In the summer of 1905, an obscure patent clerk, recently turned physicist, radically changed our view of the world with one mathematics equation, E= mc2. With this simple, but ultimately profound, statement Albert Einstein showed that matter and energy were simply different forms of the same thing. The ramifications of this revolutionary concept were enormous, ultimately sowing the seeds for the nuclear age that emerged in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Einstein summed up his work on relativity with one clear statement: “Alles ist Relativ” – All is relative. Today, I would like to share with you another maxim, one that is causing me to see the world and God in new and stimulating ways – “Alles ist Zufallscharakter” – All is randomness.
No doubt, such a statement is bound to raise eyebrows. After all, words like relativity and randomness might not seem theologically consistent with traditional concepts of a God who sets universal unchanging standards and also displays unrivalled creativeness. But before any Christians rise up and cry heresy, I would ask your indulgence. You see, just as there is more to Einstein’s relativity statement than meets the casual eye, there is also much more to, “Alles ist Zufallscharakter”. In fact, for theists, this idea appears to have God’s fingerprints all over it.
Randomness is a pivotal word in the science/religion discussion. Indeed, whole worldviews and philosophical perspectives hinge on a proper understanding of this one word. As such, it holds either great promise or certain disaster for the future of Christian theology, philosophy, and culture.
Anyone who has ever worked in a courtroom knows that whoever successfully defines the parameters and frames the terms of a debate usually wins the day. Regarding science/faith issues, secular atheistic voices have seriously outmaneuvered Christians by claiming that the apparent randomness of evolutionary processes effectively rule out the existence of a purposeful god.
If Christian scholars and theologians could only have known 150 years ago what we know today about biology, they could have quickly pointed out the error of insisting on that faith and evolutionary biology are mutually exclusive. Instead, many ordinary Christians found themselves wholeheartedly agreeing with the atheistic claim that random processes of evolution are incompatible with the Bible, Christian faith, and the existence of a purposeful God. For example, Logan Paul Gage, of the Discovery Institute, summed up his obvious confusion regarding the word random: “Can an intelligent being use random mutations and natural selection to create? No. This is not a theological problem; it is a logical one. The words random and natural are meant to exclude intelligence.”
So the successful establishment of this concept of mutual exclusivity between biological process and belief in God has been the centerpiece of the creation/evolution debacle for decades – and the consequences for culture and religion are yet to be fully recognised.
The “Age of Genetics”
When Oswald Avery and his colleagues demonstrated in 1945 that a cell’s DNA (not protein) harbors the cryptic code determining life’s characteristics, he never could have imagined how much his discovery would revolutionise mankind’s understanding of life.
Fast forward to the summer of 2003. The Human Genome Project – perhaps one of the first (and likely last!) US federal government projects to finish ahead of schedule and under budget – was completed. Now, for the first time in all history, humanity has in its possession the three-billion bit, letter-by-letter code book of life. Significantly, the genomes of many plants and animals have also been deciphered and analysed for relationships between one another. Of most critical note, when the positions of random mutations, insertions of virus DNA, and duplicated genes in the DNA code, of human beings is compared to other species, common ancestry is, once and for all, firmly established beyond any reasonable doubt.
These new revelations from the exquisitely detailed history books of our DNA crystallise the creation/evolution discussion as never before, and seem to leave Christians with only one viable option. In my view we should keep God in the equation of life by considering how random processes can be compatible with Christian faith and belief in God.
When Einstein first proposed his theory of relativity, he was questioned about the religious implications of his theory. He responded by saying, “God does not play dice with the universe.” To this day, this statement is frequently quoted as the final authority on the matter. After all, these are the words of Albert Einstein, one of the most brilliant minds of all time. But I think that Einstein was wrong. In a very real sense, God does play dice with the universe, and randomness is a key component in the process. But once again, hang on because there is much more to this story. You see, I think the possibility exists that God’s dice are loaded – the ultimate outcome is never in question.
I am learning that if I am ever to see the world as it truly is, I must be willing to look courageously beyond established religious and scientific boundaries and conventional understanding.
I propose a new paradigm of creation called Random Design. This process is at work at this very moment orchestrating its delicate creative dance in every aspect of our world, and also in each one of us at the DNA, cellular and individual levels. For example, random diffusion of molecules from high concentration to low concentration allow sugars and amino acids from foods that we have eaten to make their way through blood vessel walls to meet the growth needs of each of our 100 trillion cells. Random DNA rearrangements in cells of our bone marrow give rise to immune system cells capable of protecting us (in advance!) from virtually any disease-causing bacteria or virus that we might ever encounter. Even the fundamental process of evolution itself relies upon randomly rearranged and changed DNA in each new generation to provide opportunity for adaptation and survival in a rapidly changing world.
Properly understood, the word random does not necessarily mean haphazard or without purpose, but rather “equal opportunity of occurrence”. No limits. All possibilities tested. All possibilities welcome. Examples like these show how a purposeful God could use random processes to create.
Ultimately, the concept of Random Design offers great value to the science religion discussions because it describes the world as it really is – encouraging Christians in the sciences to freely discover and report the amazing wonders of life’s creation, but establishing a permanent place in the discussion for the existence of God.
(Photo courtesy of Kankakee Public Library)