Science in Christian Perspective
Probability in Biblical Prophecy*
A Technique for Producing Convincing Evidence To A Class That the Bible Is Inspired
PETER W STONER
Chairman, Mathematics and Astronomy
Pasadena City College, Pasadena, California
From: JASA 4 (December
1952):
3-5.
Paper given at the Seventh Annual Convention of the Amerlean Scientific Affiliation at Wheaton College Science Station, Rapid City, South Dakota, August 26-29, 1052.
This technique has been used with several classes of college students and in each case found to be very effective.
Two simple principles of probability are used in this type of study.
1. If the chance of one event occurring is 1 in m, ,and the chance of a second and independent event occuring is 1 in n, then the chance that both events will occur is 1 in m times n.
Eg. If the chance that any given infant will graduate .from college is I in 100, and the chance that any given infant will become bald is 1 in 10, then, since there appears to be no relation between graduating from college and becoming bald, the chance that any given infant will both graduate from college and become bald is I in 100 times 10 or 1 in 1,000.
2. If the chance of one event occuring is 1 in m, and the chance that a second and related event will occur after the first event has occured is 1 in n, then the chance that both ev6rts will occur is 1 in rn times n.
Eg. If the chance that any given infant will graduate from college in 1 in 100 and the chance that any given infant will be a school teacher is I in 1,000, then we can not say that the chance that any given infant will graduate from college and be a school teacher is 1 in 100 times 1,000 for there is a relation between being a school teacher and graduating from college.
Here we must obtain different data. The chance of any given infant graduating from college being 1 in 100 is satisfactory, but the second question must be, what is the chance that any given college graduate will be a school teacher? If the answer to this should be 1 in 90 then the chance that any given infant shall graduate from college and be a school teacher is 1 in 100 times 90 or 1 in 9,000.
Before estimating the probability for a first and a second event happening,.Owe must be very careful to determine whether the events are entirely independent or somewhat related. If in doubt assume that they are related and use principle 2.When a group is to study a prophecy to determine the human probability of its fulfillment, all data regarding conditions and trends at the time the prophecy was made should be obtained and discussed by the group. Each item of the prophecy should be evaluated separately. Each individual of the group should answer the question: From the human information available to the prophet, and the conditions prevailing at that time, what chance had the prophet of having this item of his prophecy come true? (The lowest estimate that any member of the group will seriously suggest must be accepted.)
On taking up the next item of the prophecy, have the group unanimously determine if this is independent from the first item or related to it. If there is any possibility of its being even remotely related, ask the question: After the first item of the prophecy came true, what was the human chance of the second item coming true also?
After each part has been separately evaluated, multiply the various probabilities together to find the probability of the whole prophecy coming true.
Let us illustrate by repeating the -reactions of a class of college students to a prophecy regarding Palestine.
This prophecy makes seven predictions."And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries into desolations. - And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste."
"Thus saith the Lord God; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also
cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled."
We are so familiar with the fulfillment of this prophecy that it need not be discussed here.
Let use consider each prediction separately2. "The sanctuaries shall become desolate."
The sanctuary had been kept active even all through the wilderness journey. What is the probability that they shall become desolate with the cities? Lowest estimate I in 2.
3. "The land shall become desolate."What was the probability that another people would not come in and till the ground? Visitors to Palestine, 50 years and more ago, reported that very little of the land was tilled, the great mass of it was a total desolation. Lowest estimate I in 10.
4. "Enemies shall inhabit the land."What was the probability that even though the land was left desolate it would still be inhabited? Palestine became a stronghold of the Moslems, the enemies of the Jews. They inhabited the land. Lowest estimate 1 in 2.
5. "The Jews shall be scattered."The Jews, even through great persecution had stayed together, whether they were in Egypt, Palestine or the wilderness. What was the probability that they would now be scattered? They have been scattered to every land of the world. Estimate I in 10.
6. "A sword shall go out after the Jews."What was the probability that after the Jews were so scattered they should be severely persecuted? The Jews have been persecuted as no other race on the face of the earth. Their persecution by Hitler, in recent years, is the cruelest recorded in all history. Estimated probability I in 5.
7. "The Jews shall return to Palestine, the cities shall be rebuilt and its land shall be tilled."What is the probability, that, after being so scattered and persecuted, they would again return and reclaim their country? This reclamation has been well accomplished in the last few years. We have all marveled at its speed and the military successes of the Jews in retaking Palestine. Lowest estimate I in 50.
Thus for the fulfillment of the whole prophecy we have a probability of 1 in 106, by multiplying all of the estimated probabilities together.
Let no one misunderstand. The above estimates were made by a group of college students and are herewith reported without revision. I do not agree with all of the estimates and you, no doubt, also disagree with some. If the values given to the different probability items were to be defendable, one would have to do a great amount of research work and statistical investigation to determine such a value for each probability. This method of estimating, however, is satisfactory to a group. All members of these groups were convinced that these estimates were very conservative, for the smallest estimate made by any member was taken for each item of prophecy and every member thought that most of the estimates accepted were unreasonably low. They felt as a group that the total estimate should have been larger.
A number of prophecies should thus be considered and evaluated by the group. If the prophecies are all independent, all of the probabilities should be multiplied together to obtain an estimate of the probability of all of the prophecies studied being fulfilled.
My class of college students also considered the following geographical prophecies: 1. Tyre, Ez. 26:3-5, 7, 12, 14, 16. 2. Samaria, Micah 1:6. 3. Gaza and Ashkelon, Zeph. 2:4-6, Amos 1:8 and Jer. 57:5. 4. Jericho, Joshua 6:26. 5. The Golden Gate, Ez. 44:1-3. 6. Zion Plowed, Micah 3:12. 7. Jerusalem Enlarged, Jer. 31:38-40. S. Moab and Ammon, 7z. 25:3, 4, 9. 9. Edom, Jer. 49:16-18. 10. Babylon, Isa. 13:19-21 and Jer. 51:26, 43.
This college group agreed that some other group might assign smaller estimates, but if they did, more prophecies could be studied until a total result equal to or greater than the estimate which they had agreed upon was obtained.
When the above prophecies were all evaluated and the total resulting probability computed it was found (from the student's judgment) that the prophets, if they wrote from human knowledge, had only one chance in 8 X 1063 of having all of the prophecies come true. But they all came true.
An attempt was then made to visualize this probability by supposing that we had this number of silver dollars and we made them into solid balls the size of our sun. (The volume of the sun is more than 1,000,000 times the volume of the earth.) We found that we would have 1032 such balls. If we had such a ball to replace each of the estimated 30 billion suns in each of 2 billion galaxies, which probably do exist, the operation would have to be repeated every second for about 70,000 years to use up all of the 8 X 1063 silver dollars. Now imagine that one of these silver dollars was marked before they were made into suns. Let us blindfold a man and tell him to go out and pick up the marked dollar. We would say that he had no chance of producing it, But his chance is about the same as the chance of all of the prophets took in the above 11 prophecies, if they wrote from human knowledge alone.
It should be pointed out that the number of fulfilled prophecies is tremendous, and in no case has any biblical prophecy been found false. We are still waiting for the fulfillment of many prophecies, but no event has ever taken place contrary to a prophecy.
We have discussed the field of prophecy dealing with geographical places. Other types of prophecies may be studied. Another class of college students studied and computed the probability of fulfillment of 48 prophecies, from the Old Testament, regarding the first advent of Christ. They arrived at the combined probability of their fulfillment by any man living from the day of the prophets to the present time as about I in 10181.
An attempt to visualize this probability was made by taking objects the size of the electron and packing all space out to 2 billion light years solid with them. We found that we would have to repeat this 5 X 1053 times to use up all of our electrons.
It is absurd to say, let us blindfold a man and send him out to find the marked electron. No wonder Christ said, "Search the Scriptures they are they which testify of me."We may ask, what is the human chance that these geographical and the prophecies referring to Christ should all come true? The answer, of course, is the product of the two probabilities or 1 in 8 X 10214.
These results have left the realm of evidence and have become as near an absolute proof as the mind can conceive of and greater than the physical universe can represent.
Dr. P. Bender: What was the student reaction?
Mr. P. Stoner: There is no question but that they were convinced that the Bible is inspired. This was the reaction of both Christian and non-Christian.
Dr. J. Maxwell: I think we should commend this paper. Science goes ahead by the times that it finds a new technique with which to work. Here is a new technique. When we find a new way to present the truth of God we ought to develop it; but not over develop it.