Friday, November 6, 2009

Randomness and purpose

I have started reading Paul Ewart's great article, The Necessity of Chance: randomness, Purpose and the Sovereignty of God. Before discussing the article here are a few old thoughts:

We should be cautious about deducing that a particular phenomena is “random” and therefore “meaningless” or “without purpose.” This has been discussed nicely by Leo Kadanoff in a Physics Today article with regard to the implications of chance and probability playing a role in evolutionary theory. Deterministic dynamics at one strata can lead to apparently stochastic or random dynamics at the next highest strata. Conversely, stochastic dynamics at one strata can lead to deterministic laws at the next strata. An example of the first is Brownian motion. The motion of individual molecules which interact with a larger particle (such as a dust particle) is deterministic at the atomic level but when viewed through a microscope the large particle appears to move in a random walk. An example of the second case is how the random motion of individual atoms in a gas leads to deterministic laws such as the ideal gas equation of state. Kadanoff states,
“Wherever we have looked most seriously, we have seen phenomena that can be described by simple models of lawful behaviour, endlessly repeated, without discernible purpose or goal. .... this is a cold and amoral description of reality. ....However, to apply this picture to the entire universe requires a tremendous extrapolation. Such an extrapolation can have only the strength of a metaphor. ...As a scientist, I can say that we do not have (and probably cannot have) any evidence to show that nature is just a set of laws operating without purpose or goal. But as a person, I find the metaphor congenial.”

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