The drive for improbability

“Mathematics,” says Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog, “is unique in its ability to bamboozle lay audiences, which makes it well-suited to creationist ends.”

Mathematician John Allen Paulos explains how this should be so.

Leaving aside the issue of independent events, which is too extensive to discuss here, I note that there are always a fantastically huge number of evolutionary paths that might be taken by an organism (or a process) over time. I also note that there is only one that actually will be taken.

So if, after the fact, we observe the particular evolutionary path actually taken and then calculate the a priori probability of its being taken, we will get the minuscule probability that creationists mistakenly attach to the process as a whole.

Misunderstanding this tiny probability, they reject outright the evolutionary process.

Not to mention the fact that when one path is taken, all the alternatives to that path are summarily erased and can’t be counted in the aggregate. (If the first Powerball number is, say, 10, combinations that don’t contain a 10 are out of contention for the Big Bucks; if you have a 10, your chances have just improved markedly.)

Besides, probabilities don’t quite combine in the manner we tend to think. For instance, the chance of someone standing next to you having any particular day as a birthday is 4/1461 (which is easier to look at than 1/365.25), or 0.274 percent. The chance that two people in the room have the same birthday obviously increases with the number of people you have, but it becomes a better-than-even bet when the twenty-third person comes in. (Really.)

My own thinking here is that God understands the numbers better than we do.

(Via white pebble.)

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