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date: 17 October 2017

Summary and Keywords

In many quarters God and chance are still seen as mutually exclusive alternatives. It is common to hear that ascribing anything to “chance” rules out God’s action.

Recent scientific developments have tended to reinforce that distinction. Quantum theory introduced an irreducible uncertainty at the atomic level by requiring that certain microscopic physical events were unpredictable in principle. This was followed by the biologists’ claim that mutations, on which evolution depends, were effectively random and hence that evolutionary development was undirected. The problem this posed to Christian apologists was put most forcibly by Jacques Monod when he asserted “Pure chance,… at the root of the stupendous edifice of evolution alone is the source of every innovation.”

Several attempts have been made to include chance within a theistic account. One, advocated by the intelligent design movement, is to contend that some biological structures are too complex to have originated in the way that evolutionary theory supposes and therefore that they must be attributed to God. Another is to suppose that God acts in an undetectable way at the quantum level without destroying the random appearance of what goes on there.

A third approach is to contend that chance is real and hence is a means by which God works. A key step in this argument is the recognition that chance and order are not mutually exclusive. Reality operates at a number of different levels of aggregation so that what is attributable to chance at one level emerges as near certainty at a higher level.

Further arguments, based on what is known as the anthropic principle, are also used to judge whether or not chance is sufficient to account for existence. These are critically evaluated.

Keywords: anthropic principle, causal joint, chance, convergence, Darwin, evolution, God, intelligent design, necessity, providence

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