Many people in society today have an interest in, or even a passion for, things to do with probability, chance and gambling.
Whether it is trying to win the lottery, playing bingo, placing bets on the horses or making trips to the casino in order to play games like poker, craps or roulette, there always seems to be those who try to beat the odds. This has been a common pastime for centuries.
Even Greek mythology drew on the concept of probability to explain how the universe came into being. Brothers Zeus, Posiedon and Hades rolled dice to determine who would rule each part of the universe. Zeus won heaven, Posiedon won the ocean and seas and Hades, who lost the game, went to hell as the master of the underworld.
Although gaming interests were popular even before the time of Jesus Christ, no-one appears to have tried to figure out the mathematics behind probability and chance until the 16th century. The first person who gave the topic serious attention was Girolamo Cardano.
Cardano was born in 1500 and died in 1571. He was a brilliant mathematician and was the most famous physician of his age. He was also a self-confessed gambling addict who played some form of chance game every day.
Although he spent countless hours in pursuit of his gambling passion, he was also quite a prolific writer.
It is estimated he wrote more than 400 published and unpublished works, varying in topics from astronomy, teeth, the life of the Virgin Mary, the horoscope of Jesus Christ, morality, immortality, music, dreams and many other topics.
One of Cardano’s most famous writings is his dissertation on gambling entitled “Liber de Ludo Aleae” (Book on Games of Chance). This was perhaps the first serious effort to develop the statistical principles of probability. In his autobiography he claims this book was one of his most important achievements, and that in writing it he had “discovered the reason for a thousand astounding facts.”1 Perhaps his biggest breakthrough was to express mathematical probability in the form of fractions. While we may consider this common knowledge today, it was quite a revolutionary idea in his day. For example: We know that when flipping a coin, the probability that it will land on heads is 1/2 or 50 per cent. To pick a queen randomly from a deck of cards has a 1/13 chance of occurring, while the chance of it being a queen of spades is 1/52.
In 1623, Blaise Pascal, another great mathematician (and philosopher), was born. He continued where Cardano left off, expanding the study of mathematical probability.
He worked on calculations involving two or more variables. It was Pascal who discovered that the chances of throwing two dice with equivalent numbers was 1/62 (1/36), or for three dice was 1/63 (1/216).
In 1654, Pascal experienced a supernatural experience, gave away his intellectual ambitions and went to live in a monastery in Paris. While there, he scribbled using almost illegible handwriting on both sides of a piece of paper the thought-provoking philosophy now commonly termed “Pascal’s Wager.” It basically states that “God is, or He is not.Which way should we incline? Reason cannot answer.”
Pascal’s Wager frames the question of whether God exists in terms of probability and chance. He asks, what would be the implications if the existence of God was like a coin toss— either He exists (heads) or He does not (tails)? Most people’s belief in a God is based on past experiences, value structures or interpretation of the world. Scientific proof of God, or even the probability of His existence, is unattainable. It is impossible to conduct experiments to prove either the existence or absence of God.
Pascal then went on to look at the implications of the decision. If we choose to believe God exists, but He doesn’t, then we have lost nothing. We would have lived out our days aspiring to live by higher moral values and even though it amounted to nothing, we still would be no worse off.
However, if we choose to believe God does not exist, and yet He does, then despite the perception of gain through the indulgence of a few sensuous pleasures throughout our lifetime, we ultimately would have lost the promised rewards from an everlasting and eternal God.
Pascal then argues that if the existence of God, which could not be proved or disproved, was hypothetically based on a 50-50 chance, which way would you want to place your bets?
While still on the topic of chance and probability, let us consider the origin of the human species.
or those who do not believe in God, the most common belief as to how humanity came into being is through Darwinism and the Big Bang theory. What is the mathematical probability of this happening by chance? Imagine that the human body is made of building blocks. Each part is built on top of the other. First we need amino acids. These combine to make proteins, which are vital to form cells. Within each of these cells are stored the DNA, which is the digital code that separates not only humans from other animal species, but also makes up the differences between you and me.
In order for these components to play their part in forming us as humans, they need to come into existence and mix together correctly. It would be a bit like baking a cake. First, we need all the ingredients.
Then we need to measure the correct quantities of the various ingredients, then mix and bake them correctly.
To disrupt any of these processes would sabotage our ability to bake a fantastic cake.
According to Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, amino acids came into being through all the right conditions occurring in a special environment. In 1871, he wrote a letter contemplating this theory: “A protein compound was chemically formed … in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity etc present.”2 Many scientists refer to this initial environment as “prebiotic soup.” There needed to be the right conditions for the soup to exist. The earth’s surface would have needed to be rich in nitrogen to form amino acids. In 1985, the scientist Jim Brooks wrote: “The nitrogen content of early organic matter is relatively low—just 0.15 per cent!”3 The odds are not looking good.
Scientific experiments conducted using similar conditions to what they believed the Earth’s surface would have been like at the time of these amino acids being produced were able to create only three of the 22 different amino acids needed to form a protein. Even in the rare successes where there was a chemical reaction, the amino acid reacted with other chemicals in the experiment and created a brown sludge that was far from life-creating friendly.4 Next, the amino acids must combine to form a protein. Amino acids come in both right-handed and left-handed versions.
For the amino acids to link correctly to form a protein, all must be left-handed and they must link up in a specified sequence—a bit like putting the correct letters together in order to spell words and make sentences.
To make a protein structure that is functional, you must have at least 75 amino acids linked together correctly. And that is for a solitary protein molecule. In order to make a minimally complex cell, you need between 300 and 500 protein molecules. The mind boggles to try and compute the probability of this occurring.
Each of our bodies contain up to 10 thousand trillion cells. Each of these cells contain two metres of DNA coding that provide the genetic information for our body structure. Scientists represent the characters (or ingredients) that make these up as A, G, C and T. Each length of DNA comprises some 3.2 billion letters of this coding—enough to provide 103,480,000,000 possible combinations. That is a one followed by more than three billion zeroes. The scientist Christian de Duve says, “It would take more than 5000 average-size books just to print that figure.”5 That’s a fat chance! The equivalent would be picking letters out of an infinite Scrabble bag, with your eyes closed, and perfectly producing Shakespeare’s Hamlet.6 The possibility of a rational universe producing us is overwhelming to consider.
While scientists differ widely as to the probability of humanity being created by a “big bang,” Wineberg, a recognised scientist, atheist and Nobel prize winner says that the probability is 10120. This may not mean much until you consider that all of the grains of sand found along the seashores right around the world has been estimated to be only 1025. The famous contemporary scientist Paul Davies is a little more conservative, estimating the amount of sand to be closer to 1060. This is the same probability of hitting a one-millimetre target from a distance of 20 billion light-years.
The Bible shares a more believable alternative: Humans were created by a careful designer—an all-wise God. While modern- day computers are amazing, the hardware and software did not appear out of thin air. Instead it came from the dreams and visions of Bill Gates and countless others. Our bodies and the many intricacies of nature are far more awe-inspiring than a computer. Imagine the divine Creator dreaming up this universe—from huge constellations to the tiny microbe. In every aspect is revealed His nature (in the precise intricate detail) and His nurture (in the complex systems of interaction and balance that maintain life).
Romans 1:19, 20 says: “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
After comparing the Creation account of the Bible versus the random selection probability of evolution, what do you think? Considering the calculations of Cardano and Pascal, what would you wager on the existence of God? The odds are in His favour.
If you choose to think and act in a way that reflects a belief in God, your wager will be rewarded. You will see His creative power in every leaf, love and laugh.
If you live and act in a way that suggests you do not believe in God—or you simply ignore the issue—your wager against God, according to Pascal, is risky.
While Pascal may have suggested a 50- 50 wager on the existence of God, when I look at the statistics of my existence in terms of probability and chance, I cannot help but think that choosing to believe in an all-wise Creator is a worthwhile gamble to take.