BOSTON — John Allen Paulos likes to tell a story about a museum guard who would inform visitors that the dinosaur on display was 70 million and six years old.

One day, a little girl challenged his number. Seventy million and six? How did he know for sure?

The guard looked down and explained, "When I took the job, they told me it was 70 million years old. That was six years ago."

Paulos, a mathematician with a sense of humor, uses that tale to illustrate the absurdity of arithmetic precision in the face of estimates, guesswork and margins of error.

Of course, the Temple University professor is the first to admit that the comparison between the age of a dinosaur and the result of an election is less than perfect, but there is a parallel to what is happening in Florida. Two sides are searching for a mathematical benediction to what is — let's face it — a statistical tie.

At the moment, the certified Bush lead in Florida is 537 votes, around .009 percent of the vote.

Add to that the fact that Al Gore won the popular vote, and add to that the margin of error in calculating all the votes, and you come to this conclusion: In the end, we will decide who has won this election, but we will never know who won.

So, given the certainty of this uncertainty, how do you explain the righteous outrage of Bush supporters?

It's not just the Sore/Loserman posters, or the angry mob outside the Miami-Dade counting room. It's also the irate citizens in Florida claiming God is on their side.

Right from the beginning, a New York Times poll showed that Bush voters were more adamant in claiming victory for their man than Gore voters.

All along, Bush folks have claimed an absolute win, while Gore folks were more willing to face an ambiguous reality. This week, 93 percent of the Bush voters believe Bush won, while 51 percent of Gore voters — like 53 percent of those who didn't vote for either — aren't sure who won.

Part of the difference may be the result of the pre-emptive crowning of Bush by the networks, the Florida secretary of state or the governor himself. But in some ways the real divide in this election and this country is between those who grasp those absolutes and those who accept ambiguity.

We have seen the divide between the absolute and the ambiguous in issues far more difficult to determine than the status of a pregnant chad. It's a constant thread in international conflicts and ethical debates. It even underlies arguments over abortion or euthanasia. Some believe that the moment life begins or ends is an open case; some believe it's shut.

But one thing that's become clear in this post-election haze is that absolutists often have anger — if not God — on their side. In the public debate between the passionate and the ambivalent, the true believer and the neutral, it seems that anger gets a competitive edge.