An interesting debate I’ve found myself in on many occasions comes down to how probability works. I was rather chuffed to find out that most sites giving logical fallacies actually support what I’ve been saying all along, although in a very short and uninteresting way.
I was digging around the other day and found the appeal to probability. This fallacy claims that because something could happen, it will, inevitably, happen. It is also sometimes called an appeal to possibility, which sounds much more like what’s actually happening. This is a fairly standard definition, I’d have liked a bit more, but apparently examples are the best way to explain it, so here’s wikipedia’s example:
“It doesn’t matter if I get myself into debt. If I play the lottery enough, I will win the jackpot, and then I can pay off all my debts.”
They also cite Murphy’s Law (that which can go wrong will) as an example, but it’s based on the fallacy rather than being as good an example as the one given here.
I quite liked the Logical and Critical Thinking example, since it relates to the subject of this blog:
“There are so many religions so one of them has to be correct”
Of course, if there were no gods, then it doesn’t matter how many religions there are, they will all be false.
Since I can’t find much more than the basic description and examples, I’m going to try fill in the gaps, if you know of sites with more info, please link in the comments.
Things that are improbable, are always improbable. I have yet to find someone who would bet on tossing ten tails in a row in a coin tossing game. The odds of tossing ten tails in a row is 1:1,024, which, as far as the odds going around in religious discussions, are really good odds. If one had to play the same game 1,024 times (resulting in 10,240 coin tosses) would you expect a single win to be probable? Would you bet on it? I wouldn’t, and the reason is simple, the odds don’t change for each game, thus the odds against it happening are 1:1,024 every time, no matter how many times you play the game. Probability doesn’t remember all the prevous games, and thus it doesn’t matter how many previous times the game has been played.
For most people, this may seem obvious, so why would a blogger on religion bother with it, well it has to do with a particular argument used to defend a natural origin for life. It basically states that given enough time, and opportunity, life forming by random natural processes is almost inevitable. This is a very brief version of the argument, which can be wrapped up with quite a bit of complex stuff, but it’s still basically saying that life is possible means that life is probable. I had a good example, but it was too long, so I will have to examine it in some detail in a future post.