The Story of God with Morgan Freeman: Chance or Providence?

Season one, the sixth episode

My Commentary on the documentary

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

There used to be a “holy man” in a village of Pakistan, who had been nick-named Holy Man of one Goat and one Sac of Rice. Women would go to him, when pregnant, to have a son rather than a daughter, not realizing that the sex of the child was already decided.

He would say that he will pray and the pregnant lady will have a son and if the prayer is granted, she should bring him a goat and a sac of  rice, after delivery. Half of the pregnant women obliged. The other half just were too shy or ignorant to come back.

The holy man was simply a con-man playing a simple chance game that half the children will be boys, on simple minded village women.

In this documentary Morgan Freeman examines, what is purely a chance, a miracle, a fluke or Providence of God?

He tells his own story that he was sick with severe pneumonia at age 16 and survived to be a very successful Hollywood actor. Is that a miracle?

I do not want to try to steal his thunder in trying to demystifying every thing he has covered. In fact, I agree with much of what was said in the documentary. I would just like to share a few of my thoughts on the theme of this documentary and basic understanding of statistics and chances.

In statistics or in understanding the issue of chance and how to incorporate it in our day to day thinking, there are a few important things to understand.

Firstly, in what scenario are you studying the odds, is it before or after the event?

card game.png

A statistician pulls out a random sequence of 6 cards at 22 minutes into the documentary, as he explains chances to Morgan Freeman, jack of diamonds, 6 of spades, king of spades, 2 of hearts, 7 of diamonds and ace of spades and tells us that the chance of this sequence is one in 14 billion. But, this is after the fact and there is nothing miraculous about this sequence versus any other sequence of 6 cards. But, if I ask the professor to blindly pull out this particular sequence, from a randomly set stack and he or she does so, without a slight of hand, we will have to agree that that would be a miracle.

So, we always have to carefully examine, how are we applying the odds or statistics.

The Powerball jackpot this year climbed to an estimated $500 million as more people across the country bought a chance at the biggest prize in nearly a year. Somebody is going to win it and there is nothing miraculous about that. That is just a matter of necessity that there is a winning ticket and if it is not misplaced, someone will win and claim it. Some random person is going to get very rich and that will not be a miracle. It happens every few months.

Officials with the Multi-State Lottery Association raised the jackpot estimate, this spring, from $450 million due to strong sales before Wednesday night’s drawing.

The jackpot ranks as the sixth-largest offered in North America and the biggest since a $564.1 million Powerball prize shared by players from North Carolina, Texas and Puerto Rico last February.

Now, if you do not buy a ticket and have been poor, yet honest and hard working and praying for a way out and had a dream last week that very soon you are going to be rich and successful and this morning was no usual day break. You generally sleep with your windows closed, but, last night was very hot and you had left the windows open and the week before you had taken the screen off the window also, to have it fixed and lo and behold, this morning flying on the air waves, the winning lottery ticket lands into your room and now you are filthy rich for generations to come. Is that a miracle or not? Yes this is a serious question!

If a flying lottery ticket is a miracle then what about the fact that enslaved Jews had been praying for liberation for 4 centuries and now God sends Moses to negotiate with Pharaoh and then sends the Egyptians 9 plagues and then parts the red sea for the Jews and drowns many of the Egyptian army. Was it a miracle or not? I will have to say it was, unless history has been embellished and distorted; which in this particular case I do not doubt!

However, I will be the first to grant that some miracles are more black and white than others.

This brings me to my second point that I want to share about statistics.

two dices

I am a physician, working as a Pulmonologist and a Sleep Disorder’s Specialist in the state of New York for the last twenty years.

In medical research and literature, when the odds of something happening by pure chance or accident, is less than 5%, then it is attributed to the medicine or treatment under consideration. This is simply based on the logic that 95% is nineteen times more likely than 5%.

So, any event that is extremely rare and is unlikely to happen and is granted to you because of your prayers, has to be taken as a miracle.

How often have you been running for your life from a gang and had to hide in a cave, praying earnestly for your security and to your dismay you find that the gang gets to the cave? But, to your astonishment, the gang members do not walk in, because there is a spider web on the entrance of the cave, put up by a spider in the last few hours, for your  escape. The gang members do not walk into the cave assuming there is no one inside given the web. Would this be a miracle or not?

This may not have happened to you, but, this is exactly that happened to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, as he was trying to escape Mecca to Medina in year 622 CE, in the thirteenth year of his ministry and took refuge in the cave of Saur, near Mecca. And a miracle it was.

The Quran suggests two types of Providences. A general Providence or Rahmaniyat, which is received by every human alike, randomly though and may account for chances in human affairs and a special Providence or Raheemiyat, which is reserved for God’s chosen servants and their prayers, when they are striving in line of God’s profound plans for our world.

For a believer these two axes and countless variables define the complexity of our mundane lives on our planet earth.

It may be easy for honest and straight forward people to see God’s will in the past events, but, it is always a big challenge to find His will in our present and future.

Incidentally, in the Muslim understanding, miracles do not violate laws of nature. Any miracle is only a fortuitous coming together of circumstances to the benefit of its recipient.  As I believe the All-Knowing and the All-Powerful God does not violate any laws of nature, I don’t believe He will grant a miraculous growth of a missing limb, for an amputee; as such a happening in higher mammals is against the laws of biology. Short of that He may grant prayers of suffering humanity and cure of them of different illnesses, by the power of suggestion or through other means, when He so chooses.

If we learn a little about Quantum physics then we can conceptualize that our free will and God’s Providence can both act at the subatomic level to create our day to day reality.

Suggested Reading

The contagious thought that could kill you

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