As I pointed out in my earlier post, Stephen Barr believes God plays dice with the universe, but he’s OK with that because the dice are loaded. Barr affirms the standard Darwinian line that life came about through a random undirected process, and at the same time Barr says God directed the process at a deeper level of reality so that a process that appears random to us is in reality directed by God.
To be consistent Barr would have to disagree with Stephen Jay Gould. Gould asserted that if one were to rewind the tape of life and play it over, things would almost certainly turn out very differently. If Gould was right, the randomness of Darwinism would be “ontological” in nature. If Barr is right, the randomness of Darwinism would be only “epistemological” in nature. Another way of putting it is, on Gould’s view, the outcome of Darwinian evolution is “contingent” (or, as some would put it, “radically contingent”), and on Barr’s view, the outcome of Darwinian evolution is deterministic.
Gould’s view cannot be reconciled with God’s providence. By definition, if evolution were ontologically random – i.e., if God allowed secondary causes to have complete freedom to create any kind of life (or no life) – then he could not have ordained a process that necessarily resulted in man’s appearance. We are not the result of God’s will. We are a lucky side effect of a process God did not control.
Barr’s view, on the other hand, can be reconciled with God’s providence. It is not logically impossible for an omniscient and omnipotent God to create life through a process that appears to us to be random and undirected but which — at a deeper level of reality we cannot detect empirically — is really directed by Him. Therefore, we must concede that God “could have” done it that way.
Of course, the important question is not what God “could have” done, but what did he actually do. And to accept Barr’s position we must pay a very heavy price with respect to our ideas about God’s nature and the intelligibility of reality.
1. Barr’s God is Lawless.
We know that God can and sometimes does break the laws of physics (e.g., turning water into wine, feeding thousands with a few loaves and fishes, etc.). Nevertheless, we go about our day to day lives expecting the laws of physics to hold inviolate. In other words, we know that while it is possible for God to break his physical laws, he does not usually do so. That is why we call it a “miracle” when he does. Miracles are, by definition, not what one ordinarily expects. Yes, God breaks his own laws of physics on rare occasions, but in the overwhelming majority of cases we can count on those laws holding. God is orderly. He is not the author of confusion the Bible says. Just imagine the confusion that would result if we did not know from moment to moment whether water would stay water or spontaneously convert to wine.
Let me posit another law, which I will call the “law” of randomness. That law states that an event that has a probability less than the universal probability bound (1 in 10^-150) almost certainly will never happen. Barr’s position turns the “law” of probability on its head. That is the problem with the “random arrow that got Ahab” analogy. Yes, in that discrete instance God used an improbable random event to accomplish his purpose. But just as we count on the fact that God does not routinely suspend the laws of physics, we also count on God not routinely breaking the law of probability. In other words, we count on improbable events rarely happening. But Barr’s theory counts on highly improbable events happening routinely. His theory is the probablistic equivalent of water turning into wine not just once in history, but every single day.
Let me explain. There are dozens if not hundreds of examples of specified complexity in every living things. Things such as the irreducible complexity of the nano-machinery inside every cell, the low number of functional protein folds compared to the vast configuration space of possible protein folds, the staggering amount of complex specified information imbedded in the DNA code (I could go on and on). If Barr is correct, all of these examples of specified complexity arose though a random process. The probability of any one of these processes coming about randomly is below the universal probability bound. Thus, according to Barr, life as we know it is the result of countless trillions of events happening, EACH of which was beyond the universal probability bound.
The price of asserting that God created in the way Barr asserts is that we must posit a God who is totally lawless. For surely that is a corollary to the proposition that God ignores the “law” of probability to such an extent that the exceptions to the law perhaps outnumber the events that conform to it. I am certain Barr would not tolerate the idea of a God who routinely breaks the laws of physics. One is left to wonder why he promotes the idea of a God who routinely breaks the law of probability.
2. Barr’s Position Makes the Universe Unintelligible.
In his paper “The Chance of the Gaps,” Dembski writes:
Statistical reasoning must be capable of eliminating chance when the probability of events gets too small. If not, chance can be invoked to explain anything. Scientists rightly resist invoking the supernatural in scientific explanations for fear of committing a god-of-the-gaps fallacy (the fallacy of using God as a stop-gap for ignorance). Yet without some restriction on the use of chance, scientists are in danger of committing a logically equivalent fallacy — one we may call the chance-of-the-gaps fallacy.
Darwinists know their theory relies on the instantiation of countless events that have a probability far below the universal probability bound. Since the universe we have does not have enough probablistic resources to accomplish the task Darwin set for it, Darwinists are becoming more and more enamored with multiverse theory. Of course, invoking the multiverse has its own problems, because it means the end of “explanation” if everything can be explained by resort to pure blind chance. “Guys! We just happen to live in the universe where my getting six royal flushes in a row is instantiated. It was bound to happen somewhere. Why not here.”
If there are infinite probablistic resources there is no universal probability bound and anything can happen and does. But this makes the whole concept of probability incoherent and the world becomes all but unintelligible.
Barr is not invoking a multiverse, but he is invoking yet another concept that makes it impossible for statistical reasoning to eliminate chance when the probability of events gets too small. No matter how wildly improbable a Darwinist explanation may be, Barr is undeterred, because God is directing things behind the scenes. Barr’s position is a kind of God-of-the-gaps and chance-of-the-gaps fallacy rolled into one: Anything is possible through sheer blind random chance if by “random” we mean “directed by God.” And just as with the multiverse, if we can explain everything by resort to chance, then the very concept of “explanation” loses all meaning.