Class Warfare Blog

October 23, 2018

Gosh, What are the Odds?

Filed under: History,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:32 am
Tags: , , , ,

TV shows like Ancient Aliens often point to things that seem very, very unlikely to have happened naturally and claim that help must have been had from aliens. They have this claim in common with creationists who make the same argument except with the help coming from supernatural beings, yet still could have been aliens.

I am reminded that events which most people consider to be very, very unlikely … happen all of the time. What triggered this topic is the fact that today is my birthday. It is also Mole Day. Here is how Scientific American is celebrating this holiday:

Holy Moley, It’s 6.02 x 1023 Day!
Let’s celebrate our chemistry! Or rather, chemistry’s favorite unit of measurement.
From 6:02 a.m. through 6:02 p.m., we’re commemorating Avogadro’s Number.

Avogadro’s number was not found by Avogadro, it was named to commemorate his contributions to chemistry (as slight as they were). His number is the basis for a unit of amount in chemistry, the mole (symbol mol … hardly worth the contraction effort). This number of molecules of any chemical is said to be one mole of that chemical, so it is a quantity representing an amount and a number of molecules simultaneously, which is very handy for chemists as molecules seem to interact in simple whole number ratios.

So, how is this any indication of the probability of an event occurring? Well, I was born, just after 6 AM on the morning of October 23, 1946. (I share this birthday with the planet Earth, according to Bishop Ussher.) So, 6:02 AM, 10th month, 23rd day … 6.02 x 1023! Uh and … ? Well, when I chose a profession, it just so happened to be that of chemistry professor. Wow! What is the likelihood of that happening? Was there something in the stars, guiding my path toward a career? Were aliens involved? Were gods? Surely my path was preordained by something spiritual/ghostial!

What is actually involved is … attention. If one is a chemistry professor, and not born on Mole Day, then we pay that no attention. But there are many, many chemistry professors and teachers, more than the 365 days in a year, so on any particular day of the year, many chemistry people are sharing a birthday. (I share my birthday with Gilbert Newton Lewis, a very prominent U.S. chemist, for example.) Of the people born on October 23rd, there have to be some born right around 6 AM or 6 PM and those of us who were, attend to that fact, once it is brought to our attention.

Many, many improbable things happen every day. One person won a major European lottery twice in a row! (What are the odds?) A creationist asked one time how likely it would be for a molecule of DNA to be created from chance (a silly reach to discredit the role of random mutations in evolution theory). The number he came up with was astronomical. In a quick calculation, I pointed out that if the atoms making up the molecule were selected at the rate at which molecules collide, then the DNA molecule sequence would occur more than a million times per second. Yes, it is an unlikely event … but if the number of participants is large or the process is very fast, that thing will happen and happen frequently.

So, I wish all of my fellow chemists and chemistry professors born on Mole Day (the thousands upon thousands of you) a very happy celebration of your birth day! And, you know what it means, don’t you?

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