6/04/2008

A Re-print of a Letter to the Editor on Chance

I wanted to reprint a letter to the editor I found while going through some old files of mine. Please note that this basic argument can apply to many scientific theories that claim that evens happen “by chance.” May evolutionists and scientists use that type of language.

Dear Sir or Madam:

William M. Montante’s article titled “Journey to a Definition of Chance” appearing in the August 2004 issue of Professional Safety hinted at a very important point about chance. However, it failed to adequately express the main philosophical issue.

“Chance” is spoken of at many points in the article as if it were a tangible being that has the power to cause something, namely an accident. Some examples are the phrases “through which chance can act,” and an “outcome [that is] chance dependent” (page 39).

Chance is an abstract concept. As such it has no existence. It is not a thing, no-thing, nothing. It cannot cause anything since it has no existence in reality. It has no being, and hence no power. It’s similar to the idea of a negative number. We can never find a negative number of tangible things. This is one of the first rules I learned as an engineering student to test the outcome of a classroom problem. If I had a negative length for an answer, my answer to the problem was obviously wrong.

The safety profession often uses the concept to describe the unknown or immeasurable events and circumstances that cause an accident. Statisticians also attempt to predict the future based on “chance” or probability. It has been useful to scientific research for this purpose. It is the best way we have to predict the future with imperfect knowledge.

But “chance” has no being. It is not some force that can intervene in the world. We do great damage to the rational underpinnings of science when we say that anything, from the evolution of man to the cause of an accident, is “by chance.”

Take a coin flip. The best mathematical predictor of the outcome we have is a “50-50 chance.” But we cannot rationally state that chance caused the coin to land on heads or tails in a particular incidence. If we knew all of the variables involved in the particular coin flip: the exact weight of the coin, the distribution of the weight over the coin’s volume, the force imparted to the coin by the finger, the exact location on the coin’s surface of the force, the air’s density, the exact point where the coin is caught, etc.; we would be able with 100% accuracy to predict the outcome of the flip. These variables are the true causes of the heads-or-tails outcome.

As safety professionals, we would better spend our time learning new ways to measure the events that lead to accidents as opposed to attributing any causal power to “chance.” The true causes of accidents are rationally accessible through our senses. They are scientifically discoverable.

What we can measure, we can learn to control. We simply cannot afford to let faulty notions of “chance” distract us from our ultimate goal of accident prevention. Lives are at stake.

(The argument of this letter came from Dr. R. C. Sproul as expressed in his book Not a Chance. Of course, any mistakes are mine.)

Sincerely,

J. K. Jones, M. Sc.
Member of the American Society of Safety Engineers

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