The lottery fallacy, as used by theists debating atheists

I’m struggling with my new keyboard, which is resulting in double key-presses, including spaces… all the time. I may not get to correct all of them. So please excuse any weird spelling errors here. (OK, screw it. I was having to correct every single word. Do yourself a favour and don’t buy a Redragon Karura gaming keyboard.)

Although I seldom participate in these atheist versus theist debates lately, I still read the posts, and have seen this sort of question being posed frequently enough to justify writing about  it…

Normally their “logic” goes something like this:

  1. The probability of something complicated (that has already happened) is very small. For example, the precise sequences in DNA, or life existing on Earth.
  2. Therefore, that thing must have been designed.
  3. Therefore god, but not just any god, the one that the person making the argument already believes in.

(Let’s ignore the argument from personal incredulity here, and that there is no reason to leap from “I don’t understand” to “God”, OK?) One does not even need to know about the lottery fallacy to realize that the argument posed makes no sense. It’s safe to say, the probability of something happening that has already happened, is 100%. Because it already fucking happened, for fuck’s sake.

Steven Novella has written about this fallacy several times, but unfortunately I don’t have any links to his articles, which are much better than mine. (You can Google it.) But here’s how the lottery fallacy works, as I can recall from his explanation, in my own words with some sarcasm since this keyboard is really messing me around… The probability of Joe Schmoe winning the lottery is miniscule. So when he wins it, you could claim divine intervention, because his chances were negligible, yet he won anyway. (Praise God! It’s a fucking miracle.) Except if you make this claim after he already won the lottery, your logic is poor; you’re looking at it all wrong. Instead, if you consider that somebody had to win it, the probability of the lottery being won was 100%.

Likewise, you could claim that the probability of the particular sperm cell causing fertilization and your conception was miniscule. But one sperm cell had to make it. (Assuming you are not the product of fellatio or anal sex. We can rule that out since we exist, eh?) Therefore questioning the probability of the one that did, is crazy. It already happened, and the odds of any single cell being the one that did the job become irrelevant when one had to…

Likewise, the odds of conditions being perfect for life to evolve on any one planet is small. But given the size of the universe and the number of potential solar systems and planets where life could develop, which is a number so huge I can not comprehend it, it was bound to happen somewhere. It makes no sense, when you live on such a place, to question the probability of life evolving there. It’s like asking, “How can things be as they already are? What are the chances of that?” Well, the chances are 100%, you stupid fucker.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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3 Responses to The lottery fallacy, as used by theists debating atheists

  1. notabilia says:

    The last line seals the deal.
    Bluntness is what’s needed in dealing with such rampant, intransigent nuttery.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jerome says:

      Glad you like… I was a little concerned that it would read as insulting to all readers, rather than the intention which was obviously only those people whose idiotic logic I made fun of. (Sarcasm can be difficult to express in writing.) I gather it came across as intended… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bbnewsab says:

    The disgusting behaviors of many religious people are among the best proofs that God, if He exists, must be more like a Devil.

    And discussing probabilities with a God believer is meaningless. They don’t understand statistics.

    Like

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