I came across an interesting passage in the Confessions of Saint Augustine at the end of section (5) of Vindicianus on Astronomy. Augustine is describing a period in his early life when he was, to his later shame, interested in fortune-telling. In this particular passage, a friend is trying to helpfully convince his younger self that fortune-telling is nonsense. Augustine writes of the exchange:

“I asked him why it was that many of their forecasts turned out to be correct. He replied that the best answer he could give was the power apparent in lots, a power everywhere diffused in the nature of things. So when someone happens to consult the pages of a poet whose verses and intention are concerned with a quite different subject, in a wonderful way a verse often emerges appropriate to the decision under discussion. He used to say that it was no wonder if, from the human soul, by some higher instinct that does not know what goes on within itself, some utterance emerges not by art but by ‘chance’ which is in sympathy with the affairs or actions of the inquirer.”

In his Confessions, Saint Augustine sees divine will in every aspect of life and, moreover, he is writing at the end of the fourth century. So of course his conception of chance will differ from our modern one. Still, it is striking that, as he is trying to assert precisely that fortune tellers are correct only by accident, his concept of “accident” does not admit anything like modern randomness.

Suppose a fortune teller flips a coin to predict an outcome that itself occurs half the time and is subsequently correct half the time. We account for this probabilistically, assert that the randomness of the coin flip disconnects the prediction from the outcome, and say that the co-occurence of prediction and outcome is the overlap of unrelated events. Augustine seems to want to say something similar, but cannot commit himself to the disconnect — he attributes correct predictions to “some higher instinct” beyond the control of the fortune teller which, nevertheless, kicks in only some of the time.