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Randomness is Not a Scientific Explanation

We can never know if anything is truly random

It is common in the sciences to claim aspects of our universe are random:

  1. In evolution, mutations are random.
  2. In quantum physics, the wave collapse is random.
  3. In biology, much of the genome is random.
  4. In business theory, organizational ecologists state new ideas are random.

There is a general idea that everything new has its origins in randomness. This is because within our current philosophy of science, the two fundamental causes in our universe boil down to randomness and necessity. Since necessity never creates anything new, then by process of elimination the source of newness must be randomness. Similar to how the ancient Greeks believed the universe originated from chaos.

Here’s the irony of the view that whatever is unique in our universe is random: We can never know if anything is truly random. This is because randomness is unprovable, which was proven by three different computer scientists: Ray Solomonoff, Andrey Kolmogorov, and Gregory Chaitin. The only thing we can know is that something is not random. Hence, we can never know that something originated from randomness.

What does this result mean for science? It means that randomness can never be a scientific explanation, since we can never know that something is random. At best, saying something is random is shorthand for “we don’t know.” So, when scientists state the origin of something in our universe is random, they do not know the origin.

You may also wish to read: Computers are getting faster, but are they getting smarter? No. Computers are Turing machines, limited to operations that can be completely understood in relation to their programming. The Lovelace Test helps us understand the fundamental limits of computing as a method of thinking: It does not create new ideas. (Eric Holloway)


Eric Holloway

Senior Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Eric Holloway is a Senior Fellow with the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence, and holds a PhD in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Baylor University. A Captain in the United States Air Force, he served in the US and Afghanistan. He is the co-editor of Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies.

Randomness is Not a Scientific Explanation