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Playing the Odds
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

The current and universally accepted view of science itself is that science must reconcile itself to the idea that whatever progress it makes, it will always deal with probabilities; not with certainties or absolutes. - The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, p.109. From a letter to the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists
  

Playing the Odds.
 
Not long ago, CNN ran a story about Israel's National Lottery. This was not some seedy affair about rigged lotteries looking random, rather it was the opposite - a random lottery that looked rigged.
 
What happened was that the very same set of six double-digit numbers came up for the top prize twice in the same month. This made news because it was so improbable. When dealing with rarities like one-in-a-thousand or even one-in-a-million, most people won't balk, but statisticians pegged the likelihood of something like this happening by chance at four trillion to one. No wonder officials looked into the matter. But after finding no irregularities whatsoever, they duly paid out million-dollar prizes to each of three winners.
 
This got me thinking... How many times in a row does such a massively unlikely event have to happen, in order to convince any normal person that it would be impossible by chance, that some "mystery factor" is biasing the outcome? Would three times in a row clinch it? How about fifty?
 
The prestigious Journal of Theoretical Biology published a paper some time back analyzing the the minimum number of steps needed to evolve one species into another. Making all the most generous assumptions in favor of the Theory of Evolution, and using standard statistical methods, the probability was so low that speciation could not be expected to occur even once over billions of years.
 
Did anyone protest, raising a hue and a cry over allowing this piece of research? No. Was it criticized in any journal by even one of the the tens of thousands of biologists, evolutionists, mathematicians, genetecists and so on that probably read it? No. This is very unusual - The normal course of events is that whenever someone publishes a controversial piece in a science journal, it stirs up debate, with dozens or even hundreds of other articles quoting it and commenting. Here there was none whatsoever. Why? Because the methods were impeccable and therefore there was nothing to criticize. One might say there was something to bash, at least for a devout Darwinist, but nothing to rationally criticize because the science was sterling.
 
Decades later, the author of that original paper, Lee Spetner, took another shot at the evolution issue in his book, "Not By Chance." There he uses updated knowledge of genetics and biostatistics to conclude that the chance of one species evolving into another, given as much time as one wishes is 1/102738, which is a 1 followed by 2,738 zeros!
 
Feeding that statistical probability back into lottery language, you could picture the likelihood of that happening like this. Imagine that every one of the nearly seven billion people on this planet bought a lottery ticket and someone, let's say Shmerel, won. Mazal Tov. Now let's imagine that they all say, "That was fun, let's do it again," and lo and behold Shmerel wins again. Hmm. Will they pay it out? Maybe.
 
Now let's do it again... and again... and again... and guess what, every time Shmerel wins. Forget about the odds of him winning. Forget about the odds of the lottery commission paying it out. What do you think are the odds that Shmerel and the lottery officials aren't all lined up and shot or at least convicted of fraud? Now those odds are really low.
 
But wait. Instead of just running this lottery four times, let's run it every day for a year. The probability of Shmerel winning every one of those 365 lotteries in a row is roughly equal to the scientifically vindicated calculation Spetner makes for the probability of one species making it through the minimum number of steps needed to evolve into a slightly different one. No one would call Shmerel's daily global jackpot unlikely. The practical word is impossible... or at least, a bonafide miracle, if it did occur.
 
It is in this context Ilya Prigogine, a two-time Nobel Chemistry laureate writes, "The statistical probability that organic structures and the most precisely harmonized reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident, is zero." And this is a man who made his mark in science by modeling self-organizing systems!
 
So if science sets the odds of life evolving by accident at zero, why is it that dumb-luck-Darwinists and atheists like Richard Dawkins sell millions of books while noble scientists like Spetner and Prigogine sell only a few thousand?
 
To be honest, I have no answer for this question. Maybe people don't think critically enough. Maybe they don't read widely enough. Maybe they were indoctrinated at such a young age that evolutionary theory is absolutely unquestionable, no matter what the facts and stats disclose.
 
David Ben Gurion once said that anyone who does not believe in miracles is simply not being realistic. Have you ever looked up at the stars and wondered about the miracle of the night sky? Or watched a bug skating on a pond, or heard the birds singing at sunrise?
 
The Chacham Tzvi writes about the nature of miracles and the miracle of nature. He says that nature is just a constant stream of miracles. The fact that nature follows a set of laws is itself miraculous. Breathe in... a miracle. Open your eyes... another miracle. When we start to look at life this way, we are more receptive to signs of the divine when they occur.
 
In the fall of 1999, I was in the final pre-production stages of my book, Living in the Age of Moshiach. A generous benefactor, Sara Weinkranz, was willing to sponsor the first printing by donating stock in Ericsson to a charitable organization where I operate accounts. Everything was arranged over the phone in a 3-way call with the broker, and by the close of the day, my charity owned the shares. The plan was that the shares would be sold the next morning. There was only one drawback. The shares were enough to print the book, but not the beautiful color photo section we had prepared for the middle of the book. We were $2200 short. Oh well, we thought, maybe for the second edition.
 
That evening, after a Torah class at Beis Malkeinu, I was approached by my friend Ken Daniels who asked me to help him write a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Once written, he randomly placed it within some volume of Igros Kodesh (18:441) in the hope of getting a clear answer to whatever his dilemma was. I read him the Rebbe's answer, which satisfied him, but there was something more to it. A few lines of the letter seemed to be speaking directly to me:
 
"Regarding the shares, it is not now the time to sell at half price. Better to keep them until you can sell them at a profit."
 
A shiver went up my spine.
 
"Ken, do you have any stock shares you are planning to sell?"
"No."
"How about other investments?"
"No."
"Maybe assets? Are you planning to sell your house?"
"Aryeh, what are you getting at?"
"Well, This is the only day in my life that I have ever owned stocks. It's also the only day of my life that I ever planned on selling stocks. They are scheduled to be sold first thing tomorrow morning and it looks like the Rebbe is telling me to wait. But it can't be the Rebbe answering me because I never wrote the Rebbe, you did, and you had no clue about all this."
"Look Aryeh, you'd better get used to it. That part of the letter had nothing to do with me. I was writing about my childrens' education. Why deny the connection? Obviously the Rebbe was talking to you."
 
Within minutes I was on the phone with the donor.
 
"Sara, we've got to stop the sale of the stocks."
"But why?"
"Because the Rebbe said so. Could you get the broker on the phone right now?"
"Okay Aryeh, but what's this all about?"
 
I told her the story and she got her broker on the phone, although it was already quite late. We narrowly managed to cancel the instruction to sell. Later that day, big news broke. Ericsson was signing a big deal with Sony that ultimately led to the formation of Sony Ericsson. The share price shot up and we held on until it stabilized. Waiting those few days earned us another $2200, exactly the amount we needed to include the color photo section in the book.
 
Was it a miracle? Was it luck? For some people, the sea could split and it would still be natural. For others a raindrop on a blade of grass is a divine revelation.
 
On only one of my 16,000 days on earth till then had I owned stocks. Then it's not every day that I write the Rebbe. It's not every volume that gets picked on a day. It's not every page that gets read in the book, and there is only one place in all 30 or so volumes that talks about waiting to sell stocks for a profit. It's not every day that I'm short on a project and it's not every project that's short $2200. It's not every stock that goes up in a day and it's not every announcement that drives prices up so high. And to top it all off it was a new book featuring the Lubavitcher Rebbe that was enhanced by an old book by the Rebbe that had been "consulted."
 
I won't deny that it's only natural that wondrous events like this happen. They happen hundreds if not thousands of times every day among Chabad adherents the world over who seek the Rebbe's guidance. The very definition of nature is a steady stream of miraculous events.
 
As for me, I'm playing the odds that Moshiach is coming today. After all, what could be more natural?
 


Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit www.arniegotfryd.com or call 416-858-9868

 

 


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