"God's Dice Ever Have a Lucky Roll" --Sophocles
Practitioners of the "intelligent design" brand of creationism, much like Molière’s Physician in Spite of Himself, not only belie the true nature of their avocation and motives, but also play fast and loose with a commonly held precept. They tacitly negate the clear and completely traditional parameters that illuminate the position of chance occurrence in our universe.
As a consequence, creationism's familiar yet totally unscriptural chimera of "accidental evolution" now lives on as the centerpiece and all-around bogeyman of intelligent design. The results of this legacy could not be sharper. Chance occurrence (randomness), whether guided or not, can be incremental, hence fully evolutionary. Design is all at once or not at all, with only minor variability possible. Perhaps it's time for advocates of this limiting position to go back to square one.
How often do we see people settle an otherwise contentious decision by tossing a coin or by drawing straws near the climax of one of those tense action movies? It seems fair to all because it's random and impartial, and most people seem to acknowledge this without any hesitation. Here's the larger issue. What proponents of so-called intelligent design have cynically omitted in their polemic is that according to Biblical tradition, chance has always been considered God's choice as well.
When Joshua divided the newly won Promised Land of Canaan among the tribes of Israel, it was done as had been specifically commanded by God through the casting of lots...in other words, by a roll of the dice. In Acts of the Apostles, the remaining apostles chose between two proposed replacements for Judas by casting lots, clearly understood as a solemn appeal for God's own choice. The Bible abounds with similar examples.
So, from this viewpoint, just how random is randomness in God's most solemn and magnificent work of creation? Today's scientists will readily tell you that in this "queerer than we can suppose" universe, as J.B.S. Haldane put it, order appears to be continually leaping forth from chaos. An uneasy boundary seems to interface certain unequivocally random initiations and their ultimately deterministic course of outcomes. Some decades ago, I heard the truly fascinating topic of randomness in our natural world beautifully unraveled in a spellbinding lecture series by Paul Weiss. I have considered it a remarkable and mysterious subject ever since.
I am, however, easily able to draw one inescapable conclusion: the chance vs. intelligence debate we are seeing today is about faith and not about science. For the skeptic, all chance can remain truly blind and so it should. For the scripturally-guided believer, however, an omnipotent God would have to be in charge of absolutely everything by definition. God as "designer" is already built into this metaphysical view of chaos, which triumphantly includes no true randomness component whatever.
Such overwhelming control would have to preside over any number of even the tiniest chance biochemical mutations and over any possible span of time. This would certainly stack the deck prior to natural selection. For truly rigorous people of the Book, there is no accidental evolution because there is no accidental anything. As is so often proclaimed in worship, God is in control. This credo should be all any believer of the precept would need to add from their own spiritual understanding in order to explain and integrate any construct based on scientific research into their world view. Everyone could be happy.
But this is not the case. Astonishing as it may seem, the stigmatization of chance as the lynchpin both of creationism and intelligent design is not only a totally unscriptural position, but it is borrowed from the atheist viewpoint. You may not ever hear this preached, but for the Bible believer, God can roll the dice infinitely and win at every turn. Much as I cringe at feeling compelled to disagree with Albert Einstein, I have to consider, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, that perhaps God does play at dice with the universe, but only with those ontologically loaded dice.
I can already begin to hear some rumblings coming from the Amen Corner. "Proof text! So where's your proof text!" Okay, it's here, plain and simple, what some might call prophetic correction: "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." (Proverbs 16:33, NASB.)
Yes, people of the era in which this line was written made their own instant gaming tables by sitting or squatting on the ground and casting lots, a game of chance equivalent to dice, perhaps on a portable game board held in their laps. Now, for those who would counter that even the devil can quote scripture, I might be willing to agree, but would have to point out that he doesn't get to write it, too, and this is just too clear a proclamation to misconstrue in any way. Every toss of the dice -- that is, every decision based on chance -- can only mean one thing when it comes to a fiercely unequivocal deity.
Accordingly, the rejection of biological evolution based essentially on the part played by chance, which appears to have become the sum and substance of intelligent design, is in fact a rhetorical chimera, an unworthy trick from those who should know better and probably hope that no one, not even their "designer," is able to catch them at it. The intelligent design movement has become an unabashedly transparent fig leaf for the urge to insert sectarian creationism into every science curriculum and text. Can any believer truly honor God with such dissimulation?
Instead of arguing disingenuously on behalf of faith that blind chance alone cannot produce such levels of order as science reveals, why don't creationists and their heirs simply state that on scriptural grounds they believe God's hand orders all chance and be done with it? That would certainly put God squarely into the picture for any who choose to agree and would obviate the need to torture science in order to prove anything at all. Simply stated, as with any casino, the house always wins.
Most critically, this would also suggest a distinct mechanism through which the "designer" might participate in guiding the physical universe. At present, intelligent design is simply a wish, not even a well-framed hypothesis. It must offer a testable interfacing mechanism between the "intelligence" and matter in order to meet the minimum threshold of being science at all. Since this has not even been hinted at, why substitute a charade of nit-picking at science for a simple and honest declaration of faith? Such a declaration would posit that what science demonstrates in the physical world also constitutes, within the limits of our understanding, precisely what God intended.
This notion that God's hand orders chance hardly represents a new viewpoint among religious scholars. Theologians have long held that what God desires to happen through chance will happen through chance. Nor is this position confined to the basic understandings of any one faith. Yet, intelligent design proponents insist on defining chance for everyone as designer-less even while science itself does not, simply because this issue crosses over into the metaphysical, beyond where physical science permits itself to go.
We're surely overdue for a Sic et Non examination of this dicey and irreducible contradiction in the creationist viewpoint, which tirelessly propels the flagellum of intelligent design as well. I will leave it to the reader to decide to what extent the aggressive promulgation of sectarian religion in science education has helped stoke the greatest blacklash against faith in anyone's recollection.
Is there a clever reason why intelligent design proponents, even those of a professed religious bent, persist in avoiding this seemingly inescapable axiom from their own songbook? Must they avoid putting God in charge of chance because it would also demonstrate once and for all that this inescapably religious precept, while perfectly legitimate for believers, does not support any insights from alternative science that need to be taught in schools?
I'm sure intelligent design proponents also realize that without their fatuous red herring, in terms of scripture, about what constitutes randomness, all that's left of this "new" anti-evolutionary argument is the same old rejection of the increasingly well-founded concept that all living things may belong to one truly amazing and ancient family. It's just the same old monkey business over again.
But that appears, when viewed honestly, to have been the real sticking point all along, right from those heady days of Darwin, Huxley and Bishop "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce. Might it be the horrific prospect of dethroning man from his cherished position as preeminent mini-god of this earth? Half a millenium ago, the outraged predecessors of those who would currently deny the progress of scientific evidence railed against the prospect of earth itself being dethroned as the dimple of the entire universe around which the sun and all the planets and stars revolved.
On the other hand, I am also amazed that scientists defending evolution fail to convincingly point out that a dead mechanical invention like a watch or a mousetrap cannot in any way explain the design process of living systems that reproduce, recycle and recombine changeable components infinitely, regardless of function. You'll never find a watch with anomalous spare gear wheels, but many animals are continually born with useless extra limbs. Life is just full of untidy surprises.
For some of us who identify ourselves as people of faith, the creationist notion that God's existence must be proved, particularly with sleight-of-hand maneuvers, is philosophically toxic as well. If such proof were ever possible to achieve, it would obviate the all-important value of faith as central to the life of the believer. It would also mean that pleasing God would forever after become stiflingly legalistic and merely as rational as searching for the best interest rates. In evangelical terms, the crassest of pragmatists might soon be storming the Pearly Gates in droves, quite possibly leaving behind them in the dust those self-doubting, compulsively conscientious and genuinely perplexed souls who have always lived and ultimately triumphed in their search for life's meaning primarily by faith rather than by sight.
Curious, isn't it, that no matter how much scientific data we add to the mix, it still isn't possible either to prove or disprove God's existence? Our great human dilemma seems as persistent as any other universal constant -- it remains forever a matter of choice....a matter of faith, and that is indeed a remarkably intelligent design.
David M. White is a retired educator and developer of commercial educational media materials. A graduate of New York University, he has an M.A. in Science Education, and has served as a faculty administrator at Allan Hancock College and Oregon Institute of Technology. His most widely read web feature, written as "Professor Nemo," is A Different da Vinci Code: The Missing Pieces of Leonardo's Puzzle Point to Plain and Simple Hermeticism.