The Argument from Emergent Order

In a previous post on the fecundity of the laws of physics (January 7th, 2013), I argued that the basic law-like platform of the multiverse (or, “basic laws”) might have been otherwise, and that they exhibit features that call for explanation. I have now come to realize that my original post needs some refinement. I call my refined version “the argument from emergent order” (AEO).

New Zealand Embracing the Dark Recall that my original argument was not susceptible to god-of-the-gaps reasoning. This kind of reasoning uses God as an explanation for things that the natural sciences do not currently understand, but usually falters when scientific knowledge grows large enough to fill in these gaps in our understanding. God eventually gets replaced by naturalistic explanations and thereby becomes superfluous. However, since all scientific theorizing presupposes (and therefore does not explain) the basic laws of nature, my argument from those laws cannot be accused of appealing to gaps in our scientific understanding.

The AEO finds its inspiration from Richard Swinburne’s (1996) book entitled, Is there a God?, in which he ponders the question of why the laws of nature were such as to lead to the development of sentient beings (p.60). Some critics deny that this ‘why’ question is relevant because the actual laws simply are the way they are – full stop. Swinburne disagrees. He thinks the question is relevant even if it forces us outside the territory of science and into the domain of metaphysics for an explanation.

For what it’s worth, I am inclined to agree with Swinburne because there is good reason to posit an explanation for something if there are explanatory gains in doing so. However, I would revise his question to ask: why were the basic laws even capable of generating emergent order – that is, worlds with finite creatures that exhibit intentionality, mentality, and self-consciousness? Surely the laws could have been merely consistent and orderly, without also having the power to generate such complex and delicate combinations as would be needed for worlds and minds. So what explains this fact?

This is where the hypothesis of theism/deism has an advantage over naturalism. Naturalism gives us little reason to suppose that the basic laws would be capable of generating the kind of emergent order I described. Whereas if an Intelligent Mind created those laws, it is much more likely (than on naturalism) to suppose they would have the power to generate finite minds that are reminiscent of the ultimate Mind.

It is worth noting that the AEO has a distinct advantage over the so-called argument from fine-tuning. This is because the AEO appeals to a more basic phenomenon than fine-tuning. The constants and quantities of our life-permitting universe are explainable using the many-worlds hypothesis (a generous concession!), but the AEO appeals to the the productive powers of the basic laws themselves. What explains the startling fact that the law (or laws) underwriting the multiverse were even capable of having fine-tuning and finite minds as a consequence – apart from the fact that they actually did have that consequence? The causal potential for emergent order (not the order itself), is the locus of explanation here.

One challenge to the AEO is that these basic laws can also generate waste, suffering, and death – each of which appears surprising if the laws were made by a benevolent Mind. This is where the project of theodicy is relevant to the defense of theism, but such a defense is unnecessary if the creator is not assumed to have moral attributes, as is true from some versions of deism.

What do you the reader think? Does the AEO have the distinct advantages I have outlined above?

2 thoughts on “The Argument from Emergent Order”

  1. Hello everyone,
    Since I posted on the topic of emergent order, I came across a quote about St. Augustine’s view of creation which I felt was pertinent to my discussion of natural laws. Augustine believed that all creaturely kinds existed potentially – or “seminally” – at the beginning of the world when God created it. These potentials were then actualized as creation unfolded over time. In the words of Simo Knuuttila, in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (2006),

    “Augustine was very fond of associating the conception of simultaneous creation with the doctrine of seminal reasons (rationes seminales or rationes causales) which was found in slightly different forms in Stoic and Platonic philosophy. He was not the first to regard this as a theologically significant conception, but he systematized it more than his predecessors. According to Augustine, the members of the natural kinds which unfolded later on their own were created in seminal form at the beginning, but the seminal reasons also involved the seeds of all miraculous deviations from the common course of nature. In this way God remained the ultimate creator of every new being (De Gen. ad litt. 6.10.17-11.19, .14.25-15.26; De Trin. 3.8.13-9.16)” (Knuuttila, “Time and Creation in Augustine,” p.104).

    Augustine’s description of creation is not unlike my account of the potencies described by (or inherent in) the basic platform that governs the multiverse. The power to generate worlds that host finite minds is already present in the basic principle of physics, and this makes sense if a creator intended that minds be a consequence of them.

  2. After some reflection, perhaps the old name of this argument is still preferable: “the argument from the fecundity of nature.” This name is more appropriate because emergent order is not itself the phenomena being explained; it is nature’s productive power to generate such order in the first place that concerns us.

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