By Chance or By God

Devil's bones

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Is the world here by chance? Are we a product of an impersonal force that got the ball rolling and then history came about in what could be described as an “accident”?   Greg’s father, an skeptic at the time, put it this way, “[C]ouldn’t we just have come about by accident? Isn’t that what the biologists tell us? Doesn’t evolutionary theory say that our minds and morality are just part of our survival drive?” Here is an excerpt from Greg’s response as recorded in Letters from a Skeptic:

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OK, you believe there is some kind of “force” which must be the cause of things. I’m just trying to inquire into what this “force” must be like. Now since an effect can’t be greater than its cause, doesn’t the fact that humans (the effect) are personal mean that the cause (the force) must also be personal?

The theory of evolution, if it is true, can only give us a biological guess as to how humans came about. But the more fundamental question is how evolution produces the kind of results it does in the first place. What must the ultimate “force” of the universe be like for evolution to have the kind of characteristics it has? I’m asking something about the process itself. This is a metaphysical question (meta = above). Science can’t address it.

Now my argument, in a nutshell, is that the process itself can’t be pure chance. Look, the only way we can understand why our minds can understand physical reality in the first place is by “believing that the physical universe is “mind-like.” Our thinking about reality presupposes that there is a correspondence between our mind and reality. Science operates with this assumption. … Our mind is more than a network of chemical reactions. It can rationally comprehend physical aspects of the world because the world is rational. And since you can’t have rationality without a rational mind—you can’t have it by sheer chance—there must be a rational mind behind the physical world. Your “force” must be rational.

I’d say the exact same thing about morality. If morality is simply the result of chance, what a certain species of primates needed to help them survive, then our moral claims have no objective reference point. They don’t say anything about the way things are, only about the way we (by accident of evolution) feel. …

What is very important to see, however, is that chance, sheer chemical reactions, can be no more moral than they can be rational. And since the effect cannot be greater than the cause, the “force” which lies behind the cosmos must not only be rational: It must be moral.

And now the “it” is starting to look a whole lot like a person.

The same thing can, I believe, be said of our self-awareness. We are self-aware, conscious, and this is why we are free. But can chance chemical reactions, however complex they may be, ever be free? So with love. So with meaning. …

My point, then, is that the characteristics of personhood, and the longings which arise from personhood, require that the ultimate cause and context of personhood is personal. This, at least, “is the only rational assumption to make about “the force” (67-71).

 

Related Reading

KSTP Interview with Greg & Ed Boyd about Letters from a Skeptic – 09/2000

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