Monday, October 5, 2015

God and the Laws of Nature

The laws of nature are what helps keep this universe running the way it should; they keep it running the way it needs to in order for life to happen! So what accounts for these laws? Are they merely descriptive, or prescriptive?

Let us suppose the laws of nature are descriptive. That is, let us suppose that what we call the “laws of nature” are really more like law-like regularities that describe what we observe in the universe, and extrapolate to apply to all corners of it. These descriptions of how the universe operates are always up for revision inasmuch as they reflect our understanding of what goes on. But this raises the question: Why does the universe run according to these descriptions?

Perhaps the answer is that it is one giant cosmic coincidence. And, on atheism, this is exactly what it looks like. What a fantastically fortuitous coincidence that the laws of the universe are what they are! Perhaps, on the other hand, you might be uncomfortable with this mere accident of the laws.

So perhaps the answer is that the laws are not descriptive, but instead prescriptive. That is to say, once we have arrived at a correct description of the laws, we can give a full account of the way the universe must be, given these laws. They really do function more like laws that cannot be disobeyed (And not simply physically—even descriptive views can say this much. Rather, what this is saying is that this is the way the universe ought to be; the laws govern how this universe must have turned out.). But then why think the laws of nature supervene on the universe in this constraining way? It’s not logically necessary that the laws are what they are.

So perhaps, at last, a solution modestly suggested for your review: God is the one who accounts for the laws of nature. This overcomes our uneasy feelings with mere luck, and it gives an account for why the laws actually can be counted on (if the laws are mere descriptions, then at any moment gravity may be upended, or the speed of light may drastically and suddenly change, etc.) while avoiding any unlikely postulations of necessity. The laws of nature: put in place and upheld by God. Perhaps they are even one of the primary ways God upholds the creation in existence!


  1. Would you say similarly to Probabilities that they are descriptive instead of being prescriptive. I hear Atheists try to use the line all the time that due to Quantum Indeterministic Probability a Universe would begin without a cause besides the other problems with this (such as Event-Event Causation, the fact that Probabilities are Platonic Abstract Objects so do not stand in causal relations, and that this assumes Quantum Indeterminism), how would you say that Probabilities are also only Descriptive not Prescriptive as Laws should be?

    1. Well of course, one of the first hurdles is that they either gratuitously grant themselves the quantum energy in the vacuum ontologically (for which there is no evidence in this exact scenario) or they assume, as you point out, that the laws-as-abstractions stand in causal relations. There are also various kinds of probability, depending on who you ask. Some people think there is intrinsic probability, which is probability independent of any evidence one has for it (say, of a fairly-made coin landing "heads" for any given flip). Some people deny it exists. Even still, it's difficult to know what "prescriptive probabilities" is even supposed to mean. Does it mean that some object x gives y it's particular probability (intrinsic, I suppose)? That seems odd. More commonly, probability is associated with background knowledge (note even in the coin example, we already know some things about it: namely, it has two sides and is fair). That's all I really have for now!


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