Please a text on: Does "chance" exist? ("Bestaat toeval?") Was it the meteor that made the dinosaurs extinct, or was it an 'act of God'? How to tell the difference?
Concerning the meteor, that is quite some different discussion. As far as I know, the meteor is not a scientific proven fact, also not among evolutionists. But that is a different story, and I won't go into it here. (So, if you want random thoughts on the meteor: send me an email...)
Telling whether chance exists, is actually not a simple thing.
Sometimes, we think something is chance, and it actually isn't, and who knows if the reverse also happens? An answer to the question involves arguments that deal with logic, with hidden variables, with modeling ignorance, of course with religion, and I think that a valid discussion on this issue cannot ignore quantum mechanics.
Ignorance, that what we do not know, is also something that plays a role when we talk about chance. In my case, in two ways. One, see below. The other: I am a computer scientist, whose work mostly involves deterministic algorithms. That makes me perhaps not the most qualified person to give definitive answers to the question at hand, (which is an understatement). So what you get are just a few random thoughts (after quite some time of thinking, Henk, sorry about all the delay), for what they are worth.
Lets call the viewpoint that chance exists non-determinism, and the viewpoint that chance does not exist determinism. For both, there exist different versions, e.g., depending on religion, like atheistic and theistic determinism. (Theism: the belief in the existence of God.)
Computer Scientist: If I throw a die, the chance that I throw a six is 1/6.
Woman: No. Allah decides everything, so also what you throw.
This very short discussion is actually a rather interesting food for thoughts. Who is right? Or would it be possible that both, or neither of the two participant in this discussion are correct?
Still, the statement if I throw a fair die, the chance throwing a 6 is 1/6 is rather useful. Probability theory has very important applications. (You certainly would not be reading this, if there was no probability theory.) So, as the model is sufficiently close to reality, it becomes a good tool. But, we should not think it is reality. It is easy to confuse a model of reality with reality itself. (A mistake, for instance made by some scientists that do not understand how one can accept the evolution theory and be a Christian at the same time, but that is another discussion.)
What does this show? In any case, it shows that we cannot conclude that chance exists, because we have probability theory.
In fact, there is little difference between atheistic and theistic determinism: in both cases, probability theory still is a useful model of reality. What it actually does in this case is to model our ignorance.
Suppose we would play Colonists of Catan, but instead of using dice, we would look to the decimals of the root of 7, starting at the 1000000 decimal, skipping the decimals that are 0, 7, 8 or 9. This is still a fair game, except when one of the players has a hidden computer where he can consult the outcomes beforehand, or has learned these decimals by heart. But, if none of the players knows the decimals, it is still a fair game. Also, we can still use probability theory here to guide our play...
This is also when we throw a die. Ignoring quantum-mechanic effects, the outcome depends on the position the die had in our hand when we have thrown it, the movement of our muscles, and perhaps some other, totally deterministic facts like some imprecisions of the table on which the die rolls. Given all these factors, the outcome is deterministic. However, we do not know the factors, and thus probability theory can be used to make statements - and thus we model our ignorance with help of probabilities.
What we know affects chances. For instance, we learn that the chance that we throw six with two fair dice is 5/36, but it will be 1/6 when we know that the first of the two dice gives a 1. But even more, what we know may affect whether we say something is luck or not. We can say that it is chance when someone throws a dice behind a cup, and we correctly tell what is the thrown number. However, if the cup is made of glass, we won't say this is chance.
So, what can be the causes of events? Determinism means that we assume that everything is caused by
Non-determinism means that possibly also events, caused by
Recently, I was feeling somewhat desperate when I was at work. I prayed to God - a short prayer, saying not much more than: God help me. Less than half an hour later, I received a phone call from my oldest daughter: she was in the neighborhood, and she came to my office, and we chatted and drank some coffee. It may seem a simple example, but Christians that live with God experience more such events. God is at work in our lives, and helps us to go through difficult times, and often, he uses the natural, seemingly random events.
Another example that happened recently to a friend of my wife: She was studying a literature study. This went very well, except for one course: the computer literacy exam, which was very hard for her. When she was praying about this when biking, a few minutes later she met an old friend, which she had not met in years. She told the friend the problem, and the friend offered to help her. (The results were excellent.) Was it a coincidence that she met this friend just a few minutes after the prayer, or was it the work of God? I believe the latter.
Similar to what we discussed before, it depends on what we know whether something is chance or not. Things that may be chance when we do not know that God exists, are explained (and thus we know the Cause) when we know God.
Evolution is another example: when atheistic evolutionists sometimes talk about a magnificent accident: the fact that the human species appeared on earth - in their view as the result as a rather lucky event, theists can see the hand of God in the creation of man. Regardless if God used evolution, intelligent design, or a six-day creation, for the theist, God wanted us and thus made that humans came into being.
So, I believe that many things that we think are chance, actually are the work of God.
How can God influence the things that happen? I think he can as well sometimes bend the laws of physics, but also use them, e.g., I believe he can decide if he wants, the outcome of quantum-mechanic "chance" events.
In one of the games, we play at home, some events are decided by the throw of a dice. There is a card, and when this card is played, the player does not need to throw the dice, but can state the number that is used as outcome. This is of course speculation, but it may be that God can affect quantum-mechanic events in the same way.
Deterministic atheists have a problem: they should have an answer to the modern outcomes of physics. The determinism versus non-determinism discussion was already debated heavily by famous physicists in the 20th century. Einstein believed in a deterministic universe. He stated this in his very famous quote:
God does not throw dice.In this quote, Einstein means to refer to nature when he talks about God; he is assumed not to believe in a personal God (like Christians or Muslims). He assumed that there is some hidden cause; some hidden variables by which the seemingly random events of quantum mechanics are caused. The modern insights in quantum theory indicate that Einstein was wrong: they indeed state that there really is non-determinism in the universe.
What does this show? In any case, for any deterministic atheistic viewpoint, one should have a good answer to the recent insights in quantum mechanics.
If you believe in God, then you can also believe that He still decides the outcomes of all quantum mechanic processes. So, quantum mechanics does not really help to sift between deterministic and non-deterministic theism.
So, here we should look to what the religion itself tells us. There thus will be a different outcome of the debate, depending on your religion. I will try to give my viewpoints here, based upon my Christian belief.
Christian determinists exist; this theological viewpoint is often known as predetermination. God decides everything, so also what we want and what we do, and there is no room for a free will. That viewpoint is contrary to the God I know: God loves us, and wants a relationship with us. You cannot have a relationship with puppets or robots.
No, the Bible is not a book to push badly programmed robots to work a little better. The Bible tells us that men were created to the image of God; it is to help us to live a life, as it was meant to be.
Indeed, I see no room for determinism: God gave us the gift of a free will - thank Him. Let's use it in a good way!
The probability that we throw twelve with two dice is one divided by thirty-six, isn't it? Perhaps, but in any case, I hope to have made clear that the future is not completely determined by the present - and indeed, you are important, and what you do, think, pray, and say is relevant and can make a change!
I hope you, the reader (and Henk - thank you for your question), are satisfied enough with these random thoughts. In any case, thank you that you were willing to read through this text.
Hans Bodlaender, 2006/2007