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More noodling about evolution

I recently touched on the ambiguity of “random variation” as one of the basic principles of evolution. The word “random” appears to be something of a placeholder. From the point of view of any science, it seems that random events are simply events the science doesn’t try to explain that follow a normal distribution or some such so the science can state laws by reference to their probabilities. A criminologist, for example, might have theories about the incidence and causes of crime and be able to show various correlations, but he would treat many features of actual criminal activity, whether there were 4 murders last week and 5 this week or the reverse, as simply random. He wouldn’t be impressed if you told him that murder is intentional and so not random, because his science does not deal with specific intentions of particular criminals. Nor should the rest of us be impressed if a murderer says it’s unfair to hold him responsible for what a criminologist would call a very small random fluctuation in the crime statistics.

It’s not clear to me why something similar could not apply to random variation. As a general thing, the better an instrument the more user inputs will appear random as long as the user’s specific intentions are ignored. If one of the tires on my car is low, so it pulls in that direction, the direction in which I turn the steering wheel is not random but favors the opposite direction. If I pump up the tire my interventions once again appear random. If the car had an automatic accellerator that gave gas in accordance with typical patterns of usage then whether I stepped down on the accellerator or did the reverse would also appear random, assuming once again that you ignore my intentions in the situation.

The point could be extended, apparently indefinitely. So let’s suppose—to pick the strongest case—that God plans and decides and constantly brings about absolutely everything that happens in all its details, and that he made the universe as his instrument for that purpose. Assuming the universe is a perfect instrument for the purpose, it seems that from the standpoint of someone studying its mechanism God’s constant inputs—his constant turns of the steering wheel or adjustments of the accellerator—would appear to be simply random quantum fluctuations, happenstance mutations or whatever.

So once again, I fail to understand why there has to be a dispute. To all appearances, modern natural science, including any non-metaphysical version of neo-Darwinian theory, is altogether consistent with God exercising constant personal control over everything to bring about whatever purposes he might have. So far as I can tell it is also consistent with our knowing that to be the case, although by means other than modern natural science, just as we can know, by means other than the science of criminology, why Tom killed Dick and Harry. You just decline to take modern natural science as a comprehensive description of all knowable reality, which it can’t be in any case, and find other reasonable ways to make up your mind about things science doesn’t cover.

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