Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Lucky Luke and the Twenty Royal Flushes (Another Parable)

Little Luke Junior (also referred to as "Cool Hand" Luke after that incident with the ice cream) loved nothing more than to sit at the knee of his father, the legendary "Lucky" Luke, and have him recount the story of the day he had dealt twenty royal flushes in a row.

Lucky Luke would start with rambling stories about his past adventures, how smart his horse at that time was, how stupid his dog was, how it would still be years before he and Luke Junior's mother would meet and how, even to this day, he sometimes misses the first cigarette of the day (usually accompanied by an attack of coughing and spitting blood).  Then, once warmed to his topic, he'd talk about how, all those years ago, he met a gambling man whose penchant for evil eclipsed that of Black Bart (who was actually a nice gentleman who just happened to commit a stage-coach robbery here and there).

This character, "No-Eggs" Oliver, had little going for him except his reputation of meaningless violence and OCD.  His final obsession, the one that brought Lucky and No-Eggs together, was to see 20 royal flushes dealt in a row.  He rode up and down the country, visiting saloons, bordellos and gambling dens, challenging people to deal 20 poker hands from 20 individual packs of cards.  He rode quickly and, quite frankly, had nothing else to do with his time, so he extended this challenge to millions upon millions of people.

The challenge went a little like this: "Shuffle these 20 packs of cards and deal a royal flush from each.  If you fail, I shoot you in the head.  If you don't try, I shoot you in the head.  If you cheat, I shoot you in the head."

So, naturally, they all tried, and they all failed.  Until "Lucky" Luke (who until that time was only known as Luke).  He tried and he succeeded.  No-Eggs, who was getting rather old by this time, having killed millions upon millions of unsuccessful croupiers, was so astonished that, despite a lifetime spurning eggs due to the possibility of cholesterol and the suspicion that even "free range" eggs might not really be free range, suffered an enormous cardiac arrest and died on the spot.

At this point, little Luke would pipe up, claiming that the odds of dealing 20 royal flushes in a row are so incredibly unlikely that his father must have cheated – and No-Eggs simply hadn't noticed.

At this point, Lucky Luke would say: Ah, my son, it might look to you as if I had cheated, but the whole point of this story is that if I had not dealt those 20 royal flushes, you would not be here to accuse me of cheating.  An alternative way of looking at it is that many a man (and perhaps lady) died at the hands of No-Eggs before I succeeded in dealing 20 royal flushes.  For all we know, No-Eggs, with his uncontrollable compulsion and amazing fortune in evading the law with regards to his card-related homicides, could have kept going until someone else dealt 20 royal flushes.  It's possible that someone else had already succeeded, and his son or daughter also accuses him (or her) of having cheated.  It's even possible that No-Eggs hadn't really challenged anyone before, that I was the first, and that I am merely phenomenally lucky, as my nickname suggests.  Either way, cheating or not, the result is that I survived my encounter with No-Eggs and I was thus able to meet your mother some years later.

It would appear, my son, that it is only because you are already so totally committed to the idea of my having cheated that you fixate on cheating as being the singular reason for my success in dealing the royal flushes.  But consider this:

The meeting between myself and your mother was unlikely.  There are millions of people in this country that we could have met up with, but it transpired that, one day, we just happened to be in the same place at the same time and we noticed each other and we liked what we saw and we had the time and inclination to act on that mutual attraction.  That attraction lead eventually to, ahem, shall we say "intimacy" and one sperm of the approximately 525 billion that a human male produces over a lifetime managed to make its way to one 400 (out of the 400 thousand potential) eggs produced by your mother over her lifetime – which necessitated, ahem, intimacy at precisely the right time for that particular sperm and that particular egg to meet.  Then environmental conditions had to be just right to switch on and off the genes that were needed to make you.  And this incredible good fortune stretches back over thousands of generations, hundreds of millions of generations in fact, if you include the species from which humans evolved.  So, Junior, you are an incredibly unlikely result, even if I may have cheated at cards.  Surely you aren't suggesting that these unlikely events wer all orchestrated merely so that you, "Cool Hand" Luke, would be born – or are you suggesting that we, your parents, somehow cheated to bring you about?

To this little Luke would reply that he doesn't really like the back story involving multiple attempts at dealing twenty royal flushes (although he would strenuously deny that this objection is largely due to the conflict with his preferred narrative), and that the disturbing discussion involving parental intimacy and sperm was even worse.  So, therefore, he would simply ignore it all.


What the hell is all this about?  Good question!

Look here.  Now, admittedly, Barnes is talking about sitting down and dealing 20 royal flushes in a row, the likelihood of which is staggeringly unlikely.  Little Luke is indeed justified for thinking that his father probably cheated, it's the by far most likely option in the scenario as described – even if "No-Eggs" Oliver had had the time and inclination to challenge billions of people, rather than just millions.  But the point is that the fact that Luke Junior exists at all is evidence that 20 royal flushes were dealt – even if it is true that Luke Senior didn't cheat (and so long as Luke Senior didn't just create the story out of whole cloth).

However, in this scenario, cheating is most definitely an option.  Another option is magic, if we are inclined to distinguish that from more mundane forms of cheating such as palming or counting cards.

What would be interesting to know is, if we could somehow eliminate illusionist-like cheating (say that "Lucky" Luke's feat of dealing 20 royal flushes was recorded in high definition video from multiple angles and could be scrutinised by Penn and Teller and however many other professional illusionists that are thought to be necessary), would Barnes plump for magic as being the most likely explanation?

Because, after all, this is the real equivalent to the NID option that Barnes appears to favour.  (NID means "non-terrestrial intelligent design" for those who haven't followed the Carrier-Barnes squabbles over the past couple of years or so.)

A cosmologist who puts his money on magic?  Hm, now that is a guy I'd like to play poker with.

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