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God and Probability

April 9, 2014

A phrase like “God and probability” likely conjures up thoughts of Pascal’s wager — what is the probability of God’s existence? But what I actually mean here is quite different — How does probability, as a fundamental component of physical reality, fit into God’s work of creation?

At the moment I am writing a chapter titled “Randomness, Order, and Probability”. The issue I’m addressing is how God could predict (or ‘foreknow’, in more traditional theological language) that loving beings would emerge in the universe. (For those not familiar with my argument, I argue that love is the purpose of the universe: God created the universe(s) to provide the space and conditions for the eventual and inevitable emergence of loving beings, in habitable bio-niches throughout the universe, to live in loving relations with God and with others; Earth is such a bio-niche, and Homo sapiens are an instance of such beings.) If the universe is deterministic — that is, if the laws of physics make every last little detail of the universe, including our actions, inevitable — then we are nothing more than biological robots (and, by implication, God is ultimately responsible for each act of evil). However, if we do have free will, at least to some extent, then existence is not predetermined, which means there is randomness and chance in the universe (see Peter Ulric Tse, The Neurological Basis of Free Will, MIT Press, 2013). Physics confirms this indeterminism by its probabilistic interpretation of reality — that physical reality, particularly at the quantum level, is not deterministic but probabilistic.

I propose then that God built the universe to be probabilistic rather than deterministic so that loving beings, with free will,  would emerge predictably but not predeterminedly. In other words, God’s foreknowledge of events in the universe(s), including the emergence of life and loving beings, amounts to prediction-without-predetermination.

Nonetheless, a universe built on probability is also a universe in which there is randomness, disorder, and chance. This is due to the second law of thermodynamics. So the question arises: in a universe built on randomness, disorder, and chance, how could God predict that loving beings would inevitably emerge in such a universe? 

Both randomness/disorder and necessity/order exist in physical reality. Peter’ Hoffmann, in Life’s Ratchet (Basic Books, 2013), shows how order emerges not despite the second law but because of the second law. (If this sounds counter-intuitive, read the book! Henry Morris is the victim here.) Hoffmann makes it clear that he is no theist, but his case for the crucial role of the second law in bringing about life and order sure fits well with theism (an implication which eludes him). How, then, is predictability possible with the existence of both disorder and order in the universe? Predictable outcomes without predetermination are possible:

a) through disorder by building into Creation processes that produce overwhelmingly large numbers (such as gazillions of galaxies and planets, and gazillions of evolutionary possibilities). This enables events with low probability (due to disorder and randomness) to probably come about nonetheless (such as highly unstable chemical bonds becoming stable and reproducible) by virtue of the vastly greater opportunities associated with overwhelmingly large numbers;

b) through order by means of the normal distribution (more commonly known as the bell curve). The normal distribution is found at every level of ordered existence.

In other words, the initial conditions of the universe(s) as created by God included such probability-related features as overwhelmingly large numbers and the normal distribution in order to ensure that the physical conditions of the universe would bring about beings with free will and the capacity for love in a manner that would be predictable but non-deterministic. Thus the probabilistic nature of physics is a fundamental component of God’s ultimate, loving creational purposes.

Of course, in this post I have glossed over many issues related to this proposal, and I am presently working on these. In the midst of wrestling with these matters, I have concluded that theologians and philosophers who seek to provide an account of creation that is meaningful for today’s scientific context need to understand the probabilistic nature of God’s creation much better than is usually the case.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 10, 2014 3:56 am

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    newest and earlier technologies, it’s amazing article.

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