A Platonic Dialogue

“Socrates, I have heard men say that God was able to bring mankind purposefully into being without taking any action to make it so. I would very much like to hear your opinion.”
“That is an interesting question, Cephalus. If I were to tell you that I wished to acquire exactly two billion pounds would you consider it a rational purpose?”
“I should be surprised to hear such an unphilosophical desire from your lips, Socrates. But I suppose the purpose itself to be perfectly rational, though hard to fulfil.”
“Well then, suppose I told you I intended to fulfil my desire by purchasing a National Lottery ticket from the sweet shop on the corner?”
“Then I should consider you had taken leave of your senses, for in the first instance, the lottery has never paid out more than a few million pounds; and in the second even if it were capable of generating such a large sum, it would scarcely be likely to pay you exactly the amount of your wish. I leave aside as trivial the small matter that you would be unlikely to win at all.”
“Ah, Cephalus – You know me to be a mere man, and one proven not to be lucky in matters of wealth. But supposing God were to purchase the lottery ticket?”
“Why, Socrates – now you’re talking like a fool. He would have no greater likelihood of winning two billion pounds than you yourself. Unless, of course, he were to bring about the outcome by his divine power – but we have already stipulated in the original question that he would not bring about his purpose by his own action.”
“I agree. Then we have established that even God must use means commensurate with his purposes. If he subjects himself to the vagaries of chance, he must expect to fail in his purposes just as often as men do.”
“Surely. And few men are more likely to fail than those who expect to win two billion pounds with one National Lottery Ticket. I would call such a gambler a fool, unless his pleasure lay merely in gambling, rather than in gain.”
“I would call such a gambler a fool anyway, as you perceived when I first asked you the question. A wise man is one who matches his purpose to his means of attaining it. We judge a man’s wisdom on precisely this: a wise businessman judges which transactions will prosper and which merchants to trust. A wise ruler knows which allies will stay loyal and which battles he will win. A wise parent knows how to discipline his children so they will not become disgraceful, but happy. That is the very essence of wisdom. And God himself is the source of all wisdom.”
“Truly said, Socrates. But I have thought of a possible response. Suppose you had proposed to me not the desire for two billion pounds, but merely for a lot of money. Had you not specified such a high and exact sum, your ticket might still have made you a sizeable fortune.”
“To which, Cephalus, I would still reply that there are more certain and rational ways of making money. But you forget that the original issue had to do with God’s purposing the existence of mankind. That is an exact aim, not merely that some monster might appear, albeit with a semblance of reason or beauty. It is well said that a man who aims an arrow at nothing is bound to hit it – but it is in the nature of God to desire only the greatest good, and so to find the best means to it also.”
“I had momentarily forgotten the point of our quest – you are of course right, as ever. But as you spoke, I was thinking of how God might achieve a win with his lottery ticket. After all, the man who creates a lottery has a great deal of influence over the outcome, and God is the Creator of all things. Suppose that he himself set up the lottery: he could at least specify in the rules a single prize of two billion pounds; he could even, I suppose, adjust whatever laws there may be that oversee chance. In that way without interfering with the outcome he could ensure that, even if he wasn’t certain to win, he would be very likely to.”
“So he could. But in that case, we would see immediately that he had from the very start taken effective action to bring about his purpose. What seemed to us to be a lottery was, in fact, planned. In Athens, we should consider the result a put-up job, but one can hardly accuse God of cheating when he made the world, the lottery – and indeed the two billion pounds prize money. And of course, regarding our original proposition – that God purposed man – it was your foolish friends, and not God himself, who were disposed to make him achieve his aim without his own action. And now it seems to me there is a more important question – where shall we eat lunch? I could murder a pint. Let us continue our discourse at the pub.”
“I will certainly join you in refreshment, Socrates. My slave says the Rose and Crown does an excellent cod and chips. But as for our discourse – well perhaps I will simply tell my friends not to spout such damn fool nonsense in future.”

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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12 Responses to A Platonic Dialogue

  1. Gregory says:

    “supposing God were to purchase the lottery ticket” – Socrates

    Thanks Jon. That’s one of the best definitions of ‘Intelligent Design’ (i.e. Big-ID) theory I’ve yet read. = )

    “What seemed to us to be a lottery was, in fact, planned.” – Socrates

    Yeah, that’s the common view among those of us who reject ‘Intelligent Design’ theory. One doesn’t need to be labelled a TE or EC to reject ID theory. One just needs to be logical, rational, emotional, intuitive, i.e. a human being.

    “God purposed man” – Socrates

    Have you any ‘natural scientific’ evidence for this? No. So please stop using ‘Intelligent Design’ theory language in your posts because ‘they’ (gringo IDists) think they have such evidence. Probably. Maybe.

    “I could murder a pint” – Jon G.

    Let us make that appointment in 2013 or 2014!

  2. penman says:

    A brilliant mimicry of Plato. Well done. Could almost be authentic. Only the cod & chips gives it away.

    I wonder if Gregory’s point is that one can accept robust notions of providence (hence humanity is no accident but the intended culmination of God’s eternal purpose) without necessarily being able to demonstrate this from “natural scientific evidence”? Certainly a Christian should believe in providence & a “purposed” humanity on biblical/theological grounds (special revelation) even if there were no scientific evidence for it.

    But primarily, there is evidence that Jon should pursue a new career as a stand-up Platonist comic…!

  3. Jon Garvey says:

    Ah Gregory, thank not me but the Father of Philosophy – whose meaning is oft shrouded in mystery and who now owes me a round and some pork scratchings.

    The “planned lottery” is, I judge , the commonest position of those millions who believe in God and also accept evolution. The dissenters are either those who reject the lottery or those who reject the plan. And it seems to me that the dissenters on both sides are those who currently most consider themselves leaders of opinion.

    As for scientific evidence – I forgot to mention that Socrates did buy a lottery ticket on the way to the Rose and Crown, and you’ll never believe what happened…

  4. Jon Garvey says:


    Did you hear the one about the Philosopher, the Tyrant and the completely unjust man?

    It’s the matter of scientific evidence that most concerns Gregory, I think. Where we differ is that I don’t accept a clear delineation of “science” and that I see that “evidence” is actually always an extremely elastic human concept, even to scientists.

    “Fine tuning”, for example, could be seen as evidence, inference or just a discourse, depending mainly on whether one believes in it.

  5. Cal says:

    By the Dog, Jon! How can you write about Socrates without the Forms and a reference to Homer, Pindar or an obscure Greek poet??

  6. GD says:


    I prophecy that a day is coming when my mate Plato (and yes, Socrates and Aristo) will have it out with Englishmen such as yourself (and others I will not mention who show such disrespect to the origin of all knowledge). How dare you suggest that we will frequent an (English) house of ill repute that does not serve suvlaki!! Let me warn you again of that terrible day when you will need to learn to drink ouzo!!!!

    • Jon Garvey says:


      Glad you could join the party. The Rose and Crown “specials” board indeed has suvlaki, I see …

      Your post reminded me of a happy afternoon spent whilst eating fresh-caught and grilled sardines. Unfortunately it also reminds me of a school cruise in my youth, when sundry of my school-fellows had to be carried back to the ship at Athens and spent the night aquainting the rest of us with the smell of the stuff.

  7. GD says:


    I am also reminded of the time I became acquainted with the local ‘tavern’ in England. Initially I could not get used to the pint of warm ale – after a couple of years, I learnt the art of ale and chasers so well that one night it took my friend some time to ‘settle’ me down after a very (overly) friendly night of it. I am convinced however that the English are civilised after all (it took Greek culture a few thousand years but it was worth the effort!?)

  8. Jon Garvey says:

    Well, there seems no dissent here from Socrates argument that (a) God has purposes, (b) He institutes causes sufficient to achieve them effectively and (c) Those causes may in principle be investigated as to their sufficiency, assuming one can arrive at God’s purposes.

    For example: God desires man to be, as man rather than anything else, as per Caphalus’s question. If the processes we find leading to man appear to be arbitrary and uncertain, then we are just insufficiently aware of the true pattern behind the arbitariness and uncertainty.

    That is ignorance, not “mystery” or “paradox”, yes?

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