April 6, 2008

The old Manichean error

A bit of Michael Heller, quoted at First Things:

....And what about chancy or random events? Do they destroy mathematical harmony of the universe, and introduce into it elements of chaos and disorder? Is chance a rival force of God’s creative Mind, a sort of Manichean principle fighting against goals of creation? But what is chance? It is an event of low probability which happens in spite of the fact that it is of low probability. If one wants to determine whether an event is of low or high probability, one must use the calculus of probability, and the calculus of probability is a mathematical theory as good as any other mathematical theory. Chance and random processes are elements of the mathematical blueprint of the universe in the same way as other aspects of the world architecture.

Mathematical structures that are parts of the composition determining the functioning of the universe are called laws of physics. It is a very subtle composition indeed. Like in any masterly symphony, elements of chance and necessity are interwoven with each other and together span the structure of the whole. Elements of necessity determine the pattern of possibilities and dynamical paths of becoming, but they leave enough room for chancy events to make this becoming rich and individual.

Adherents of the so-called intelligent design ideology commit a grave theological error. They claim that scientific theories that ascribe a great role to chance and random events in the evolutionary processes should be replaced, or supplemented, by theories acknowledging the thread of intelligent design in the universe. Such views are theologically erroneous. They implicitly revive the old Manichean error postulating the existence of two forces acting against each other: God and an inert matter; in this case, chance and intelligent design. There is no opposition here. Within the all-comprising Mind of God, what we call chance and random events is well composed into the symphony of creation....

-- Michael (Michał) Heller is a Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest. These remarks were made at the news conference announcing his reception of the 2008 Templeton Prize.

PS: I just saw this, posted by JB Watson:

Any deity worthy of a graven image can cobble up a working universe complete with fake fossils in under a week… But to start with a big ball of elementary particles and end up with the duckbill platypus without constant twiddling requires a degree of subtlety and the ability to Think Things Through: exactly the qualities I’m looking for when I’m shopping for a Supreme Being.
-- a Usenet poster
Posted by John Weidner at April 6, 2008 5:10 AM
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