Not a ChanceR.C. Sproul has a gift for dealing with complex intellectual issues with clarity and good humor. This skill was clearly on display with the first release of By R. C. Sproul Not a Chance: God, Science, and the Revolt against Reasonin 1994. In that original work, Sproul attacked the error that seemingly arises from the language of chance within the field of scientific enquiry; namely, the propensity to use what is really a useful mathematical description (chance) and ascribes to it the ability to cause things. As Sproul rightly pointed out in that original work, this very reckless use of  language can lead to all sorts of rational mistakes, and can even effectively undercut science.

Sproul examines this error in various facets of modern science, including within quantum mechanics. In every case, while he does not deny that chance can be a useful method of creating helpful, predictive models, he clearly and cogently opposes the assumption that chance is a causal force in the real world outside of the models. What he is opposing is the use of a description as a causative explanation, especially since this explanation undercuts the basic assumption of science: that the universe we observe is rationally understandable.

With the years that have passed since its original publication, the difficulties that he addressed have not gone away, and instead have been compounded. For that reason, Sproul has commissioned this expanded edition with an extra chapter and a book review by Keith Mathison, a professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Florida.

Mathison’s chapters deal with the very similar error common among several popular level physics books of the last decade to ascribe causative ability, not to chance, but to “nothing”.  As is rightly pointed out in these chapters, in order to do this, the writers have been playing loosely with the word “nothing”; using it as a thing instead of treating the word as a simple negation of existence. The results are cringe-worthy as we see people imagining that “because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing”[1]. As the author points out, neither gravity nor universes are “nothing” and therefore cannot be said to be the results of nothing if they are the causes.

Overall, as with the original work, this is a clear popular level introduction to several specific issues within present scientific discussions, and a useful read for Christians who face apologetic conversations about the existence of God as a first cause. The book may be somewhat difficult reading as the concepts being addressed are fairly nuanced, but a diligent reader will be well rewarded with an increased understanding of some very important issues in science and apologetics.

 

[1] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam 2010), 180, as quoted in Not a Chance, p. 212

This review was written by Stephen Dawe. For more information on Stephen, please visit our contributors page.
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