Falter: Every Birth is a Statistical Impossibility

I want to add my endorsement to this point and this topic. Thanks @T_aquaticus. It matches a comment recently by @Chris_Falter:

This is related to your point, right @T_aquaticus?


The erro surely comes from (a) treating probilities as some kind of absolute cause, when they are merely a measure of ignorance and, (b) relatedly, abstracting real situations as numerical items.

In the case of Cornelius Hunter, knowing exactly the entire causal chain would give a probability of his birth as 1.

On the other hand, knowing the entire causal nexus of the growth and existence of a tree leaves the probability of its reciting Shakespeare as 0. Why? Because in the first case there is a valid causal chain and in the second there is not.

Therefore, some biological question such as “the probability of a self-replicating molecule forming” means nothing, whether or not it is known to have happened, except as a measure of our ignorance of what causal chains are available, or have been followed in the past.

From another angle, to treat any rare event as a question of probability, in a vacuum, is to make a metaphysical assertion that “chance” is some kind of cause.

In Joshua’s 3rd case, there is really no probability involved at all, once one believes that such providence exists. The events that occur have an “absolute” (from the viewpoint of God’s knowledge) probability of 1, and those that do not, of 0.

Did God determine that Corneliues Hunter should exist? Yes - probability, 1.

Did God determine that this tree recite Shakespeare? No - probability 0.

As soon as you abstract from “Cornelius hunter” or “this tree” to probabilities, you have lost sight of concrete realities, and are dealing with artificial generalities (Cornelius is not “an example of random fertilisation,” and “this tree” is not “a tree.”


I think your assessment here is right on the point. Probabilities are to some extent a measure of our ignorance, as from God’s POV, nature is fundamentally deterministic.

(Of course, there are all the caveats we discussed in Predictability Problems in Physics, although it is far from clear that quantum randomness has any effect on macro-level events, and the other cases of non-predictability or non-determinism in other areas of physics including classical mechanics are edge cases which probably don’t affect the majority of everyday phenomena.)

I also suspect this might be why the use of Bayesian probability in assessing history often results in widely divergent results. There are simply too many unknown mechanisms that are at play in human history, so it is little more than a tool to assess our personal, subjective sense of whether we should believe something or not.

1 Like


So you don’t think Jesus’ resurection is 97% probable as Richard Swinburne has calculated? Haha

I should read his book before dismissing it, but it does sound a bit strange to me.

Not to diss Swinburne altogether. I think he and Plantinga have helped change the state of analytic philosophy from an atheistic endeavor to something that Christians can be involved in and respected in, perhaps more than any other academics.

I respect Swinburne’s work and that of most Christian philosophers. I haven’t read the specific details of the calculation coming up with 97%. But I do know that Christian physicist Aron Wall calculates the odds based on the minimal facts argument to be 1 - 10^{-14}, that is, he is 99.999 999 999 999 \% certain that Jesus was resurrected.

Tim and Lydia McGrew calculate the Bayes factor of 10^{44}. Yes, they are using slightly different assumptions (such as a more conservative view of the reliability of the gospels), but is that really realistic? That you are 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999\% sure that Jesus was resurrected?

On the other hand, Richard Carrier calculates the odds that Jesus existed to be anywhere from 0.008% to 33%, based on one’s assumptions.

You can see where I’m going - there’s nothing near a consensus on how to properly use Bayesian calculation in history, such that people are probably just tweaking the numbers in a way which favors their background assumptions. When someone says they are 99.999% certain of something, that’s a more of a reflection of their personal certainty and ability to come up with good arguments to rationalize one’s views, whatever they are.

(That being said, I don’t want to knock on Wall too much; he also has some excellent breakdown of how to really interpret his probability estimates which I like.)

EDIT: another Christian blogger, @naclhv, calculates the Bayes factor to be 10^{32}.


Wow, that’s even better than the roundness of an electron’s EM field. :sunglasses:

1 Like

Human agency and choice is involved at many junctures of the probability tree leading to his birth. In the absence of divine foreknowledge, then, we cannot possibly know the entire causal chain.

On a related note, only one of the 12 colonies in Lenski’s LTEE has stumbled onto the aerobic citrate metabolism path. The 12 colonies had identical starting conditions and identical environments, yet they have followed 12 different paths. Thus genetics seems to have an intrinsic uncertainty, much as quantum mechanics.

Of course, a philosopher can always play the super-determinism card in order to raise the probability back to 1.

1 Like


I would question whether one can conclude something like quantum uncertainty in the case of genetics. We are talking about organisms, which are active agents to some degree, not merely passive matter: nothing in biology is like physics.

My point was that assigning probability (as in the birth of Cornelius Hunter) is always a measure of uncertainty, and therefore entirely dependent on the precise nature and degree of that uncertainty, not some absolute measure. To the omniscient God, the probability is 1 (which is a theological rather than a philosophical statement).

1 Like

I agree - to attempt to quantify a unique past event (and a unique supernatural one, at that) is to give an opinion a spurious precision. As an event, the resurrection either happened, or didn’t. One either believes the testimony about it, or disbelieves it, or wavers in some way that is not worth quantifying, because at some stage it will probably become “Yes” or “No.”

Perhaps a more legitimate estimate is the probability of the general resurrection happening, given the resurrection of Jesus. But even then it’s only a measure of ones own ignorance, not the event itself.

1 Like

Does this mean someone is fated to burn in hell from the moment they are conceived? Seems a bit Calvinistic to me.

1 Like

For starters, “Calvinistic” is merely a description, not a critique. If Calvinism is true, then it’s a compliment.

But secondly, dga471 is talking about nature seen from God’s perspective, not human choice.

And thirdly, the prescience of an eternal God is simply not amenable to any attempt at psychological analysis by us. There have been a number of ways to separate God’s foreknowledge from his determination of events, but dga471’s post doesn’t impinge on any of them significantly.

1 Like

It appears @Cornelius_Hunter has responded to @T_aquaticus and @Chris_Falter: The “All Outcomes Are Equiprobable” Argument | Evolution News. His analogy is hard to follow, but the judge rules against him in the end. @Cornelius_Hunter seems to be conceeding, in this, that you made your case.

@Cornelius_Hunter, however, does not acknowledge you or the thread, he does not link back to us. Bad form.

1 Like

That’s the same goofy analogy Dr. Hunter posted on his own blog a few days ago and linked to here while spamming that same blog. The analogy makes no sense; then again few of Dr. Hunter’s anti-evolution claims make much sense. There’s a good reason the DI keeps him down on their “B” team. :slightly_smiling_face:

Interesting. So the link to PS was in his original blog, but not ENV. Seems like DI is certainly acting threatened. It seems we are getting through to their base. That was definitely the case last night. Though, the link to PS seems to be missing on his blog now too.

There is a big surprise on the horizon for them today though. Should be fun!

He makes the very mistake we criticize. He calculates the probability of something happening after it has already happened. As we have noted elsewhere, it’s as if they are putting extra effort into not understanding the argument.



Perhaps I worded that poorly. In a post here at PS Hunter linked back to his blog which had the same argument. To my knowledge he has never linked to PS from his blog.

Do we know what the big surprise for the DI is yet? :slightly_smiling_face:

Delayed till tomorrow :slight_smile: