Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Prologomina to Argumentfrom Laws of Nature


On Secular Outpost Bradly Bowen critiques a website of God arguments that is designed by Campus Crusade for Christ. One argument in  particular that is dismissed because it's deemed illogical by academic philosophers. I think there's a better version of the argument that has not been considered. I am hoping people will consider it now. The main thing to understand is the argument is  based upon the idea that laws of nature are not explained, they baffle scientists The site summarizes the argument: "Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, "why  nature is mathematical  is a mystery...the fact that there are rules at all is  kind of miracle." So there must be a creator who ordered it (of course god of the gaps).  There's also a larger problem with the argument, science doesn't see natural law as law-like but as more description. Thus it is just the way things turned out that sort of takes the mystery out of it. Of course it also opens the door to counter descriptions if science can't demonstrate 100% accuracy. My answer is to choose a model that is not focused on law. But it must also retain the ordering principle of nature that can't be denied. See my essay "Beyond The Descriptive/ Prescriptive/ Dichotomy."

This is a look at the complexities with which one must deal to even begin to make an argument from laws of nature/physics. It is possible to make a good argument but it's more complex than just doing this god of the gaps thing.

 Science no longer defines physical law in the sense of an active set rules that tell nature what to do (as seen in chapter one). The sentiment is gospel in science. A Canadian Physicist, Byron Jennings, expresses it like this: “It is worth commenting that that laws of nature and laws of man are completely different beasts and it is unfortunate that they are given the same name. The so called laws of nature are descriptive. They describe regularities that have been observed in nature. They have no prescriptive value. In contrast, the laws of man are prescriptive, not descriptive.”1 Santo D’Agostino tells us, “...[T]he laws of science are not like the laws in our legal systems. They are descriptive, not prescriptive.”2

Contradiction in the descriptive paradigm

A closer look reveals that there is a contradiction here. The standard line about descriptions is double talk. First of all no one thinks physical laws are on a par with laws passed by congress. Just for the record I am not arguing that laws require a law giver, that is equivocation (although science still uses the misleading term “law”). Physical laws proceed from the mind of God, that is totally different from laws in human society. Secondly, Physical laws are just descriptions but what they describe is a law-like regularity. The question is, why is there an unswerving faithful regularity? That cannot be answered just by calling the regularity a “description.” It is so regular that we can risk people's lives in roller coasters based upon trusting those “descriptions.” D'Agostino again says, “For me, the key word is describe. A scientific law is a convenient description of observations. The law of science does not tell the world how to be, the world just is; science is a human attempt to engage with the mysteries of the world, and to attempt to understand them,”3(emphasis his). It just is, there is no why? Do Scientist really live with that? No they do not. “Most physicists working on fundamental topics inhabit the prescriptive camp, even if they don't own up to it explicitly.”4But then the Stephen Hawking Center for Theoretical Cosmology puts it point blank: “The physical laws that govern the Universe prescribe how an initial state evolves with time.”5 Clearly they want it both ways, they want physical laws not to be the will of God but they want them to be binding. The nature of the problem is deeper than just the language of an antiquated term. It really seems that physicists want it both ways.

In many perhaps most scientific disciplines the finality of a theory continues to be measured by its resemblance to the classical laws of physics, which are both causal and deterministic….The extreme case of the desire to turn observed regularity into law is of course the search for one unified law of nature. That embodies all other laws and that hense will be immune to revision.6
They still use the model of physical law, but they deny it's law-like aspects, yet they want it to be unalterable and to sum everything up in one principle. Don't look now but what she is describing is a transcendental signifier! That's the impetus behind grand unified theory f everything. Why add “of everything?” That clearly points to the transcendental signifier.

In his best-selling book "A Brief History of Time", physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that when physicists find the theory he and his colleagues are looking for - a so-called "theory of everything" - then they will have seen into "the mind of God". Hawking is by no means the only scientist who has associated God with the laws of physics. Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, for example, has made a link between God and a subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson. Lederman has suggested that when physicists find this particle in their accelerators it will be like looking into the face of God. But what kind of God are these physicists talking about? Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg suggests that in fact this is not much of a God at all. Weinberg notes that traditionally the word "God" has meant "an interested personality". But that is not what Hawking and Lederman mean. Their "god", he says, is really just "an abstract principle of order and harmony", a set of mathematical equations. Weinberg questions then why they use the word "god" at all. He makes the rather profound point that "if language is to be of any use to us, then we ought to try and preserve the meaning of words, and 'god' historically has not meant the laws of nature." The question of just what is "God" has taxed theologians for thousands of years; what Weinberg reminds us is to be wary of glib definitions.7 Weinberg tells us the theory of everything will unite all aspects of physical reality in a single elegant explanation.8Exactly as does the TSED! It's really describing a prescriptive set of laws, so it seems. If their theory can only give descriptions of how the universe behaves how is it going to explain everything? It seems explanatory power only comes with certainty about how things work. That is weaker with probable tendencies than with actual laws. Why are they looking for a single theory to sum it all up if they don't accept some degree of hierarchical causality?

Modern “descriptive laws:” Taking God out of the picture.

Is their rejection of law just a desire to get God out of the picture? That is abundantly clear, at least for some scientists. Paul Davies, a major physicist, thinks so:

Many scientists who are struggling to construct a fully comprehensive theory of the physical universe openly admit that part of the motivation is to finally get rid of God, whom they view as a dangerous and infantile delusion, And not only God but any vestige of God-talk, such as 'meaning,' 'purpose,' or 'design' in nature. These scientists see religion as so fraudulent and sinister that nothing less than total theological cleansing will do.9
The concept of law was formed in a time when scientists inextricably linked God with science. Robert Boyle purposely appealed to dive command in creation, as did Newton.10 These were devout believers, and it was also expedient in the confessional English state. The English dealt with heretics by not inviting them to weekend at Westmoreland or by passing them over for honors. After the time of Newton the field of scientific acuity shifted to France. The French put heretics in jail. The Catholic church was much more in charge in France, enjoying the support of the monarchy, than in Protestant England.11 Thus the French Philosophs rebelled with great ferocity against the Church and religious belief. The French rebellion carried over into all areas of modern letters, not the least in science.

Modern scientists since the enlightenment have sought to take God out of the picture. Philosophers are honest enough to admit there is a problem callingthe law-like regularity “description.” After Chalmers explains that Boyle's “stark ontology” made nature passive and left God to do all the work, he writes:
I assume that, from the modern point of view, placing such a heavy, or indeed any, burden on the constant and willful intervention of God is not acceptable. But eliminating God from the account leaves us with the problem. How can activity and law like behavior be introduced into a world characterized in terms of passive or categorical properties only?12
At least the scientific realists, such as Chalmers know there is a problem in the tension between unalterable regularity, and description. Many scientists either don't see the problem, or refuse to acknowledge it. Some assert a confidence in science's ability to one day answer all questions.

In recent years, under the influence of the new atheism, some physicists have began to compete with God. They claim not only to offer the better explanation, but to learn enough so as to one day erase the God concept from any serious consideration. Steven Pinker, (in answer to a question for discussion posed by the Tempelton foundation, “does science make belief in God obsolete?”): “Yes 'science' we mean the entire enterprise of secular reason and knowledge (including history and philosophy), not just people with test tubes and white lab coats. Traditionally, a belief in God was attractive because it promised to explain the deepest puzzles about origins. Where did the world come from? What is the basis of life? How can the mind arise from the body? Why should anyone be moral?”13 Of course he offers no evidence that science can answer such things (notice he expanded the definition of science to include disciplines many scientists seek to get rid of (philosophy) 14

that is the area that could answer the questions that science can't. He also offers no evidence that religion still can't answer them, but he goes on to say, “Yet over the millennia, there has been an inexorable trend: the deeper we probe these questions, and the more we learn about the world in which we live, the less reason there is to believe in God.” So he's made two fallacious moves here, the classic bait and switch and straw man argument. He say science makes God obsolete but then only if er expand science to include non-science. We could just include modern theology instead of nineteenth century theology and bring religion into science. Sorry, but belief in God does not rest with young earth creationism.Pinker is not just using young Earth creationism to debunck all religion, even though that is a straw man argument. He's really making the same kind of answer that physicist Dean Carroll is making. He's saying “since we now have the capacity to learn everything (someday) we don't need to appeal to God to answer what we don't know" thus he asserts that the only reason to believe is the God of the gaps argument). Carroll puts it a bit differently:
Modern cosmology attempts to come up with the most powerful and economically possible understanding of the universe that is consistent with observational data. It's certainly conceivable that the methods of science could lead us to a self-contained picture of the universe that doesn't involve God in any way. If so, would we be correct to conclude that cosmology has undermined the reasons for believing in God, or at least a certain kind of reason?15
Of course this is the standard wrong assumption often made by those whose skepticism is scientifically based. Explaining nature is not the only reason to believe in God.

Moreover, they are nowhere near explaining nature in it's entirety, the TS argument is the best answer to the questions posed by the transcendental signifiers. It's pretty clear that for Carroll, and those who share his outlook the signifier “science” replaces the signifier “God” in their metaphysical hierarchy. They still have a TS and that speaks to the all pervasive nature of the TS. I've discussed in the previous chapter how the best answer to questions of origin have to be philosophical. That is confirmed by Pinker when he argues philosophy as part of science. The TS argument is philosophical. Science is not the only form of knowledge. Carroll admits there is not as of yet a theory that explains it all. He admits, “We are trying to predict the future: will there ever be a time when a conventional scientific model provides a complete understanding of the origin of the universe?”16He asserts that most modern cosmologists already feel we know enough to write off God and that there are good enough reasons. In 2005 article he says, as the title proclaims, “almost all cosmologists are atheists.” 17 That may be true of cosmologists but I doubt it, and I have good reason to. First, I don't see any poll of physicists in the article. He only argues anecdotally by quoting a few people. If there was a poll it would be at least as old as 2005.

A More extensive study from 2007 (two years after publication of Carroll's article don't back up those findings. This study was done by Harvard professors who find the majority of science professors believe in God.18 They present a bar graph that shows about 35% professor's are elite research universities believe in God with no doubt. About 27% believe but sometimes have doubts. About 38% are atheists. That actually means that 60% are not atheists. True that's not cosmologists but there is good reason to think the majority of cosmologists are not atheists. The most atheistic groups in the study were psychologists (61%), biologists (about 61%), and mechanical engineers (50%), not physicists (among whose ranks cosmologists number). 19 “Contrary to popular Opinion, atheists and agnostics do not comprise a majority of professors even at elite schools, but they are present in larger numbers than in other types of institutions.”20 No group has “almost all” as atheist. Even if cosmologists are mostly atheists (not studied because they are a handful and highly specialized) it's still appeal to authority and could be based upon hubris. They do not have any empirical data at all to prove the universe could spring from nothing. I will will demonstrate the problems with this view much more clearly in the next chapter. Let's just remember the atheist position on this point is an appeal to faith.

part 2


1 Byron Jennings, “The Role of Authority in Science and Law,” Quantum Diaries: Thoughts on Work and Life From Particle Physicists From Around The World. (Feb.3,2012) Online resource URL: Accessed 8/31/15 Byron Jennings is Project Coordinator for TRIUMF, Canada's national laboratory, he's an adjunct Professor at Simon Freaser University. He is also the editor of In Defense of Scientism.

2 Santo 'D Agostino, “Does Nature Obey The Laws of Physics?,” QED Insight, (March 9,2011). Online resource, URL: accessed 8/26/15. D'Agostino is a mathematician who writes science text books. Ph.D. from The University of Toronto, he is also assistant professor in Physics at Brock University.

3 Ibid. 4 Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot: why is the universe Just Right For Life? New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition, 2007, 12. Davies is an English physicist, professor at Arizona State University. He was formerly an atheist and his major atheist book was God and The New Physics, written in the 70s. Since the late 90's he as become a believer, not a Christian but believer in a generic deistic sort of God. He was convinced by the fine tuning argument and his major book since that time is The Mind Of God. He has taught at Cambridge and Aberdeen.

5 CTC, “Origins of the Universe: Quantum Origins,” The Stephan Hawking Center for Theoretical Cosmology, University of Cambridge, online resource, URL: accessed 10/5/15.
6 E. F. Keller, quoted in Lynn Nelson, Who Knows: From Quine to Feminist Empiricism. Temple University Press, 1990, 220. Evelyn Fox Keller is a physicist and a Feminist critic of science. Professor Emerita at MIT. Her early work centered on the intersection of physics and biology. Nelson is associate professor of philosophy at Glassboro State College.
7 Counter balance foundation, “Stephen Hawking's God,” quoted on PBS website Faith and Reason. No date listed. Online resource, URL the URL for the website itself: accessed 8/26/2015. This resource provided by: Counterbalance Foundation

counterbalance foundation offers this self identification: “Counterbalance is a non-profit educational organization working to promote the public understanding of science, and how the sciences relate to wider society. It is our hope that individuals, the academic community, and society as a whole will benefit from a struggle toward integrated and counterbalanced responses to complex questions.” see URL above. The faith anjd reason foundation helped fund the PBS show. I first founjd thye piece “Stephen Hawking's God early the century, maybe 2004, certainly before 2006. It was on a sight called Metalist on science and religion. That site is gone.
8 Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 1994, 3, also 211.
9 Paul Davies, Jackpot...op. Cit.,15.
10 Alan Chalmers, “Making sense of laws of physics,” Causation and Laws Of Nature, Dordrecht, Netherlands : Kluwer Academic Publishers, (Howard Sankey, ed.), 1999, 3-4.
11 Joseph Hinman, God, Science, and Ideology. Chapter 2.
12 Chalmers, op., cit.
13 Stephen Pinker, quoted on website, John Tempelton Foundation, “A Tempelton conversation, “Does SciencMake Belief in God Obsolete?” The third in a series of conversations among leading scientists...Onlne resource, website. URL: accessed 9/4/15. Tempelton bio for Pinker: Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the department of psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of seven books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and most recently, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.
14 Anthany Mills, "Why Does Neil deGrasse Tyson Hate Philosophy," Real Clear Science. (May 22, 2014) "In a controversial interview, Neil deGrasse Tyson dismissed philosophy as “distracting.” The host of the television series Cosmos even suggested that philosophy could inhibit scientific progress by encouraging “a little too much question asking.” He thus follows a growing secular trend that cordons Science off from all other forms of inquiry, denigrating whatever falls outside science’s purported boundaries – especially the more “speculative” pursuits such as philosophy."
15 Sean Corroll, ”Does The Universe Need God?” on Sean Carroll's website, Perposterous, online resource, URL: accessed 9/4/2015
16 Ibid.
17 Sean Carroll,"Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists," Faith and Philosophy, 22, (2005) p. 622.
18 Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, “How Religious Are America's College and University Pressors.” SSRC, (published feb. 2007), PDF URL, accessed 9/4/15 The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: Neil Gross is assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University. He works on classical and contemporary sociological theory, the sociology of culture, and the sociology of intellectuals. His first book, tentatively titled Richard Rorty's Pragmatism: The Social Origins of a Philosophy, 1931-1982, is forthcoming. Solon Simmons is assistant professor of conflict analysis and sociology at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. His recent work has focused on values talk in congressional speeches, third party political candidates, industrial reorganization and the ongoing conservative critique of American higher education
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.



Eric Sotnak said...

The claim that God somehow established laws of nature supposes that the things governed by those laws could have been exactly the same as they are now, but governed by very different laws. So, for example, the force of gravity could have been double what it is without changing anything else in the universe. I'm not at all persuaded this is true. Suppose I ask whether you could make a triangle from three circular shaped plastic tiles. You say, "no, but God could have designed the laws of geometry to make it possible." I would disagree. the laws of geometry are a function of the inherent properties of geometric structures, and are not artifacts of anyone's will. Not even God's. What reason is there to think the laws of nature are different? Why should I not think they are functions of the structural properties of physical things, and as such are also not artifacts of anyone's will?

Joe Hinman said...

The claim that God somehow established laws of nature supposes that the things governed by those laws could have been exactly the same as they are now, but governed by very different laws.

No because I assume there be a natural world without God. It wou8ldn't work out

So, for example, the force of gravity could have been double what it is without changing anything else in the universe. I'm not at all persuaded this is true. Suppose I ask whether you could make a triangle from three circular shaped plastic tiles. You say, "no, but God could have designed the laws of geometry to make it possible." I would disagree. the laws of geometry are a function of the inherent properties of geometric structures, and are not artifacts of anyone's will. Not even God's. What reason is there to think the laws of nature are different? Why should I not think they are functions of the structural properties of physical things, and as such are also not artifacts of anyone's will?

I accept the premise that God can't violate logic of contradiction. So he can't make a round triangle or square circle because it[s undoable. I am not a determinist and I don't thin cause and effect makes for determinism. but physical laws are not the same as abstractions like geometry. For one thing no reason to think anything would dome tov exit without god. Then odds are against the universe bearing life