Today on Renewing Your Mind, how do we respond to those who claim that the universe was created by chance? Chance has no being. Chance is not a thing that operates and works upon other things. It is simply a mental concept that refers to mathematical possibilities.
Well, that's the short answer to the question we posed, but we're going to dig deeper. That's because modern science places a lot of hope in this concept. For example, a television series recently aired on the BBC, and they put it this way, that complex life requires a good dose of random chance.
Examining that statement through a logical lens reveals it to be absurd, so let's join Dr. R.C. Sproul as he puts these theories to rest. In our last lecture, we were looking at the concept of self-creation, and I looked at it with respect to several varieties of it in terms of spontaneous generation, gradual spontaneous generation, universes exploding into being, and so on, but I ended that session by saying that in the contemporary scene, the alternative to theism is most often described in terms of some kind of an appeal to what we call chance creation. And so I want to look at that in some detail in today's session. I mentioned in passing in the last session that I had written an entire book on this subject, and I'll explain the reasons for that.
This is the book, by the way, entitled Not a Chance. That's an analysis of the function and role of chance in modern cosmology and cosmogony. And what provoked the writing of this book was having read several offerings from people in the scientific community trying to explain some of the most difficult concepts for the modern scientist to deal with things that occur in the laboratory with respect to subatomic particles and light and quantum mechanics and so on. And I point out in this book by way of disclaimer that I am not a physicist.
I am not an expert in quantum physics by any stretch of the imagination, and I do not presume to correct physicists on what they are learning in their experimentation, nor am I trying to put up barriers to the continuity of those experiments as they seek to expand their understanding of reality. What my beef with the physicists was was not with their experimentation but with their articulation of the results of their experiments and the inference they were drawing from the data that they had worked with. Now I don't have to be a physicist to be able to analyze the content and significance and coherency of statements and of propositions. That was something that philosophers major in, giving a logical analysis of the truth value of propositions. And when physicists articulate their theories in ways that are nonsense, then it's time for the philosopher to blow the whistle and say, we don't understand what you're saying because what you're saying is absurd and unintelligible. Please go back to the drawing board and try to rephrase your statements or else just simply say you don't know what you're talking about because the way you're talking about it would indicate that you at least don't know how to talk about what it is you're talking about.
It may reveal a deeper ignorance than that, but at least it reveals an ignorance with respect to intelligible speech. In the preface of this book, I make an allusion to Arthur Kessler who said, as long as chance rules, God is an anachronism. I picked up on that because I thought that that was a very significant insight that Kessler made. As long as chance rules, God is an anachronism.
And I agree with that sentiment as far as it goes. My only criticism, maybe a little pedantic, is that I wish that Kessler would have gone a little further with that statement because I don't think it's necessary for chance to rule in order to make God an anachronism. I think all that it has to be demonstrated is that chance exists in order to make God an anachronism, that there is really such a thing out there in reality that we call chance. So, if chance has any authority, it deposes God altogether, and all it needs to do that job is to exist. And I wrote that the mere existence of chance is enough to rip God from His cosmic throne. Chance doesn't need to rule.
It doesn't need to be sovereign. If it exists as a mere impotent, humble servant, it still leaves God not only out of date but out of a job. And the basic thesis that I have in this book is, in the final analysis, there is no such thing as chance, that the greatest myth in modern mythology is the myth of chance.
And that's what I am getting at here. Now, what provoked this work in the first place was a discussion that I had with a professor in the graduate school of Harvard in the philosophy of science when we were discussing the origin of the universe. And he denied creation, and he went on and I asked him, I said, well, where did the universe come from and so on? And he said, the world came to be as a result of chance. The universe, he said, was created by chance. And I looked at him, and I said, the world was created by chance.
And he said, yes. And I reached into my pocket, and I took out a quarter, and I flipped it up in the air, caught it, turned it over, and turned it up heads. I said, now I just tossed that coin in the air. What were the chances that that coin, given that it didn't stand on its end, would come up heads or tails?
He understood. He said, 100 percent, because it only has two options, either heads or tails. So it's got to come up one or the other. I said, okay. Mathematically, what are the odds that it comes up heads? He said, 50-50. I said, good.
I said, now let me ask you this. How much influence does chance have on whether it turns up heads or tails? In other words, if we had a completely controlled experiment where we had a coin on an armature of some sort, and it was started heads up every single time, and the experiment took place in a vacuum where the exact amount of force was exercised on that coin every single time, and it went exactly the same height in the vacuum every single time, and had the same number of revolutions in the vacuum every single time, and landed at the same place every single time, and you didn't have the variables of whether you were going to turn it over, catch it here, here, here, or here, or any of those variables. I said, would you be able to increase the percentages of its coming up heads over 50-50? He said, of course. I said, right. I said, because what we understand is that the causal agencies that are involved in coming out with the effect of whether that coin comes up heads or tails has nothing to do with some mythological power called chance.
It has to do with indeed the factors I've mentioned, whether you started heads up or tails up, how much force is exerted by the thumb, how dense the atmosphere is, how high it goes, how many revolutions it makes. Do you catch it here? Do you catch it here? Do you catch it here?
And after you catch it, do you look at it right away, or do you turn it over? All of those variables can impact the outcome of the experiment, but we know that given all of those things that we don't have time to examine every time, that still the odds tell us that in the final analysis it has to come up one of two ways, heads or tails, and so we say the odds are 50-50. Now, there's nothing at all wrong with the word chance.
It's a perfectly meaningful word when we use it to describe mathematical possibilities. It becomes a synonym for the odds. What are the odds that something will happen?
What are the chances that something will happen? We even in a popular way make meaningful use of the term chance when we speak of, quote, chance encounters. I remember one time I was traveling by train from Orlando to California. On that train trip, first I had to go to Washington, D.C. From Washington, I had a layover. Then I had to get back on the train, go to Chicago, and I happened to get off the train in the morning for an eight-hour layover or so just at the time that commuter traffic was coming into downtown Chicago from the suburbs of Chicago, and I was going to be in the city for eight hours until I would go back to the train station and get on the train to take me to Los Angeles. And it just so happened that I boarded the train late in the afternoon at the same time that the commuter trains were going back to their destination.
Well, I got off the train in Chicago in the morning. I'm walking through this building crowded with a teeming mass of humanity, and I look up and all of a sudden I see a friend that I hadn't seen in ten years. Al, how are you? We had a wonderful conversation.
He said, what are you doing here? I said, I just happened to be coming through town, and I have a layover here for my next train. Wouldn't you know, eight hours later I come back into the same terminal building.
Again, there are thousands of people crowding their way to the trains, and I run into them again. What are the odds of that? We call this a serendipitous experience. We call it a chance experience insofar as this chance encounter took place because we did not meet by intentionality.
When I left Florida, I did not design, plan, or intend to meet my friend Al in the corridors of the station there in Chicago, and when he left his home that morning, he had no intention of meeting me, but we as it were bumped into each other in a chance encounter. But chance doesn't explain why it happened. That is to say, chance didn't cause it.
The reason why we met each other is that we happened to be at the same place at the same time for a host of different reasons that converged in time and space. So, again, chance is a perfectly legitimate word when we use it in a popular way to describe these kinds of unintentional meetings or in terms of mathematical probabilities. But what has happened in this in modern jargon is that the word chance has subtly been elevated to indicate something far more than mathematical odds or probabilities, where actual causal power is attributed to chance. When I talked to this professor at Harvard and I said to him, do you see with my coin toss analogy that there was no power being enacted or exercised by this thing you call chance to cause the coin to come up heads in my coin toss, was it? And he agreed with me, and what he did when I did that simple illustration with him, just using ordinary language, he literally took the heel of his right hand and banged himself in the head.
He went like that. He said, I guess I shouldn't have said that the universe was created by chance. I said, that's right, because when it comes to the science, if you will, of ontology, ontology has to do with the study of being, of essence, of reality, of is-ness. And what I was saying to my friend from Harvard is that the ontological status of chance is zero. Chance has no being.
Chance is not a thing that operates and works upon other things. It is simply a mental concept that refers to mathematical possibilities, but in and of itself has no ontology. It has no being. Now this piece of chalk has some being to it, and the being of it can keep these physicists and the philosopher busily engaged for centuries trying to penetrate the ultimate form of essence or substance that is found in this piece of chalk. But one thing we will agree is that it's not nothing, that this piece of chalk is something.
And remember I said, the simplest argument for the existence of God is that if something exists, if anything exists, if there's anything out there with ontological status, then you are driven by necessity to a self-existent eternal being, but I'm getting ahead of myself now. And I'm saying this piece of chalk has ontological status. It's a thing. It has existence.
It's real rather than an illusion. I have ontological status. I am a being. I'm not the supreme being. I'm not a divine being.
I'm a human being, but I am something rather than nothing. But when we come to chance, what I was saying to my friend from Harvard is that chance has no being. And because it has no being, it therefore has no power because that which is absent of being must, must of necessity also be absent of power because for power to exist or to operate, it must be the power of something.
You can't have power being generated by nothing any more than you can have objects being generated by nothing. Power or doing requires a doer, just as Descartes was saying, thought requires a thinker. So the premise that I want to give you, and this is what the philosophers and scientists of all ages have all agreed, that the word chance becomes a word to define our ignorance. We throw the word chance in the equation when we don't know what's going on out there. When we can't do our homework analytically and come up to a cogent understanding, we begin to attribute things to chance, to the power of chance. You say, but wait a minute, we play games of chance where the cards are shuffled randomly, and the cards are dealt, and there are statistical odds that you can determine on the basis of the dealing of every hand of cards that you play. That's true, and I like to play cards, and I've studied mathematical possibilities in bridge and gin rummy and all the rest, and when I play, I play according to the odds, and it really helps me to know what the mathematical possibilities are in so-called games of chance. But it's a game of chance because I don't know how those cards were sorted, but the reason why I am dealt the hand that I am dealt in a game of bridge or in a game of gin rummy is because how they were arranged when they were shuffled the first time, how they were arranged when they were shuffled the second time, how they were dealt, you know, and what sequence they were dealt, and so on. Chance was not some invisible demon that jumps into the middle of the card dealer and causes certain cards to be set in a certain sequence because there is no such invisible power called chance because, again, chance has no being, and since it has no being, it has no power. So I said again to my friend, I said, chance is not a thing that can exercise power.
Do you agree? And finally he said, yes, chance is not a thing. And let me say it a little bit differently. Chance is no thing. Let me say it faster. Chance is no thing. Faster. Chance is no thing.
Faster. Chance is nothing. And when you say that the universe was created by chance, by chance, you are saying analytically that the universe is created by nothing. You're not just attributing some power to chance. You're attributing the supreme power that we can ever conceive of to chance by declaring it possible not only to do something but to bring into being the whole of reality.
And that's what I say. That concept under five minutes of analysis yields its own absurdity and manifests itself as the worst kind of mythology. But if you couch it in respectable language, and if you communicate it in the language of science, it's almost like former phony science, you know, when people thought they could turn metal into gold, and they gave those theories on the basis of scientific jargon, and it was respected for centuries.
And you can give respectability to mythology if you couch your myth in sufficiently academic language. But no matter how you scratch it, when you attribute any power to chance, you're talking nonsense because chance is nothing. And if you think it's something, then I would have to say, well then what is it?
How much does it weigh? Is it extended? Is it non-extended? Is it an energy field? Is it electromagnetism?
What is the genesis of this power? And when you say it's chance, you're saying, I don't know. Now when it came to the supreme example to prove chance, we see people like Niels Bohr who has on his coat of arms contraries sunt complementary, that is, contradictions are complementary, and that he was willing to affirm both sides of a contradiction. That drove Einstein nuts because he says as soon as Niels Bohr starts talking about affirming both poles of a contradiction, he not only ceases being logical, he ceases being scientific. Now with Heisenberg's indeterminacy principles, there are different ways that you can articulate it. You can say we do experiments with subatomic particles, and we don't know why they behave the way they do. It seems to indicate that the very experiment has an influence on the results of the experiment, and it seems like that these things are behaving in a completely irrational manner.
And it's one thing for me to say I do not know why these subatomic particles behave the way they do in our experiments, that none of our scientific paradigms are equipped to explain this totally inexplicable behavior. I know that it is happening. I'm observing it. I'm experimenting with it.
I just don't know why. At that point, the scientist is exercising a proper demeanor for scientific investigation. When he bumps up to the limit of his knowledge, he says, I don't know. Now that should be done in biology. It should be done in chemistry. It should be done in physics. It should be done in philosophy.
It should be done in theology. That should be the mark of any authentic investigator of truth. But it's one thing to say I don't know. It's quite another to say nothing is producing this effect, because in order to know that, you would have to know every conceivable possible force that exists in or outside the universe. And the only way you could have that kind of knowledge is if you yourself were omniscient. And so I think as a matter of prudence, we ought to stop saying that nothing causes something, because it's a nonsense statement.
It's mythological. And it is not just bad theology. It's bad science to attribute self-creation under any name. John Calvin said that the wisdom of the flesh is always exclaiming against the mysteries of God.
Without a doubt, that's the case with most modern-day scientific theories. Dr. R.C. Sproul's series on apologetics is our focus each Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. And today, R.C.
dealt a lethal blow to the concept of self-creation. Throughout this entire series, Dr. Sproul helps us see that logic and reason are helpful allies in our pursuit in giving a defense of the truth claims of Jesus. We'd like to send you the full 32-message series titled Defending Your Faith. Just contact us today with a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. You can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343, or you can make your request online at renewingyourmind.org. If you've downloaded Ligonier's free mobile app, you can take advantage of the My Learning Library feature. Once you've completed your request, the entire series will be available for you to view in that app. So you'll have both a physical copy of the DVDs and full digital access online. So again, contact us today and request Dr. Sproul's series Defending Your Faith.
Our online address is renewingyourmind.org and our phone number, 800-435-4343. Well, if we take into consideration what we learned today, that nothing can create itself, then what do we do with the idea of God's self-existence? Is that contradictory? Dr. Sproul will explain next Saturday on Renewing Your Mind.
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