This may end up being one of my more provocative entries, but the winter holidays have afforded me an entire week without work, so I figure now is as good a time as any to delve into some of the more serious subjects.

Let’s start by throwing a die. At the time the die leaves your hand, there is no way to predict what number will show when the die comes to rest. This simple action is the backbone for many games of chance and gambling outlets bank on the inability of their patrons to reliably predict the result a thrown die. Colloquially, we may refer to this action as random, because there is no way for us to predict the outcome – however I would argue that this action is merely unpredictable and not in fact random.

I suppose now we’re getting into semantics.

What is the difference between random and unpredictable? Referencing the Dictionary and the Encyclopedia (as I’ve done for this entry), you may find some inconsistency. However, in my mind the definition is as follows:

Unpredictable: An event, of which the information available on the contributing variables is not sufficient to accurately define the outcome. (Think rolling the die – the contributing variables are: the height from which the die is rolled, the velocity of the roll, the weight of the die, the angle of release, etc…)

Random: An event that has no contributing variables and thus whose outcome is impossible to predict.

With these definitions in mind, I will restate my thesis: there is no such thing as random. That is to say, there are no events that have no determining variables.

Here’s where things start to get sticky. Let me be clear – I am not making an argument for determinism (the theory that fate exists), and I’m not saying there is no free will. All I am saying is that there is no proof that random events exist.

Now, let’s cut to the chase.

As I see it, there are currently two popular theories of how humans came to be. Theory one, which is the popularly held scientific theory, is that a very long series random mutations coupled with natural selection has defined our traits as we see them today. Theory two, which is also very popular, is that there are higher powers and/or divine beings that have influenced the way people have developed. Regardless of the theory to which you personally prescribe – I think everyone would agree that these theories are decidedly distinct. If you were to have a debate between advocates of each of these theories, it would likely be a very heated debate that would last for a long time. In fact, at first it may appear that these viewpoints are opposite and maybe even irreconcilable.

However, given my assertion in the first portion of this entry, I would argue that people who believe in evolution (random mutation) and people who believe in God, actually have a lot more in common than they might have thought:

At the core, they both believe in something that they cannot prove.

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  • ian

    you are in fact asserting determinism, however determinism is not the same as fate.

  • ian

    also, biological mutations, in this context, would simply not be considered random. they, too, are deterministic. therefore, i don’t think your final conclusion holds true about evolution being unprovable.

  • Dadio

    Welcome to the party, Ian. I like this one, Drew! Please pardon the randomness of my thoughts which you have provoked.

    Randomness is similar to if not the same as entropy. The later being the most ubiquitous (sp?) force in the Universe.

    I see the subject of this post as being faith vs logic. Evolution and Creationism need to learn to recognize each other just as Science and Religion need to recognize each other’s validity.

    Right brain, left brain or good and evil, choose your poison. One can waste a lot of energy trying to convince others of a favorite point of view or choose to recognize the possibilty of multiple answers to such heavy questions as this. There exists a balance in the Universe whether we see it or not.

    Very nicely presented, Drew! So, I believe that the title of this post should be: Everything is Random (to some degree). But I like your title better.

    One final thought, regardless of how humans came into being, the real question is why and what are you going to do? Don’t get me started!

  • eh.

    Note that you’re assuming non-randomness at a specific level of reality, and further assuming that such non-randomness propagates to other levels of reality (e.g. at the quantum level).

    The jury is out on that one. Some evidence suggests that randomness is part of the nature of existence, at the most fundamental (energy/quantum) level; as such, while there may be a degree of predictability at “higher” or “Newtonian” levels of reality, it’s by no means guaranteed.

    Also note that, from a practical standpoint, there is no real difference. You can always posit perspectives from which all possible information is available.

  • Andrew

    Great points guys. Michael, I especially like your point about the quantum vs neutonion level – I didn’t think of that when I was writing. Great perspective.

  • Mephistophiles

    I agree, there is no such thing a random. Every outcome has contributing variables, regardless of whether they are measurable or not. When a religionist doesn’t understand something he calls it God; when a scientist doesnt understand something, he calls it random.

    I would, however, disagree with your assertion that you are not arguing for determinism or that there is no free will, because, by extension, you are. Free will – assuming it existed – would have to be random and it fits nicely with the dictionary definition. Free will is an illusion – the theological argument for it is absurd, and any scientific argument for it is weak.

  • Thanks for commenting! I like where you’re going, but I haven’t quite got my opinions together about free will yet. I feel like it’s a very sticky subject becuase I really don’t like the idea that I have no control over my actions.

    When I was reseraching this post I found some documents on Compatabilism, which I thought you might enjoy:

  • Ajish

    Randomness, uncertainty, provability, and plausibility are three distinct ideas.

    In terms of evolutionary theory, the events of molecular history are indeed obfuscated, but there are certain interesting insights we can draw from modern genetics and even embryology.

    For a discussion point, I offer:
    1) Modern images of human embryological development, and
    2) Haeckel’s theories on ontology recapitulating phylogeny.

    The links follow in their respective order.


  • Terry

    There is no such thing as random. Random is, as religion, the utterance of the ignorant. The idea of randomness is man’s vanity and arrogance blinding them to their own lack of knowledge and understanding of all the variables involved and their relationships. Whether man possesses the intellectual capacity to truly understand the universe is up for debate, but I poopoo “random.”

  • Thanks Terry – I agree.

  • Nabbler

    I agree with most of what you say here, with the exception of your pronouncement of ignorance on the part of the religious. While I cannot speak for anyone but myself, I can say that, as a religious person, I can propound a belief in God while being fully aware I cannot prove it to anyone else, nor do I know everything about reality / existence or all that is around us and how it works. That is where faith comes in. To the extent I can claim awareness of other religious traditions as well as my own, they all seem to have faith as a central tenet. Thus, I can claim belief while also acknowledging I don’t have proof. That is how I reconcile it without being ignorant. “Faith” or belief is something with which a humanist evolutionist must grapple on some level, as Andrew states.

  • Nabbler

    I may have misstated what Andrew says about evolutionists. He may or may not have implied or inferred faith but he did not expressly state this. Just that both religious and evolution believers cannot prove their respective points of view as fact. My point is that faith is the means by which I can reconcile not knowing or being able to prove my belief; thus, I am not being ignorant, any more than an evolutionist might be ignorant in compiling what data he can, in good faith, to propound his theory.