THE BLOG
10/21/2014 04:51 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

Random? No Chance!

If you were offered 5-to-1 odds for a single roll of a pair of dice at a craps table, would you place a bet on rolling a 7? That is, would you wager $10 on rolling a 7 with a return of $50 if you are successful? Such a question is elementary in the theory of probability. Since each of the two dice in craps has six sides, there are a total of 36 (6×6) possible rolls, of which only six result in a roll of 7. Therefore, the chance of a random roll of two dice turning up a 7 is only 1 in 6.

The word "random" is such a familiar term in everyday vocabulary that many people do not even give the word a second thought. In fact, many probability and statistics textbooks assume that the reader already has an understanding of this term and therefore does not define it.

Similarly, the word "chance" is also used naïvely in everyday speech. Many people use the word "chance" as a substantive noun. Is chance a being? Can something happen by chance? Is chance a force that can be the cause of anything?

Is the outcome of rolling a pair of dice actually random? Does a pair of dice turn up 7 by chance? More generally, does anything in life occur randomly or by chance?

I believe the answer is certainly "no." It is not reasonable to me, nor do I believe, that anything is random or happens by chance. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable to me, and I firmly believe, that every effect has a cause -- even if no one except God can comprehend this cause.

Let's take a closer look at our dice problem.

Without performing any analysis on the process of rolling two dice, it would appear that the outcome is without a pattern and thus unpredictable. However, there are many physical conditions that affect the outcome. For example, the initial orientation of the dice in the hand of the roller, the speed and angle that the dice are tossed, the type of surface that the dice are tossed upon, and even atmospheric conditions (such as temperature, relative humidity, and barometric pressure) can all affect the outcome.

Prior to considering all the physical conditions that affect the dice, the outcome appears unpredictable. However, the appearance of unpredictability does not imply unpredictability. For example, if all of the physical conditions were identified and fully understood, it is conceivable that the outcome could actually be predicted.

In this case, such an event -- which was initially thought to be random -- was actually deterministic and was just not fully understood.

I have observed that people often use the words "random" and "chance" to avoid a reasonable explanation because either all the reasons to explain the cause are not fully understood or they do not believe that the effect in question has a cause.

As a mathematician and a student of both probability and theology, it seems obvious that life is not a crapshoot filled with unpredictability.

My personal belief is that the universe was created by and continues to exist because God completely understands the reason by which all things happen and is, in fact, the first cause for all things. It is also reasonable to conclude that any measure of understanding that anyone possesses about a particular cause is only because God has chosen to reveal it.