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Betting His Stake on the God of Chance

While walking along our beach in Baja California some years ago, I suddenly realized that God’s name was Random Chance.

I duly reported that revelation in this space, and over the years it has inspired unceasing correspondence, pro and con.

Now Harriett Luger of Torrance writes that she has always been intrigued by my insight because she feels that “by a slight shift of focus” I could have made an equally good case for complete predestination.

“What if the very first reaction of the very first particle contained within it the blueprint of all the laws of the universe--physical, chemical, biological--down to the gnat’s eyebrow, the direction of every grain of dust.

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“Perhaps if we traced our respective ancestors back to the single-celled organism from which we seem to have descended, our living at the same time, my reading your column, is not Random Chance, but inevitable.”

Luger recalls a recent “Nova” program on Channel 28 about an attempt to study chaos systematically. It involved several randomly placed dots and perhaps a million throws of a die. She says: “Chance would have dictated a disorganized tangle of lines as random numbers came up. What emerged, instead, was a neat pattern of triangles forming a pyramid, suggesting that Random Chance has design, the ultimate and supreme oxymoron.”

I am enchanted by Luger’s description of a designing Random Chance as “the ultimate and supreme oxymoron,” an oxymoron being, as we know, a self- contradictory word or phrase.

I am quite at ease with the vision of Random Chance as creating pyramids. After all, it has created Michelangelo, Shakespeare, the Empire State Building, the Grand Canyon and Myrna Loy.

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Luger concludes: “I am in no way campaigning for predestination. I don’t pretend to know if the future is already in place, waiting to happen, or if we are accidents in an accidental universe accidentally continuing.”

I realize that we are self-aware, self-contained beings, created and guided by our genes, but I do not believe that when we get out on the great skating rink of life we are not subject to accidents. If you collide with some slob who doesn’t know which way he’s going, is that preordained?

I possibly lack the intellect to probe this question, but I happen to have, coincidentally, a letter from Fallon Evans quoting Mark Twain on the subject of “accidental falls.”

Evans is currently teaching Twain at Harbor College, he says, “to a class that seems more puzzled than amused by his profundities, as for example: ‘When the German languages gets hold of a cat, it’s goodby cat.’ ”

Twain’s metaphysical observations on “accidents” follow:

“There ain’t no such thing as an accident. When my Uncle Lem was leaning up agin a scaffolding once, sick, or drunk, or sumthin, an Irishman with a hod of bricks fell on him out of the third story and broke the old man’s back in two places.

“People said it was an accident. Much accident there was about that. He didn’t know what he was there for, but he was there for a good object. If he hadn’t been there the Irishman would have been killed. Nobody can ever make me believe anything different about that. Uncle Lem’s dog was there. Why didn’t the Irishman fall on the dog? Becuz the dog would a seen him a-coming and stood from under. That’s the reason the dog warn’t app’inted. A dog can’t be depended on to carry out a special prov’dence.”

Twain’s thesis obviously is that human beings are the playthings of predestination, but dogs aren’t.

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I don’t care to argue with the master, but it seems to me we are all in this together--people, dogs, cats, ants and crocodiles. If Random Chance is rolling the dice, we are all subject to the outcome.

My position is best set forth by biologist Lewis Thomas in one of his splendid essays from the collection, “Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony”: “What we have been learning in our time is that we really do not understand this place or how it works, and we comprehend our own selves least of all. And the more we learn, the more we are--or ought to be--dumbfounded.”

That’s exactly what Random Chance has made me: Dumbfounded.


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