is that in modern times especially, those who claim to be followers of Jesus are anything but united. God has given us a method of being united and a number of things that can help us achieve that unity. All acts of worship are designed to help us become united. Singing and praying together moves us toward unity. God does not force unity upon us, but as we see the results of not following God’s plan and continue to introduce human substitutes for what God has commanded, we continue to drift into increasing disunity. His ultimate will that we all be one as Jesus is one with God (John 17:22) will happen, but many hard lessons seem to be necessary before we are willing to do what God has called us to do. God’s method of leading us when we err is not to pound us into submission but to allow us by trial and error to see the wisdom of what God calls us to and to see that our own methods do not work.

It would be logical at this point to ask if God ever acts or has acted directly and instantly in affecting His will. Certainly Jesus acted directly when He accomplished miracles. In reality there are miracles in the Old Testament in which God acted directly. God did not “zap” the Israelites into the promised land. However, when He needed to get their attention in a matter or affect a solution to an immediate crisis He did act directly, such as the plagues in Egypt, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the deadly serpents in the wilderness. In today’s world we still seem to expect God to function by zapping solutions into our lives, when in reality He usually functions by allowing us the freedom to reject Him and choose what by chance comes our way. We can reduce the effects of chance in our lives by following God’s will in the choices we make. We know we will die and God has promised us that, but how we will die is not dictated by God. Human violence, diseases caused by man-made chemicals, foolish choices made by us are not directly caused by God.

We can pray for God to act directly in our lives, and in spiritual matters God has promised that He will grant our requests (see Matthew 7:7–8; Luke 11:9–10; John 11:22; 14:13–14; 15:7, 16). The answers do not always come the way we expect, but God does answer. We do not have the knowledge or the wisdom to always make good choices about options that come our way, and chance may put us in some difficult situations. The beauty of the relationship we have with Jesus is that He understands and that ultimately we will be in heaven. Chance and its consequences will not exist when we get there. We can know for sure that the most important thing in our lives is guaranteed.
--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, NovDec09.