The Argument from Fundamental Order

Lately I have been reflecting on a particular argument for the existence of God from the fundamental fact of the orderliness of the universe (or multiverse, if you prefer).

Why does the multiverse exhibit intelligible, mathematical, and consistent order?

The argument runs as follows:

  1. It is contingent fact that the multiverse exhibits intelligible, mathematically describable, and consistent order.
  2. When explanatory gains are to be had in positing an explanation for some contingent fact, then we have prima facie grounds for positing an explanation over positing a brute fact.
  3. There are such explanatory gains.
  4. Therefore, there are prima facie grounds for positing an explanation of the orderliness of the multiverse (from 1, 2, and 3)
  5. Theism is a better explanation of the orderliness than is naturalism
  6. Therefore, there are prima facie grounds for positing theism as a better explanation than naturalism of the orderliness of the multiverse (from 4 and 5).

Premise (1) is on good footing because this order seems not to be required either by logic or physical necessity. It is fairly routine for physicists and cosmologists to conceive of possible worlds in which different laws of nature, or different values for the constants and quantities of the actual laws of nature, arise. As Stephen Hawking writes in The Grand Design (2010), “It appears that the fundamental numbers, and even the form, of the apparent laws of nature are not demanded by logic or physical principle” (p. 143).

Premise (2) is a modest version of the principle of sufficient reasons that is the basis for abductive reasoning, or “inferences to the best explanation.” This principle could be false, but it has been so foundational to the progress and success of human knowledge – specifically in the physical sciences! – that the burden of proof is on those who reject the principle.

Premise (3) seems true in light of my discussion of premise (5) below: different hypotheses comparatively raise the probability that contingent things exist, though I only discuss two such hypotheses, and more ought to be considered.

Premise (5) becomes evident upon exploring two questions. First, what is the probability that, on naturalism, all of matter (whether a universe or a multiverse) would exhibit intelligible, mathematically describable, and consistent order rather than just chaos and randomness? There doesn’t seem to be anything about naturalism that requires nature to be ordered, so the hypothesis that it just had to be that way is out. Nothing about naturalism seems to raise the probability that the universe would exhibit order rather than not. Second, what is the probability that, on theism, all of matter would operate in an orderly way? Well, it is true that, on theism, even an orderly universe is going to have a low probability because its existence depends on a voluntary act of creation (or perhaps a beginningless act of conservation), implying that there are some possible worlds in which God creates different universes or indeed none at all. However, the existence of mathematically elegant natural laws looks exactly like what an intelligent Mind could, and perhaps would, produce. So naturalism gives us no reasons to expect the phenomena and theism gives us some (albeit weak) reason to expect the phenomena.

Now, one might object that because scientific endeavor presupposes the existence of natural laws (and thereby cannot provide an explanation of those laws themselves), we have reached the limits of explanation and should just accept the fundamental orderliness of the multiverse as a brute fact.

But this objection fails for at least two reasons: first, it violates the rationale behind premise (2) that brute facts should not be posited if explanatory gains are to be had otherwise. The burden of proof is on the objector to show why an exception to (2) is warranted here. Second, the objection presupposes that no explanations outside the realm of science are allowed; this is clearly question-begging and too big a philosophical price to pay. Only an implausible scientism will insist that reaching the limits of scientific endeavor is equivalent to reaching the limits of explanation. Moreover, as Richard Swinburne argues, there are legitimate kinds of explanations other than scientific or law-based ones, e.g. personal explanations in terms of the reasons and intentions of an agent. And this is exactly what theism offers.

What do you, the reader, think of the argument from fundamental order? Might there be better options than theism or naturalism? Are we mere mortals reaching “too far” by seeking ultimate explanations of such things? What reasons might there be to argue that the orderliness of the multiverse is necessary, even though it appears to be contingent?

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