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Sitara:

Is God still needed in the explanation, now that we have the scientific theories of origins?

Nathan:

A scientific theory that explains the origin of the world doesn't necessarily exclude God. But a naturalistic theory by intention doesn't include him.

Many people hold the classical deterministic view of the world. It asserts that logically we can predict with certainty any state of the universe if given a complete description of its earlier state. The predicted state, in this view, is as good as its actual occurrence.

The modern view sees the world in terms of probabilities. We can assess how probable an occurrence will be, but can't be absolutely certain about it. This worldview is also one with describable consistencies, [Note 1 ] and such consistencies still reflect the rationality of the Creator. It doesn't prove the existence of God, and it doesn't deny it either.

Sitara:

It's well known that Einstein once said "God does not play dice." This reflected his discomfort about the idea of randomness in nature. Now it seems, after all, God does play dice with the universe.

Nathan:

No, not really, because there's divine purpose, which is always the focus of the Bible.

Sitara:

I don't see how God's purpose relates to probability.

Nathan:

The modern worldview assigns a probability to each occurrence prediction, which in effect manages our expectation of unobserved random events to reduce surprises. But an outcome is certain when it has happened and is observed, regardless of the probability associated with it.

The prediction probability of the outcome carries a different meaning after its occurrence. It suggests how good the prediction is as an explanation.

Sitara:

I see. Probability guides our expectation regarding an unobserved random event, and gives confidence on the explanation of what happened. And the observed outcome is a certainty. But still, how is God's purpose related?

Nathan:

The purpose of the all-powerful God ensures that the event he wills actually occurs. In a deterministic worldview, it would mostly involve miracles that suggest a suspension of natural laws. In the probabilistic view, God's intervention is simply the event's occurrence according to his purpose regardless of its prediction probability.

Sitara:

How then does this apply to the understanding of origins?

Nathan:

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow coauthored The Grand Design, which is a popular book. The entire seventh chapter is about "The Apparent Miracle." [Note 2 ] We can readily see God's purpose as an explanation for that.

The authors say that the Earth can sustain life because it follows a nearly circular orbit around a single star, and we're lucky that the Earth is within the narrow habitable zone in our solar system, which is required for the right planetary temperatures for liquid water to exist, so life can develop.

The fact of our existence restricts the characteristics of environments that allow life, such as the presence of elements like carbon. From this anthropic principle, we can estimate that the big bang, which marked the birth of our universe, occurred between ten to twenty billion years ago. This has been confirmed.

In addition to this weak anthropic principle, there's a strong one that restricts the possible characteristics of our entire universe. The laws of nature form a system that's extremely fine-tuned, and very little can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it.

Hawking and Mlodinow conclude, "Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that both is tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. That is not easily explained, and raises the natural question of why it is that way." [Note 3 ]

What’s probable is not reality. Before a predicted outcome is observed, it remains only in our mental world of expectations. Our existence in this universe is a reality, and therefore a certainty that necessitates an explanation.

If we’re not confined to a naturalistic worldview, the purposed creation by the all-powerful God is a much better explanation for our existence than the random processes of cosmic evolution.

Sitara:

Even if I accept this view of cosmology, it still doesn't explain the development of life on Earth. What about biological evolution as an explanation of human origin?

There's an abundance of empirical observations that evolution seems to adequately explain. I know if we work out the odds of the entire chain of events from the primordial soup to the biodiversity today, evolution would sound like a crazy theory. But the idea of natural selection seems to perform the function of a purpose. It breaks up the entire chain into stages that seem much more probable to have occurred given enough time, something we have had plenty of in the past.

Nathan:

I must point out that creation and evolution need not be in a zero-sum game. God is not confined to activities that suspend natural laws or override natural processes in order to achieve his purpose. If the entire universe is a work of his creation, we would expect its rules and processes to be his tools. The naturalistic theory of evolution obviously doesn't involve God, but it doesn't mean that God is necessarily excluded from any theory of evolution.

As Francis S. Collins illustrates, [Note 4 ] naturally occurring mutations in DNA are estimated to happen at a rate of about one in every hundred million base pairs per generation. Since we all have two genomes of three billion base pairs each, we all have roughly sixty new mutations that are absent in our parents.

Most of those mutations occur in parts of the genome that have little or no consequence. Some occur in parts that cause harm and reduce reproductive fitness. Only on rare occasions, a mutation arises by chance that offers slight degree of selective advantage. The advantage becomes important if it enhances reproductive or survival fitness, or competitive ability where resources are scarce.

So the chance for even one advantage to develop and be able to cause a positive difference is really very small. That's why evolution as an essentially random process, helped by natural selection, still requires so much time.

Sitara:

At least it seems that evolution is an adequate explanation already. What would God's involvement change in this case?

Nathan:

Time alone doesn't guarantee the occurrence of an outcome of chance. The will of the all-powerful God does. Even if God didn't cause specific mutations to occur, the replacement of natural selection by purposed selection at different points in time changed the direction of evolutionary development.

However, the brevity of the creation account in Genesis does leave a lot of room for a wide range of views. [Note 5 ]

Theistic evolution broadly believes that God used evolution as his means of producing the various forms of physical life on this planet. Maximal theistic evolutionists hold that God performed at least three supernatural acts of creation: matter, first life, and the human soul. After the initial creation of matter and life, all animal organisms, including the human body, evolved by natural laws.

The belief in any more supernatural acts of creation could be called a minimal form of creationism, which holds that God supernaturally intervened at least four times in creation. Progressive creationists believe that God supernaturally intervened many more times. Between the points of supernatural intervention, development took place through microevolution.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Stephen W. Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (London: Bantam Press, 2010), 93. [Back ]
  2. Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, 189-211. [Back ]
  3. Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, 207. [Back ]
  4. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: a scientist presents evidence for belief (New York: Free Press, 2006), 131. [Back ]
  5. Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics, An A to Z Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2012), 154. [Back ]
     

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