Where did the laws of physics come from?

(Ashwin S) #41

No… you are looking at purpose differently. Purpose in connection with agency is cinnected to action… its the reason we do something. For example our purpose as creative agents when we manufacture cars is to make something to move in. The car which is a result of our purposeful action (and hence our creation), derives purpose from our action of creating it…
Similarly if animals and human beings are to have a purpose… there must be a creator who created us for a purpose.

(GJDS) #42

Purpose is the reasoning undertaken by an intelligent agent in initiating and performing an act tat will actualise in a desired outcome. So when we use words like reason, intelligence, will, intent, desire, we are discussing purpose wrt our particular.

As a “sense of purpose” involves so much of a person, we would then continue to discuss meaning, belief, intelligence, causality …….


I didn’t claim it has purpose on its own. It just exists, but the fact that it is a rational agent allows it to create purpose, pretty much like we do.


That seems about right at first, but if you stop to think about it, we didn’t really have to feel purpose on that or even question if our lives have purpose in the first place. We could very well just do these things because it feels good to or do it robotically as emotionless machines. I don’t see any reason for why it couldn’t be that way. The usual response is to say “a agent that truly believes in what his doing will act in a way that is better for society on the long run”, but we could very well progam a emotionless machine to follow a progam without questioning it, as if it truly believed it, there is no reason why that should be associated with a sense of purpose even if you “truly believe” it. That ends up coming back a little bit to the argument of God from desire: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_desire

Sure, it may just be a unfortunate coincidence that we just happen to be reason seeking beings in a purposeless universe, but maybe that reflects the existence of an actual purpose.

EDIT: Sure, social beings will tend to evolve tendencies to participate in relationships and to feel positive about them. But why should that be associated with purpose or why should we have the need for purpose in the first place? We could just do it because it give us pleasure or for no reason at all (like robots progammed to do something) and life and evolution would still work just fine.

(John Dalton) #45

I can’t say I agree with you. I don’t see any reason why the things I mentioned couldn’t be the basis for action by a rational agent as you originally brought up.

That’s fine. I’d say it’s something that only troubles me if there’s some kind of insistence that we must have an external purpose imparted to us.

I guess not, if they have purpose in the first place. I don’t see that we have purpose beyond such things however, or need it. I’m not saying we couldn’t though.

(Ashwin S) #46

You are correct in that we do have purposes as independent agency…
However, this purpose does not have a meaning or justification apart from our own consciousness.
There is no scale of reference which gives meaning. Things become relative… My sense of meaning/purpose not only differs from yours, it will be equally valid… so a murderers purpose to kill someone would be as valid as a good Samaritans purpose to save someone’s life.
Meaning becomes meaningless without a frame of reference.

(John Dalton) #47

That’s true to some extent, and reflects the reality of our situation. Among different groups and individuals, we can see diverging ideas. But social structures do provide for common ideas–each man is not an island. Physical realities, our ability to understand them, and our evolved social impulses make the idea that we would somehow be unable to draw a difference between murder and altruism and act appropriately absurd, IMO.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #48

True enough. But add another man, or two, or three, … or an entire culture of people, and you still have an island – just a larger one; one still in need of external references if it is not going to be just as ultimately self-referential as the single man already was.

I don’t think this is true at all (or only seems “easily true” if one doesn’t think beyond present easy circumstances or take history into account). Many people have not found it all self-evident that killing is easily separable from “mercy”. Witness controversies around euthanasia or abortion or capital punishment. Our history and even present societies are full of people (some of whom are labeled as despots in the retrospect of damning history) who easily and clearly find rationales for much killing.

“To realize my vision of where society needs to go, we need to crack a few eggs, right?”

So rings the cry of every despot. But should these despots end up having been or being “winners”, then the subsequent history books sing their visionary praises rather than condemning them.

So in my view, the “reasonable, scientific-minded people find their way toward altruism” notion fails the reality test.


(Ashwin S) #49

There are two possible causes. One is your proposal of “evolved social impulses”. The problem with that is that evolution is morally neutral.it just looks at benefits to reproductive fitness. Evolutionary psychologists can make up just so stories to explain everything from altruism to infanticide, rape and murder. Evolution does not make anything good or bad. And if the only thing that exists is matter, then you do not really have agency and hence your sense of purpose is an illusion.

The other option is that we are free agents made to reflect our creator ( to a limited extent). Hence all human beings have the impulse to do Good… however being free agents we have the ability to choose to do harm also. It’s from the mind of our creator that we recieve a common understanding of some things being bad… and others being good. And we are truly moral agents in that we can make our own free choices.

So the only way purpose really exists is option two. And it’s in line with all of our experiences that we truly have agency… we are not like computers or robots.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #50

First of all we are talking about a rational purpose and meaning, which means that it is the result of thought and decision.

One can say with evolution that all flora and fauna have the goal of survival, however this is not a rational purpose in that tress do not decide to survival. Humans are basically the only creatures who can make a rational decision to survive or not.

It must be noted that a significant number of human beings decide every day to survive, but take their own lives. This does not include people who are in the end of life situation, like my parents who have decided that their time has come rather than resist to the bitter end.

A meaningless life is not a rational life. Existence is not an end in itself. I read about a graduate student at Harvard U. who took his own life after writing a long dissertation on the meaninglessness of life. As a student of philosophy he called his suicide an “experiment in nothingness” in the note he left behind before he shot himself in the head on the library steps on Yom Kippur. He was ethnic heritage was Jewish.

For humans life is not a purpose. Life requires a purpose. We need a purpose to get up in the morning. We need to know more that we need to get up, but we need the purpose and will to make a decision and actually carry it out. Humans have physical needs, and rational need to make sense of the world, and spiritual need to0 find positive meaning in the world and they are all important.

Jesus Christ did not have to die when He did, but He choose to do so to show us there are somethings more important than life. He did not have any progeny, so He could not be considered Fit in terms of Darwinian Natural Selection.

Yet if the purpose of life is Survival as Darwin said, then Jesus revealed to people the way to Eternal Life which is the goal of evolution which can never be met be evolution. Christianity is the answer to the question that Darwin raised, but did not accept.

The problem is that Darwin choose the power of Natural Selection to be conflict, while Jesus makes the power of life to be Love.


I had always thought that ideas like string theory, supersymmetry, and the like were outlines of possible scientific explanations for physical laws. As far as I am aware, scientists are still pursuing ideas on how these laws came to be. That’s not to say that they will find an answer, but that is true of every single scientific research program. How many people are researching how God created the physical laws? It just seems to be a dead end explanation that people offer when there is no other answer. If we go back 1,000 years we had almost no explanations for how most of nature worked, and people argued that the deity or deities they believed in were responsible for those phenomena.

At least to me, the God explanation for the origin of physical laws just seems like a God of the Gaps argument. The arguments for supernatural origins seem to start with “since science doesn’t have an answer . . .”. Of course, there are also positions like Evolutionary Creationism that combine scientific and theological concepts, but it doesn’t seem to be that way for the origin of physical laws. God seems more like a conclusion that has been invented to stop us from asking questions.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #52

We’ve gotten so used to hammering down any thing that might even vaguely resemble the “God-of-the-gaps” bogeyman that my following reflection might seem a bit jolting; but here it is.

In defense of the “God of the gaps” … or maybe just a new way to look at it …

So God would seem to be a “dead-end” explanation (or perhaps the Christian could rephrase that to “a living-end” of explanation. I.e. the Christian might well agree that saying “God did it” does not qualify as a scientific explanation. Given that God (properly understood I would say) is by definition beyond scientific inquiry; it is a simple tautology then to acknowledge that science won’t “find God”.

But what about all the people throughout history, that cultivate a culture of “seeing God”? Where do they/we see God? To see God is to look through or behind apparent scientific explanations for many of us. The physical explanation seems visible enough to many of us, but if we are theists we may see God behind the physical explanation; as if the science were somewhat transparent and we look through it to our brute fact of God behind it. But for others, the science is more opaque and they have been convinced that one can’t “see through” it and therefore it obscures, or worse yet, displaces God. (That’s our bogeyman with his naughtiest face on.) So those people still look for and see God most clearly in the remaining gaps (which contrary to how some enthusiasts make it sound, are nowhere close to disappearing.) And this is nothing new in history and hasn’t diminished too much in the last centuries. We like to celebrate God in the things that most amaze us, just as we are predisposed to praise God for the things that delight us. Is that so wrong? Are we really going to be disillusioned that mold and fungus don’t get the rhapsodies, poetry, and hymn time that the tulips and the eagles do? So in the same token should we be surprised if people find “more glory” in current areas of amazement (i.e. mystery) than they do in explanations? The trick of course, is to realize that the explanations … as mundane as they may sound, do not one whit lesson God’s glory. They just lesson some people’s amazement about it all (not generally the scientific thinkers, though!)

I think the only time it becomes a bogeyman, though, is when some buy into the now antiquated notion that physical explanations and divine involvement are an “either-or, but not both” situation. As long as we have dismissed that, why not celebrate God shining through all our knowledge gaps? And should we learn a thing or two about what’s in those gaps, we just get to then see God through the beautiful new rose-tinting of whatever crosses that gap.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #53

@T_aquaticus, you are mistaken. String theory and supersymmetry are not explanation for how physical came to be, they are descriptions of how they work. To be specific they indicate as to the possibility that matter is programed to work a specific way, which does make sense.

What does not make sense is that matter programmed itself to act in a rational matter, which is what those who deny the existence of a rational Creator God seem to claim. It is like saying that a computer works because it programs itself, even while saying that computers are not capable of original thought.

Computers cannot program themselves nor can they operates themselves, much less create themselves which is what God is. A fool says in his heart that there is no God, because the fool refuses to understand Who God is and that the universe is impossible without YHWH the God of the Bible.

YHWH is not the God of the Gaps, YHWH is the God of the Facts. To say that God created the universe is not to say that we cannot understand it, but that we can understand because humans are created in God’s Image. God is rational, the universe is rational, and humans are rational.

To say that God did not create the universe is to say that humans cannot understand the universe because it is not comprehendible. If no rational One created the universe, then it cannot be rational, because the universe is not rational in that it cannot think, even if it were true that the universe could create itself.

To day that God did not create the universe is to say that the universe is not rational and so it has no purpose or meaning. Purpose and meaning give the universe unity. The universe is much more than a collection of atoms or a collecti0on of persons. It has purpose and direction, even though many people seem intent upon sabotaging this purpose and direction, which God gave us the ability to do.

God seems more like a conclusion that has been invented to stop us from asking questions.

Atheism,.or at least the New Atheism, is a conclusion which stops us from asking theological and philosophical questions as Richard Dawkins has demonstrated. Christians and Jews have always been in the forefront of asking scientific questions. .

(Mark D.) #54

Of course the question of where the laws of physics come from only has two possible answers. Either the laws are inherent to reality and describe what we find but we will quite likely never be able to say why they are what are, or else, all the laws and all reality are the handiwork of the creator of the cosmos and we may find out why they are what they are but only if He decides to tell us - and assuming we are capable of understanding what He tells us. I see no way to decide which is true but I find the first answer is true while you obviously favor the second.

Some will argue that God must exist because otherwise we cannot answer such question without Him and presumably we are entitled to such answers. I don’t think that represents fair minded reasoning. Do you?

(John Dalton) #55

Which is essentially what we have in this world. Even still, there are common points of reference about basic values based on obvious realities.

That’s not what I’m saying though–I see things as much simpler than that, and based on our social instincts and ability to understand reality. Societies do this kind of thing, as we can see in laws and other social structures, including religion as one. Individual and group failures happen at times as we have seen, but the trend has been positive for a long time.

My point is that we possess senses of empathy, fairness and the like (which can also be found in our mammalian relatives).

I can’t see why. I have no idea if “the only thing that exists is matter” by the way. It’s a long step from there to “God”.

That’s well said Roger. We were talking about a hypothetical rational being, etc. at first, and I’m somewhat reticent to state anything as an absolute, as was happening. If we’re talking about a human being, I largely agree (in this much at least).

(Jon Garvey) #56

Just to remind you, @T_aquaticus, the “brute fact” position was suggested here by @John_Dalton, from an atheist position, and not a Christian. And he reached that position because he understands the intrinsic limitations of science, ie he understands a bit of philosophy.

Science is the study of the material universe (which is why it excludes the supernatural). If behind the laws there are other laws, and behind them others, one must either posit an infinite regress, or reach the laws that are behind the material universe, and so beyond the purview of science.

An infinite regress is absurd, not least because a truly infinite regress would never have got as far as leading to the laws we know. So John has accepted the logic that the “bottom layer” of laws is a brute fact, and his curiosity reaches no further. That is the “conclusion that has been invented to stop us from asking questions” - only it’s rational because it recognises that any scientific questions beyond that are darned fool questions. This was why Lawrence Krauss’s claims that the Universe comes spontaneously from nothing - given the laws - was so mocked by the philosophers: he didn’t even realise his “brute fact” when it stared him in the face.

The “God of the gaps” fallacy is, itself, largely a fallacy, as Merv helps to point out. I’m actually surprised that Evolutionary Creationists have been so ready to use it as a weapon, since it undercuts the branch they are sitting on: if it is always a fallacy to invoke God for a scientifically unexplained phenomenon, then so is attributing the resurrection of Christ to God is “God of the Gaps” (one day there might be a perfectly natural explanation…), and the personal experiences people have of God are also “God of the Gaps” when some psychologist can easily construct a theory about brainwaves to explain them. God himself, in other words, is “God of the gaps” once the (false) logic is accepted.

In the case of the laws of nature, and the “brute fact” that confronts us at their deepest level, the “gap” you criticize is a gap science created for itself by restricting itself to material causes. To look for the material causes of the first material is crazy - to look for causes beyond the material is to accept the gaps that methodological naturalism imposes on the discipline of science.

But to find God in that “gap” does not stop the asking of questions - that is rather the effect the “brute fact” conclusion of the confirmed atheist. Once one has found God beyond nature, one can spend the rest of ones life, and beyond, exploring God himself.

(John Dalton) #57

I think it was first suggested by @BoltzmannBrain in fact! But I did take him up on it, and the first to do so from an atheist position I guess.

ie he understands a bit of philosophy.

Thanks, I try :slight_smile:

I would think of the limit as a current limit. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that we are on the brink of knowing, and we have to accept it as a brute fact currently. I don’t think it (or anything) lies forever and irredeemably behind the possibility of scientific inquiry and understanding. For some things, the possibility looks pretty remote though.

Maybe that’s fair. For all intents and purposes it seems that way to me, and it doesn’t trouble me. I’m not a scientist of any stripe though.

Having said the above, I don’t agree here. I think it’s admirable for scientists to try to push the limits of understanding in such ways. The brute power of the mind may be our only way of reaching new levels of understanding. I think I’ve mentioned before here that if the distinction is maintained between hard science based on empirical observations, and different softer lines of inquiry, I don’t see a problem. And I think that squares well with my view on theology, of which I’d say the same.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #58

I agree, and would not state that our ‘gaps’ should be the foundation for anyone’s beliefs (though they may be an initial attractive ‘hook’ for some people – the Spirit moves as it will, even using charlatan preachers despite themselves sometimes.)

I agree that the infinite regress is absurd, but even if it wasn’t, God is still by definition behind it all (infinite regress or no). So in principle, we scientific thinkers can happily muse and investigate on what else we might discover behind the current sets of things we think of as laws, and perhaps we discover reasons for those, and others yet behind those. This may as well possibly be an infinite regress as far as our human capacities for discovery will be concerned, but it won’t matter theologically. God is by definition the Opaque backdrop behind it all, infinite or not. It is the perennial dream of philosophical materialism to triumphantly declare about each new discovery: “aha! – we have finally discovered ‘not God’ here, and here is just where we should have expected to find him if he exists!” And in every case they are reminded by thinking theists that God would not be some layer stacked up on some yet more fundamental things. God will not be probed or ‘seen through’ in that sense, but will instead be the ultimate opaque backdrop that is the end (or beginning rather!) of all vision. It isn’t what we ‘see through’ after all, that is useful to our sight but that on which our eyes can finally land as something solid (the ‘brute fact’ if you will). So if we think we catch better glimpses of that bright opacity through some of the temporary gaps of our present age, so be it! Scientific minded Christians know that whatever observed ‘laws’ that light filters through before reaching our eyes, the light is there behind everything nonetheless.

It is when people imagine it all as a single pane with nothing but the abyss behind that, that competition then rears its head and we imagine the ‘scientific’ bits of the stain glass window trying to grow and blot out the allegedly co-planar ‘God bits’. That is the ‘god-of-the-gaps’ that should be rejected. The true picture, though, has many many layers, and we rely on divine self-revelation to know something of the back-most one, the reality behind it all. It is the sun behind it all that makes all the stained glass so pretty.

I owe much of this line of thought either to Lewis or Chesterton (probably both).

With edits.

(Jon Garvey) #59

Good thinking, Merv - much in line with Aquinas, too, for whom every causal chain, however short or long, could be linked back to God, even if the universe proved to be eternal.

Mind you, as an Aristotelian, Aquinas would have questioned whether “laws of nature” was the best way of conceiving nature’s regularities anyway, partly because it prejudges the question of nature’s own powers (the shift to “law” thinking, as you know, was a theological move by Bacon et al to make nature merely passive and God the potent universal lawgiver - but that’s another conversation).

In that regard my own question would not be “Where did the laws of physics come from?” but “Where are they now?” Apart from God, its a little hard to even visualise a “law” in naturalistic terms.

(Mark D.) #60

Did not know this but it does explain the confusion which often arises when discussing either “the laws of nature” or “objective moral laws”. Laws of the kind men create to govern themselves do depend on their own powers to enforce them. But neither nature nor morality depend upon enforcement by a law giver. The laws of men are something added to nature to make a life more pleasing to ourselves, just as are shelter and agriculture. The regularities of nature are not laws but the formal description of those regularities have acquired that term.