Science and the Third Commandment

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
James Durham on the Third Commandment.......

"A lot or lotting is, The committing of the decision of some things in an immediate way to divine providence, without the intervening casualties, or influence of any second cause, to sway in that decision: so that when the thing falleth out, and is decided, there can be no reason given, why it is so in men's part, but that the Lord was pleased to dispose. As it was in that instance of lotting about the election of the twelfth apostle, in Judas his room, Acts 1. So from Prov. 16.33. it is clear that that is a lot whereof the whole disposal is of God: And therefore it is said, chap. 18.18. To cause contentions to cease, and to part betwixt the mighty; because none can quarrel, concerning that which man hath no hand in.

A lot may be many ways appointed, either by the throw of a dice, or the like; or by some other mean putting difference betwixt one and other, even as men shall appoint: as when it is by what beast they shall first see, by what saying, or by what book they first hear, or look on, &c. Only we think lots differ from omens, or superstitious observations, thus: (1.) Lots are to decide betwixt two; the other are collections, which one may make concerning himself. (2.) Lots follow on some appointment that is mutual and is free; the other may be other ways.

How Lots Concern the Third Commandment

That lots, in the use of them, concern this command, these things will make it out several ways.

1. That which putteth God to it, in an immediate way, concerneth this command, especially; I mean, whatever putteth him to declare his mind or reveal himself, that putteth him to it, and is a special implicit invocating of him: But lots or lotting putteth him to it in an immediate way; for, (1.) None other can dispose of them but he, Prov. 16.33. (2.) What is discovered by those lots is either God's mind or the devil's, or is by chance; but it cannot be any of the latter two, therefore it is the first. (3.) It is the putting him to it, more than he is by prayer; because, [1.] It is by an extraordinary way, and often added to prayer. [2.] It is for the manifesting of a secret decree; for by it we are to understand what God has appointed, and eternally decreed, concerning such an event. Hence it is, that in scripture, prayer is so often, if not always joined with it; and therefore it must in a special manner belong to this command: Yea, if God be slighted in it, he is wronged: If acknowledged, according to his interest, he is in a special manner concerned, where he wholly ordereth the thing.

2. It is either a mean, appointed by him to understand his mind or not; if appointed by him, then it is insofar in his ordinance, and his name is concerned in it; if not, then it is abused.

3. The meddling with God's secret, or with his will, or way of revealing it in his providence, must belong to this command; but this especially meddleth with all these: therefore, &c.

4. That which cannot be gone about, but the name of the Lord is either wronged or honoured in it, must necessarily belong to this command, for that is the scope of it: but none can lot without either depending on God, for the ordering of, and acknowledging of him in it, when it is done; and so honouring him, or neglecting him, and taking his name in vain, (1.) By miskenning his providence, and thinking to get that decided some other way. (2.) By irreverent going about it. (3.) By attributing it to some other thing. (4.) By not acknowledging God in it, nor submitting to it when done so. So, then, these three ways men fail, and take God's name in vain. (1.) Before the lot. (2.) In the time of it. (3.) After it is past."

He continues later on.....

"Unlawful Lotting

On the contrary, we may see how men fail here, (1.) In weighty things, by not keeping the right manner before the lot, in the time of it, and after it is past, when it endeth not strife. (2.) In trivial things, by making this too customary; so that folk use the lot almost in every thing, making that which is extraordinary to become ordinary, contrary to the nature thereof. It is an ultimate judge and decider, even as an oath is for ending all controversies: It is like unto Moses (as one saith) the great matters should be reserved to it; yea, it is greater than Moses, it is God himself, thus in his providence passing a decision: The lesser things should be otherwise decided.

LOTTING GAMES: DICE, CARDS, &c.

3. We may gather from what is said, what is to be thought of such games and pastimes as run on lottery (having that for the very foundation of them) and having an immediate dependence on providence for the issue of them.

1. That they are lottery cannot be denied, for they have all that is in lotting; there is in them a putting of things to a doubtful event as to us; and that event is either guided by God, or by some other, and which ever of the two, we say, it will be a breach of this command, so trivially for our pleasure to take the name of God in vain, as many formally do; for none can tell how such a thing will come to pass by any reason.

2. That to do so, or to use a lot in this case is a sin, may also be made out clearly, (1.) Because it is against the end of lots which is to divide or decide where there is a controversy, and so it interverteth their end, and becometh sinful; even as swearing, where no controversy is, is a sin. (2.) There is either no necessity at all to take that away, or there is but a made necessity of our own; it must therefore be a tempting of God: as suppose this to be the end of lotting to know in the upshot whether so much money should belong to you, or to me; no doubt that point of right to whom the money belongeth, may be decided as well at the entry; therefore this way of decision is in vain.

3. That lotting which hath in it no reverence to God, but baffleth his name, nor is consistent with the right manner of lotting, cannot be lawful; but this is such, for it is not only, de facto, contrary to the former rules, but in its own nature is inconsistent with them; this is clear, (1.) From the great frequency of lotting in these games. (2.) In the little dependence on God for the event that is in them; and indeed a spiritual frame of dependence on him, cannot well, if at all, consist with them. (3.) From its consistency with serious prayer: What! can or dare men pray in earnest for God's guiding in these things, in every throw of dice, or shuffling of the cards? or in faith expect still the revealing of his decree that way? or when it is done and past, can they suitably acknowledge him in it? Men dare not look so seriously on these things, yea, they know they dare not.

4. That way of lotting, which cannot but occasion the wronging of the name of the Lord, and his providence, cannot be right; but this is such: for we must say, that either God's hand is not at all in such things, and so we deny his providence; or we must say that he may be put to it by this common and course way, and that in our sport, and for our pleasure, in his immediate providence to declare his mind; which is a notable baffling (to say so) and profanation of his name; hence it is, that men so often swear, curse, fret, and exclaim in these games at cards, dice, &c. (wherein chance, luck, fortune, &c. are so much looked to, and in a manner deified) and altogether overlook and disregard the majesty of God, as if he had no providence at all in such things.

5. What is done without warrant of either scripture, precept, or practice, cannot be done in faith. Now, there can be no such warrant drawn from scripture for such plays or games, the very foundation whereof is lottery, and not only accidentally and rarely incident to them, as may be on the matter to other lawful recreations, if that can be called lottery at all, which is rather an undesigned, unexpected surprising incident of providence; whereas, in the other, the decision by a lot is designed, waited for, and all along the game referred unto, and hung upon: yea, it is unsuitable and inconsistent with the scripture-way of using lots, which is always in most grave and important things; but this way of using them is manifestly to abuse them.

6. That which hath a native tendency to make any ordinance of God vile and contemptible cannot be warrantable: Now, that lotting in these games hath such a tendency to make the ordinance of a lot, and of prayer, which should at least be joined with it, contemptible, is obvious to any serious and impartial considerer of it; neither can it in reason be thought, that that which is in so sacred a manner, and with prayer to God, to be gone about in one thing, and is by him appointed such an end as an oath is, can warrantably be used in a manner, and for ends so vastly different from the former in another thing.

7. If lots belong at all to this command, then these lotting-games are unlawful; for they cannot, with any religions reason, be supposed to be commanded in it, and therefore they must be forbidden. And if in trivial things lots may be unlawful, much more in such games which end not strife and contentions, but often and ordinarily begin them, and bring them to a height: and therefore do the ancients declaim against this as a sacrificing to devils, and invented by idolaters.

Objections Answered

If it be said here, That these things are thought but very little of by men:

Answer. It is true, and no great wonder; for most men use but to think little of the breach of this command, yet are their breaches sinful notwithstanding; as many take God's name in their mouth lightly, and think but little of it, and yet that maketh not their doing so cease to be a sin. God hath added this certification here the more peremptorily for that very end, that men may not think little or lightly of the very least breach of this command, to let pass more gross breaches of it.

If it be further objected here, Why may not such plays or games be used as well as other plays, wherein sometimes chance or fortune (as they call it) will cast the balance?

Answer. (1.) Though in those other, chance may now and then occasionally occur, yet it is but accidental; these are simply, or at least mostly guided by lotting, and immediate providences, and cannot be prevented or made to be otherwise by the best art and skill of men. (2.) In these other games there is an intervention of second causes, and an use of men's parts, natural and moral, for obtaining such an end, ultimate (in some respect) and immediate; as, for example, when men strike a ball with a club, or throw a bowl to a hole, they are guided therein rationally, as they are in coming down a stair; and they act therein, as in other things, by second causes and use of means, whether of body or mind; but in these lotting games it is not so, for all is cast and hung upon extraordinary providence, even as if a man, who cannot, would betake himself to swimming in, or walking upon the water, when another betaketh himself to a bridge or a boat."


There also may be something similar in the Westminster Larger Catechism.

"Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots...."



So now the questions, for those who hold this position. (1) Are random number generators unlawful? If not, how? As far as I know, they are used pretty much everywhere. From many computer games to deciding who plays who in a tournament or who is roomed with who in college dorms to scientific simulations and modeling to internet and computer security, forced, practical (as opposed to working with something like probability theory or applying probability theory to the real world) randomness is everywhere. (Of course, large use doesn't dictate morality.)

(2) Would it be unlawful to use "lots" in learning about probablility theory? If not, how? For example, in order to show that probability theory gives reasonable results, kids in elementary schools are sometimes given probability "experiments" in which they flip a coin many times and record the results to compare with theory.



Thoughts?
 
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TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
I don't think you've read the information you quoted carefully enough. Science tries to minimize mistakes by using numbers, not gain unfair advantage. An example would be growing two kinds of corn side by side, and one producing 100 pounds and the other 96 pounds. In that case you'd say that there is no significant difference between the two varieties yields because one uses a 5% margin of significance, in other words, there are likely to be factors of chance that have effected the outcome but those factors are so minor that we can safely ignore them. That isn't the sort of chance Durhams is warning about in the above.

Interesting post, though!
 

Leslie

Puritan Board Junior
Taking God's name in vain would necessarily imply taking God's name upon one's lips, would it not? How can one possibly violate the commandment without using God's name at all. This seems like straining at gnats.
 

Rufus

Puritan Board Junior
Taking God's name in vain would necessarily imply taking God's name upon one's lips, would it not? How can one possibly violate the commandment without using God's name at all. This seems like straining at gnats.

:ditto:
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
An example would be growing two kinds of corn side by side, and one producing 100 pounds and the other 96 pounds. In that case you'd say that there is no significant difference between the two varieties yields because one uses a 5% margin of significance, in other words, there are likely to be factors of chance that have effected the outcome but those factors are so minor that we can safely ignore them.

Just a little correction, if I may. The 5% margin of significance doesn't refer to the percentage difference between two measurements. It refers to the probability that this 4 pound difference in yield is due to chance, as opposed to the two kinds of corn being really and truly different. It is possible that a 1 pound difference could be shown to be statistically significant at the 5% level.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
TimV said:
I don't think you've read the information you quoted carefully enough. Science tries to minimize mistakes by using numbers, not gain unfair advantage.
Thank you for responding! I looked over the information again, and perhaps I need to look it over yet again, but it seems Durham is concerned with lots insofar as they involve invoking chance in trivial matters, or as he puts it, depend on an "immediate providence." For example,

"4. That way of lotting, which cannot but occasion the wronging of the name of the Lord, and his providence, cannot be right; but this is such: for we must say, that either God's hand is not at all in such things, and so we deny his providence; or we must say that he may be put to it by this common and course way, and that in our sport, and for our pleasure, in his immediate providence to declare his mind; which is a notable baffling (to say so) and profanation of his name; hence it is, that men so often swear, curse, fret, and exclaim in these games at cards, dice, &c. (wherein chance, luck, fortune, &c. are so much looked to, and in a manner deified) and altogether overlook and disregard the majesty of God, as if he had no providence at all in such things."

I do agree that Durham is not talking about the kinds of things we do in statistics, such as the example you brought up. However, I don't see the connection between the use of random number generators and mere statistical analysis, except perhaps that the random number generator in simulations is used to take into account such kinds of chance factors?

Leslie said:
Taking God's name in vain would necessarily imply taking God's name upon one's lips, would it not? How can one possibly violate the commandment without using God's name at all.
Hello, miss! The Ten Commandments are broader than the mere statements they make, so I would have to disagree that taking God's name in vain necessarily implies taking God's name upon one's lips. The Westminster Larger Catechism, following the method of Jesus and the apostles, shows how the Ten Commandments are to be understood. The main idea important in this case is that each commandment is one particular put for a larger principle of morality that the commandment speaks to. For example, the second commandment doesn't only prohibit the making and worshipping of images, but it condemns all kinds of idolatry, including worshipping God in ways He has not appointed.

Question 99: What rules are to be observed for the right understanding of the ten commandments?
"Answer: For the right understanding of the ten commandments, these rules are to be observed: That the law is perfect, and binds everyone to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof, and unto entire obedience forever; so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty, and to forbid the least degree of every sin.

That it is spiritual, and so reaches the understanding, will, affections, and all other powers of the soul; as well as words, works, and gestures.

That one and the same thing, in divers respects, is required or forbidden in several commandments.

That as, where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded: so, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and, where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included.

That: What God forbids, is at no time to be done;: What he commands, is always our duty; and yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times.

That under one sin or duty, all of the same kind are forbidden or commanded; together with all the causes, means, occasions, and appearances thereof, and provocations thereunto.

That: What is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.

That in: What is commanded to others, we are bound, according to our places and callings, to be helpful to them; and to take heed of partaking with others in: What is forbidden them."


In the case of the Third Commandent, the Larger Catechism states:

"Question 112: What is required in the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and: Whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others."

And so the LC understands the name of God in a broader sense also. Taking that together with Durham's explanation I posted (the full of which is available online), it should be understandable why someone would see an unlawful use of lots to be forbidden by the Third Commandment. I hope that helps, but I do want conversation on this thread to be focused on the portion of Durham's exposition--and similar expositions--of the Third Commandment in the OP with respect to the two questions (and similar questions) I listed in the OP. I suppose you (or another) could create another thread if one wants more clarification (and defense) from far more knowledgeable people than me!
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Do you believe the remaining disciples were in error when they drew lots to determine Judas' successor?
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Pergamum said:
Do you believe the remaining disciples were in error when they drew lots to determine Judas' successor?
Durham (and others like him in this exposition) wouldn't because he saw a lawful use of lots.

For example,

"Lawful Lotting

Yet, 3. We dare not condemn all divisory lots, if rightly gone about.

Because (1.) They are frequently made use of in the scripture, ... Acts 1."


Also, the WLC I quoted above includes a proper use of lots as part of keeping the Third Commandment.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Taking God's name in vain would necessarily imply taking God's name upon one's lips, would it not? How can one possibly violate the commandment without using God's name at all. This seems like straining at gnats.

Not according to Agur, in Proverbs 30:7-9:
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.


The argument is simple:
Lots are a religious ordinance (a lawful means of determining God's will in important cases of difficulty)
The third commandment requires the reverent use of religious ordinances
Therefore the third commandment requires the reverent use of lots - which of course rules out irreverent uses. If trivial matters (like how many spaces you advance in Parcheesi) constitute an irreverent appeal to God, then games of chance are against the third commandment.
More simply still, if casting lots is a way of calling upon God, then casting lots without that intention of appealing to God is necessarily impious.

Since I read Durham I have tried to avoid games of chance or settling matters by drawing straws, etc. But it would be nice to have more clarity on the matter, so I hope some learned people will post to this thread, specifically whether the study of probability has had any impact on our idea of what it means to appeal to an immediate providence.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
More simply still, if casting lots is a way of calling upon God, then casting lots without that intention of appealing to God is necessarily impious.

Interesting. Do you think that would make fasting for weigh loss sinful since fasting is a way of calling on God, or would that be a bad example?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
More simply still, if casting lots is a way of calling upon God, then casting lots without that intention of appealing to God is necessarily impious.

Interesting. Do you think that would make fasting for weigh loss sinful since fasting is a way of calling on God, or would that be a bad example?

The question had never occurred to me. I suspect not, because fasting is only a means of calling upon God when joined to prayer: it is an aid to prayer and repentance. Of course when lots are cast as a religious ordinance they would also be joined with prayer; but an answer is looked for through the lot, whereas fasting is an adjunct to the main activity. But I'm happy to be corrected!
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
My own brief and highly disorganized thoughts on the OP. In the case of using RNGs for modeling, computer games, and simulations, the RNG is usually used to take into account "randomness," so it appears the idea is to simulate providence because we either (a) don't know all the factors or know enough how they work in order to simulate reality well enough or (b) the factors are too complicated to be worth putting into the simulation directly. This does seem different from merely taking an immediate providence for something trivial because it is simulating providence itself. So unless the RNG's simulation was used in a way like "immediate providence" (perhaps someone using the simulation uses a particular result from the simulation in a way one uses cards in card playing), it may not actually be the same thing as appealing to an immediate providence. As for internet/computer security issues, I'm completely stumped still. Same goes for question (2) of the OP.

Some other thoughts about immediate providences. It is entirely possible (though difficult) to take an immediate providence and make it mediate. For example, some (poor) RNGs can be figured out with the use of a computer and abused (as is sometimes done in video games) to get a desired outcome. Perhaps a better example, one could roll a ball and see how far it goes to decide something or give it to a robot programmed to roll the ball in such a manner that the ball lands in a particular spot. I would also think mediate providences could be turned into immediate ones. Also, there are some things that are immediate providences relative to one person but are mediate to another. For example, someone could manipulate cards while shuffling unbeknownst to the person they deal them to.

And there also are some things that start with an immediate providence but skill takes over afterwards e.g., flipping a coin in American football.
 
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