Games of Chance – Ch. 2 – More Straw?

This post will be relatively brief, as there isn’t much going on in Chapter 2 save Sproul doing his best to stuff as much straw into his strawman as he can before he begins tilting at the windmill of Quantum Physics. That said, there a few items in this chapter I would like to address.

Sproul’s main aim in this chapter is to imply… well, never mind, he asserts that the entire global community of scientists has abandoned logic and reason, and that it’s up to philosophers like himself to bring them around. Good thing he’s not arrogant about it or anything, eh?

He starts out by making a good, if rather obvious, point. He says that events that take place seemingly by chance seem to be so because we are ignorant of their cause. He provides the personal illustration of meeting a friend by chance at a train station. In assessing how such a thing happens, he writes:

Here the term chance describes an event that was not planned by the parties involved. However, it was not an event without cause. There were many causal factors involved that had both at that place at that time. The crucial point is that neither of us was there by the causal power of chance.

Well, he’s right, in a way, because we already know that chance is not an agency and has no causal power. This is the same strawman he’s trying to impose on the scientific viewpoint that simply is not a true representation of the scientific position.

Sadly, he actually does correctly characterize chance in this quote, but without realizing he has done so. He instead provides a conclusion unwarranted by his words. When he says an event that was not planned by the parties involved, he is actually close to the truth of it. Between him and his friend, there was no intention to meet, and yet meet they did. That is the description of chance. Chance describes events that happen in the course of nature without agency or intelligent intention.

Sproul then evokes Hume to further press the idea of “Ignorance of Real Causes.” He would have us believe that the concept of chance in modern quantum physics has somehow morphed into a causal agent, that Hume’s message has gone by the wayside.

He then brings Voltaire to the stage to drive the point home further, quoting him thus:

“What we call chance can only be the unknown cause of a known effect.”

It’s rather obvious that he evokes Hume and Voltaire in an attempt to intimate that these foremost enlightenment figures, who were also anti-religious, somehow knew something that science has willfully cast off in illogical adherence to its non-religious theories.

But that’s simply false. This falsehood really threatens to tear down the entire premise of this book.

He makes a couple more somersaults to try finish off the strawman, then he simply tells the lie again in full:

It has been said if we tell a lie often and boldly enough, people will begin to believe it. The assumption that “chance equals an unknown cause” has come to mean for many that “chance equals cause.”

Apparently that’s Sproul’s methodology, because he keeps telling this lie in hopes you’ll have bought it before he starts tearing it down.

In the foreword to Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, by David Bohm, Louis de Broglie (1929 Nobel Prize for Physics) is discussing the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (which Sproul, in his deep misunderstanding, denigrates elsewhere.) In overly simplistic terms the Principle, which applies to Particle Physics, states that the very act of measuring either the position or the velocity of a particle has an effect on the particle so that only one value can be accurately measured, as the other value will be altered by that process. This presents a range of uncertainty into such measurements.

The construction of purely probabilistic formulae that all theoreticians use today was thus completely  justified. However, the majority of them, often under the influence of preconceived ideas derived from positivist doctrine, have thought that they could go further and assert that the uncertain and incomplete character of the knowledge that experiment at present stage gives us about what really happens in microphysics is the result of a real indeterminacy of the physical states and of their evolution. Such an extrapolation does not appear to be justified. It is possible that looking into the future to a deeper level of physical reality we will be able to interpret the laws of probability and quantum physics as being the statistical results of the development of completely determined values of variables which are at present hidden from us(emphasis mine in all three instances.)

What is de Broglie saying? In short, this pioneer (one among many) in Quantum Physics recognizes that there are hidden causes at work that are ascribed to chance not because chance is a causal factor, but because we are as of yet ignorant of those causes.

So Sproul is leveling charges in offensive fashion, calling scientists liars, claiming to be the one calling science back to its foundational philosophies, all based on this intellectual falsehood. Make no mistake, this is his preconception he is foisting on others in service to his closely held beliefs. The Strawman is complete.

It’s not pretty.

And it’s about to get worse. Stay tuned.

17 thoughts on “Games of Chance – Ch. 2 – More Straw?

  1. Hmmm, nice move Anthony: You accuse Sproul of deliberately manipulating the facts – and outright lying – thereby setting up your readers to question his integrity and scholarship. In so doing you are committing the very thing you have accused Sproul of: manipulating your audience.

    Your arguments are so flimsy and uncompelling you resort to character assassination. What else does a man have if he has no integrity? Dr. Sproul is nothing of what you’ve accused him of. His moral and ethical fiber is above reproach. I am, quite frankly, very disappointed with you, that you would resort to such cheesy tactics.

    • If my arguments are flimsy, perhaps you could bring yourself to actually address a couple of them and demonstrate. As it is, I used Sproul’s own words and demonstrated the intellectual dishonesty at work.

      My friend, you’re very good at calling my writing absurd, but you don’t seem to actually counter my reasoning, which is as helpful as flinging bible verses about.

      As for Sproul, his ethical fiber might be beyond reproach, but his scholarship in this arena is shoddy at best, and his reasoning is suspect at best, clearly driven by the need to adhere to his closely held beliefs rather than following evidence wherever it should lead.

      I’m almost finished reading chapter 3 and it gets worse.

      Cheesy tactics? Using someone’s actual words and analyzing their reasoning is cheesy? I’m surprised you would be so aggressive, honestly. Again, counter an argument that I have made with actual reasoning regarding the nature of “chance” and defend Sproul’s assertions and we’ll have a conversation.

      If all you can do is insult me, I’ll have to assume you are unable to actually address the argument.

      Remember, I am spending my time on this book at your behest, because of our friendship. You should have a little more respect for my time and effort and actually take some of your own. I’ve got plenty of other projects to pursue.


  2. I’m not sure Sproul is lying. He seems to believe what he says and writes. What you are pointing out is that he is sloppy when dealing with areas outside his expertise. He speaks with unwarranted authority about science and how they view chance. Does he quote scientists using chance the way he suggests they are?

    • Agreed. I think that’s clearly the case. I don’t think he is willfully telling a falsehood, yet the assertion he makes is false. If I tell you a lie I think to be true, is it still a lie?

      That’s why I made the point that while Sproul may have the highest standard of ethics, his intellectual honesty is deeply questionable, not because he lack ethical fiber, but because his closely held beliefs prevent him from examining the topic objectively, leading to some very poor scholarship.

      None of the quotes from other scientists use chance the way he says, nor have I seen anything in peripheral reading I’m doing to keep up.

      And when I warn that chapter 3 is worse, I mean it. It is atrocious – embarrassing really.

  3. Hey there Anthony! To borrow a term from Charles: I certainly was “chippy” in my comments yesterday. So sorry. Pretty out of character for me. Yes, it’s only fair that I counter specific comments you make.

    The book finally arrived (slow boat from China I guess!). To practice what I “preach”, I’d like to read it first then dialogue with you. May take awhile (I’m “retired” but not as quick as I used to be!). No, I’m not afraid to discuss/counter points made; yes, I was out of line in my attitude. I have a feeling you’ll forgive me!

    My comments yesterday were based on what I know to be true of Sproul – he is above reproach ethically – and that would preclude lying which you SEEMED to be accusing him of (e.g. “because he keeps telling this lie in hopes you’ll have bought it before he starts tearing it down”). I also have every reason to believe he is intellectually and scholastically above reproach. However, we’re ALL wrong at some point in our opinions, research, etc. I’ll definitely leave room for that!

    And yes, you did agree to read the book at my request, based on a long-standing friendship. Thanks for taking the time. BTW: I did the Preface this morning – Yippi!! Bye for now…

  4. I think our goal is to interact not react to each others comments! The best way for me to do that is to read Sproul (without perusing your ‘take’), summarizing the thrust of each chapter, then we’ll dialogue. I’m done with the Preface and will launch into Chapter 1 tomorrow. Good day to ya Lad…

  5. Since my De-conversion, what I’ve noticed, my husband and I can look or hear the exact same thing and come to 2 opposite opinions. So I could see Sproul not deliberately trying to mislead anyone, these are how he sees things… Its his wiring in his brain. Religion is very strong and very deeply set.

  6. I’ve always needed, or had (depending on which side I was on) tangible proof in an argument. I will not debate with ignorance.BTW, I love your blog

    • Thanks. I’ve come to need tangible proof, or at least a very logical proof (see what I did there?) But for a long time, the woo won out. No more 🙂

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

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