Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chances, Percentages, And Odds, Oh My!

So I'm Blowing Through Some Friendly Blogs And Come Across An Interesting Conversation, For Lack Of A Better Term.

Lee Has Been Thinking About How Special We Are. Not Helmet-Short-Bus Special, But I Think He Was Alluding To How Likely Life On Earth Was To Being Carbon Based.

Mark Decided To Tackle The Probability Of Individuals Arising From The Big Bang. I Think That's A Static That May Be Too Hard To Define. Especially When Debating The Finer Points Of Religion.

PZ Meyers Had A Nice Email Full Of Fuzzy Logic From A Creationist He Decided To Refute.

All Great Posts To Wade Through. I Did Save One Quote Months Ago From The Dawkins Site That Can Shorten These Quite Nicely. Sadly, I No Longer Remember Who Posted It.

Another tactic is to embrace the "teach the controversy" concept. For example...

The next time somebody springs the old "Tornado/Junkyard/747" argument on you,(or any of the other 'scientific notation' arguments) don't launch into an elaborate defense designed to explain how evolution is not a random process, etc. etc. Talk about the lottery.

Ask them what has the better chance of being a winner, a powerball ticket with the numbers 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06 or one with the numbers 23, 19, 32, 40, 08, 11. Most likely they will pick the second ticket, unless of course they know you are a sneaky, atheist bastard, then they might pick the first one. Either way, of course they are wrong. Both tickets have an equal chance of winning...the first one just seems improbable because it has the appearance of design.

If they then ask what that has to do with tornados, junkyards, and 747's, say "nothing". "It just goes to show how poorly the human mind is at dealing intuitively with probabilities. If they are still with you, ask them this...

which has the better chance of winning between these two powerball tickets? 21, 22, 23, 06, 07, 08, or 13, 16, 37, 11, 13, 25. Of course they will be suspecting a trick (as they should), but if they grasped the first part---that any given set of numbers is just as probable as any other given set of numbers---they should answer that they have an equal probability of winning. Unless, of course, they are familiar with how powerball works and noticed that the number '13' is used twice. This breaks the "natural laws" of powerball, in other words it just doesn't work that way. So ticket 2 is an impossibility.

Now you explain how evolution is not a random process but is actually guided a set of "natural laws". Ever so gently, point out that that is why the 747 analogy is flawed. While it might be mathematically correct, it doesn't take into account the rules of the game, so it is flawed from the outset.

I Think It Sums Up The Probability Question Nicely.


Lee said...

"Not Helmet-Short-Bus Special"?

That's a new phrase for me...

I Think It Sums Up The Probability Question Nicely.

I like that...


Diacanu said...


Two questions

1.) I see you have a link up for my blog, can i link to yours?

2.) How do you do the code for the "read more", link? I've been wanting that desperately for posting my stories, but collapsing them out of the way.

tigrelilee said...

Ok, who set the rules... ;)