On Chance As A Face of God

stained_glass_spiralA good friend gave me an intriguing Christmas present today, a book entitled, The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. The author is David J. Hand, emeritus professor of mathematics and a senior research investigator at Imperial College London. His book aims to explain, via statistics, how the uncertainty that lies at the core of Nature gives rise to statistically mappable, wildly improbable, seemingly miraculous events. “The universe has laws which describe the way it works,” writes Hand, “… The same applies to exceedingly unlikely events. The Improbability Principle is my name for a set of laws of chance which, together, tell us that we should expect the unexpected, and why.” Some seeming improbabilities arise, Hand says, from “fundamental aspects of the way the universe is constructed;” others, from “deep properties of what we mean by probability;” still others, from the mechanism of the human brain as it expresses itself in human psychology. Events that we deem improbable, says Hand, only seem so because of errors in our research or thinking; once those errors are corrected, the improbable is revealed as probable.

Probability interests me, because as a psychic, I’m in the business of sussing out the probable for clients. A client comes to me and asks me what her chances are of finding a loving partner through (let’s say) Match.com. I throw the cards and they say, “Success!”, or “NO way,” or “Um, it might work, but…” If you stop the reading there, you leave the client more or less a victim of fate. But if you ask, “Why is success predicted here?”, or, “Why is this absolutely the wrong approach for her?”, or, “What can she do to maximize her chances of making this work?”, then you get information the client can really learn from and use to make decisions that will load the deck in her favor.

I am severely challenged mathematically, so I cannot and probably never will be able to give you a fair assessment of his research, thinking, or worldview. From a cursory flip through the material, however, it seems clear that, as a statistician, he is convinced that everything has an explanation consonant with mathematics and impersonal physical law. In other words, from Hand’s viewpoint, the fact that you happened to get a client who paid you by PayPal the very day you had run out of money for food was not the result of a supernatural entity answering your previous evening’s pleas for cash, it was the logical outcome of a complex series of events, some of which you had a conscious part in (such as having sent out a Thanksgiving card to all your clients wishing them a good year ahead), some of which had to do with the time of year (post-Christmas letdown), some of which had to do with that client’s choices and circumstances (end of year stimulates desires for a new start), and some of which were entirely accidental. According to this view, then, your getting paid right when you needed it most was not therefore necessarily evidence that a loving Higher Power exists who responds to your pragmatic needs when asked, but only that, sooner or later, given your many years in the psychic business and your wide reputation, it was inevitable that some client would have called you at some point after Christmas, and it just happened to be on the day you needed the moolah. So this would make my attributing these events to a loving Higher Power not the result of faith rewarded or intuition triumphant, but fantasy thinking arising from my very human need to imagine an Invisible Sky Daddy who will take care of me when I am in trouble.

On the other hand, one of the Major Trumps of the Tarot deck is The Fool, which in my experience represents serendipity—chance—as one of the faces of God; that is, chance as one of the ways Divine Love expresses itself in spacetime. The laws of probability and improbability are built into the mechanism of spacetime by the great consciousness of All-That-Is, Who exists both within and outside of spacetime simultaneously (since spacetime is an expression of Itself). So everything about me—when I was born, the family into which I was born, the troubles that led me to get involved in psychic work, the clients I’ve attracted, my difficulty saving money, my making myself available to Spirit, my asking for some cash, the souls I connect with as clients, what happens next week, what happens when I die—while not predetermined, can nonetheless be seen outside of time by the Divine as a complete, fully faceted, jewel of event and experience bound together as the artwork that is me, in this life, this time around.

Or maybe not. •

(The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, copyright 2014 by David J. Hand; paperback, 269 pages, $17.50; ISBN 978-0-374-53500-1)

 

Thoughts on Atheism

Recently I’ve been watching on YouTube old uploads of “Q.I.”, a delightful British comedy game show hosted by Stephen Fry. Although he is very polite about it, Fry — who is one of the U.K.’s most famous and popular figures and has come out publicly as gay, bipolar, and an ex-addict — makes clear that he is an atheist and believes that religion is nonsense.

There are as many different kinds of atheists as there are religious people, and for many of the same reasons. Some atheists are raised by parents who were atheists, and religion simply never entered into the formation of their world view. Some atheists are reacting against childhood abuse by religious relatives or groups. Some atheists become so due to severe emotional or physical traumas; they have lived in Hell, and having emerged from it (at least partially), their bitterness has overwhelmed them, or their hope in the ultimate meaning and benevolence of reality has been extinguished.

Some atheists seem to be reacting against the extreme behaviors of certain Fundamentalist religious groups, both in this country and abroad. Some atheists were once believers, but became atheists when, often after long effort and diligence, did not achieve the emotional and spiritual satisfaction for which they had longed from their religious group(s) of their choice. And some atheists appear to declare themselves as such not because they have thought and felt deeply about human ethics, history, and personal pain, but because atheism is currently fashionable among the intelligentsia.

But there are atheists who become so because, in all sincerity, they have seen no evidence in science or history that an unseen spiritual world exists. They believe that all evidences of spiritual interaction with the physically measurable can be better and more simply explained by coincidence, biology, misinterpretation, or fraud. I find that such atheists are seldom contemptuous of or hostile towards believers, and I can respect them because of this.

If you go back over the above gloss of atheism and its causes, you may notice that precisely the same arguments can serve to illumine the motives and experience of self-proclaimed religious people. Some believers are believers because they were raised that way. Some become believers after years of seeking. Some become believers in response to living in Hell, whether the Hell of childhood abuse, war, or addiction. Some become believers because they have had numinous experiences that they simply cannot explain away as delusional. Such believers are seldom contemptuous of or hostile towards atheists, and I can respect them because of this.

Many of us, however, fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Sometimes I am certain of the love and protection of the unseen, and my fear of death as extinguishment recedes. Sometimes I am certain that everyone and everything in physical reality are essentially meaningless and accidental, and my fear of death as extinguishment reduces me to sobbing paralysis. And sometimes I simply don’t know. So I call myself a spiritualist agnostic. A skeptical psychic, if you will.

One thing I am certain of: atheists and believers treating one another as enemies comes from places of fear, and fear clouds judgment, making communication impossible. There are no opposite camps, however comforting it may be for me to think so sometimes.