Introduction to the Blog

A Virginia House of Delegates election held in November 2017, between Democrat Shelly Simonds and Republican David Yancey, is the perfect example of the type of news story I will be expounding upon and expanding upon in this blog. This election ended closely enough for a recount. The recount first declared Simonds the winner by one vote, and then a challenge of a contested ballot brought the vote to a tie.

This election was critical because it determined which party would control this half of the Virginia legislature with a new Democratic governor just elected. The story has all the elements of the themes that I will emphasize in “When God Plays Dice.” First, there is mathematical probability and its companion randomness, both of which are poorly understood by the general public. For starters, to be discussed in the next post, understanding this math tells us that we can never know who really won this election, regardless of who won the figurative (though not literal) “coin flip” (itself a further exercise in probability and randomness). [1]

Second is the reality that, due to the contested nature of Virginia politics in 2017 and 2018, and regardless of your personal politics, the future for thousands of Virginians literally changes, sometimes in life-or-death ways, depending on that “game of chance.” In western culture we heavily draw on three ways of analyzing this crossroads. From the ancient Greeks and other cultures, we get the concept of fate. And from 18th-century German mathematician/philosopher/theologian Gottfried Leibniz we get the term theodicy, which literally means “the justice of God,” and which gives a name to the various ways we use “God language” to explain why good and bad things happen to us.

Finally, in this example election we get politics, which is, in my “positive days” definition, the process by which “Good People Disagree.” In my “bad days” definition, politics is the odorous pit from which nasty people try to exploit their power over the rest of us.

So, in this blog you will get my attempt to correct some misapprehensions that may be afflicting the conversation. The math and will be held to as accessible a level as I can make it (with the risk of being technically inadequate at times). The theology will be as non-sectarian and historical as possible. And I will try to keep the political commentary to the perspective of “concerned sane person,” with a soft spot for the people who have historically borne the brunt of the “nasty ones.”

In general, I will be alternating posts with examples from the current news with some deeper-dive observations on these topics every couple of days, at least as long as the queue lasts.

The title of this blog comes from a comment credited to Albert Einstein, that “God does NOT play dice with this world.” This phrase is typically used out of context, and is widely misunderstood by religious believers. In addition his intended meaning is probably wrong from the perspective of modern physics.

We will re-visit the provenance and interpretations of this quote in a later post, but my perspective, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious in this title, is that probability and randomness, epitomized by the throw of dice, have a major effect on my daily life and yours, not to mention the fates of Shelly Simonds and David Yancey. [2]

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  1. In fact, this race was settled through the drawing of lots, an method of gambling with Biblical roots (and earlier), from Leviticus 16:8 for selecting a literal scapegoat through to the picking of an apostle to succeed Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:26.
  2. On January 4, 2017, the Republican David Yancey’s “lot” was drawn and he will serve in this office, tilting the House of Delegates in his party’s favor to face off with a new Democratic governor. The fates of many people changed with that single draw of the lots.