Does the world today exist because of random chance, intelligent intervention, or simply the inevitable result of a complex chain of events stretching over billions of years?
Roulette players want to believe that the potential for the ball to drop into any particular numbered slot is a function of random chance. But from the ball's perspective, given the complex interactions of the various physical forces acting on it, the outcome is inevitable the moment it's released. There isn't any random chance involved in what the ball will do as a result of the forces acting on it. The illusion of random chance is solely an artifact of the limitations of human understanding of the forces acting on the ball. The odds so beloved by gamblers don't exist in the real world - only within the limitations of the human mind.
Roulette remains a popular game of chance because gamblers continue to believe that the number of variables involved exceed the ability of the croupier to control where the ball will come to rest. However, casinos are well aware that the processing power of even today's primitive computers can calculate enough factors beyond the capabilities of the human mind, to turn what were previously considered games of chance into games of certainty. Given access to enough information, a computer that can calculate the cosmic pinball needed to land a space probe on the surface of a distant planet, could certainly cope with the much simpler dynamics of a roulette wheel.
A lottery only appears to be a game of chance because the number of interrelated variables exceed the limits of our technology. From the universe's perspective, winning lottery numbers are an entirely logical result of the cumulative array of factors that ultimately determine the outcome. What happens has to happen because it is the only thing that can happen, given the set of influences and actions involved. The odds of winning the lottery may appear to be a million to one from the human perspective, but the winner is a sure thing from the perspective of the factors that cause that particular outcome.
Casinos and state lottery operations put substantial efforts into preserving the illusion of random chance in their games, by aggressively excluding any technique or technology capable of increasing the number of factors the mind of a gambler can accommodate. But in doing so, they prove that ultimately their games of chance are anything but.
Gamblers often seek to overcome their limited comprehension of the actual factors driving the events in their game by seeking artificial aids in influencing the world around them. They convince themselves that certain talismans, imaginary extra dimensional forces such as luck and good fortune, or arcane behavior patterns, can influence which numbers will come up on the dice, which cards they will be dealt, or the flight path of a golf ball.
This approach to dealing with the unknown is hardly unique to gamblers. It has been a standard behavior down through all of human history. Humans have long wanted to believe that the inconvenient aspects of their world could be overcome by the intervention of entities with powers that exceed those of mere human mortals.
The essence of the human experience has been an ongoing obsession with gaining control over our natural environment. Lacking the technology to control those aspects of the natural world that often determined their very survival, early man invented gods who possessed the powers he lacked, and who could be induced by shamans and contrived rituals to use their powers to do what mere humans could not.
The participants in modern civilization live today in a largely artificial environment that owes most of its aspects to the cumulative sometimes intelligent interventions and manipulations of generations of tool wielding humans. Over time, we've developed the ability to construct ever more elaborate structures to protect and isolate ourselves from those aspects of the real world that remain beyond our abilities to physically control directly.
We've gotten quite clever at building little boxes within which we can pretend to be in absolute control of the world around us. Over time our increasingly effective ability to isolate ourselves from those forces we are unable to control has become confused with the ability to actually control those forces, at least in the minds of the only superficially aware.
Legitimate scientists can't determine whether the Earth is experiencing global warming, or going through the prelude to the next ice age. But the one thing the ego driven masses are sure of is that mankind is causing the change. We've grown arrogant in our imagined power - at least until an earthquake, volcanic eruption, or hurricane reminds us that there are forces at play on our planet that remain far beyond our ability to understand, let alone control. However, in between natural disasters, we quickly return to our self-deception that we are the purpose and most important aspect of the universe.
The artificially controlled environments we've created for ourselves predispose us to expect there to be some kind of conscious intelligent manipulation in every aspect of our modern lives. It's only a seemingly minor step to then assume that the same must be true of the natural world. Many among us continue to want to believe that someone they can influence controls those aspects of the universe that are outside of their direct control, and so the old beliefs in gods continue.
Complexity is a fairly reliable measure of the difficulty involved in human creations. In our human created artificial world, crude simplicity is the default state. The primitive world is equated with simple, basic, uncomplicated lifestyles. The evolution of civilization is associated with accumulating complexity, with higher civilizations employing ever more complex systems and structures.
From the human-centric perspective, complexity is a function of intentional effort and intent, with the greater the complexity, the greater the degree of intelligent design required in the creation. Complexity doesn't occur "naturally" in human technology. It can only occur through intent, and generally requires an extended progression of incremental steps. The greater the level of complexity, the longer and more involved the process required to reach that state.
Believers look at the evolution of species and attempt to assess the results from the perspective of someone trying to intentionally create that outcome from scratch. In much the same way as they think of how lucky the winner of a lottery was to overcome the astronomical odds against his winning, they look at a present day species and attempt to assess how far beyond their own limited abilities it would be to intentionally create that species.
The extraordinary difficulty of creating a unique fully developed species from whole cloth - which has never actually happened in the real world - coupled with the desire to believe in gods susceptible to human manipulation, predisposes many to want to see the involvement of a human-centric intrusive intelligence in the evolution of life on Earth. If they accept the overwhelming evidence of the progressive evolution of life through mutation and natural selection at all, they insist that some sort of human-centric intelligence must have guided the process in order to create the current state of life on Earth.
Believers like to look back and imagine how different things would have worked out if only a few tiny factors had been different than they actually were. While this may be an entertaining mind game, the reality was that those factors weren't different - they were themselves the inevitable logical result of various other factors. They happened because within the context of that particular moment in time and space, and the confluence of those particular factors, what might superficially appear to be an "unlikely" chain of events was the only possible chain of events.
We live within a dynamic energy system, with the output of the sun creating sufficient energy differentials to drive complex physical changes over long periods of time. Quite simply, something had to happen in our tiny little corner of the universe over the past several billion years, and will continue to happen for several billion more years. There is simply too much energy available for stasis to exist.
From our "life-centric" perspective, Mercury, Neptune and Mars may appear to be "dead planets", but they certainly aren't physically static and inert. We may not find the dynamics in play on those planets "human friendly", but that doesn't change the fact that they are happening.
Reality had to be something - at every instant some outcome had to happen. One of the most relentless of the laws of physics is that for every action there is a reaction, for every event there is an outcome. The laws of physics don't have a pause button - energy flows, physical forces interact, changes occur. The process has been, and will continue to be, relentless until eventually either entropy eliminates all potential energy differentials, or the universe collapses back into a singularity and it all starts over again.
The factors involved in the creation of the Earth favored organic biochemical reactions to the sun's energy, and the natural thermodynamic tendency toward complexity as a function of entropy ultimately resulted in the evolution of life as we think we know it today. The same entropy that favored complexity on a molecular level also favored the complexity that resulted in human intelligence and consciousness.
Looking back in time, it may seem from within our superficial understanding that the creation of the earth and its current inhabitants was an exceptionally unlikely result. But from the perspective of the universe, the current state of the earth was the inevitable cumulative result of a vast number of factors over an astronomical period of time. The Earth, and the life that exists on it, happened because they had to happen given the factors involved.
Put another way, we are the result of what did happen not what didn't happen. We are the consequence of past events and conditions, not the intentional objective of those past events and conditions. The reality of today is just the reality that did happen - not because it was the desired or intended outcome, but just because out of all the apparent possibilities, it was the only one that could happen. That we are the beneficiaries of the chains of coincidences that created our modern world doesn't mean that we were the intended outcome - regardless of our personal desires to believe otherwise.
The core attraction of religion has always been the desire of believers to use imaginary gods to extend their own ability to control the world around them. We continue to imagine that there are gods who can do what we can't - but which we can influence to do our bidding, giving us at least indirect power over an otherwise unresponsive universe.
We imagine all powerful gods because by doing so, we can imagine ourselves the masters of a universe that is otherwise ambivalent to our existence. We imagine that the creation of humanity was the intentional objective of the universe because our egos demand that we be as important to the universe as we are to ourselves.
The desire to look backward and see our present as the result of intelligent intervention in our past, is an extension of our desire to control that which is beyond our ability to control, and to bestow on ourselves cosmic importance that the rest of the universe has somehow neglected to provide.
Contrary to humanity's ego driven desire to believe otherwise, the universe exists on its own terms, not as an extension of our desires for cosmic importance and god-like powers. The Neanderthals survived for several times as long as homo sapiens have so far managed to exist, but they eventually became extinct after several hundreds of thousands of years. Homo sapiens have so far managed to survive for somewhere around a hundred thousand years, but will someday also become extinct.
Humanity as we know it today is only a temporary transitory stage in the ongoing evolution of life on Earth. We might have some influence over whether we are the end point of our particular branch of evolution, or allow ourselves to be replaced by a more advanced further evolution of our species, but the one thing we can't do is stop the continued evolution of life on Earth in response to changing conditions. The Earth is not a stable static system, and change will happen regardless of whether we cause it or are unable to stop it.
Our Sun will transition into its red dwarf stage around five billion years from now, expanding well beyond the orbit of the Earth, and in the process extinguishing all remaining life on our planet. The atoms that provided the tangible expression of life on Earth will be mingled with the mass of the sun, the heavier atoms like iron sinking towards the core, while the lighter hydrogen burns in the Sun's outer layers.
But this won't be the first stellar experience of our component atoms. All of the heavier elements necessary for life as we know it could only be formed within the fusion furnace of a star. They could only be distributed so that they were available for life on Earth by the explosion of the star in which they were formed.
How many billions of years did it take for that previous star to go through its life sequence before its spectacular nova conclusion? There had to be at least one such event in the pasts of our component atoms, but there could have been multiple such experiences.
The key point is that the creation of life on Earth was the result of a complex chain of events stretching back at least tens of billions of years. Even a tiny variation in that long chain could have resulted in a substantially different reality today. Intentionally controlling every minute factor in such a long complex chain over tens of billions of years, just to create our temporary existence, is beyond the capabilities of even imaginary gods. On the other hand, to simply allow the chain of events to happen is easy, and requires no external interference at all.
In spite of the omnipotent powers we imagine they possess, gods tend to have an exceptionally short term existence. Even the most durable of the vast multitude of gods created by human imaginations down through recorded history have "died out" after only a couple of thousand years - hardly long enough to have guided the course of human evolution.
In the larger perspective, the end of one insignificant planet orbiting one star out of the billions of stars even our limited technology can detect, will hardly mark the end of the universe. The universe will continue on long after the inevitable extinction of homo sapiens and the eventual destruction of the Earth, regardless of our desire to see ourselves as the ultimate purpose of the universe.