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Chance: The Modern Myth

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 29, 2021 12:01 am

Chance: The Modern Myth

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 29, 2021 12:01 am

Did the universe emerge randomly out of chaos? Today, R.C. Sproul uncovers the faulty logic of appealing to chance to account for life as we know it.

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Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind… Does chance really have that kind of power? So often our own attempts to explain these things from a biblical perspective fall short.

So today Dr. R.C. Sproul will give us some tools to understand the folly of this modern myth called chance. Sometimes I think that it's a Herculean task that requires nothing less than the sword of Damocles to cut off my legs to fit me into my Procrustean bed.

What did I just say? I just used those words and put them together in a sentence to indicate how we still borrow images from ancient mythology that still inform our speech patterns today. I noticed in the classical school where I'm involved, the children still study ancient mythology. It's important because the themes of these myths reoccur in the literature of Western civilization down through the ages. But from our vantage point near the end of the 20th century, we have a tendency to look down our nose at mythology. We think of Rudolf Bultmann, one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, who said the task of the modern Christian is to demythologize the Bible, because he said the Bible is basically a collection of myths interspersed with real history, and the modern person to get significant answers for the world in which we live must cut through the husk of mythology in order to find the kernel of truth that lies underneath it. He was persuaded of that view, incidentally and ironically, because he was convinced that the cosmology of the Bible, the worldview of the Bible, could not be squared with modern cosmology.

Which view of cosmology Bultmann was using has since become completely discarded. That's one of the ironies of history. But my point is this. In every age, not just in the ancient world, but in every age, there is an evidence of abundance of mythology. And mythology is not all that awful of a thing.

It has value, as limited as it may be. When we read the myths, for example, of ancient people, we are reading on many occasions ancient man's science. That is, man's attempt to explain his environment in the arena of mystery so that ancient people who didn't understand why certain things took place tried to account for it.

They tried to save the phenomena, and they would come up with some of these myths in order to do so. But then later discoveries dispelled the mythological content, and we have a tendency now to laugh at them for their naivete and their lack of sophistication. But I often want to wonder, where are the myths hidden in our own views today?

What will the 21st or the 22nd century scientists laugh about in terms of what we hold to be true today? Let us not be so arrogant to assume that ours is the first generation to be free of mythology. Now, as valuable as mythology may be, particularly in terms of historical reference and literary reference, the problem with mythology is that it tends to obscure reality.

And we make the distinction between myth and reality precisely because we believe that myths do not describe real states of affairs. Now, if there's any glaring myth that has wormed its way into modern life and worldview thinking, even penetrating some of the finest institutions of academia and of scientific investigation, it is the grand myth of chance. I believe that chance is the great myth of 20th century thought.

Back in 1913, a French scientist by the name of Pierre d'Albaix, in a work translated under the English title Science and Reality, made this comment, quote, Chance appears today as a law, the most general of all laws. It has become for me a soft pillow, like the one which in Montaigne's words only ignorance and disinterest can provide. But this but this is a scientific pillow. Chance d'Albaix called a law, a scientific law, which is a soft pillow for modern thought.

I like to think that pillows are most often used for sleep for purposes of comfortable slumber. I think of the old expression, Homer nodded, the idea being that a great and wise person on a particular occasion slipped into an egregious error and just went to sleep for a second, and we say when a great man errs, Homer nods. I think of Immanuel Kant before he wrote his revolutionary work on the Critique of Pure Reason when he said that he was motivated to write this work after reading the second edition of the after reading the skepticism of David Hume, and he said that David Hume aroused him or awakened him from his, quote, dogmatic slumber. Well, I'm convinced that the myth of chance is the soft pillow of our day that has become a soporific. It has caused geniuses to fall asleep at the switch in science. Stan Liocchi, the Roman Catholic cosmologist, remarks about d'Albaix's viewpoint.

He said that chance has become the softest pillow in all scientific history. It serves as a magic tool for making shabby philosophizing a most respectable attitude. This is a sharp critique that Iocky is making here. He is saying that this concept of chance not only serves as myth in modern cosmology, but it also serves as magic, undercutting the science of science. And my concern, which I'm going to elaborate upon, is not only for the danger of this concept in provoking problems for theology, but even more deeply am I concerned about what this does for science. I'm saying if there ever was a time where scientists and theologians need to join hands and stand shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy of truth and a common enemy of reality, it's against the function of this concept in modern cosmology. Arthur Kessler made this comment, quote, as long as chance rules, God is an anachronism.

Let me say it again. As long as chance rules, God is an anachronism. Now, I have to fault Kessler a little bit for this comment that he's made because I think it's a bit timid. I think that it's an understatement, and I wish that he would have been a little bit more bold in his statement. He says that as long as chance rules, God is an anachronism.

I think we understand what he means by that. What he means fundamentally is that the idea of chance coexisting in a universe ruled by a sovereign God is an idea, or two ideas, that are mutually exclusive. If God is sovereign, there can be no such thing as chance. If chance rules, there really cannot be a sovereign God, and the name or the word God becomes an anachronism that has no place in modern vocabulary.

But here's where I think he's been a bit timid. He's saying if chance rules, God is an anachronism. So, chance doesn't have to rule for God to be an anachronism. All chance has to do to make God irrelevant, to banish God from serious thought, all it has to do is exist. It doesn't have to rule. It doesn't have to be very strong.

All it takes is an ounce of it, or a milligram of it. All it has to do is exist at all, and God is not only an anachronism. God is finished.

Now, why do I say that? I'm saying that if chance exists, God is finished. If there is such a thing as chance that has become a scientific law, then we do have an unbridgeable chasm between science and theology, and something is going to have to give. Now, where this idea of chance becomes so central to the conflict between science and faith is principally at the point of the doctrine of creation. I think we're all aware of the media reports of constant battles that are going on in local communities over what textbooks are going to be used in the public schools and the debate between creation science and natural science and all of that sort of thing that we've heard about, and the debate over whether this world is of recent origin. Is the earth 6,000 years old, or is the universe 15 to 18 billion years old? Was the universe created in six 24-hour periods?

These are the points that are sharply in dispute, and I'm not, frankly, going to be discussing those to any great length in this series. What I want us to see, however, that the principal target in the debate is this idea, the very idea of creation, the very first assertion that is made in the Old Testament on page 1, in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. We may argue for decades about how the creation took place, when it took place, and so on, but the even more fundamental question of all is if it took place.

Is there such a thing as creation? Because every atheist understands this. If you can gainsay this concept, Christianity's finished, Judaism's finished, Islam is finished. As the three greatest religions of the world today at least agree that the God who is sovereign is the Creator. We differ about the character of God.

We differ about the purposes of God, and so on. But one thing stands in agreement is that there is a God who ultimately is the sufficient and efficient cause for the entire universe. And where chance functions mythologically is chiefly with respect as a substitute or alternative for creation. It is a concept that is appealed to relentlessly to save the phenomenon of the universe without an appeal to theology. That's why some people welcome the entrance of chance into the world of scientific thought. I heard a sermon several years ago where a minister was trying to defend the truth claims of Christianity against these people who were saying that the universe was created by chance. And he had read somewhere the odds against a universe beginning by chance, and he read these figures, and I don't remember what the numbers were.

They were astronomical. He said there's one over ten bajillion googolplex possibilities for the world to be created by chance. And then he went on to say how ludicrous it would be to assume such a long shot as an opposition to the idea of creation, and he was trying to comfort his congregation. And he came to the conclusion at the end of his sermon, so we see then that it's mathematically impossible for the universe to have been created by chance. And as I was walking out of the church, he stopped me and he asked me with a kind of enthusiasm, he said, Well, what did you think? And I didn't know what to say because I wanted to say a nice sermon and go out, and I didn't want to be engaged in a debate with him, but I said, Well, I think he just gave away the store.

He said, What do you mean? I said, Well, three things. I said, The first place, if there's one chance in ten bajillion googolplexes that the universe took place by chance, and if the time that the universe took place the time frame for this to happen was infinite and eternal, then it would seem to me that one out of all of these possibilities is going to come up sooner or later in eternity.

It's not like there's only one shot for these things to happen. I said, The second problem is just a little detail. He said that it's mathematically impossible when you've just given a mathematical possibility, as remote as it may be in terms of one out of all of these zeros, it's still mathematically possible.

You'd have to agree. And he said, Yes. I said, And the third question I have is the biggest one. What are the chances that anything can happen by chance? He said, I don't know what you mean. I said, The answer is not a chance. I said, Nothing can happen by chance. He said, Why not? And I said, Because chance cannot do anything.

I once had a discussion with a professor at Harvard who said to me the universe was created by chance, and I pushed him a little bit on this. He used a coin to illustrate the problem. I said, If I have a fifty-cent piece and flip it up in the air, what are the chances that it comes up heads? And he says, Fifty-fifty. I said, Okay. How much influence does chance exert on the flip of the coin?

He said, What do you mean? I said, Well, the way it comes up heads or tails is determined by how much pressure is exerted on it, what the density of the atmosphere is, how many revolutions it takes, you know, and so on, whether you catch it here, here, or here, and whether after you catch it you turn it over or don't turn it over. I said, Those are all the variables. How much influence does chance have?

And he still didn't get it. I said, Well, look, if you're using the term chance to talk about mathematical possibilities, it's a perfectly useful term. And I'll be talking about that in our next session, about the sense in which the term chance is a meaningful word. But when we ascribe to chance a power to do something, we are saying that chance is something. Now, what is it? What is this mysterious X factor that causes the coin to come up tails or heads? And he still looked at me, and I said, Wait a minute. I said, Chance cannot do anything because chance is not anything.

For something to act, it must first, what? Be. And chance is not a thing. It's no thing.

It's nothing. And when you say to me that the universe was created by chance, you are saying the same thing as saying the universe was created by nothing. And you've taken a perfectly good word, and you've taken and you've taken a perfectly good word to describe mathematical possibilities and now informed it with magical power, giving it ontological status, giving it power to do something when it is not anything. This is what Joachim was getting at when he says the soft pillow of chance is the softest pillow in all of history, and it has become a magic tool for making shabby philosophy respectable.

And I like his selection of words there where he talks about a magic tool. One of the basic axioms of science and of philosophy is the axiom ex nihilo, nihil fit. Out of nothing, nothing comes. In simple language, folks, it means you can't get something from nothing. And I say to my students in theology, if there ever was a time when there was nothing, absolutely nothing, what would there be now? Nothing? If it's true that out of nothing, nothing comes?

Oh, the soft pillow is this. Out of chance, everything comes. Which is saying out of nothing, something comes. Out of nothing, everything comes. And that is the principal idea that is used as a substitute for creation. Now, I know there are some who argue that the universe is eternal and always has been here.

That's another question. But the vast majority of critics today who deny the creation of this world by a self-existent eternal God appeal to some kind of beginning to all of reality that comes from nothing. It's the rabbit out of the hat, without a hat, without a rabbit, without a magician. It's worse than magic. It's pure mythology.

If this mythology were not taken so seriously today, we could be amused by it. But what's at stake, again, I repeat, is not just theology, but science itself, as I hope we will see in our next session. That's Dr. R.C. Sproul with a message from his series, Creation or Chaos.

R.C. exposes the faulty thinking behind attempts to explain the origins of the earth. And as he said, if the myth of chance weren't taken seriously today, we'd find it humorous.

But our society does take it seriously, and we need to be equipped to counter their false claims. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Wednesday. I'm Lee Webb. And if you'd like to expand your study of the relationship between modern science and the existence of God, let me commend this full series to you. You'll receive the six lessons on one DVD when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. Give securely online when you visit or when you call us at 800-435-4343. If you've heard Dr. Sproul teach for any length of time, if you've read his books, you know that he was knowledgeable about many things, not just theology, but philosophy and language.

That breadth of knowledge, combined with his teaching style, made difficult subjects easy to understand, and that's on full display in this series. So request Creation or Chaos by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

You can make your request and give your financial gift of any amount at, or you can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343. Well, today R.C. showed us that the modern concept of chance is really just a modern myth. Tomorrow we'll continue that line of thought when viewed through the lens of logic. The claim that the universe was formed out of nothing proves to be nonsense. We hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-18 20:23:47 / 2023-08-18 20:31:40 / 8

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