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Luck Probability and God

February 14, 2008

Over at Ad Imaginem Dei there is a response to Kate’s Valentine’s Day repost.  And interestingly the writer begins to touch on how I finally rationalized my atheism.   And I guess rationalizing atheism is sort of the wrong way to explain it.  But it made me feel less bad about not believing in god.  I will explain.

Growing up I was raised very religiously by my mother.  My mother is an amazing woman who has been through a lot.  When I was two months old she was bringing me home from getting my first pictures taken and her Camero was hit head on by a UPS truck.   This was before seatbelts were a big thing, so you can imagine the damage.  She was in a coma for weeks, and when she finally came to she didn’t remember me, or being married to my father.

The damage to her knees was so bad that doctors were sure she would never walk again.   She lost sight in one of her eyes, and she has big scars, which I remember very vividly from my childhood.  She did walk again though, through my father’s persistance she walked, and had another child.  Though her brain damage prevented her from ever going back to work, and she did continue to have some problems with driving due to her sight issues.  She had several operations on her knee because the kneecap was destroyed and it was wired back together rather haphazardly, she eventually had it replaced when she was 50.

The knee replacement really helped, and she was getting around really well.  By my 21st birthday she was in the best shape and the best mental space anyone had seen her at in 20 years.  We went to Vegas and had an amazing time.  She looked great.

Two months later my father called me at college to tell me she had had a massive stroke.  After 20 years of fighting and getting back to normal she lost all function to the left side of her body when her corrodid artery collapsed due to a seizure.  Thankfully, she was in the doctors office at the time and they took great care of her.  That was four years ago, she has recovered, again, she’s walking now, and getting more with it every time I see her.

All my life my mother has constantly thanked God for her survival.  She goes to church every week saying that it is the least she can do.  She prays and did volunteer work before the stroke.   But, as greatful as I am that she is still with me, and I am deeply deeply greatful.  The Miracle of her survival is not enough to convince me that there is a God.

I think some times this is hard for her to understand, and I worry that she thinks that I am not glad that she is still around.  For her, her experiences cemented her faith in God, and I think it is hard for ehr to see her children reject her experiences as not enough proof that there is a god.  But I am so greatful for her, she is an amazing woman who has been through so much but still manages to be cheerful and loving to everyone around her.  Even when we are screaming at her because we need to leave the house in 15 minutes and she thinks she has time to take a shower (it takes her 15 minutes just to walk to the shower) she is always up beat, and has a sense of humor about life.

The thing is, while I am very greatful that I was so lucky as to be able to keep my Mom, the fact that I am lucky isn’t proof that there is a God.  Eventually, with the thousands and thousands and thousands of events that happen every day what happend to my Mom had to happen to someone.  If the probability of something is one in 10 billion, and you conduct 20 billion trials, it will happen to at least 2 people.  And every day our earth is constantly conducting probability trials, by the billions.  Every time someone does anything there are thousands of probable outcomes, so eventually we’re going to run across some we don’t expect.  Eventually, when a billion people make grilled cheese,  it could happen, by chance, that one of them looks like the virgin mary.  Or that when a million people have cancer, that one of them will survive it.  Or when a million people go to MacDonald’s, that you’ll eventually run in to someone you know.  (Probably sooner rather than later.)  So that we were lucky, that my mom was lucky is not proof.

There is no proof, and as much as I really want there to be a God, a Goddess, a something, I can’t say that something is true  just because I want it to be.  That is the foundation of irrational thinking.


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  1. mrsmillur permalink

    Shinobi, the way you’ve describes her here, your mom seems an amazing woman, to focus on the good luck of her survival and recovery rather than the bad luck of the collision, or the stroke.
    In the absence of proof (and you’re right, there’s a frustrating absence of proof), I look to stories like yours as a hint, or a sign, of there being something more at work in the universe than meets the eye. Despite what some could call pretty bad luck, your mom is upbeat and cheerful, amazing and wonderful. Something in the universe makes that kind of strength, and hope, possible. Whatever that ‘more’ is, I choose to name “God”, and I want to be as connected to that ‘more’ as possible. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

    (Thanks for your thoughts on my thoughts on Kate’s thoughts!)

  2. Wow, it sounds like your mom and your family has been through a lot. I wish the very best in her continued recovery.

    As an atheist myself (I’m Buddhist, also), I find it strange when people attribute only positive events to god. The husband and I were watching the news last week about the tornado that touched down. A baby was found unharmed, after having been flung 100-feet away and everyone on scene was thanking god and declaring it a miracle. So, what of the people who died? Were they just on god’s shit list?

    When something good happens, it’s god’s miracle. When something bad happens, it’s simply “god’s plan” or “heaven needed another angel.” You would think with all the wars borne of religious conflicts, heaven would have plenty angels. Personally, I love this blogger’s take on religion and atheism – –Atheism and Anger>/a>

  3. phntmdrgn76 permalink

    You mom is an amazing woman. I wish people could remove themselves from the haze of religion and understand that our bodies are amazing. You mom’s will power and her fight to keep going is what has worked her miracles. Through the “miracles” of science people will slowly begin to come around to a new way of thinking. The powers that heal us are in our hearts and our minds. I grew up with very religious elders and they swear by their bibles. I believe that we could have had a god as in a creator. Much like the way we have the ability to create things and eventually new life, but not a god that provides divine intervention. I have had many close calls with death in my short life and have made it out with just a scratch. I believe in the human will power. There are endless mysteries that out bodies hold. Tell your mom to believe in herself. She is the true miracle worker.

  4. Rachel, Thank you so much for the link. That was a great post. (Sorry you got stuck in my Spam filter)

    You know what makes me nuts about my Mom? She’s been through all of that, and the whole time she’s been on a diet CONSTANTLY.

  5. outnumberedby5 permalink


    i just happened to stumble on to your blog. WP was good enough to mention it. i couldn’t begin to tell you why.

    i think i like your mom; she’s blessed to have you and (evidently) your wonderful father. i’m not going to pander on about religion or faith. We all have faith in something. i’m curious though about your certitude concerning ‘luck’. What is it and why does it comfort you so?

  6. OUtnumbered,

    Welcome! My mom is pretty great. And so is my dad. I wouldn’t say that my acknowledgement that probability is the main governing force in our lives is comforting. It just is.

    I think believing in a benevolent God who looks out for me and my family and will always take care of me would be very comforting. But again, just because I want it to be true doesn’t make it that way.

    As far as anyone can actually prove the world is just a random occurence in nature, filled with billions of other random occurences.

  7. outnumberedby5 permalink

    hey Shinobi,

    i want to encourage you in one thing: try to be even handed with the burden of proof you expect with all things. Probability doesn’t cause anything or even explain anything; like you said, “it just is”. After the fact, it tallies datum to help make sense of seemingly random events. It’s a fairly good predictor, not of future events but, of the probability of them occurring with regularity – until it isn’t. The landscape should be littered with the carcases of destroyed insurance companies (were it not for federal bail outs) because of truly random results.

    Just because you don’t think there’s enough proof of a god doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. If you’re willing, the converse of your many stipulations has the same possibility to be true. Perhaps you once looked for a god through a narrow field; you may have looked for fingerprints where there was only blood.

    Stretch. Things aren’t always as they appear.


  8. Shinobi permalink

    Just because you don’t think there’s enough proof of a god doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.

    As far as I know there is NO proof that there is a God, beyond what individuals chose to see as proof. And you’re right, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a God, it doesn’t mean that there is either. It just means that people who insist on convincing others that there is a God are really just committed to convincing other people to delude themselves with comforting ideas for which there is no proof. (People who believe in God, fine, people who think I should, not fine.)

  9. veltman permalink

    You see, the thing is – you cannot deny the existense of God just as much as noone can give you proof there is God. Follow me?
    The most healthy and HONEST answer is – I dont know.
    Dont make yourself God and dont claim that you know something or everything FOR SURE. Do you know everything about the universe? Of course you dont. Do you know half of everything? Very likely that no, but lets assume that you do. So, how big is the chance that there is God in that other half you dont knwo about the universe and a possible spiritual world? Just as big as what you have conlcuded by knowing and seeing the other half you know about – our material world.

    In my view: People who doubt God, fine, people who think they KNOW there is no God, not fine.

    P.S No, I dont think you should BELEIVE what I or someone else says, I think you should go out there and invetigate and examine for yourself.

    May peace be with you!

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