Do Natural Laws Prove That God Exists? A New Wrinkle on an Old Problem

Thursday, December 12, 2013 -- 4:00 PM

 

Things happen. And things happening make other things happen. Drop an egg off the Empire State Building and it’s bound to break when it meets the pavement. Stick your naked finger in a live electric socket and you’re going to get a very nasty shock. The universe, it seems, is a well-ordered place, where causes reliably produce effects. We describe these patterns of causes and effects as natural laws. We rely on natural laws to anticipate what’s going to happen as well as to explain what’s already happened. Why did the egg break? Because it hit the pavement.  What’s going to happen when you stick your finger in the light socket? You’re going to get one hell of a shock!

Some people think that natural laws themselves need explaining. “Where,” they ask, “did the laws of nature come from?” Maybe they’ve been around forever. That’s clearly one option for answering the question. There’s also another option that’s open to those with a religious turn of mind. These folks say that natural laws exist because God created them, and then go on to use the laws of nature as evidence that God exists. A lawful universe, they insist, would be unthinkable without their being a deity who set it up that way. 

To get into this mindset, it’s helpful to compare natural laws with ordinary human laws. When we think of human laws—for example, the law that forbids you to drive through a red traffic light—we don’t for a moment entertain the possibility that such laws have always been there. It’s obvious that someone made such laws. Now some believers believe that we should consider the laws of nature in much the same way. They argue that the laws of nature must have been created by someone, and that the only candidate is God, and therefore that the existence of universal laws proves that God exists. This is known as the Natural Law Argument for God’s existence.

Some people find the Natural Law Argument compelling, whereas others find it ludicrous. Many in the latter camp think that the argument confuses two different meanings of the word “law” (philosophers call this sort of confusion the fallacy of equivocation). They point out that laws like the one forbidding people to drive through red traffic signals—the sorts of laws that legislators make and police enforce—are really rules. Rules can be violated, but natural laws (for example, laws of thermodynamics) can’t. They describe exceptionless regularities—causal linkages that hold no matter what (that’s why T. S. Eliot’s McCavity the Mystery Cat, the master criminal who not only breaks every human law, and even breaks the law of gravity, is so amusing).

Defenders of the Natural Law argument have a response to this objection. They can say that doesn’t hold water, because even if the laws of nature are completely different from human laws, they still must have come from somewhere or other, and the God hypothesis is the only plausible explanation of where they came from.

Here’s a different way to pull the rug out from under the Natural Law Argument—one that gets around the objection that I’ve just mentioned. It’s a style of argument that philosophers call reductio ad absurdum (reduction to absurdity). To pull off a reductio, you accept your opponent’s premises just to show that if you really think them through you end up with a wacky conclusion. 

So let’s accept ‘for the sake of the argument’ that (1) all causes produce their effects in conformity with the laws of nature, (2) laws require a lawmaker, and (3) only God could have made the laws of nature (leading to the conclusion that God exists)—and push this line of reasoning a little bit further. Clearly, if God made the laws of nature, then this happened, right? And if everything that happens conforms to the laws of nature, then God’s act of making the laws of nature must have conformed to the laws of nature too (because it’s something that happened). Now think about this for a moment and you’ll see how mind-twistingly weird it is. If it’s true that God’s act of making the laws of nature had to conform to the laws of nature, then the laws of nature had to exist before God made them! But that’s crazy, because nothing can exist before it existed.

This lunatic conclusion shows that there’s something wrong with one of the premises upstream. So, let’s take stock. Maybe it’s not true that everything that happens accords with the laws of nature. Maybe some things just happen, for no reason at all. This could be, but accepting it robs the original argument of much of its power (it’s not very convincing to create a loophole in the principle just so the Almighty can slip through it). If the laws of nature weren’t already in place, then it would be sheer dumb luck that the universe came out the way God wanted it to. When we humans decide to do something or other, we count on there being a lawful relationship between our decisions and our actions. Otherwise, we might choose to do one thing but find ourselves doing something completely different. Similarly, without laws reliably linking God’s intentions to their effects, his decision to create the universe might have (for example) brought an immense porcupine into being instead.  

The other possibility is that natural laws don’t require a lawmaker. Suppose that that the laws of nature have always been there, or that they were derived from other laws that had always been there. In that case, then the fact that there are natural laws doesn’t give us any reason to believe that God exists.

These considerations don’t prove that the natural law argument is wrong. In philosophy, there’s always a come-back. In this case, defenders of the argument can dispute the correctness of my conception of natural laws (philosophers have several theories of natural law to choose from). But putting these philosophical niceties aside, it seems pretty obvious to me that the second of these alternatives is the more sensible one. 

But perhaps you disagree….

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Sunday, August 31, 2014 -- 5:00 PM

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alex619's picture

alex619

Friday, November 28, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

In any case, there seems to

In any case, there seems to be a lot to talk about, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow's discussion with Ken and Tamar Schapiro.
But putting these philosophical niceties holiday aside, it seems pretty obvious to me that the second of these alternatives is the more sensible one. 
 

sniyaz's picture

sniyaz

Sunday, August 30, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

What you have written doest

What you have written doest hold weight . laws of universe proves god without a doubt what you have written is non sense . by giving various philosophers views doesn't prove anything. I am sorry you people have a tendency to speak lies confidently ; how do you know for sure god doesn't exist . we should be quite if we don't know reality rather than fingering peoples mind . you have failed anyway to prove that god doesn't exist . I have seen many evolutionist bombarding people with loads of lies and many people agree with them because in evolution theory a person can misrepresent lots of data in order to make people agree with that bogus already rejected theory .tons of money is being spended to brainwash people with the theory of evolution which lacks fossil evidence and any other proofs . I have seen people tend to support the view of majority especially if the majority is related to science but every thing which is provided to you is not science some of them are fairytale s and fictions and to understand that sort of science you need no proof but you need to be a imaginary athlete because you don't need proof for these sciences because there is no proof or way to believe in that science only pure philosophies and imaginary junk and that's what in today modern world is presented to you as science.
If laws of universe were not created by one entity there would have been difference in their nature . and there would have or should be no law's at all . laws are made laws doesn't make themselves because a law is nobody .if there would have been no lawgiver whole universe would have been just choes things would have being piping and vanishing here and there .why is this universe orderly why it behave like it is in control of something why it is not like a wanderer guy who just does what it likes.think for yourself don't follow the crowd .
And please stop maligning god by showing him as a human every post I went which was against god was decorated with this photo of human god.
God is not human it is christian and other religions belief which is absurd in itself and which infamoused the idea of gods existence .
The holy Quran beautifully describes god.
As
Qul hu allahu ahad allahu samad
Say he iis Allah one and only , absolute and eternal
Lamyalid walam yulad walam yaqulahu kufuwan ahead
He begets not nor he is begotten
There is no one unto him .
Heno one has seen god no one.
There is no image of him
There is nothing in heaven and earth which resembles him.
He is all known all wise.

sniyaz's picture

sniyaz

Sunday, August 30, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

What you have written doest

What you have written doest hold weight . laws of universe proves god without a doubt what you have written is non sense . by giving various philosophers views doesn't prove anything. I am sorry you people have a tendency to speak lies confidently ; how do you know for sure god doesn't exist . we should be quite if we don't know reality rather than fingering peoples mind . you have failed anyway to prove that god doesn't exist . I have seen many evolutionist bombarding people with loads of lies and many people agree with them because in evolution theory a person can misrepresent lots of data in order to make people agree with that bogus already rejected theory .tons of money is being spended to brainwash people with the theory of evolution which lacks fossil evidence and any other proofs . I have seen people tend to support the view of majority especially if the majority is related to science but every thing which is provided to you is not science some of them are fairytale s and fictions and to understand that sort of science you need no proof but you need to be a imaginary athlete because you don't need proof for these sciences because there is no proof or way to believe in that science only pure philosophies and imaginary junk and that's what in today modern world is presented to you as science.
If laws of universe were not created by one entity there would have been difference in their nature . and there would have or should be no law's at all . laws are made laws doesn't make themselves because a law is nobody .if there would have been no lawgiver whole universe would have been just choes things would have being piping and vanishing here and there .why is this universe orderly why it behave like it is in control of something why it is not like a wanderer guy who just does what it likes.think for yourself don't follow the crowd .
And please stop maligning god by showing him as a human every post I went which was against god was decorated with this photo of human god.
God is not human it is christian and other religions belief which is absurd in itself and which infamoused the idea of gods existence .
The holy Quran beautifully describes god.
As
Qul hu allahu ahad allahu samad
Say he iis Allah one and only , absolute and eternal
Lamyalid walam yulad walam yaqulahu kufuwan ahead
He begets not nor he is begotten
There is no one unto him .
Heno one has seen god no one.
There is no image of him
There is nothing in heaven and earth which resembles him.
He is all known all wise.

 
 

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