Thanksgiving…and Math

As I write this, it’s a few hours before Thanksgiving.  And if you’re thinking you may be short on blessings, let start with a very basic one.

You can be thankful for just being here.

I’m not much for numbers, and I’m glad my son Matt inherited his knack for them from my wife Deb.  It comes in handy if you’re an Engineering major at Iowa State.  He chews through math courses like I do bacon.

I’ve occasionally wondered what the odds are of us being born.  And that, to my consternation, requires numbers to figure out.  Really BIG ones.

I first read a calculation about this in “The Wizard of Ads” by Roy Williams.  He visited with Ryan Sokol from the Texas A & M statistics department.  As I understand it, he was just figuring your odds at the time of conception.  Adjusting for the number of fertile men and women on the planet—plus the number of genetic factors contributed by the male and the hours of female fertility per month (and a few other factors)—he came up with your odds at 1 in 1.3 x 10 to the 29th power.   That’s 130 with 9 sets of zeros.

But we’re just getting started.

A quick side trip here for some math trivia.  When I was little, I remember reading that the largest named number was google.  That was 1 with 100 zeros after it.  And google is going to be a mighty small number before this story is over.  In the meantime, we’ll fire up that search engine named Google (I’ve included the links I’m citing below).  And I’m smiling right now, remembering Burt Reynolds in Woody Allen’s movie “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask” as I write this next part.

Let’s calculate the odds of you being born just within your parent’s relationship.

These stats are from the book “Sperm Wars” by Robin Baker.  First off, only 1% of sperm a man produces are considered “egg getter” sperm.  That still allows a whopping 36 billion unique offspring in a man’s lifetime.  My parents had three kids.  So…the odds of my dad contributing the sperm that became me were 1 in 12 billion…I think.

A fertile woman produces 100,000 viable eggs in her lifetime.  So…the chance that the egg and sperm that produced you…just within your mom and dad’s relationship…are 1 in 400 quadrillion.  And we’ve only gone back one generation!

In a Huffington Post blog, Dr. Ali Binazir takes this further.  He speculates that humans have been around for 3 million years.  Averaging 20 years each, there have been 150,000 generations.  Suppose over the course of human history, only half of everyone born survives to become a parent.

Now buckle up.

The odds of your particular lineage…to remain unbroken for 150,000 generations and produce you…are 1 in 10 to the 45,000th power!   That’s not just a number exceeding all the particles in the universe.  It’s bigger than all the particles in the universe if each particle itself were a universe!

How can we doubt that we were fearfully and wonderfully made, intelligently and meticulously designed by an amazing Creator to do glorious things in this life?

Happy Thanksgiving!


Here are my Google sources for some more amazing facts and even more numbers:


Taken in the Rowley cemetery under an August full moon and a car going past, this is the tombstone of Martha & Devere grandparents.

Taken in the Rowley cemetery under an August full moon with a car zipping past, this is the tombstone                        of Martha & John Devere Grover…                my grandparents.

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2 Responses to Thanksgiving…and Math

  1. The Waltrips says:

    Good stuff, Tim. I have spent all day trying to figure out what I would be doing if I weren’t born. I’m still working on it.

    Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2013 06:25:44 +0000

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