Thursday, June 12, 2014

Definitions of Chance

The word and concept(s) of "chance" is something that often crops up in apologetical, theological and philosophical discussions. For example, discussions regarding evolution, intelligent design, predestination, free will, providence, superstition, mythology, quantum mechanics etc. Unfortunately, the word is often used imprecisely and equivocally. That's because the word "chance" can refer to different concepts and their different meanings are used interchangeably in discussions (often resulting in the fallacy of equivocation).

So, for the sake of clearer and more productive discussions, here are some rough and ready definitions.

Chance is one of those words that has different meanings in different contexts. Here are SEVEN common ways the term is used (there are probably many more).

1. Chance can refer to our ignorance due to (seemingly) random events (to finite minds). For example, we talk about how a flipped coin ends up landing heads or tails "because of" chance (or "by chance"). "Chance" here has no metaphysical existence. It's a description of or reference to our ignorance of the conditions of a certain situation. In flipping a coin we never know the exact amount of spin given to the coin, the distance to the floor, the height of flipping, how air pressure/wind/humidity (etc) affects the flipping and landing of the coin. The same goes for randomly shuffled cards. There's only a limited number of ways in which they can be arranged. Even if we can't predict which way because of limited knowledge or limited mental calculating ability. The key word is "ignorance."

2. Related to the above, "chance" can refer to randomness. For example, after randomly shuffling cards we might say that whatever card ends up being on top was a result of or "by chance".  The key words is "randomness."

3. "Chance" can refer to mathematical probabilities. For example, when we speak about the "chances" of a coin landing heads or tales being 50/50. The statistical probability does not affect the outcome even though some people might think that it does or can.

4. "Chance" sometimes refers to an interesting coincidence. For example, you can try to call someone at the same time he is attempting to call you. As a result both of you may talk about how it was "by chance" you both decided to call each other. Or how "by chance" you met each other at the dentist's office even though neither of you had planned on it. This usage is related to the concept of serendipity. Which Wikipedia defines as a '"fortuitous happenstance" or "pleasant surprise".'

5. "Chance" can refer to metaphysically contingent events (including "freak events"). That is, events that have no metaphysical and/or epistemic (rational) cause or reason. For example, if a horse were to pop into existence instantaneously without any physical or metaphysical cause. Christians reject metaphysically contingent events because of our doctrine of providence.

6. "Chance" can refer to something that actually has power to do something. "Chance" in this case is a power or entity that can determine things (sometimes called luck, fortune, destiny etc). As if it has some metaphysical existence of its own and power or force to affect events in reality. So for example, some people attribute their meeting and finding their spouse to "chance" in the same way others would refer to fate, destiny or fortune. Another example is how people talk about "Lady Luck" when it comes to gambling or a winning streak. Christians reject this superstitious notion of "chance." However, Christians do believe in providentially appointed events.

7. "Chance" can sometimes be associated with the Three Fates of mythology (cf. Moirai or Parcae).

As noted above, these different senses of the word "chance" is often mixed up, confounded and muddled in conversation. Both between different people and when a single person is speaking about a particular topic. The first four senses are compatible with Christianity, but the last three are incompatible with Christianity.

Here's an EXCELLENT book on the topic of Chance and God's Sovereignty by Vern Poythress. Amazingly it's freely available online!!!!!!!

Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (PDF) by Vern Poythress. 

Related  Blogs:

Three Kinds of Providence

Distinctions in God's Will from a Calvinist Perspective [ My Five Distinctions]

No comments:

Post a Comment