What Are the Odds?

Did you go and buy your Powerball lottery tickets?  I might win $1.5 billion dollars!  Of course I did!

Or perhaps you’re one of those people that takes great pride (at least publicly) in denouncing such foolishness.  Do you know what the odds of winning that are?  You are more likely to be cut in half by Elvis Presley flying a UFO as your body is being flung into the sun because of a freak, localized gravity outage.  There aren’t enough placeholders to properly represent all the numbers in the odds against your winning anything!

The funny thing is that, in this case, you’re both right.  You could win it all.  More than likely not, to be sure.  In which case, you might want to keep a bungee cord on your ankle attached to something heavy at all times.

You can spout statistics all day.  But the reality of the situation is that, even though the odds might be terrible, there are regularly people who beat those odds and win the lottery.  In fact, the only reason the lottery is a big deal right now is that for the first time in a long time, people haven’t won it.  It isn’t that the math is wrong, it’s just that it doesn’t represent actual experience.

I find this analogy useful when talking with people who want to decry the reasonability of miracles, (let alone the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus).  The math may be right, but if you insist on believing the math rather than experience, you’re not doing a very good job of thinking things through.  If you insisted that nobody ever won the Powerball lottery based on the statistics alone, you’d be called a loon, as it’s pretty obvious that people have won, do win, and will continue to win.

Likewise, I understand how incredible the odds are against the physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Why do you think his disciples went bonko over this event and couldn’t stop talking about it even when it meant they were going to be executed?  When you’ve seen something happen that everyone knows is highly improbable (to say the least), it’s going to leave a lasting impression.

Now, those who don’t believe in God might be inclined to say that this same analogy works in favor of evolution and the Big Bang and the other theories that eliminate the need for a Creator (to say nothing of a Savior).  But it’s very different.  They would be trying to claim that we can’t rule out their theory simply because of the statistics.  Not something that anyone has ever seen, but a preferred way of interpreting data and constructing a model of what must have happened or could have happened.  That’s a lot different than the testimony of multiple people to a specific actual event, however unlikely.

So, go ahead, buy a lottery ticket (I did).  Don’t do this of course if the alternative is that you can’t feed your kids or pay the car payment.  Don’t do this if you have a gambling problem or any number of other good reasons why you shouldn’t buy a lottery ticket.  But if you feel like it, on a lark, then go for it.  Because you might win.  Probably won’t, but you might.


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