Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Universe Governed By Law

In a world where God exists and has designed the universe, we would expect the universe to be governed by certain laws: logical, mathematical, scientific, moral, and even aesthetic. Given that our universe is governed by such laws, this is inductive evidence that God exists, to say nothing of deductive arguments (e.g. the conceptualist argument).

The Atlantic, a political magazine I have recently subscribed to and have enjoyed quite a bit thus far, features an article by Judith Lewis Mernit in its June edition. The article, "Is San Francisco Next?," discusses the manner in which seismologists predict earthquakes. Now, what is the connection between these first two paragraphs I've just written?

Mernit comments, "Some established geophysicists insist that all earthquakes are random, yet everyone agrees that aftershocks are not. Instead, they follow certain empirical laws." This raises an important question: does our ignorance of what the law-like mechanism behind earthquakes are imply that there are no such laws? To treat Mernit's statement as if she is answering in the affirmative would be, I think, uncharitable. After all, much of the article subsequently goes on to explain what the mechanisms that cause earthquakes (and how we can predict them) might be.

For example, Mernit points out that "[r]ocks can be subject to two kinds of stresses" that result in earthquakes (clamping and shearing). Obviously, rocks and other physical objects are subject to laws of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces are most fundamental to the universe), and so it would be hasty for the reader to conclude that geophysicists are talking about earthquakes being entirely devoid of laws.

The conclusion we should draw from this example is that ignorance of law (an epistemological issue) does not at all imply the absence of law (a metaphysical issue). I just worry that some readers may take "random" to mean "devoid of law," which simply isn't the case. In my mind it's more hyperbole than anything else.


  1. Not related this post, but today I was wondering: doesn't the intelligible ordering power of the first cause in itself establish the personhood of the first cause? I've seen you (and plenty of others) advance arguments for God as first cause, only to worry as a coda (to the effect) that "this still doesn't establish the first cause is a person in the traditional theistic sense, etc." And yet… surely the teleological argument does establish something very much like that! A world of orderly, harmonious diversity with immanent ends established by a great Nous. Is it coherent to speak of an entirely non-personal intelligence-creator? I know Anaxagoras held such a view, but he was just a crest in a long line of Eleatics and Ionians trying to get beyond Homeric anthropomorphisms of God via the prism of Zeus, Apollo, Mars, etc. Even Christian theology does that, though, since God is not "a person" in some univocal sense. The intelligence grounded final ends just is the sign of a supreme teleological agent aka God. Am I making sense?

  2. Your comment is related enough to the post. It's all about teleology, and you hit upon some important points. Starting in reverse order, I agree that God is not personal in the way that you and I are (univocal). However, neither is God personal in a way entirely opposite of the way we are (equivocal). Rather, we may think of God's personality as somewhat like our own (analogical), since God is a mind that knows propositional truth-content and makes judgments, and so forth.

    While the cosmological argument may not definitively establish the personality of the first cause, it does establish the existence of a necessary, eternal, and very powerful being. The teleological argument, on the other hand, while not necessarily establishing these attributes (I think it can, depending on the version), does point to an intelligence that has designed the cosmos. Since only persons have intelligence, the teleological argument is a direct argument for the existence of a personal God. This is why I like to present a cumulative case for a personal God. All things being equal, the simplest explanation is most likely correct, so a single being best accounts for the data drawn from the cosmological and teleological arguments. Others, like Robert Koon, have actually combined these arguments into one, which is also an appealing approach.

    Finally, to answer your question, "Is it coherent . . . ?," I think that even if it is strictly coherent, that there are insurmountable problems with such a view. If the first cause of our cognitive faculties is non-rational, why should we trust our cognitive faculties to provide us with mostly true beliefs? How many of us would buy a computer, knowing full well that it was designed by merely dropping a bunch of metal pieces into a pile?