Leslie's Firing Squad

An argument by philosopher John Leslie that from the probability of our current situation, we can argue plausibly for an intentional creation. The quote below is Francis Collins. retelling of the story.

"In this parable, an individual faces a firing squad, and fifty expert marksmen aim their tifles to carry out the deed. The order is given, the shots ring out, and yet somehow all the bullets miss and the condemned individual walks away unscathed."

"How could such a remarkable event be explained? Leslie suggests that there are two possible alternatives ... In the first place, there may have been thousands of executions being carried out in that same day, and even the best marksman will occasionally miss. So the odds just happen to be in favor of this one individual, and all fifty of the marksmen fail to hit the target. The other option is that something more directed is going on, and the apparent poor aim of the fifty experts was actually intentional. Which seems more plausible?"

A slightly different version is quoted by John Collins in "Science and Faith", attributed to William Lane Craig:

"Suppose you are to be executed by a firing squad of 100 trained marksmen, all of them aiming rifles at your heart. You are blindfolded; the command is given; you hear the deafening roar of the rifles. And you observe that you are still alive. The 100 marksmen missed!"

Taking off the blindfold, you do not observe that you are dead. No surprise there: you could not observe that you are dead. Nonetheless, you should be astonished to observe that you are alive. The entire firing squad missed you altogether! Surprise at that extremely improbable fact is wholly justified - and that calls for an explanation. You would immediately suspect that they missed you on purpose, by design."

This version of Leslie's firing squad was invoked by Collins in response to a standard kind of dialog about the anthropic principle, the apparent fine-tuning of the universe so that life is possible. The dialog can go like this:

Alan: "Only by God's good grace do we inhabit a Universe perfectly suited to our needs, that is, satisfying the conditions necessary for our existence."
Stephen: "God may well be responsible, but at all events we should not be surprised that we encounter conditions suited to our existence. If they did not exist, we should not exist."

Windows of Creation
Evidence from nature Is the universe designed?
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