I am thanking God for your safety, because that is the only way you and Tímea came out of that accident unscathed.Another friend sent me a story of someone who
was unbelievably luckyto survive a dramatic wreck. I, too, have the feeling that Tímea and I were extremely lucky to come out unscathed. But simple fact of the matter is that we were extremely unlucky to have been in the accident at all. This way of thinking is best illustrated through a probably apocryphal story of a neighborhood dog:
Some friends down the street have a dog namedLucky. The dog got the name, so the story goes, because he was hit by a car three times and survived each time. It seems to be an almost automatic reaction to consider how lucky the dog was. But a little reflection suggests that this is one of the most unlucky dogs around to manage to get hit three times.
The kind of thinking illustrated here is common, compelling, and irrational. It doesn't seem to come from religious teachings, since this this kind of thinking seems prevalent among the non-religious as well. I, along with some of my fellow atheists, have probably been too hard on some religious people by failing to recognize the near universality of this way of thinking.
It's easy to ridicule the tsunami survivor who attributes their (good?) fortune to the grace of God yet does not at the same time hold God responsible for the death and suffering of those less fortunate. The sportsmen who credit Jesus for their victory don't really believe that the Lord abandoned their competitors. Certainly the logic in their declarations are twisted, but it doesn't originate from being religious; it comes from being human.
But as long as the rest of us feel that dog Lucky is lucky, we should be looking at this as a human irrationality. Although I intellectually know that I was unlucky to have that accident and that Lucky is an unfortunate animal, the feeling that I and Lucky are lucky to be alive is very hard to shake. As with many optical illusions, knowledge that something is an illusion doesn't make the experience go away.
With optical illusions, it is fairly well understood why most of them occur. Cognitive scientists have a pretty good accounts of what sorts of heuristics our visual perception system uses and how those can be fooled. Here we have an illusion of fortune, and this suggests that there are some heuristics used in our perception of chance. Indeed, there is an entire stream of extremely well conducted research in cognitive psychology on this. But I do not know if the phenomenon that I've described here has been addressed.