A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Unlikely Universe: It Is What It Is

By Ethan Siegel-- Even though he doesn't deal with the matter, I think his argument may have some interesting implications for the question of God's existence.
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I have a six-sided die. I’m going to roll it ten times, and record each roll. And when I'm done, I'm going to have an incredibly rare, bet-you-can't-reproduce-it result!

Look at that! Ten rolls of a six-sided die, and I got: 3, 2, 3, 5, 5, 5, 4, 1, 4, and 3! What a glorious, odds-defying sequence of events!

In fact, if you took a fair six-sided die and rolled it ten times, you'd have less than a 1-in-60,000,000 chance of getting that same sequence of outcomes! And yet, there’s no surprise there, or at least there shouldn't be.

Because every possible outcome of ten dice rolls — all 60,466,176 of them — was equally likely. But you might wonder if there was something special about the outcomes that I rolled.



But the thing is, that sequence of ten die rolls was really randomly generated, and there are a whole bunch of equally unlikely things that didn't happen.

In fact, this type of reasoning — where you ascribe an undue cause to an unlikely outcome from a random process — is a special type of logical fallacy known as the Inverse Gambler’s Fallacy.


It's very unlikely that the particular sperm that fertilized the particular egg that made you would have been the one to do it, but it happened, and you’re here. It's unlikely that the evolution of life on Earth would have proceeded exactly as it did, that the planet Earth would have formed consisting of each one of the atoms that makes it up, or that the finest details of cosmological evolution would have happened the exact way that they did to give us the Universe, today, exactly as we observe it.

Some of the things that happened were relatively mundane and fairly likely, others were somewhat unlikely and wouldn't occur very often if you started the Universe over with comparable initial conditions.

Because unlikely things happen all the time: that's part of what comes along with living in a chaotic Universe where many seemingly random outcomes occur. And people — many of whom are often reasonable scientists otherwise — use these unlikely outcomes from random events to try and sow doubt about the quality of the underlying scientific theories.

Don't let the observation of an unlikely event swindle you out of our great understanding of the natural world, but keep an open mind for even better explanations, because that's how science always moves forwards. In the meantime, enjoy our latest discoveries and what's quite possibly the largest structure in the Universe: so large it might even (somewhat) defy our preconceived expectations!
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The entire post can be read here.

2 comments:

Richard H said...

It's because of this kind of reasoning that I've never found the anthropic principle argument very convincing.

Allan Bevere said...

Richard,

In what way? It seems to me that one can go a couple of different ways with this argument.