SimonIveson

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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.

Regards

Simon

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jayceeii

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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.

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Tom Paine

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Re: Problem with the Firing Squad Analogy
« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2019, 06:07:45 am »
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.

Actually the monkey and typewriter analogy does not depend on errors ever being repeated. It depends on unimaginable numbers of monkeys and unimaginable amounts of time, and this is what the universe provides. There are more galaxies than human bings on earth and more star in each galaxy, etc. And that's just the known universe. So, any attempt to figure the odds of life evolving by chance are bunkum because the processes must be incredibly complex and so any small mistake in the input data into any computation of the odds could lead to a huge error in the output. I have no doubt that the odds are vanishingly small, but the universe and time are unimaginably vast, so any argument that says evolution is so improbable as to make it impossible without divine intervention are DOA.

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jayceeii

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Re: Problem with the Firing Squad Analogy
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2019, 12:45:07 pm »
Actually the monkey and typewriter analogy does not depend on errors ever being repeated. It depends on unimaginable numbers of monkeys and unimaginable amounts of time, and this is what the universe provides. There are more galaxies than human bings on earth and more star in each galaxy, etc. And that's just the known universe. So, any attempt to figure the odds of life evolving by chance are bunkum because the processes must be incredibly complex and so any small mistake in the input data into any computation of the odds could lead to a huge error in the output. I have no doubt that the odds are vanishingly small, but the universe and time are unimaginably vast, so any argument that says evolution is so improbable as to make it impossible without divine intervention are DOA.
The only thing to arise from pure randomness is chaos. This can and should become a science, but it has not because this is not something men want to know, just as there has been no science to determine the limits of human knowledge and perception. Each prefers to think of himself as limitless, especially compared to others, who all seem to be below.

tp: Actually the monkey and typewriter analogy does not depend on errors never being repeated.

jc: Actually it does, and since the advent of computers this has been something that can be tested and explored. Empirically the project would be to write a decryption algorithm which is purely random, allowing repetitions, and then watch to see how much order it creates, characterized over billions of calls. For instance you might find that you can generate words of three letters frequently, but far fewer words of four letters, and my guess would be no significant sentences at all no matter how long the process goes on. But you don’t have to take my word, write the program if you dare. I’d be interested too.

tp: It depends on unimaginable numbers of monkeys and unimaginable amounts of time, and this is what the universe provides.

jc: Here is what appears to be a scientific sentence, generated in defiance of all science. You don’t have to wave your hands, “unimaginable.” It may be unimaginable to your mind, but mathematicians may come later with theorems making it self-evident, so that it isn’t even necessary to test the hypothesis pure randomness creates nothing but chaos. Underneath this vague haze of objection lies a mind that does not really want the answer.

tp: There are more galaxies than human bings on earth and more star in each galaxy, etc. And that's just the known universe.

jc: So you have heard about big numbers, but here is where a science of randomness can step in to explore the depths of the various infinities. There are big infinities and small infinities, for instance the infinity of decimal numbers is larger than the infinity of integers. But when you allow repetition in a decryption algorithm, the infinities explode.

tp: So, any attempt to figure the odds of life evolving by chance are bunkum because the processes must be incredibly complex and so any small mistake in the input data into any computation of the odds could lead to a huge error in the output.

jc: This is not a scientist speaking, but a superstitious man unmindful of science’ potential. When a serious science of randomness appears, they’ll find this a bit silly.

tp: I have no doubt that the odds are vanishingly small, but the universe and time are unimaginably vast, so any argument that says evolution is so improbable as to make it impossible without divine intervention are DOA.

jc: You’re trumpeting the limitations of your own mind very loudly. Perhaps all are this way. Yet I suspect there is hostility underneath your assertions that you “can’t imagine it.” The truth is you don’t want to imagine it. This is the roadblock the Intelligent Design crew has been facing, though they could be said to have begun a science of randomness. I guess practically, this science will put a rational face on these “opposing unimaginables.”