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Problem with the Firing Squad Analogy
« on: April 01, 2016, 11:27:42 pm »
Hi There,

Craig and several other apologists I have read refer to the analogy of facing a firing squad of 50 (or more) expert marksmen and finding afterwards that one has survived. "You should not be surprised to observe that you are not dead after they have fired at you – that is the only outcome you personally could consciously observe. However, you should be surprised to find yourself alive and wonder why they all missed!" (Lennox). This surprise should then lead one to consider that the odds against survival are so large, that someone has obviously intervened in the process to bring about a favorable conclusion (e.g. your rich uncle bribed all the marksmen; or a friend swapped all their bullets for blanks). By analogy then, the stupendous odds against the universe having conditions just right for life to exist, and the additional huge improbability of the necessary organic molecules coming together to form the first living organism, etc. should cause us to assume divine interference.

However, I see two problems with this analogy:

1. In the analogy, one is conscience before the event of the improbability of surviving. So having survived, it is only natural to question how it could have happened that way. However, in the case of the existence of anthropic conditions and life, we are only aware of what has happened after the event - we are here now alive. We did not exist before the universe started and so did not anticipate beforehand whether it was likely to result in our existence. Considering the improbability of a particular lottery number having happened after it has been generated is absurd. Probabilities are only relevant for predicting future events.

2. In the analogy, the outcome is controlled by agents who have free will (the marksmen) (Please don't start the free will debate with me here). So when something apparently unlikely occurs, it is only natural to question whether all is as it appears - perhaps all the marksmen weren't really trying to hit the target?

Here is what I think is a much more realistic analogy. Imagine you are researching your family tree, and you discover that one of your ancestors had at one stage been the only survivor of a shipwreck, who floated in the ocean for 15 days before being washed ashore on a deserted island, where he survived for two years, including being bitten at one stage by a venomous snake, before being rescued, only to survive another shipwreck off the coast of England, after which he struggled ashore and lived the rest of his life uneventfully, except for the fact that he sired a member of the next generation in your family tree.

What would you make of this amazing survival story? The odds against someone surviving such a series of events seem astronomical? Perhaps it is fiction – but you check independent shipping records and find that he was indeed a passenger on a vessel which sank with loss of all other hands. Would you conclude that God was directing all these events? If you already believe in God, then perhaps you might. But then why didn’t God rescue all the other members of the ship? Most people would accept that your ancestor’s survival happened by chance – there is no need to invoke the supernatural intervention of any active agents to explain it, because it is only the stories of successful survivors that catch our attention (similar to the principle that history is written by the victor). What’s more, he had to have survived, otherwise you wouldn’t have been here today to investigate his life story in the first place - in other words the probability of any of your ancestors having lived long enough to sire offspring is 100 %, by definition. There is no need to invoke God's existence to explain this.

So I don't think the firing squad analogy is a logically sound one. Please give me some feedback (but don't use any complicated philosophical language).

BTW I am a Christian, but my belief in God is based more other evidence - I find the arguments based on improbability a useful support to my faith, but I don't think they are logically compelling.





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Re: Problem with the Firing Squad Analogy
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2019, 02:17:04 pm »
So I don't think the firing squad analogy is a logically sound one. Please give me some feedback (but don't use any complicated philosophical language).
I think the point of this “firing squad analogy” is to personify the forces of randomness, where science has not yet risen to a serious understanding of the improbabilities of a protein or a nephron. These forces are considered so virulent that they may as well be called active forces, rather than passive chances. If the analogy is understood in this way, you see we are characterizing past probabilities, by using familiar recent situations. Your counterargument (1) seems to amount to, “We’re here, it happened, so it isn’t possible to imagine that it didn’t happen.” This begs the question, which is exactly how it could’ve happened. The same improbabilities acting back then are just as active today, and possibly God is overcoming them on other worlds, after ours seems to have been started.

Objection (2) is also answered by comprehending the analogy to be poetic or metaphorical in nature. A way to think about this is using the monkey with typewriters nonsense, that theorizes the works of Shakespeare eventually arise if enough time is given. This only succeeds when repetition of wrong combinations is not allowed. Once repetition comes in, the infinity of chances becomes infinitely dense, the practical consequence of which is that no monkey ever succeeds in a sentence of more than a word or two. This is the “virulent force,” that the firing squad analogy personifies. It isn’t being argued randomness makes choices to be perverse. It’s a way to understand randomness.

The analogy you supply of a man improbably surviving shipwreck after shipwreck proves the need of a stronger analogy to get the point across, so I’d have to stand with Craig on choosing to present it. To understand the firing squad analogy properly, it should be added that they are really trying to hit you, and they are using real bullets. Such is the force of randomness against evolution! Perhaps you could say God “pays” the forces to look the other way, but such payment must involve continuous work, still going on today.