We have all been part of those oneupmanship conversations where someone’s anecdote, stretched out for the greatest effect, about an amazing coincidence s/he experienced, inevitably leads to the recounting of even more amazing coincidences. My favorite (skip to the next paragraph if you don’t give a hoot in hell about this) concerns the Paris Metro. Peak-hour, trains every couple of minutes, platforms packed, sardines disguised as weary workers on their way home. I am in a carriage squeezed between a skinhead and a businessman with my nose practically crushed against the glass of the entry-exit doors. We arrive at Montparnasse -Bienvenüe (most French people don’t know that doesn’t mean “welcome” here, but is the name of Fulgence Bienvenüe, the engineer who designed the Metro system). The doors open. And there, right in front of me, among the millions of Parisians and the thousands of tourists in Paris that evening and the countless commuters waiting for the Metro, is a French guy who previously had been a fellow-Franciscan doctoral student, a long-lost friend whom I had not seen for over thirty years.
When people share stories like that, there is always someone who proclaims that it was somehow predestined, that it was not an accident, that it was meant to happen. Balderdash (or balivernes, if you prefer) ! Some people refuse to believe in “pure chance”. Mathematicians calculate the infinitesimal chances of things like that happening, but many prefer to believe there is some mysterious cause or even purpose behind it.
Much has been said and written by both atheists and non-atheists about the rôle of chance in the coming-to-be of the universe and especially in the beginnings of life in its most primitive form. The (Divine) Watchmaker, some, like Richard Dawkins, say, was blind. But some people find it impossible to accept that anything, let alone life or the universe, could happen by chance. It is just too hard to believe that the subjects of our coincidence-stories are pure flukes. There must be Someone or Something behind the coincidence. Is it too much to accept that this may be a basic reason many believe in God ? I cannot, for the life of me, find any sense in attributing the presence of my friend, on that platform, at that precise spot, at that precise moment, to anything but pure chance. Perhaps this is why, without forgetting Darwin’s fundamental nuance expressed in his “This universe is the result of blind chance and of necessity” (see my From Illusions to Illumination, page 91), I find it perfectly credible that “God” had no more to do with the Big Bang than with the Big Fluke of finding my friend in front of my face in the Metro at Montparnasse.