For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
-- Hebrews 3:4
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
-- Shakespeare, As You Like It
According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, every house is built by a human builder or builders, and every house is also built by God. Everything that exists and everything that happens, even when it seems to be (and is, at one level) the work of human actors or blind natural forces, is also something for which we can and should thank God. In my 2018 post "Shining Buddha problems" (written before I was a Christian), I make various attempts at understanding this idea, arriving in the end at what I call the "literary approach."
In trying to come up with some way of conceptualizing such an idea, I keep coming back to the metaphor of a book, which is why I’ve dubbed this the "literary approach." Everything that happens in a work of narrative fiction can be explained on two different levels. Assuming the story makes sense, every event therein will have a cause within the world of the story and can be fully explained on that level without reference to the author -- but from a "higher" point of view, that of the larger world within which the story-world is contained, every detail of the story is without exception the work of the author.
I go on to discuss how this metaphor can be used to conceptualize the idea of a "meaningful coincidence" -- or the coincidence which at another level is no coincidence at all.
Take, for example, the storm on the heath in the third act of King Lear -- a perfect example of a meaningful coincidence. Viewed from within the story, the raging storm is a natural meteorological event caused by the mechanical unfolding of the mindless laws of physics, and the fact that it coincides so nicely with Lear’s psychological rage, and with the impending descent of Britain into political chaos, is just that: a coincidence. There is no within-story causal connection between the storm and what it mirrors -- and if there were -- if, say, Shakespeare had portrayed the gods specially arranging the storm for the purpose of providing a meteorological counterpoint to Lear’s psychological state -- that would be aesthetically objectionable . . . . But from a point of view that transcends the story itself, we can see that Shakespeare clearly arranged the coincidence on purpose and that we are therefore justified in considering it meaningful.
Even in King Lear, though, it seems that there are real coincidences -- truly meaningless coincidences, intended neither by the characters nor by the author. When Kent says, "the poor distressed Lear's i' the town; who sometime, in his better tune, remembers," only a person with a particularly strange way of thinking would notice the name Israel spelled backwards and connect it with Judges 2, where Israel is "greatly distressed" because, while they do sometimes in their better tune remember the Lord and serve him, they keep backsliding into idolatry. Surely no such message was intended either by Kent or by the Bard -- nor, if I may presume so to speculate, by God himself -- and yet there it is. There are so very many possible connections one could notice, it seems impossible that they could all be intended, all meaningful, all not-really-coincidental.
In a comment on my post "No escape from coincidence," Bruce Charlton also proposes a literary analogy, even choosing the same author as an illustration.
Since this world is being-created by God, it is coherent at a spiritual level. Some of this coherence is important for salvation or theosis, which is the purpose of creation. These are the synchronicities.
But some of the coherence is an unintended by-product of the sheer fact of coherence of creation.
An analogy might be a good Shakespeare play - which has that coherence to it which is a product of deliberate authorial intention (coming via the author's mind); but there are other coherences (or 'symbolisms') which may be discovered by the scholar - and which are unintended products of the fact that this is a play, written by one Man, and was written so that it held-together.
If we look, there are many cross-correlated aspects of a play that are secondary to the nature of the thing, the fact of its coherence as a work of art.
I don't think this quite gets us to "no coincidences." There are just so many different things that could be connected, and so many different ways of connecting them, that it just seems inevitable that connections should arise "by chance," without reflecting either intention or "the sheer fact of coherence." Of course, this is a bit of a metaphysical assumption, and it's not as if there's any control group to compare things to. I mean, the world created by God is all we know, so we can't exactly look at an incoherent world that wasn't created and see if it differs from the real world in terms of the presence or absence of coincidences.
Using the literary analogy, though, let us look at what I would consider to be a truly meaningless coincidence in a coherent literary work by a single author. Our earlier "Lear's i' the town" example will not serve, because it is a coincidence between something in the text and something outside of it. If the text represents the created world, though, all coincidences must be within the text, without reference to anything outside it. (Obviously, any apparent coincidences we can observe in this world will be between various features of this created world, not between the world and something outside of it.) No Shakespearean example comes to mind, so let's take one from the Book of Mormon instead.
Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal. . . . I know that the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken (2 Nephi 9:39-40).
It is an old Sunday-school standby among Mormons that "spiritually-minded is life eternal" (a slight modification of a phrase from Romans 8:6) forms the acronym SMILE -- and this is juxtaposed in the text with the implication that the words of truth would make the unclean frown but the righteous smile. (A biblical equivalent would be Matthew 7:7, where the first letters of the three clauses spell out ASK.) The word smile is also found in the BoM, so this counts as a proper within-"world" coincidence.
Now I am reasonably certain that this is not an intentionally created feature of the text. Obviously the Nephite authors writing in Egyptian could not have had English acronyms in mind, and while Joseph Smith could in principle have chosen this particular wording for its acronym potential, I see no evidence of that in the text. (Wouldn't he have paired it with something like "the flesh-regarding ones will never see life"?)
Here's another sentence, taken from a BBC article (qv), that coincidentally includes a series of words that form the acronym SMILE: "Although they had a tough time, none of our volunteers had to put up with the wide range of lethal microbes that killed so many in London's East End in the mid-Victorian period."
I would say that this differs from the 2 Nephi SMILE in that the coincidence does not seem in any way appropriate, intelligible, or meaningful. No one would say, "What a coincidence!" if you pointed it out. It doesn't even really count as a coincidence -- by which I mean it's not what people have in mind when they say "There are no coincidences."
Anthony Hopkins has a name that resembles ant-honey and thus suggests hymenopterid insects, and the poster for the movie he is most famous for, The Silence of the Lambs, also features an insect, though one of a different order. Note also how Mark Antony (source of the English name Anthony) fell in love with a woman whose name resembles Coleoptera, another non-hymenopterid order of insects, and was co-triumvir with Lepidus -- Lepidoptera, of course, being the very order of insects to appear on the movie poster for Silence of the Lambs! What are the odds? The movie is about someone called Buffalo Bill who skins people. Buffalo is by far the biggest city in New York that ends with the letter O, and Anthony Hopkins's first name ends with ONY. Buffalo is called the Nickel City. and both Nickel and Hob (whence Hopkins) were formerly used as names for goblins. Hob, is a diminutive in which the initial letter of the original name (Robert) changes, and one of the few other English diminutives with this property is Bill, so Hob suggests both Buffalo and Bill. After the Hob element comes kins, which is just an anagram of skin -- so "Buffalo Bill skins" is right there in his name. We might also note that only two of the characters in this movie bear the title "doctor," and that both of them are played by actors named Philip Anthony H. who go by Anthony rather than Philip: Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins, and Philip Anthony Mair Heald. Sir and Mair are also equivalent because of the similar meanings of the Latin roots (senior, "the elder," and maior, "the greater") from which they derive. I could go on and on like this, and I've never even seen the damn movie! I picked Hopkins at random and just started writing.
These are junk coincidences, pseudo-coincidences, the kind of thing you'd find in "King-Kill/33" or Finnegans Wake (Downard and Joyce, sad James and happy James). Is anyone really prepared to maintain that they are all meaningful, all not-really-coincidences, all put there by God on purpose?
Anything as complex as the universe -- or even just as complex as Finnegans Wake -- is inevitably going to include billions and billions of coincidences above and beyond those intended by its creator -- yes, even by an omnipotent and omniscient Creator. It's statistically inevitable.
But this literary analogy has led us astray. Who noticed that "Lear's i' the town" contains the name Israel spelled backwards? I did -- I, one of the readers of King Lear. But if all the world is a stage -- if the "literary work" we are considering is the universe itself -- then we are not readers or spectators but characters -- all the men and women merely players.
As someone who exists outside the world of King Lear, I can notice coincidental patterns in it that were never intended by the author -- truly coincidental patterns which must inevitably exist as a matter of statistical necessity. If a character in the play is made to notice a "coincidence" within the world of that play, though -- well that noticing was deliberately written into the script by the author, and we can therefore be absolutely certain that it is not really a coincidence at all but an intentionally designed and potentially meaningful feature of the text. If this universe was truly created by a divine Author, and all that happens in it was scripted by him -- if we poor players are not in any sense co-creators but simply follow a preordained script as we strut and fret our hour upon the stage -- then there would still be coincidences in the universe, but we characters could never notice any of them. "There are no coincidences," while technically false, would still be practically true for us. Noticing something and wondering if it was "just a coincidence," we could confidently reason, "No, nothing we notice is ever a coincidence, for we are characters in a play. Everything we notice, we notice by the grace of the author, and that means that it is not a coincidence but an intentional and meaningful feature of the play."
This is what I mean by the title of this post: "No coincidences" implies a single-author creation. It implies that everything in this universe, including everything we ourselves do and say and think, is fated, "scripted" by God. It means we have no free will but only a simulation thereof -- just as Hamlet seems to deliberate and vacillate and finally make a decision, but in fact every detail of everything he says and does is really decided by Shakespeare.
But we do have free will, and this means that coincidences -- true coincidences -- are inevitable. If I write a novel in which Bob and Alice meet by chance in a coffee shop, the meeting does not really happen by chance at all, because "Bob's decision" and "Alice's decision" are in fact made by me, the author, and I deliberately made them to coincide. In a world with real free will, though, Bob can freely choose to go to the coffee shop at a particular time, Alice can independently make a similar decision -- and these two decisions, being the work of two different free agents, would be causally unconnected in deepest possible sense and as true a coincidence as it is possible to imagine.
I think this is perhaps the metaphysical foundation of my delight in coincidences, my insistence that they are coincidences, and my resistance to the idea that "there are no coincidences." A coincidence as such may be meaningless, but in a deeper sense it is an indicator that we live in a world that has coincidences -- an open-ended world, co-created by many truly independent free agents. It is a reminder that free will is real, and as such its very meaninglessness reveals the meaningfulness of our existence.