Sunday, November 10, 2019

So You're Telling Me There's A Chance

In the movie Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd (played by Jim Carrey) asks Mary (played by Lauren Holly) what the chances are that a "guy" like her and a "girl" like him could end up together. When Mary gives him the unfortunate news that the chances are "one out of a million" he optimistically replies, "So you're telling me there's a chance. Yea!" What does it mean for there to be a chance? What does it mean for something to be possible? In a textbook I used as an undergraduate student, Thermal Physics, by Charles Kittel, one of the end-of-chapter problems asks what the probability is that 1010 monkeys (more than the entire population of people on the earth) typing on typewriters for the entire age of the universe could type Shakespeare's play Hamlet?1 The calculated odds turn out to be 1 in 10164,316. Perhaps the most profound part of the problem is its in-text title: The meaning of "never." I have talked with people whose understanding of probability aligns with that of Lloyd. They think that if the odds of something occurring are not identically zero, then there is a possibility that the event may occur. But from a scientific viewpoint, when the odds become small enough, that means "never." A commonly used cutoff in science for something that will "never" happen tends to be somewhere from about 10-50 to 10-100. So I guess maybe Lloyd does have a chance.

This is the final blog post in a series in which I have applied some general principles that are helpful for determining the validity or truth of a scientific proposition to certain claims and ideas proposed by a Christian world view. Because these principles can be used to assist in determining the veracity of any idea, then if Christian claims are true, they should hold up under such an examination that uses reasonable criteria to determine their validity.

The eight questions I have posed  that are helpful to answer when determining truth from the data are:
  1. Is the data logically self-consistent?
  2. Is there enough evidence to support the hypothesis?
  3. Is the hypothesis compatible with other known data?
  4. Is contradictory evidence conclusive?
  5. Is something essential missing?
  6. Is there external confirmation?
  7. Can the hypothesis be falsified or confirmed with other data?
  8. Are there other possible explanations that are more feasible?
The eighth question, which will be discussed here, does not ask, "What are the possible explanations" because there are always many possible explanations for anything, but rather asks, "What is the most feasible explanation". Depending on your definition of possible, it may be possible that Lloyd and Mary will get together or that enough monkeys can type Hamlet given enough time. But all possibilities are not equally probable or likely. The best explanation is the one that can incorporate and explain all the data in a consistent way.

Over the previous seven blog posts, I have presented a lot of data; data that I think is best explained within the context of a Christian world view. Does the Christian world view provide the best explanation of this data, or are other explanations more feasible? Here is a review of what I have discussed as well as some other items for consideration.
  1. The events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, including the empty tomb, the post resurrection appearances, and the founding of the early Christian church are difficult to explain without an actual resurrection. A frequent rebuttal is that any explanation that doesn't invoke a miracle is more probable, but the proposed alternatives do not satisfactorily account for all the data.
  2. Human nature is confounding. People have the ability to do both wonderfully good things, and horrific acts. The biblical description of humanity that is both made in the image of God, yet fallen due to sin is perhaps the best explanation for this polar nature of humans. Evolutionary explanations should develop a human nature that most likely provides for human survival. How do horrific acts against other humans contribute to our survival?
  3. An explanation for the problem of evil is challenging for any world view. The Christian worldview proclaims that evil is real, that God is deeply disturbed by evil, and that he ultimately has, and will, destroy evil. A naturalistic world view, without an external standard of good and evil, means that any definition of good or evil is equally valid and then there is logically no such thing as real evil.
  4. The Bible is a reliable book when it discusses historical events, which gives credence to the reliability of its spiritual message as well. Critics of the historicity of the biblical record have often had to retract their criticism as archeological finds have confirmed aspects of many biblical narratives.
  5. People have a sense of morality and innately understand that certain things are right and wrong. Where does that come from if humans are not made in the image of a moral God? The quarks and leptons I'm made of have no sense of morality. Other animals don't wrestle with moral questions. Does a lion ponder how to best kill an antelope in a humane way? If there is no God, why do we have a moral code?
  6. People also have a desire for a purpose and destiny. As C.S. Lewis points out in his book Mere Christianity, there is a way to fulfill all human desires, like hunger and sex. There should be a way to fulfill our desire for real purpose and for a future destiny. A God who loves humans and has a purpose for us now and a future destiny allows this inner human desire to have ultimate fulfillment.
  7. Despite increased education and prosperity, the world continues to have severe problems including genocide, hunger, human trafficking, and more. The Christian world view states that change comes not from external factors, but from internal, individual, heart change. If technological, educational, and monetary advancement is the solution to the world's problems we should be living in a utopia. If only internal personal change is the answer, then we would expect to see a world much like it is.
This is just a partial list of the data that must be explained. A naturalistic world view seems to have many problems explaining the data as briefly described in each of the points above. Is naturalism a possible explanation? Maybe, but it certainly seems less feasible. Other world religions don't have answers that are as satisfying for all of the points above. They don't explain the resurrection, or the conflicting nature of humanity, or the problem of evil, or the sense of purpose and destiny in a way that is as compelling or satisfactory as Christianity.

Occam's razor is a principle that can be useful for sorting through various possible explanatory options. It basically states that the simplest solution that explains all of the data is usually the best solution. Or as attributed to Friar William of Ockham, "Entities should not be multiplied without necessity." It is quite remarkable to me that a single explanation fits all the data above. The proposal that there is a moral, transcendent God who created humans in his image and cares for them, despite their rebellion and fall explains all the data in a straightforward way. It easily passes the Occam's razor test. Are there other possible explanations? Well, sure there are. But how feasible are they? I'd say that the odds of another explanation for all the data being more likely than Christianity being true are worse than the odds that Lloyd and Mary would get together.

1 Kittel, Charles, Thermal Physics (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1980), 53.

1 comment:

  1. In the early seventies I read and understood (at the time I was still involved in operations research) the probability arguments on evolution made by the late Dr. James Coppedge in "Evolution:Possible or Impossible? Surely the Theory of Evolution writ large is the overarching paradigm in many fields of science and is indeed subject to the definitions and difficulties outlined in Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Coppedges' arguments gave rise to the term "google" as in an outcome with probability of 10**-100. If you agree that evolution writ large is the mechanism that is used to explain the world and in some sense the universe we live in and observe why do we see such explanations that probability arguments do not apply "as posteriori" to events clearly established or probability cannot be used to analyze events that by definition occurred only once? It seems in the end that forms of secular humanism is, across the ages, the alternative to our biblical world view and evolution is humanism's explanation of purports to explain the data and evidence.