Monday over Coffee: The Odds

The Odds

There once was a Big Bang. You may have heard of it. It happened about 14 billion years ago. It could have occurred in all sorts of ways. The chemical elements released might have instantly collapsed back on themselves. Instead, an almost infinite number of galaxies full of stars and planets formed, and our universe is still expanding.


Tick, tock—almost ten billion years passed—until not too far from here (relatively speaking), a dying star exploded, igniting a cloud of cosmic dust that coalesced into that big yellow thing you see in the sky. Some of the remaining debris spun outward from it, but not so far as to escape its gravitational pull. One such chunk—in what’s been estimated to be a one-in-a-million-million chance—nestled into the habitable zone where the temperature was, if not right just yet, someday would be.


Another billion years passed with volcanoes spewing water vapor and icy meteors pelting the surface of this molten ball of rock until salty oceans formed. Beneath them, chemicals and energy bubbled up through hydrothermal vents in the sea floor until—in a way no one can quite explain—single-cell life was born. Another billion years later, two of the single cells inexplicably merged together in what scientists call The Fateful Encounter and began to proliferate. 


A few hundred million years later, a certain sort of bacteria, in a process we now call photosynthesis, began to release oxygen into the air, rolling out the evolutionary red carpet for larger, oxygen-breathing life forms to survive and grow. And grow they did, until just 65 million years ago when an asteroid almost six miles across crashed to Earth. It exploded like a billion atom bombs, wiping out half of everything including the planet’s top-of-the-food-chain life form, the dinosaur. In their absence, smaller shrew-like mammals began to thrive until--well, you know. 


But still, that’s not the whole story of you and me. A California doctor named Ali Binazir estimates that given the circles they ran in, the odds of your mom and dad meeting were about 1 in 20,000. Dr. Binazir, who’s written a book about how we tend to pair off, also estimates the odds of your folks developing some chemistry, and staying together long enough to have kids, to be 1 in 2,000-ish. 


As you contemplate those odds and layer them atop one another, layer them again and again, generation after generation, until you get all the way back to the part I mentioned a while ago about The Fateful Encounter. And we’re still not done by a long shot. The probability of your mother’s egg being fertilized by your father in such a way that combined DNA-wise to make you rather than someone sort of like you, is about 1 in 400,000,000,000,000,000. 


Look, I’m not really all that stellar at math, but given the preceding paragraphs, it’s fair to say the odds of you being alive right now are, from a cold statistical standpoint, basically nil. Vanishingly, infinitely small. Almost zero—which begs the question, “Are we each simply meant to be? Are we magnificent accidents or something inscrutable in-between?” Whatever the answer, it all leads back to the undeniable conclusion that by any analysis, we’re all miracles.


Nine Days is a recently-released movie that tells the story of Will, an arbiter of sorts, who over a nine day period, working out of a modest craftsman-style home in the middle of an arid desert, methodically and emotionally interviews souls hoping to be born. First-time director Edson Oda’s film takes on an otherworldly and yearning quality as Will patiently works with each candidate, and his own story begins to intertwine with each of theirs. As a fable, the movie refrains from over-explaining its premise, but skillfully and brilliantly expresses the same theme that the numbers above show—we ought to take no day, no moment, for granted. 


Whether you choose to assess the odds mathematically or let a tale like Oda’s confound then exhilarate your heart, the message our Creator and Creation itself urge upon us is to soak up every starry evening our ever-expanding universe offers. Absorb every dappled beam of sunlight that falls upon your face from 93 million miles away. Deeply embrace every friendship you have with your steady 75 heartbeats per minute. Feel how stray breezes brush the light hairs on your arms with a pleasant tickle. Relish jokes. Savor the sound of a bow across taut strings, and cherish every note of grace that against all odds appears before you each day. 



May I feel the odds and live accordingly.


—Greg Funderburk

Subscribe to the SMBC Blog