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Chance and the Cosmos

J. Edwin Orr, in his book Faith that Makes Sense made this arguement against chance and evolution. (pages 11-14)

A pilot came to talk to me in my tent-office in New Guinea, and said: "Tell me, Chaplain, why is any man compelled to hold a religious faith? Could not everything have happened by chance?"
I asked him jokingly what he knew about chance and he told me with a grin that he was an expert. So I took out a coin and tossed it, and aksed him if it were heads or tails. He replied, "heads."

"Now tell me," I asked, "what is the chance of getting heads?" He suggested "one out of two." When I asked him why that proportion, he replied that each coin possessed onlyh two sides, "heads" and "tails," therefore it had to be one or the other.

"What,"said I, "is the chance of getting two heads in succession?" He replied "one out of four." For three heads in succession, he replied "one out of eight" because it was a multiplied chance.

"That's right," I agreed. "It is the probability of the first occasion, multiplied by the probability of the second, multiplied by that of the third."

"What do you know about dice?" I asked him. He grinned knowingly, so I added, "What is the chance of getting a six when you roll the dice?" "One out of six," he replied. For two sixes in succession he suggested "one out of thirty-six" and for three sixes in succession "one out of two hundred and sixteen," and then for four ixes in succession he estimated quickly "one thousand two hundred and ninety-six."
Then I asked him the chance of getting twelve sixes in succession! He allowed me to supply an answer: "One out of two billion one hundred and seventy-six million seven hundred and eighty-two thousand three hundred and thirty-six."
"What," said I, "do you think the chance may be of getting dice to roll the same way all the time?"
"That's fantastic," he said.
"Exactly," I rejoined. "Yet you talk about chance to explain the origins of our complex universe!" Conversation lapsed for a moment. His silence gave me my chance to expand the argument.

"Let's take something a bit more complicated: take the human body. When your life began, it began as a single cell, which doubled after its fertilization, the nbecame four cells, then eight, sixteen, thirty-two -- until it became thousands of cells, finally becoming millions of cells. But from the beginning these cells seemed to follow some kind of plan, each taking its proper place, each following much the same pattern of organization -- till finally you were born. They continued to cooperate in a complex organization.

"To send atelegram from Las Angeles to New York, I go to a telegraph office, take a telegraph form, write out my message, take it to the clerk in attendance, pay a certain amount, and leave the telegram for dispatch. The message may be typed out, given to a telegraphist, sent by cable or radio to New York, where it may be decoded, then delivered. Can you imagine that happening by chance? Can you imagin, for instance, the underground cables being there by chance, or the telegraph poles, or the telephone instumments, or the telagraphist, or the pay clerks?

"Supposing I take a pin and stick it in your leg, a nerve in your leg sends a telegram to your brain, saying 'Murphy, you've been stabbed!' Then your brian sends a message to your vocal cords urging them to utter something appropriate for the occasion. Does tha happen by chance?"

I told him of an incident on the campus of the University of Washington. After our lecture, an atomic scientist came up to me and said: "Orr, your illustration about hte coin and the dice is very interesting, but it is quite superfluous. In physics, statistically speaking, there is no such thing as chance. When one burns hydrogen in oxygen, the result is pure water. When one burns hydrogen in oxygen a hundred times, one gets water a hundred times. When one burns hydrogen in oxygen a thousand times, the result a thousand times is water. When hydrogen is burned in oxygen a million times, the combustion will form pure water one million times."

"That I know," said the pilot. "I know also that mixing hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, two deadly but different poisons, produces common salt. But isn't there an element of chance in the behavior of radioactive atoms?"

I was prepared for his question, so I replied:
"I said 'statistically speaking ther is no such thing as chance in physics.' It is true that no scientist can predict which of the atoms of a bit of uranium will break down, but he can predict their number, which is exact enough.

"It is your privilege to believe tha such things happen by chane, and your privilege to believe that the whole amazing universe originated by chance. But it does not make sense to me.

"A Christian believes that the comlpex design of the univers is a result of the planning of a Super-Intelligence. This is most reasonable. If you can show me that it is unreasonable, or that any other explanation is more reasonable, I shall withdraw the argument. Chance is less reasonable. So the choice is yours to believe in God."

My pilot friend was such a gambler that his habit reminded him constantly of the arguments against Chance. This so unsettled him that he began to consider what he had heard so often -- the reasonable claims of the Christian faith and the good news of salvation.

more to come next week


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