Order. Why?

Question from Gene:
How did reality come to be structured such that there are fundamental laws of nature and a hierarchy of intelligence in the natural world?

Answer by SmartLX:
The “hierarchy of intelligence” is the easy part. Sentient life forms on this planet have diversified and subsequently evolved in different directions, and some animals’ brains grew more than others, so different animals have wildly different levels of intelligence. Individuals are also subject to different genes and environmental factors, so even within one species there are relative geniuses and relative idiots. It’s exactly what we would expect in the circumstances. If all animals with intelligence had exactly the same amount of it, now that would be a remarkable thing.

As for the apparently universal consistency of the laws of nature, I don’t know why they’re there, though of course if they weren’t so consistent then I wouldn’t have a functioning brain to wonder about it.

Maths

It might simply be that way as a result of the physical properties of all matter and energy. The constants might have varied significantly in some ancient epoch, and stabilised around the time of the Big Bang (if that phrase even makes sense given the nature of time) so that we’re now enjoying the benefits of a stable universe. There could be many universes, some with fixed constants and some without. Perhaps one day we’ll discover the reason.

Let’s say, though I won’t assume at this point, that you believe a god structured the laws of nature the way they are. If I don’t know how it happened and admit as much, is that a good reason for me to adopt your position? No, because it’s merely an assertion. There’s no substantive evidence for the existence of a god, let alone its influence on the form of the universe. I have no desire to grasp at any answer presented to me if there’s nothing to support the idea that the answer is right.

We can take this a little further. Let’s say that we did both believe that there’s an almighty god, but didn’t adhere to the specific doctrine of any one religion. Could we then say confidently that He structured the universe? The answer is still no, because there’s still no evidence that it happened. Unless we can establish that uniformity can ONLY be deliberately structured, which we can’t, our god might only have happened across our universe and adopted it like one adopts a puppy.

Finally, if we both adhered to the doctrine of a religion that stated that God structured the universe, we would both accept that idea. We would not, however, have arrived at this particular position through logic, other than through the logical fallacy of accepting an argument from authority.

So, if even taking the existence of a god as a given doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that a god structured the universe, we certainly can’t arrive at that conclusion when the existence of a god is in question. As for using the idea to argue for the existence of the god, forget it.

8 thoughts on “Order. Why?”

  1. Hi Gene
    This is a really good question and it gets to the meat of philosophical inquiry. I’ll comment in reverse too.

    Is there a really hierarchy of intelligence? I don’t think so and neither does biological science. As SmartLX noted there is a wide diversity of intelligence both between and within species, including humans. But there is no evidence that species with a more complex nervous systems are any better at survival than those with less complex nervous systems. In fact the opposite is the case. Species with more complex nervous systems tend to become extinct at a far higher rate. All mammals, for example, have a much, much shorter species lifespan (from origination to extinction, 1-10 million years) than other, less complex lifeforms which have existed on the earth for far longer (e.g., the horseshoe crab, actually genetically related to spiders, has survived for about 450 million years). Some unicellular organisms have survived for far longer than that. So we could, for example, create individual hierarchies based on any variable and deduce arguments from that, such as intelligence, dexterity, longevity, physical size, or size of genome, but this would tell us very little about the actual state of things unless all such variables are taken into account. So, there’s nothing particularly special about intelligence, other than from our point of view, of course. It likely evolved from specific mutations in a few genes that caused growth in frontal brain areas, that found advantage in proto-human species living in particular environments. The same mutations might have occurred in other species living in different environments and found no survival advantage and so drifted out of the genome. And, of course, we have no way of observing what has happened re intelligence in any other part of the universe.

    In terms of the second question, there appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding among many theists. It’s important to appreciate that the fundamental laws of nature are not ‘laws’ in any legal sense, implying a law-maker, or in the case of polytheism, perhaps some body of law-makers. The universe is not ‘naughty’ if the laws of nature are broken! Rather, they are simply observed regularities within our region of space-time which hold under normal circumstances. A more fundamental and to my mind, interesting question, might be why the universe appears to be inherently mathematical at all (I recommend physicist Max Tegmark’s ideas in this area). But even this might be illusory. it could be the case that reality is not, in fact, inherently mathematical (in the sense that we understand mathematics) and a more intelligent species has simply designed our universe, for whatever reason, with particular mathematical axioms in place, which we have now come to (partially) understand. Such a species might themselves be sentient and live in a universe that relies on completely different mathematical axioms. After all, any working universe must have at least some regularities built into it. We cannot honestly jump from an observation that there are perceived regularities in the universe and induce from that that some eternal, infinite style of being must have created those regularities. It seems just too easy an answer to satisfy any real seeker of truth. Even if such an eternal, infinite being exists, how do we know that it is not itself subordinate to the same or even some other mathematical axioms? SmartLX’s puppy universe is surely as feasible as any theistic suggestion I’ve heard and could easily have become the basis for a religion. If it were the case, would such a being then be a god? We should await more data and that might take thousands more years!

  2. Gene – The only thing I would add to these comments is that there doesn’t have to be a “reason” why things are the way they are. In my life I’ve found that believers are usually the ones that seem to have a need to have a reason behind everything. There is no data that suggests that our universe had to be the way it is. It just IS the way it is.

    That is disquieting for some, because randomness and chance are not always easily grasped and accepted features of the little worlds that are brains inhabit…

  3. I love SmartLX’s answer to this question. A number of fascinating concepts are broached in it, in particular the idea that the existence of God and the creation of the universe are two completely different issues. The adopted puppy metaphor is a nice one, but personally I lean toward sea monkeys.

    I’m going to honor SmartLX’s answer by challenging the final assertion. ( I see no point in challenging a self-evidently foolish notion, and just can’t resist challenging a brilliant one.) The very foundation for Einstein’s God, which he called Spinoza’s God, was the consistent, structured, elegant, and comprehensible laws of nature. Of course, Einstein’s God is all but irrelevant to conventional theists, but theology isn’t a popularity contest. Your God doesn’t automatically win just because more people voted for it.

    What I’m about to say is both conjecture and an intuitive “shooting from the hip” guess, but I’m inclined to imagine that a possible reason for the amazing consistency and structural integrity of natural law in our universe is that, without it, the whole thing might quickly collapse on itself. Imagine a skyscraper built with design specifications that were generated randomly by dice rolls. It would probably collapse into a pile of rubble before construction was even completed. Metaphorically, this is like playing a board game, or a team sport, where there are no rules. The game quickly deteriorates into chaos. I can imagine a universe in which natural law lacks global consistency and global compatibility, as well as consistency with regard to particular instances of rule application. I doubt that such a universe could keep from collapsing or ripping itself apart, over time.

    On the other hand, the chance that EVERYTHING should fit together so seamlessly, logically, and consistently by pure chance (combined with some sort of natural selection) seems slim, unless there are a virtually infinite number of unstable universes fueling the selection, or trial and error, process.

    Maybe cosmology is similar to abiogenesis? Some incredibly, outrageously unlikely fluke leads to the creation of stable and logical laws of nature in one universe or meta-universe, and this somehow become replicated. Perhaps that’s why one never finds a little universe in a jar of peanut butter?

  4. “On the other hand, the chance that EVERYTHING should fit together so seamlessly, logically, and consistently by pure chance (combined with some sort of natural selection) seems slim, unless there are a virtually infinite number of unstable universes fueling the selection, or trial and error, process.”

    Not really. As the old argument goes, everything HAS to fit together in order for the universe to exist as it does, and for life to arise. If the universe was different we wouldn’t be here to wonder how come the universe exists the way it does. It takes a place like this to allow us to exist and ponder how come we have a place like this.

    Singularities are abnormal. If something can happen, it can happen many times. Even though the universe isn’t very life-friendly overall, if life can happen here it can happen elsewhere. Same thing for universes for that matter. There’s no reason to think that it hasn’t happened before or won’t happen again. We don’t even know much about the one we are in.

    Makes me wonder if they have jars of peanut butter in other universes…

  5. I believe that the big bang theory is the best explanation to date as to how the universe came to be. The theory, as I understand it is this:
    before the big bang there was a singularity. In that singularity time and
    space did not exist, and before the singularity there was nothing. What I believe is that there was not only another universe that existed before but the number of universes that have existed are innumerable. I believe that all matter is and has always been recycling. We are presently in one of those recycling events. Everything we know and see will eventually collapse back down to a singularity, which will again explode causing yet another universe. This process has been going on forever. There was no beginning and there is no end. There has always been matter and energy, and there will always be. If it were not so, we would not be here to wonder about it.

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