Imagine a world with no reliable cause and effect relationships. There are no regular connections between events of type A, events of type B, or C, etc. Imagine further that because you live in this world, there is no way to predict what will result from your intentions to act. For example, you may intend to shake my hand but end up punching me in the face instead! Or upon a second attempt at shaking my hand, bullets shoot out of your fingers and kill me! Your life in this imaginary world is surely bizarre, and clearly you cannot be held responsible for your actions. In fact, it is hard to conceive how you could even form intentions without predictable patterns of cause-and-effect to learn from.
This thought-experiment reveals that creatures like us cannot form intentions (let alone act intentionally) outside a framework of reliable cause-and-effect relationships. And if intentional actions do not exist, other goods such as free will, moral responsibility, and love do not exist either.
Why is this point important? Because it lends some credence to what theists have called the free will defense against the problem of animal suffering. Advocates of this defence argue as follows: many creaturely goods such as freedom, moral responsibility, and love would not exist if there were no “natural laws” to sponsor them. In fact, it is hard to conceive how plant and animal life on Earth could exist (let alone thrive) without such a platform to support it. So if God wants to create a biological world with these goods, he has to create natural laws as well.
However, there are risks in doing so. The same natural laws that enable creaturely goods and benefit life on the earth also generate natural catastrophes (such as fatal weather anomalies, mud slides, and mass extinctions) which cause a lot of animal pain and suffering. And given how interconnected the natural world is, it is hard to see how the benefits of natural laws can be had without the negative side-effects.
Naturalists often reply that God could have made different laws which lessen the overall amount, intensity, or duration of animal suffering. Such a world would have been preferable to our own, and so God should have created it instead.
Instead of evaluating this “different natural laws” response, I want to highlight a point of irony in the naturalist’s position, especially as it pertains to a seemingly unrelated piece of natural theology called The Argument from Fundamental Order (or AFO).
According to the AFO, the basic intelligibility, consistency, and orderliness of the multiverse lend support to the hypothesis of theism, insofar as its basic laws are contingent, i.e. could have been different. Now, a minority of naturalists try to counter the AFO by arguing that those laws were necessary – that no multiverse could have been governed by different ones. Or put differently, any multiverse that could have existed had to be governed by the same laws.
I hope the reader will now detect the irony of this response. If the laws of nature had to be the way they are, then one cannot fault God for failing to create different ones that reduce animal suffering. One cannot have it both ways. Either the laws are contingent and therefore call out for explanation, or they are necessary and cannot be “tinkered with” to reduce animal suffering.
What do you, the reader, think about the “different natural laws” objection to the free will defense? If sound, does the objection implicitly support The Argument from Fundamental Order?
 This claim is distinct from the notion that the constants and quantities of the laws of physics could have been different. That is beyond reasonable doubt, but of little help to the naturalist because there are so few hospitable universes permitted by those laws, making it hard for us to discern if a universe with slightly different parameters would (on balance) contain less animal suffering. Therefore, the naturalist’s objection must be that an entirely different set of physical laws could have obtained.