Where did the laws of physics come from?

This is a potential point to be made by IDers, in fact, I myself have used the argument in the past, after reading There is a God by Anthony Flew. How can we explain the laws of physics without resorting to God?

1 Like

The scientific answer: nobody knows
The other type of answers: maybe God made them and sustains them (my ‘brute fact’ that is believed by faith) or you go with another set of ‘brute facts’ like Poetic Naturalist and Cosmologist Sean Carroll.

The question that comes to my mind: How is resorting to God in the absence of evidence a valid answer for any question? A “God of the Gaps” doesn’t seem that compelling to me.


Assuming we agree that the laws of physics are descriptive then what really is there to explain? We can explain how any particular physical law was arrived at without resort to God. But can we really hope to explain why things are as we describe them by way of physics? I find it hard to wrap my head around what that would mean. Predictive power reinforces that physics has described the way things are well, but does that bring us any closer to knowing why they are as they are? And again how could we possibly know what range of ways are/were possible for the universe to be let alone what circumstance could have tipped the scale in the direction of what we actually find? My mind is boggled.

For that matter how would attributing the laws of physics to God “explain” why things are as they are, so long as we have no hope of discerning His logic or motivations? That it was God’s will is brings us not a step closer to answering the original question so far as I can see.

Reggie, that is quite a question, as slippery as it is humongous.

Science always has to resort to some axioms, which are taken as brute facts until they are substituted by some more fundamental ones. So even if we did scientifically answer where the current laws came from, it would still be in terms of new, more fundamental laws which would then have to be taken as brute facts. If you wanna hear some interesting philosophical theist thoughts on that I’d recomend the “cosmological arguments for God” talk by Dean Zimmerman on YouTube.

It ultimately boils down to wheter you believe there is intrinsic purpose in the universe. If there is, that requires a rational agent, therefore God. But believing there is such purpose is a matter of faith, and not necessarily religious faith (lets call it metaphysical opinions). Paul Davies, for instance, claims that he is a deist rather than an atheist because he believes there is intrinsic purpose in the universe.

To me, the question is vacuous, and I have never understood its popularity. It was vacuous to me as a Christian, and it’s extra-vacuous now. This is because it takes a “problem” (I can’t explain X) and “solves” it by saying “god.” As many others have noted over the eons, this doesn’t solve the problem at all. It merely renames the problem. Now the problem is god.

If there are things that are brute facts about the universe, then one can simply note those brute facts or “explain” them by pointing to a being that exemplifies “brute fact.” This is not an argument for a god, or for anything else.


Very good points, and I probably should have been more careful with my reply. What I meant to say is that resorting to God is not a good scientific explanation. I think it is best to keep our methodological and ontological conclusions separate. :wink:

1 Like

I don’t think it tries to be a scientific explanation, but a philosophical explanation/hypothesis. And I think it is a fine one as far as philosophical explanations go (although not the only possible explanation). Just because something tries to be an explanation it doesn’t mean it has the pretension of being science.

1 Like

I wish you could say more about this. I still don’t see how attributing the laws of physics to the black box labeled “God” explains why they are what they are. Was God’s selection necessary or capricious?

I’m used to this sort of reasoning also supporting belief in the existence of God. It seems pretty circular if God explains physics and by so doing justifies the premise that God exists. A neat trick. :wink:

Again, it has to do with intentionality. The idea is that the laws of physics are the way they are because God chose them to be that way so that reality could purposefully be the way he wanted it to be, that is the explanation. Of course that assumes God to be a brute fact, and it is not better than just accepting the laws as brute facts in that regard, but if the laws are just there as brute facts, then there is no intentionality, they just happen to be. What God explains is why the universe has purpose (if you assume it has).

1 Like

I don’t think of the laws as being there as being a brute fact. Facts are human constructs. To understand why they are as they are, I think requires that we understand the essential nature of matter, energy and space. For example we understand some things about the chemistry of the various elements by understanding the idea of electron shells. The fact that the noble elements are those with maxed out electron shells helps to explain why they are less able to combine with other electrons. I think any explanation requires this sort of deeper analysis.

To explain the laws of physics by attributing them to God doesn’t reveal the deeper level of analysis that grants insight. An explanation which doesn’t add depth to what you know isn’t really much of an explanation I don’t think.

Any deeper level of analysis would only explain those facts in terms of other facts, sometime you will inevitably have to stop in some brute fact. The thing is, that fact can either be some kind of God-like personal thing or some impersonal principle that “just happens to exist”.

As an explanation it just doesn’t seem very productive. That there will be limits to how deep we can go doesn’t surprise me but I don’t think we will ever know how deep we can go if we settle for “it is God’s will”. I much prefer to let the search go on and just live with the limited, tentative nature of our understanding. What really is the alternative?

Well, since many of the greatest scientists which gave us deep insights in the nature of reality were devout christians who believed in God’s will, I don’t see why it need to be the case that believing that the universe is the way it is because of God will hamper scientific discovery. We could very well still be interested in how God’s creation works. Like I said, “God did it” does not try to be a scientific explanation, and therefore is not competing with them. It is not about how deep we can go, just about acknowledging that no matter how deep we go, we still will be left with some brute facts we need to accept.

1 Like

Not knowing something doesn’t mean you can’t have opinions on what the answer might be. Atheists do it all the time as well, like when some claim that science will eventually explain consciousness or that someday we will have a unified theory of everything (although is not only atheists who believe in these things). We have no clue if these things will happen! But one can hope and believe that they will.


Yes I have faith in science too. :wink:

But I don’t have faith we will ever know all that there is to know and I strongly suspect there is no good answer to the what explains the laws of physics question. The laws of physics are already our best attempt to explain what’s out there and how it works. The question of why things work the way they do seems almost like one of those questions a precocious little kid will sometimes ask where any answer is immediately greeted with the same question:“and why is that true?”

On some level I just don’t think the question is entirely coherent.

I also think this is a lousy place to put God. I think of God as having more to do with what matters in our lives more than it does what are all the facts and reasons for everything under the sun.

To me that quite frankly seems as “answering” the question by dismissing it, which is something I don’t usually appreciate. To illustrate why, imagine that one asked “how did the diversity of life came into being” a thousand years ago. Answering “we don’t know” would be a pretty good answer, saying “God did it” would also be a plausible (though God of the gaps) answer, as we didn’t have the data we have to day. But answering: “that question does not make sense” would really only be a copout.

Our lives take place under the sun, so to put God in our lives it is necessary to ask such questions as well. If God is relevant to our lives and care about us it is only natural to think that he created the universe in a way that would support its existence in the first place.

Well we won’t ever reach agreement about that. I think God is most relevant in the immediacy of a human life. That that should require a cosmos wide critical roll for God … agree to disagree?

Well, is not that I disagree with you. I could see myself having your opinion if I believed that God is metaphorical or something like that, but I believe in an actually existing God, so I think we are just following the natural conclusions of the way we view God. It just doesn’t seem to me to be coherent to believe in an actual existing God who is somehow important in our lifes but has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this entire huge universe. By the way, I’ve come across some non-theist quakers in the internet lately, and their perspectives and ideas really reminded me of some of yours. Have you ever been part of their community or tried to know about it at least? Just for the sake of curiosity.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.