Does real 'chance' exist?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Afterthought, Sep 14, 2011.

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  1. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    "Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently."

    If we can speak of real contingency of second causes, then does that mean chance really does exist (from the perspective of second causes)? Wouldn't it exist in the same way free will does? If chance does exist so, why the problem with saying things like "Good luck" or "You were lucky/unlucky" etc.?
  2. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    "Coincidence" and "chance" are part and parcel of contingency of second causes. "Luck" suggests a kind of randomness which goes beyond contingency and denies the personal nature of Providence.
  3. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    This is an excellent point. The same would be true with the word "Fate", would it not?
  4. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Absolutely fascinating. This whole issue is probably one of the most mind-blowing I've learned in the past two weeks, yet the wording is right there in the WCF (and somehow I had missed it before then even though one of my first posts on this board had to do with those chapters!). And the potential of thinking in that way sure is large. (Edit: The Reformed view gets the best of all views: regularity in the universe's operation, contingency and chance, free will, and purposeful, personal direction to the universe/always meaningful events despite the contingent, free, and necessary second causes--yet the reformed view harmonizes all these in such a simple way!)

    As for the words/phrases we use, I suppose I'm not surprised by "coincidence" since it is really just co-incidence, but until I had noticed this issue a couple of weeks ago, I would have been surprised by "chance," though I'm still uncomfortable saying I had "happened upon something by chance," but that's probably because I'm still learning to be precise in my word choices and don't have a precise understanding of the word "chance" (though I'd have no problem using "chance" in other contexts, such as this one here when discussing whether real chance exists from the perspective of second causes or in physics or mathematics where there are chance events or random errors/variables/events).

    Thanks for the response!
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2011
  5. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    Your tying "fate" to Matthew's trenchant observation about "luck" and its impersonal, random nature is right on the mark and ties in with posts that various ones of us made with respect to Stoicism.

  6. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Not a chance.
  7. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    I guess I'm missing it, but I don't see the word "chance" in that quote from the WCF.

    Chance is not a thing in the sense of an objective factor; chance is a term that describes mathematical probability. Now, is there anything wrong with noting the chances of something happening? No-provided that it is understood that chance must always give way to Divine Providence and God's sovereignty.

    From our perspective, there are chances and contingencies. From God's perspective, there is that which will come to pass by His decreed will. We don't see the whole picture, but thank God that He does, because He's the one who painted it!
  8. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    In ordinary language sayings like "good luck" are not used to make statements about the nature of things but rather to convey attitudes toward someone. So there is nothing wrong with using those phrases. The metaphysical idea of chance or randomness would make all creation unable to make any sense, if things were truly always changing. One problem that quantum mechanics cannot solve is that we experience a very orderly reality but that theory at least predicts that this should not be so.
  9. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable Staff Member

    I am wondering if Rev. Winzer and J. Dean are saying the same thing as relates to chance and contingency.

    In PRRD vol. 3, Muller writes (emphasis mine):

    Since it is possible for something to arise necessarily as far as the occurrence is concerned (quoad eventum), but contingently according to its manner of being produced (quoad modum productionis), future contingents can therefore be necessary according to the immutability of the decree (immutabilitatem decreti) and the infallibility of foreknowledge (infallibilitatem praescientiae), while remaining genuinely contingent in the secondary causality on which they depend proximately and immediately—which secondary causes are, by themselves, indefinite (per se indefinitae).

    The Reformed also argue that God’s natural faculty of knowing and his unconstrained knowledge of events and things comprise all knowables, given that entities cannot be multiplied without cause: there is nothing that falls outside of the realm of possible and future existents (nihil enim est, quod non sit possibile aut futurum), which is to say that the categories of the possible and the actual are exhaustive. Nor is uncertain or indeterminate knowledge ever rightly attributed to God. Inasmuch as “God eternally knows himself and all possible worlds, he therefore knows whatever is knowable” and, since he knows all possible worlds as possible worlds, namely, as systems or concatenations of things in their relation and distinction, “he therefore knows all things distinctly and nothing confusedly.”

    Is contingency a matter of perspective alone? It would seem from the above, given the exhaustiveness of the possible and the actual, that no contingencies exist within God's necessary knowledge, but, as noted by J. above, only man experiences contingency.

    In other words, from God's point of view, is it, "if AMR does this, I, God, will do that" or "AMR cannot fail to this, as I, God, have decreed this thusly"?

    Again, Muller, objecting to Gomarus and Walaeus of a scientia hypothetica:

    If David had remained the night at Keilah, he would have been betrayed
    (1 Sam. 23:9[–13]). Response: The text does not deal with an action that might, hypothetically, have occurred (de actione ex hypothesi futura), but with the plan and intention of the people of Keilah to betray David.

    In other words, the text does not point toward a hypothetical future in which David remained the night at Keilah and then claim to know that he actually would have been betrayed rather than somehow delivered from betrayal: the betrayal at Keliah is not a hypothetical future event, but no event at all and, prior to David’s decision not to remain there, a pure possibility (belonging, arguably, to the divine scientia necessaria). And, as a possibility, the betrayal of David, had he stayed the night, is nothing more or less than an unfulfilled intention in the minds of the inhabitants of the village, in fact, a false proposition of futurition, rendered false by the fact that its eventuality did not belong to the ultimate will or providence of God.There is nothing prior to the decree but pure possibility: God’s decree establishes the order of things—it does not proceed from foreknowledge of the order.

  10. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    The WCF speaks of second causes that have the nature of contingency (both here and elsewhere) i.e., they fall out contingently. From what I understand, contingent events are events that could have happened another way, as opposed to necessary events, which could not happen any other way. When we speak of chance, we certainly do speak of mathematical probability in some cases. However, in other cases, we say things like "This happened by chance," which not only means we could not have known it was going to happen the way it did but also that it could have happened another way.

    Even in mathematical probabilities, we say, "This had a 70% chance of occuring," which means that there's a 30% chance of it not occuring, so again an event that could happen another way and so is contingent; the math only gives us an idea of how likely the event may occur but even with 99% chance of occuring, it could still occur another way. Thus, so far as I can see, chance is indeed "part and parcel of contingency of second causes," and so real chance is implied by the WCF. Since we also speak of free causes and so say the human will really is free, it would appear that we would have to acknowledge chance and random events--in the sense of contingency--to be quite real--from the perspective of second causes anyway. That's what I was getting at, anyway, when I was asking if real 'chance' existed (I do agree with your post!). I could be wrong in the way I use the word "chance," but there appears to be a philosophical difficulty with saying what exactly it is anyway....

    Well, I disagree lol. But anyway...anyone who knows their stuff correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly certain that quantum mechanics (in one interpretation of it, anyway)--though it admits there is real chance (in the sense of, even if we knew all the variables, we still could not predict some things)--yet the chance operates within boundaries; there are laws that bind the randomness. For example, in radioactive decay, some particles are emitted. In some kinds of radioactive decay, only certain kinds of particles can be emitted, but which ones are emitted and when is up to chance. Or virtual particles for another example. Though they randomly pop into existence, yet their energy determines how long they are allowed to last before they vanish. So we have chance operating within laws, and so it doesn't seem QM predicts an unorderly reality at our particular point of time in cosmic history [neither does Charles Peirce's, for that matter].

    I'm thinking the same thing.

    I'm not sure whether we can say contingency is a matter of perspective alone because then free will is a matter of perspective alone rather than a property of something God created, but I'm not sure what way to categorize them otherwise because I do agree with your post. Perhaps we say that contingent events really are contingent as second causes but God is in control of contingency and having decreed some events to fall out by it, He knows them as certain; therefore they are not contingent to God....but that does seem to say that contingency is a matter of perspective! Thanks for the Muller quotes!
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2011
  11. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't believe "luck" has to do with contingency. It is a concept describing what happens to a person, impinges on the realm of Providence, and gives credence to the unbiblical idea that there are random events in this world.

    "Fate" is as impersonal as "Fortune." Like two rings placed at the top of a circle, they fall on opposite sides but finally end up side by side each other at the bottom of the circle.

    Time and "chance" happen to all. Chance is an essential part of contingency. It is not merely a matter of perspective. The contingency is tied to the secondary cause (so it is a matter of objective perspective), but it is God who has decreed the contingent (so it is not mere subjective perspective). This is not a matter of "possible worlds," but of the real world which God has decreed. There is no place for counterfactuals in this scheme but there is certainly a place for alternative choice.
  12. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Can you define exactly what you mean by "chance" and "contingency" here? I've generally assumed that contingency meant "could have been otherwise." That is for any given value of X, if X is contingent, then God could have created the world such that X does not come to pass or X is untrue.
  13. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Chance, casually, without the necessary connection of cause and effect. To refer to the passage in Ecclesiastes, being swift does not necessarily result in winning the race.

    Contingency, something which could be avoided and has the possibility of not coming to pass.
  14. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    So chance refers to effects with no cause?
  15. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Chance refers to effects which are the result of other causes. It happens to the person in view of the fact that there is a great diversity of secondary causes.
  16. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Fascinating discussion.
  17. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Ok, so we're not violating causality here (you had me worried for a second there). Instead "chance" is a placeholder for "I don't know." Or (when dealing with probability) "here are the statistics given what has happened in similar circumstances." Chance holds subjectively for finite creatures who are not omniscient.

    I'm just trying to avoid us using chnace in the sense of "something so contingent that even God could not know it."
  18. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    If chance means "I don't know" for humans, then for it to be real chance there cannot be a necessary causal chain that we could hypothetically know. Instead, the real 'chance' we are speaking about is limited to second causes. They are effects of causes that we could never even hypothetically know, because we see chance events from the perspective of second causes. However, for God, it is not really chance because He knows the causes that led to those effects.

    So for God, human free will is not really free will either because He knows the causes that led to the human decision? Am I understanding you rightly, Rev. Winzer? Or are you thinking more along the line of that such causes, by their nature, do not necessarily produce their effect, yet because God decreed that they would, they do produce that effect, and because He decreed and it brings it about, He knows the causes that led to that effect; while from the perspective of second causes, such causes do not necessarily lead to their effect, nor could we know those causes anyway? (Would you agree that there can be random events in the Universe in the sense that we could not possibly predict their happening even if we knew all the possible causes, though such events were decreed and well-known and brought about by God?)

    (Edit: I suppose the key here is that the chance events do not necessarily follow from their causes. So even if we knew the causes, we would not necessarily know the effect.)
  19. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I would say (more likely) that it's not humanly possible to know all the causes because of our finitude.
  20. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    There is definitely genuine human free-will and contingency, even from God's perspective, because He decreed it. He not only decreed the events that come to pass, but the alternative choices which would come under a person's consideration. Thoughts are as real as events, and all are exhaustively decreed. Nothing comes about simply because it is decreed, but by a process of secondary causation which is both complex and diverse. Adding to the complexity is this phenomenon of human willing which is "creative" by design. God has given earth to the sons of men. What men do with the earth is a genuine "development" of the earth's potencies and energies. This is a unique secondary causation which cannot be accounted for by mere analogy with other mechanisms in the created order.

    There is definitely nothing random in God's universe, not even from the human perspective, because we are always taught to think in terms of God ruling over all things. Chance is not random; it is casual. It happens to us as a result of other causes and forces which we do not control. But those causes and forces are governed by God, and therefore their actions are never random.

    This is a complex subject; it is good to think it through in the calm atmosphere that is being displayed in this thread.
  21. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I want to be careful here for a couple reasons:

    1) we don't want indeterminacy, which would be randomness

    2) I'd rather get away from the word chance because the way it is used, it connotes randomness

    3) We also want to avoid the Deistic "whatever is, is right" mentality
  22. NB3K

    NB3K Puritan Board Sophomore

    If there were such a thing as "chance" then there would not be an Omnipotent Sovereign God that declares:

    Pro 16:4 The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

    Pro 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

    Pro 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

    Job 21:30 "For the wicked is reserved for the day of calamity; They will be led forth at the day of fury.

    Isa 55:10 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
    Isa 55:11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

    Isa 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';

    Dan 4:34 "But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
    Dan 4:35 "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?'

    Rom 11:36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

    Eph 1:11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,

    Col 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him.
    Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
    Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

    These are just a few of a great many passages of Scripture that should erase from our mind the utter thought that some how things simply happen by "chance" and not by the secret power and will of God.
  23. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable Staff Member

    :bueller:Perhaps it is getting lost in the careful use of words in the discussion, or I am a poor reader, but I am having trouble discerning a direct answer to my question.

    Brother Winzer writes, in part:
    What exactly is "genuine human free-will" implied here? The liberty of spontaneity (choosing according to one's greatest inclinations at the moment of so choosing) or the liberty of indifference (the ability to choose contrary to one's inclinations, that is, so-called libertarian free will)?

    Am I correct in assuming, according to Rev. Winzer, that contingency exists from God's perspective, hence, "If AMR does this, I, God, will do that"? This view appears counter to the If David had remained the night at Keilah, he would have been betrayed objection Muller answers contrariwise cited above.

  24. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    God does not have conditional decrees, but He decrees conditions. WCF 3.2. The alternative of the text is a conditional state of affairs in David's choice making. The whole complexity of the situation in its various relations and conditions was decreed by God. Does that help?
  25. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Of course there are some laws. The idea though is that I can be sitting there drinking a cup of coffe and then for no other reason than quantum flunctuations my coffee floats out the side of my cup and hangs there for a moment and than goes back. According to the laws of QM not only could this happen but it should happen as well. But it doesn't and that is their problem. Quantum fluctuations are used to "explain" how something can come from nothing because they "observe" particles appearing and disappearing randomly. The more likely explanation is that we only think we are looking at nothing but really our observation limited.
  26. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Perhaps stated thus: When David chooses this COA over that, I will do such. All elements have been decreed in advance by God: both the free-choice of David, as well as the conditional (expressed above as "when" rather than "if"). God has foreordained to re-act, not according to an indeterminate priority with the creature, "what will David do?" (if a then b, or if x then y, as if contingency itself subjected the divine will), but he has foreordained a response for himself nonetheless.

    I don't want to presume too much for Rev.Winzer, but let him speak.
  27. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable Staff Member

    Yes,this does help, Rev. Winzer.


    ---------- Post added at 09:59 AM ---------- Previous post was at 09:56 AM ----------

    I admit the error of using "if" over the more correct "when", Rev. Buchanan. Thanks for the correction!

  28. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Thankyou, Rev. Buchanan, for this contribution. The "if/when" distinction is very helpful for distinguishing a counterfactual from a real condition. Good grammar comes to the rescue again!
  29. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    So let's see if I got this right. Chance is casual. It always has a cause [well, actually a complex chain of causes], but we humans could never know the cause because we are finite. However, such causes for chance events do not appear to necessarily bring about their effect. Thus, if we humans knew all the causes, we would know the effect, but because all the causes that we can know isn't enough to know all causes, chance to us appears to have causes that do not necessarily bring about their effects. Randomness...I suppose you're using it in the sense of "purposeless chance that even God is not in control of" (in math, we say an event is random if there is an equally likely chance of it occuring as any other related event, e.g., pulling a card from a deck is random if the chances were the same for pulling out any other card)? If so, it is understandable why there is no randomness in the universe. However, even with chance events, because God is in control over all the causes and because we are taught that God governs over them, we are not to think of them as purposeless events (i.e., random events) even though they are events that could have happened otherwise.

    Because God decreed that some effects would fall out in such a way that they would not necessarily fall out from their causes (from a human perspective), we can say there is real chance in the universe, provided we qualify that God controls it, decrees it, and knows it and that such events are casual, which if we knew all the causes like God did (though we never could), we would be able to predict the effects. The same goes for our free will. We really have it because God decreed it, but it too has causes for its choices, which if we knew all the causes we could predict the choice, though only God does know and controls those causes.

    So the answer to my OP question is: Yes, real chance exists, but only in a qualified sense. To humans and to second causes, chance exists. Chance exists from God's perspective because He decreed it that way. However, we are not to think of chance as purposeless because it is casual and God is the one who decreed it.

    Well, I'll just have to take your word for it for right now. It's a fascinating idea I'll have to keep in mind when I study QM this coming semester and for whenever I learn about Bell's inequalities and all that stuff that shows QM to have real chance, in the sense of that if we knew all the causes we could not predict the effect. I'm not sure, given what this thread has said, whether QM fits from a reformed theological perspective, but your idea would indeed make it fit.
  30. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The sum is -- Chance happens; it just doesn't happen by chance. :)
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