What are the chances God is helping you? About 1 in 300

What are the chances God is helping you? About 1 in 300

Baby needs a new pair of shoes
Baby needs a new pair of shoes
As Jon Favreau says in Swingers: 'We all have stories.'

It's nice to be the recipient of good fortune, and even better to string a chain of coincidences together to make a gripping narrative. Unfortunately, this makes some people certain that they have somehow been favoured by a higher power, when it's really just plain chance.

It's a simple trap to fall into, due in large part to the ever-present availability heuristic, coupled with our propensity for pattern-matching and confirmation bias. That is to say, we live in a constant state of denial regarding the reality of our chaotic and petty existence.

We are statistically insignificant as individuals and our lives are not guided by unseen() forces.

The London Times should already know this, and they had better get their act together sometime soon. I'm getting tired of these stories–it's not Reader's Digest, you know.

Divine intervention helped Antonello Colangeli find his son

As you see, despite killing 294 people (latest figures), God once again decides to benevolently intervene and save (or shall we say 'not kill') one little boy. Tough luck, everyone else I guess. I've heard this pithily described as the Argument from Incomplete Devastation.

While I am delighted that this single person was spared, I am bothered by the laziness of the headline. The copy editor doesn't even bother to add the necessary quotation marks around 'divine intervention.' At the very least that would have demonstrated that opinion rather than fact is being reported.

We expect this sort of insidious theism from the tabloids, along with their lauding of 'brave mums' and endless condemnation of 'monsters,' but it appears that the broadsheets are not above praising God for pulling little magic tricks every now and then.

You may wonder 'What harm does it do?' If so, I would urge you to read Sam Harris on the subject of religious moderates. It's a slippery slope with Armageddon at the deep end.

Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question–i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us–religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness […] Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word "God" as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred.


  1. by 'unseen' I'm not referring to gravity or electro-magnetism but rather to undetectable and therefore by definition non-existent forces. If you believe something exists, yet there would be no change in the physical universe if it didn't exist, then it is imaginary. [back ↩]