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What If, Condemned, You Had 12 Friends on the Firing Squad?

We try to understand why the universe seems fine-tuned for life

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, a frequent contributor to Mind Matters News, interviewed our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks on the nature of information.

In this second part of the interview (here’s the first part), the question comes up: How do we know if something is an accident or not?

A partial transcript follows. This portion begins at 11:02. Show notes and links follow.

Michael Egnor: Aristotle said that in order to understand any process in nature, you really need to know four causes of that process.

Note: The causes, according to Simply Philosophy are material, formal, efficient, and final. The material cause of a thing is what it is made of. A cat, for example, is made of feline body cells. The formal cause is the organization of the cat into a live feline body. The efficient cause is that his mother mated and gave birth to him. The final cause is more of a philosophical question: Who needs cats? They play an important role in agricultural rodent control, of course, but we can find ourselves, before too long, asking, Why does anything exist? Well then, we are back to philosophy.

Michael Egnor (pictured): Aristotle said that the final cause is the most important cause. In fact, he called it the cause of causes, in a sense that he saw in nature not as being pushed along like you would hit billiard balls and push them, but as being drawn along, as being pulled along towards goals. And I think that that dovetails very beautifully with the intelligent design in nature point that you don’t get evolutionary change unless you have goals, unless you have something in nature that sort of pulls the change in certain direction. And that’s exactly what Aristotle said. Change is meaningless, unless there’s a goal…

The example people have given is: Imagine that you are facing a firing squad and they put the blindfold on you, and the firing squad has 12 marksmen, and they’re standing like six feet away from you. And they say, “Fire.” You hear the guns fire, but you’re still alive.

They miss. And they tear off the blindfold. And the first question you would ask is, “What happened? Why did you miss? How did this happen?” And to answer that they say, “Well, it was just chance. And if it wasn’t because of that, then you wouldn’t be alive here to ask the question.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid question. It’s a perfectly valid question to ask why are things the way they are, even if your continued existence depends on it. It doesn’t mean that the question goes away.

Robert J. Marks: Well, in fact, if I was in that firing squad situation, I wouldn’t just shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, you know, I’m here. So it must have happened.” I would spend a lot of time investigating what the heck happened. That would be very interesting.

Michael Egnor: Maybe you have 12 friends on the firing squad. Maybe… The fix is in somehow. And when you look at the universe and you look at the existence of life, existence of human beings, the fix is in. And it favors you.


You may also enjoy the earlier article in this series: Does information just happen? Or does the universe have meaning? The computer revolution did not show that information could be produced from nothing. Computer engineer Robert J. Marks and colleagues demonstrated that there is still no such thing as a free lunch where information is concerned.

Show Notes

  • 00:41 | Introducing Dr. Robert J. Marks
  • 01:10 | The role of information in AI evolutionary computing
  • 06:41 | The Dead Man Syndrome
  • 11:02 | Randomness requires information and intelligence
  • 14:50 | Scientific critics of Intelligent Design
  • 19:28 | The controversy between Darwinian theory and ID theory
  • 22:29 | The Anthropic Principle

Additional Resources


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What If, Condemned, You Had 12 Friends on the Firing Squad?