Crosstown Traffic: An Analogy

Suppose we were to look down on Manhattan from outer space. With a good telescope, we may be able to make out streams of cars zipping back and forth along the avenues. If we look closely, we can see that indeed the cars are discrete objects. If we study their motion carefully enough, we will recognize that the cars obey certain laws, namely the laws of traffic, according to which they stop at red lights and stop signs and wait for each other at intersections, or swerve to get out of each other’s way.

However, to a significant extent their motion will appear random to us. For example, it would be impossible for us to predict when a car would make a right turn or park. It would be even harder for us to understand why they do those things. The best we could do in terms of coming up with a scientific theory describing their behavior is formulate the traffic laws that govern them: Cars stop at red lights for such a period of time. Cars can turn right without waiting for the light to change. Cars can not turn left without waiting for the light to change. Cars cannot change direction unless at an intersection, and so on.

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This behavior, when looked at from the point of view of monotheistic religion, would be explained as follows: A creator has created these moving objects as well as the laws that govern these objects, to carry out certain predetermined divine purposes.

From the perspective of materialistic science, the following argument would be made: These objects are obeying certain fixed laws collectively, which can be tested experimentally. However, individually they carry out random actions, such as turning at intersections and parking, that can best be described by probabilities. These actions were not designed by a creator for a particular purpose but occur purely by chance.

A third perspective would be the following: The objects collectively obey certain laws that have evolved over time, but individually the objects are driven by the motivations of their drivers, dictated by the drivers’ own goals and will to survive, that determine which way they will go and when and where they will park. There is an intelligent driver making decisions in each of those cars.

This may seem absurd from the religious and materialistic point of view, because what ‘will’ could such tiny objects carry out and besides there are no telescopes powerful enough to see the drivers, now or in the foreseeable future. So this third perspective would be ridiculed, as it would be now regarding the ‘will’ of electrons to move about in solids and electronic circuits according to the laws of physics.

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