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It is a fundamental tenet of materialism that creation happened by chance. For, there can be no intentionality which inheres in mere matter. It is my contention that this is a fundamentally incoherent statement, as it goes against the very definition of something which happens by “chance.”
In order to treat this question, first, I will investigate the nature and necessary preconditions of a “chance event.” Then, I will bring this definition to bear on the Atheistic proposition that creation was by chance, proving the incoherence via a conflict between the definition and preconditions of a “chance event” and the nature of “chance creation.”
First, the definition of a “chance” event. “Chance” is defined by Lagrange as the cause of “something that happens as if it had been willed.” This cause is a certain type of cause called an “accidental cause.” An accidental cause is a cause improperly so called. It does not fit into the general four-fold classification of causes. An accidental cause is that which frames proper causality.
St. John Henry Newman uses the example of those who reject the faith. Those who reject the faith, in receiving the Catholic faith from a preacher, “redirect” the causality of the message to their damnation. This may be “caused” by many remote and accidental features, such as, what they ate for breakfast, their national background, their upbringing, their social status, etc., which can be called “causes” after an accidental sense. Another example is given by Mercier in his Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, where he uses the example of “nourishment taken by the body which naturally is beneficial but for a weak stomach may be an ‘accidental’ cause of indigestion.”
Yet, since chance is a merely accidental cause, there is necessarily presupposed the proper set of causes that produce the effect proximately and not remotely as accidental causes do. The example Lagrange gives is that of a gravedigger who finds treasure by chance. In this, there are still two proper sets of causes which coalesce in the finding of the treasure, first, that which caused the treasure, and, second, the causality which caused the gravedigger to dig for graves. Chance is the “mixing in” of an accidental cause, with two proper causes.
Now, bringing us back to the question at hand, “Can the creation of the world be by chance?” Clearly, the answer is no. For, as has been shown above, “chance” is an accidental cause which necessarily presupposes other causes to which it coordinates. Therefore, there must be pre-existing causes of the universe prior to any “chance.” The appeal to chance is utterly meaningless and incoherent.