A Small Miracle; Or, an Improbable Chain of Events

Here’s a little story that happened last night:

I had just spent an extended weekend at home and just before I had to leave, I realized that I had lost my key ring, which had the keys to my room and cycle. I usually place it in a small pouch in the back pocket of my bag when I come home. This time, for some reason, I had tossed it right into the back pocket, as far as I remembered. I had only bothered to check for it 20 minutes before the train back to Madras was scheduled to arrive (just as I was leaving from home) so it was a rather frantic search… in the bag, on my desk at home, in all the million pockets of the cargoes I was wearing on the train that da… but in vain. Once we got to the station and discovered that the train was late by 15 minutes-confirmed it, rather, because this train is always late- I checked all over the bag again, and so did my father. I was rather careful and it felt like a thorough search*.

Almost exactly like my own key-ring, if you remove the black one at the bottom.

Anyway. I had made a very glum peace with it- wondering how I would go about breaking my lock, deciding to call one of my more able-bodied friends for help, etc- and was just settling down to bed-to berth, I guess? No, too weird- when I realized that I no longer had my earphones, either. This, interestingly enough, did not affect me much at all, despite the fact that I usually rely on music to help me sleep on the train. After searching everywhere else,  I wondered if I might have put it in the bag, for some reason, and decided to check.

So I thought to myself, if I open the bag and see the keys right now, that would be a real miracle, because by now I had convinced myself that I had lost it on the train from Madras, last Friday.  And because my father had been telling me to pray even if I thought it was pointless, because it would help me worry less about things- and because this is “the age of blind reason”, till my mid-20s, and I will learn the subtleties of faith later, or something- I sort of looked up and thought in a snarky voice:** “You hear that, God? A miracle. That’s how desperate I am”. Then I opened the back  pouch.

And-ha, like you didn’t know this was coming- there it was, lying right in front of me in the middle of the pouch.

Yeah, I know. It wasn’t that much of a coincidence. The bag was tilted somewhat this time, so maybe it had been stuck in some very tiny, hard to reach place- all searches were conducted by opening it wide and groping around with my hands (but more carefully than that expression suggests), not pulling it upside down and shaking it- and I had just pulled it loose by throwing the bag to the upper berth and tilting it. Or something. Natural explanations a-plenty. But, even so, I would have felt quite intellectually dishonest if I hadn’t blogged about this.

Thoughts? I have a rather large number (proportion, rather, because my numbers aren’t large at all :))of atheist readers… would something like this happening to you cause a substantial change in your probability of God existing? Would it cause any change at all? From a purely Bayesian point of view it is obvious that it should cause an almost insignificantly small change, but the impact it has in a visceral sense is quite a bit stronger: that is to say, several events of this sort would still only cause a relatively small change for a strict Bayesian, but your average human it is much more liable to shift the balance of probability entirely. And I will confess to not being a very strict Bayesian.

PS: I never did find the earphones, in case anyone was wondering. They were pretty old, but still in quite decent condition. And although I really don’t understand why, I’m still very relaxed about that.

*I’m only going into detail on this to show that at least at the time, I was fairly sure the keys weren’t in the bag.

**I swear I did this, I wrote this down on my phone soon after I got the keys. I don’t know if this is a thing “normal” people (whoever they are) do, but I tend to talk to myself a lot, and I often use  several entirely different voices in my head. I had this rather “unrealistic” British accent that I used when I read Shakespeare- most of my English textbooks, actually- back in school. There are a bunch of others, but I really don’t want to go into detail here 🙂 .


7 thoughts on “A Small Miracle; Or, an Improbable Chain of Events

    • Obviously, just improbably events in themselves wouldn’t be any proof at all, would they? They would have to be improbable in a very specific way that links them to God in some (ideally direct) fashion. This one, interpreted through a certain narrative lens, fits that requirement. Of course, the choice of this lens would probably make a lot of difference.

      More plausibly, they should be events that simply could not happen according to all the known laws of physics. (Although the key word here is “known”, and this is where we would start talking about how the map is not the territory, if this were Less Wrong.)

  1. “Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.” – Carl Sagan

    I just don’t think such mundane coincidences qualify as extraordinary evidence.

      • In statistical/natural sense – no. In the theological sense, I guess my views differ from that of an evangelist.

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