Friday, August 15, 2008

God does play dice!

The other night, while playing Trivial Pursuit with Cori’s family, God – yes, the God of the universe – moved the dice we were playing with. How do I know this? Well, at one point in the game we were amazed when we threw the dice six times, and got six every time!

Was it by intelligent design that the six was thrown six times in a row? Did some mysterious, intelligent force tweak the roll of the dice? Yes, I’m sure it did. After all, the chances of throwing any number six times in a row, if my calculations are correct, is 1 in 46 656. Wow, what a large number! The odds of this happening by pure chance is pretty slim, and we didn’t even throw the dice a dozen times before this occurred. So it must have been by divine design, and not by pure chance, that this happened!
Not only did God move my dice, but he also created the universe. Hugh Ross, an old earth creationist, in his book, The Creator and the Cosmos, lists 26 characteristics of the universe, as well as 40 characteristics of the solar system, that seem to be ‘fine tuned’ for life. If any one of these were slightly different, then life wouldn’t exist! Did all of these come together by pure chance? Impossible, argues Ross. He calculates that the odds of all of these parameters coming together naturally and by chance is so large, that must have been by divine design.

True, something that is improbable – even highy improbable – doesn’t mean that it is impossible, but it’s difficult to believe this when you see how many zeros are attached to the end of Ross’ numbers, which are so large they boggle the mind! And well, although the numbers he comes up with are much, much larger than 46 656, he doesn’t specify the exact probability when something that is ‘naturally created’ becomes ‘intelligently designed’. Without this dividing line, I can use my relatively small, but still large by everyday standards, number to argue for a case of divine meddling in dice throwing.

At least I now have evidence that God exists!

(I wrote this tongue-in-cheek to make it an interesting read, and to point out some of the problems I see with probability arguments that apologists use. For those who are interested: yes, we did throw six sixes in a row).

Cobus said...

I'm not a fan of statistics arguments at all when it comes to this... so just some thoughts on more problems in the argument...

I didn't check your dice calculation, but trust it's correct. But isn't it then also true that this should be multiplied with the amount of times you have thrown a dice six times in a row, to get the probability that this would happen once at some point?

Those arguing about life on other planets use similar statistical arguments to say that life wouldn't have evolved on other planets (or to say that life on earth is extremely unique), but them forget to multiply it with the amount of planets in the universe, a calculation which, with my limited knowledge of statistics, would mean that the probability of there NOT being life on other planets is very small, and the probability that life should exist somewhere, becomes almost 1, no matter how small the probability of life on earth.

But then, on the other hand, why do either Christians, Atheist, or whatever else, say with such certainty what the probability is of something happening by any chance? What is the probability that the probability of anything existing isn't 0?

Stephen said...

John Allen Paulos really takes this probability argument to task in his new book irreligion. You should check it out. He also touches on his concept in his talk at Beyond Belief 2.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Cobus

Good comments! I’m not a statistician myself, so I could be completely wrong here . . . but I calculated the probability in the following way. Lets say you have two dice, and you want to calculate the probability of throwing any combination of two numbers. It would then be the number of available options on one dice (ie, 6) by the power of the number of dice (ie, 2). That is, 36 combinations. So when you throw the two dice, the chances of getting two sixes (or any two numbers on both dice) would be 1 in 36.

In my example, I had ‘six’ dice (as the one dice was thrown six times), so the chances of getting any combination of six numbers in those six throws would be 6 to the power of 6 – that is, 46 656.

But I’m probably totally off the mark here. If there is any statisticians out there – help!

Stephen wrote
John Allen Paulos really takes this probability argument to task in his new book irreligion.

Thanks, Stephen. I will check it out. Victor Stenger, an astronomer, has also written quite a lot on probability arguments, and why – in his view – they don’t work. I think the main problem is that many people – apologists and atheists (like me) alike – don’t really understand fully how probability theory works.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

I believe you are correct in your assertion that most people don't understand probability arguments. Even the ongoing discussion among professional statisticians consistently fails to meet a consensus on many issues-- this is why probability theory is continually developing and evolving.

As a Christian and a believer in the biblical record of creation, I do not view probability arguments as a conclusively decisive argument against natural selection, but to me it does represent evidence which is at least worthy of consideration (even if apologists who use these arguments are just a little bit right, I can find their positions compelling). However, our understanding of the natural world is ever developing, and thus so are the variables which would have to be considered in probability arguments.

While I personally hope and pray for your restored faith, I appreciate your perspective on these matters, and I found this particular post quite humorous. Thanks!

phil

Laughing Boy said...

Long odds don't mean a thing is impossible. But if you all had continued to roll double-sixes, every time, all night, you would have started to wonder what was up. And I doubt that you would conclude it was mere chance (unless you are a particularly inquisitive bunch).

BTW: I don't believe the fine-tuning probabilities are Ross's numbers. I think they are numbers calculated by various scientists over the years. Ross is just collecting and organizing them.

Christoff said...

John Allen Paulos explains the concept of "randomness" very well and shows how poor the human mind is at dealing with it.

As an example, he takes his maths class and divides the students in half. He gives the one half the task of tossing a fair coin 100 times and writing down in sequence the heads and tails as they come up.

He then gives the other half the task of "making up a random sequence" of 100 heads and tails.

He can then, by pure inspection, tell which one's the "real" random sequence and which one was "made up", just by looking at the length of runs (ie how many heads came up in a row, or tails in a row).

The random sequence has longer runs than the made-up one, since we humans normally fail to think of random-number occurrences in terms of a bell curve distribution.

This explains your run of six sixes. It happens. Purely random. As dictated by probability along a bell curve. But we humans fail to see it.

Laughing Boy said...

What if one group of students reported a sequence of 100 heads and the other reported 100 tails, what would the teacher think?

Lui said...

Probability theory in no way offers any "evidence" against natural selection, which is a cumulative, non-random process. Natural selection can be thought of as smearing out improbability and distributing it across many generations. If we talk about something as statistically improbable as the human eye - improbable in the sense that the odds against its coming into being purely by chance are stupifyingly huge - we can understand its origins in terms of a long, slow process of cumulative change, with small increments along the way. Natural selection preserves those minor changes which happen to confer some survival advantage to the respective alleles that brought about those changes, and eliminates those changes that are injurious in that environment (actually, it's considerably more subtle than this, because we could get talking about trade-offs, selfish genetic elements and the level at which selection operates, but the point is that by some criterion, many mutations are eliminated from the gene-pool well before they have had a chance to become established. In small populations, genetic drift often means that deleterious mutations go to fixation purely because of "sampling error" - the small size of the population means that the non-random process of selection has not had enough opportunity to make itself felt at that locus and so random processes have more opportunity to take hold. Finally, natural selection is not deterministic but probabilistic. In fact, one might not even think of natural selection as a process per se but rather as simply a consequence of having certain parameters in place. The way it differs from pure chance is that it it about varying degrees of tendency This is basically captured in the technical term selective coefficient).

P3T3RK3Y5 said...

great post. makes me think of (another) Einstein quote:

"What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world"