philosophy science

Newsflash! Some things happen by chance!

philosophy science theology

random choice

Scenario 1: After instructing a person to make a random choice between two options in front of her, a computer detects brain activity in a human subject before she clicks the button to communicate her choice.  The experiment conductor, upon repeats of the same experiment, can predict her choice seconds before she is aware of it.  It is still a choice, for although the choice emerged from brain processes, she was not told which one to choose.

Scenario 2: After asking her son to choose between strawberry or vanilla ice cream, a mother detects a facial expression on her son before he verbalises his choice.  The mother, upon repeated instances of this scenario, can predict his choice before it is communicated.  It is still a choice, for although he has a tendency to choose vanilla, both flavours were on offer.

Scenario 3: Having eternally given to creation (humans in particular) the freedom to move toward good and order or evil and chaos, the omniscient Creator has full knowledge of the direction taken before, after and during the moment (from their perspective) it is made.  The Creator, in all places and times, can predict the direction taken.  It is still a free initiative, for although the result was known, both were live options.

christianity philosophy science theology


Some uses/senses of the word ‘miracle’:

  • Something happened:  Literally anything ‘happening’ – any phenomena as opposed to a non-phenomenological non-existence (existence is action – matter doesn’t just exist, it happens).  This can be called miraculous in the sense of ‘everything is a miracle’ or ‘look around – miracles are all around you’.  This concept, in my view is rightly held by those with both simple minds and very bright brains.  Existence is happening, and it’s a miracle.
  • Something happened that was good: Someone (the mayor?? I cannot remember of hand) called the no-death result of the otherwise tragic Christchurch earthquake a ‘miracle’.  Of course, I hesitate to mention as the ink is still hot off the press for tomorrow’s newspapers, as is the case with today’s tragic conclusion of the mining incident, someone (comparing with the earthquake) called it ‘the miracle that didn’t happen’.  One hears this use of the word often.  I don’t deny that some of what are called ‘luck’ events can rightly be called a miracle, but I think it is but one sense of the word.
  • Something just happened to happen: These are usually cases where timing or coincidence was involved to make the happening ‘just right’.  Meeting a stranger who has exactly what you’re looking for… Having a tax return be exactly the amount needed for that thing… etc.  Like the above case, this one also has it’s negative twin – cases where things worked out to be ‘just wrong’.  A car-wreck where the driver was killed by a mostly empty tissue box that ‘just happened’ to hit him in exactly the wrong place, etc.
  • Something happened that doesn’t happen: Whereas the previous two are cases where the laws of nature are undisturbed, unbroken and/or uninterrupted, this is the sense in which things happen in a way that is utterly distinct from nature’s habitual pattern (though not without some continuity – see below).  Cancers simply disappear.  Dead people live again.  I don’t think this kind of miracle happens, as they say, ‘willy nilly’.  I also like C.S. Lewis’ distinction between impossibility and impropriety.  The real issue is not if miracles are possible (it is quite literally impossible for anyone to support the claim that they are not), but whether they are ‘fitting’.  God could, in principle, make my laptop float in the air at this very moment, but what propriety would such a phenomena have?  A bodily healing, however, says something about the body.  In the Christian sense, bodily miracles are eschatological – foretastes or ‘first fruits’ of the bodily resurrection.
philosophy science

purposeful chance

Succinct and razor sharp as always, James Chastek discusses how so-called ‘blind chance’ events can be used for a purpose – giving two excellent illustrations (coin-toss and cement mixing).

This (for me) completely takes the wind out of the Dawkins-like assurance that big, bad ‘chance’ is an enemy of design and/or God ((and it probably makes all of the effort of ‘design theorists’ a bit unnecessary!?)).

philosophy science theology

had to be chance?

chance & necessity | random & planned | chaos & order | freedom & determinism

The phrase ‘by chance’ refers to an event/result happening without compulsion or determination – we say the situation/result ‘did not have to be that way’.

The phrase ‘of necessity’ refers to an event/result happening according to compulsion or law – we say the situation/result ‘had to be that way’.

So.  The universe or ‘the world’ or ‘things’ or ‘stuff’… Chance or necessity?

Interestingly, both answers can be used to argue for some form of theism.

science www

making sense of sheldrake

[copied from excerpt from YouTube video (embedded below) of a talk given by Rupert Sheldrake at ‘Google Tech Talks’ on September 2, 2008 entitled “The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence”]

Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. is a biologist and author of more than 75 technical papers and ten books, the most recent being The Sense of Being Stared At. He studied at Cambridge and Harvard Universities, was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and a Research Fellow of the Royal Society. He is currently Director of the Perrott-Warrick project, funded from Trinity College Cambridge.

We have been brought up to believe that the mind is located inside the head. But there are good reasons for thinking that this view is too limited. Recent experimental results show that people can influence others at a distance just by looking at them, even if they look from behind and if all sensory clues are eliminated. And people’s intentions can be detected by animals from miles away. The commonest kind of non-local interaction mental influence occurs in connection with telephone calls, where most people have had the experience of thinking of someone shortly before they ring. Controlled, randomized tests on telephone telepathy have given highly significant positive results. Research techniques have now been automated and experiments on telepathy are now being conducted through the internet and cell phones, enabling widespread participation.

I’d love to hear critique of Sheldrake that takes him seriously and respectfully enough to be patient, thorough and non-reactionary. I’m not ‘convinced’ by everything he says (probably not smart enough to know either way!), but I find it fascinating, and enjoyed a recent lecture on Sheldrake by Robert Mann.

philosophy science

is anything significant?

This question (‘Is anything significant?’) can be fleshed out a bit…

We could ask, “Is everything equally in-significant?”, or we could ask, “Is everything equally highly-significant?”

What makes something (an event or object [which can quite rightly be said to be ‘events’ in themselves]) significant, and another thing not so?