Defending the Faith: Maybe the firing squad was on your side

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 26 2014 7:25 p.m. MST

Alternatively, you might reason that even the best riflemen sometimes miss and that, if enough executions happen, there must surely be one, somewhere, sometime, in which all 10 members of the firing squad completely miss their target at close range. You simply happen to be the lucky one. Question disposed of. Move along. There’s nothing more to see.

However, Polkinghorne, with many others, finds a third hypothetical response most reasonable. “Maybe,” summarizes Polkinghorne, “there is only one execution scheduled for today, namely yours, but more was going on in that event than you are aware of. The marksmen are on your side, and they missed by design.”

And so it is, he believes, with the universe as a whole.

Sir John Polkinghorne has written prolifically on science and religion. A brief and accessible introduction to his thinking can be found in the remarkable volume of essays edited by Eric Metaxas under the title of “Socrates in the City,” or, in its paperback edition, “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” (Dutton, $17). I recommend the entire book enthusiastically.

Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU's Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs, chairs, blogs daily at and speaks only for himself.

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