Introduction

The realm of statistics has often been used to argue for the existence of God or some higher power. From the probability of Jesus fulfilling biblical prophecies to the anthropic principle that delves into the improbable factors that allow for life on Earth, these arguments present extremely high probabilities to demonstrate divine intervention. However, high-probability statistics as proof can be a double-edged sword. As illustrated by the iconic scene in “Dumb and Dumber,” even when faced with long odds, people may still conclude, “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”

High-Probability Arguments

Messianic Prophecies

One common argument stems from the statistical improbability of a single individual, Jesus, fulfilling multiple ancient prophecies. The numbers are crunched, and the probability is shown to be astronomically high, suggesting that such an occurrence could not have happened by chance.

The Anthropic Principle

Similarly, the anthropic principle discusses the near-impossible conditions that allow for life on Earth, such as precise gravity, the right atmospheric composition, and optimal distance from the sun. The statistical probability of all these factors coinciding by mere chance is often calculated to be incredibly low.

The “So You’re Saying There’s a Chance” Factor

The Creation of a Loophole By Jim Carrey

High-probability statistics can be compelling, but they also provide critics with a loophole for the one who is looking to escape. Even when the odds appear almost impossible, as long as they are not definitively zero, skeptics can argue that these occurrences can still be the product of chance. Just as Jim Carrey’s character clung to the slim possibility, skeptics can latch onto the “chance” that these probabilities are not proof of a higher power.

The Historical Jesus

by Darrel Bock

 

Just Look at How Many Statistically Improbable Things Happen Every Day

Consider this: using statistical probability to argue for the existence of God leaves ample room for skeptics to counter with a seemingly irrefutable example. The very act of me sitting here and writing this is statistically unlikely, perhaps even more so than the anthropic principle or the prophecies about Christ. Imagine the astronomical odds of me being at my desk at this exact moment, with each strand of my hair positioned just so, and my hands and fingers arranged in their current positions. Add to that the specific number of ants, spiders, and dogs in this house—not to mention our numerous cats—and the improbability skyrockets. There are virtually endless variables that could be included. Calculating the mathematical odds for such a specific, complex reality is a daunting task. The point is, the sheer improbability of any given moment actually happening could serve as an enormous escape hatch for those who are preinclined to go awol on rationality.

The Coin Flip Conundrum

Take the simple example of flipping a coin. Flip a coin, and you have a 50-50 chance of the coin turning up heads. If you flip it twice you have a 25% chance of it turning up heads both times. But what if you flipped it four times, 8 times, or 20 times?  Well, the statistics still say, there’s a chance it becomes more and more improbable. But what if I said, what’s the probability of a coin turning up heads if you flipped it one million times or one trillion times? There is still a statistical probability that this could happen, right? However, as we say in Oklahoma, “it just ain’t gonna happen.” But the axiom that “improbability on top of improbability eventually equals impossibility” isn’t a true mathematical rule in statistics. If an event is not definitively impossible, then theoretically, it could happen.

The Limitations of Statistics in Matters of Faith

Using high-probability statistics as a tool to “prove” the existence of God may offer a compelling narrative for believers but often serves as a point of contention for skeptics. However, while the very nature of faith does transcend empirical evidence, making it difficult, if not impossible, to prove statistically, this does not mean it should not be used. We simply must understand the obstinate mind of someone who doesn’t want to believe. They will find loopholes and we have to have more in our arsenal than just mathematical probability.

Conclusion

The most important thing to understand is that when a person doesn’t want to believe, there is nothing that can convince them and they will find every escape hatch to faith, no matter how warranted. Here is an illustration you may have heard this illustration before:

A man is convinced that he is dead, much to the concern and frustration of his family and friends. They urge him to consult a doctor to debunk his bizarre belief. The doctor thinks for a moment and asks the man, “Do dead men bleed?”

The man replies, “No, of course not. Dead men don’t bleed because their hearts aren’t pumping blood.”

The doctor then pricks the man’s finger with a needle, causing a small drop of blood to appear. The doctor points to the blood and says, “See, you’re bleeding. That must mean you’re alive.”

The man looks at his bleeding finger and exclaims, “Well, what do you know! Dead men do bleed!”

Rather than changing his belief in response to evidence, the man adjusts the facts to fit his preexisting notion. This perfectly embodies an axiom I love: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” showing that true persuasion is more complex than simply presenting facts or evidence.

High-probability statistics provide an interesting perspective and we should use them but are not always compelling proof of the existence of God. When confronted with nearly impossible odds, skeptics and critics will still find room to argue, “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

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