I have learned that Jesus created all things. Hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of planets. Infinite. Also, Christ’s Atonement is a one-time occurrence, and although He appeared on Earth, His sacrifice applied to ALL other worlds. While I am a faithful member and believe our church is true, it has always seemed a little… far fetched… that out of endless worlds, it just so happens that Jesus came here, a statistical impossibility. Please shed your wisdom!
I think you meant to say that it’s statistically improbable, since clearly it’s not impossible (seeing as it’s historical fact, and “with God all things are possible” – Matthew 19:26). So let’s explore probability for a moment. I’m not an expert in this field, so I went to do some research and found some very interesting things. The probability of your exact DNA existing is approximately 1 ÷ 423 or 1 ÷ 70,368,744,177,664 (70 trillion and change). Just to get an idea of the size of this, if you created one genetic variant a second it would take over 2 million years to exhaust every possibility. You are one second out 2,000,000 years! Now that seems more than a little far-fetched. A fellow named Lewis Thomas seems to agree:
Statistically the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you would think the mere fact of existence would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise. We are alive against the stupendous odds of genetics, infinitely outnumbered by all the alternates who might, except for luck, be in our places.
C. S. Lewis (in a book titled Miracles) takes this observation from the genetic improbability to the ancestral variety:
When you consider the immense number of meetings and fertile unions between ancestors which were necessary in order that you should be born, you perceive that it was once immensely improbable that such a person as you should come to exist…
This made me curious exactly how immense this number of fertile unions may have been. Now once upon a time, I was curious how one would calculate the number of positions in a family tree diagram (the kind where we have you, then your parents, then each of their parents, etc.). After some puzzling, I determined that the formula is: 2n-1, where n is the number of generations. Of course, the same person is sometimes in multiple positions on that chart, so whatever number we come up with will likely be more than the total number of actual people, but still, let’s try the math anyway.
The average male generation is 34.5 years (a number I pulled off a website, so I’m sure it’s correct). If we were to say that human procreation has been happening for approximately 6000 years, that would give us roughly 173 generations. That would give us this many positions on the family tree diagram:
I’m not sure how big that number is, but it looks really big. Of course, once we hit Noah, there’s only two people on the chart, so it doesn’t work out quite right, so let’s forget trying all 173 generations and just go back 1000 years: 1000 ÷ 34.5 = 28.985507246376811594202898550725 generations (personally, I blame that fractional generation for most of the world’s problems). 228.985507246376811594202898550725-1 gives us 531,504,712.98990145769409230909536 positions. Even if we chop that in half to cover the people in multiple positions, that’s still more than 250 million people who had to cooperate to make you you. Even if the real number were 100 million people, that still requires more cooperation than most people seem capable of. Whatever the actual numbers, it seems there’s a lot of opportunity in there for you to not be you. In fact, it’s highly probable you’re not really you, statistically speaking.
To top all that off, I found this disturbing bit of math and logic from someone who is undeniably a master of improbability:
It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination. — The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (end of chapter 19)
But don’t panic, I also tripped over a key to the real answer to all of this: according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, probability theory is “a branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of random phenomena.” And in the Wikipedia article on probability theory, I found a useful opening phrase: “Although it is not possible to perfectly predict random events…”. Now those who know me in person, know I love playing with “random” stuff (I once made a random decision maker tool, but I digress). But here’s what Elder Neal A. Maxwell had to say about the seemingly random (emphasis mine):
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once explained: “None of us ever fully utilizes the people-opportunities allocated to us within our circles of friendship. You and I may call these intersectings ‘coincidence.’ This word is understandable for mortals to use, but coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by ‘coincidence’ but … by ‘divine design.’”
So let’s set the wisdom of man and his probability theory aside now and look at some of the things of God. First, let’s see what God has said about the number of worlds:
33 And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.
37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.
That there is no end to God’s works makes them infinite, but I personally suspect this describes a future infinity – there will be no end to God’s works because He will continue to work without end. But it seems that the number of works already created are numbered to God, so perhaps not yet infinite. Regardless, the Lord makes it clear to Moses that He creates these things for His own purpose, and that He’s not going to share full details of that purpose (“Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.” See Moses 1:31, 33.) Further, the Lord explains to Moses (emphasis mine):
Moses 1:35 But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.
We simply don’t get to know about these other worlds – their number, their purpose, why we aren’t on one of those worlds, or why Christ came to this world for his mortality. But we do know something very, very important which tells us why you and I are here, and why Christ came to this earth for his mortality:
Moses 1:39 For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
I think it is safe to trust that this was the proper place for Christ to perform his Atonement. I think it’s safe to trust that this is where (and when) you and I need to be in order for God to bring about our immortality and (if we prove faithful) eternal lives. Again, Elder Neal A. Maxwell has some wisdom for us:
The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well. — Neal A. Maxwell, That My Family Should Partake, Pg.86
I hope you can trust that God has given great attention to where and when you live. This, like most spiritual truth, is something we must learn through faith. King Benjamin has this admonition for us:
Mosiah 4:9 Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.
We may not comprehend the where of these things, but we can trust that our presence on the earth to which Christ came is no coincidence, that probability was not involved, and that these things are by divine design.
I hope you enjoyed this bit of improbable fun with me, and that though we may not know all, you too can trust that God knows what he’s doing and that it’s designed for our good.
PS: Don’t forget to bring your towel.