The Determination Of The Universe

Question from Alejandro:
Message: I was debating (not formally) in my university about the existence of a god, and we ended up in the topic of determinism. My theist opposition argued that determinism would prove the existence of (their) god, that it would prove that, say, life was determined to exist by physics and chemistry, so there is a teleology in it.

In sum, they said the old adage: “Laws require a lawgiver”.

I believe this is a very common argument theists make to atheists, and some don’t know how to answer that.

Does determinism prove there is a god?

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s a common argument all right. Actually it’s two different ones mashed together, so let’s split them up.

Determinism means that everything that’s ever happened or will ever happened was destined to happen from the very beginning, if indeed there was a beginning. God’s plan is one interpretation of this, and a highly disturbing one because it implies that everything bad that’s ever happened was God’s plan, including all the people who’ve gone to hell. There was no way they could have done anything other than commit the sins that damned them.

Another valid interpretation of determinism is that it all simply happened because it had to, without any plan at all. Some very interesting stuff has happened, like the emergence of life and Beethoven’s Fifth and that amazing coincidence that happened to you last week, but in a universe as enormous as ours you would expect at least a few amazing things to happen by chance in a few corners of a few galaxies. If billions of people played the same lottery at million-to-one odds, you’d get thousands of winners.

Finally, regardless of any of the above, determinism can’t establish a god until determinism itself is shown to be true, and it hasn’t been. Decades ago quantum mechanics put paid to our self-assurance that every particle must have a plan, by telling us that a particle’s exact position can be a matter of probability, with no apparent reason why it’s in one spot and not another. Until the accurate predictions of quantum mechanics can all be explained by another completely different and intrinsically determined mechanism, determinism cannot be assumed to be reality.

The second argument is the argument from design, in this case applied to the origin of life. I covered it very broadly in my Great Big Arguments series, and I’ve written a few things on the fine-tuning argument which you might find relevant. Briefly, just because the universe supports life does not mean the universe was designed for life.