The Theist’s Challenge
A painting requires a painter. A building requires a builder. Creation requires a creator. Order requires an orderer. “On an atheist’s worldview” – the theist claims – “how can there be order in the universe? How can a random, unintelligent explosion produce an ordered universe?” This is the challenge that theists often like to pose. On the face of it, it seems like a pertinent question. Surely without the existence of an intelligent orderer, the atheist must have some account as to how an unguided universe could end up ordered? But the challenge is based on a preconceived and extrapolated view as to what order is and how it can arise.
Let’s begin with the claim that “a painting requires a painter”. There’s no error here, it’s true by definition. Paintings are defined as things that are created by human painters and so the claim is trivially true. You could also ascertain this same thing by empirical evidence, if you were so inclined. If you discovered the origin of every painting on earth, you would find that every painting was painted by a human painter (or a living thing at least – I’ve heard of dogs who’ve been trained to paint). Now let’s turn to “a creation requires a creator”. This claim is also unproblematic. Creations do require creators by definition. This doesn’t mean that the universe requires a creator though. It is begging the question to assume that the universe is a creation. You can’t claim the universe is a creation until you prove that there is a creator, but what theists sometimes want to use this phrase to show is that the universe requires a creator. But this is just question begging. A creation requires a creator, but we do not know that the universe is a creation.
Now I turn to the claim which I want to discuss in detail today, the claim that “order requires an orderer”. Unlike the other two phrases we’ve looked at, there is nothing in the definition of order that requires the existence of an orderer. Creations require creators by definition, but this is not true for order and orderers. So just because the universe appears ordered, does not mean that there must exist an orderer.
But there is a point to be addressed here, and that is how can there be order in the universe if there is no intelligent designer.
We can trace the origin of the thought that leads theists to make this point. When we look at human creations and designs, we see things that intelligent beings have ordered. Intelligent things create order around them. You can see the synaptic bridges fall into place; the theist makes the mental connection that order requires intelligence, and so deduces that the atheist is unable to explain why the universe as a whole is ordered.
But this is an extrapolation. The theist has seen that intelligence can produce order and then jumps to the conclusion that all order must then be produced by intelligence. It’s an intuitive leap, but an unsupported one. We can find many examples of order arising from natural laws alone, such as snowflakes and crystals.
The Origin of Order
Order then appears to come from two sources, we have that either:
- Order comes from intelligence
- Order comes from the laws of nature (which govern natural processes which produce things like snowflakes and crystals)
At this point we can detail two alternative approaches to this observation. The theist could stick by their extrapolation and say that all order is due to intelligence. This would then lead them to conclude that the order in the natural laws must have an intelligence behind them and that intelligence is God. It’s certainly a consistent view, but it is one based on an extrapolation, not a firm basis of evidence as the theist supposes.
Alternatively, an atheist can look at the world and say “There’s a lot more order produced by natural laws than there is by intelligence in the universe, so perhaps the laws are the source of order, not intelligence.” After all we have a natural account of how intelligent life evolved, so perhaps it’s more sensible to say that intelligence is a product of order. Intelligence can go on to produce more order, but the laws of nature are the fundamental source of this order. Let me make clear that I’m not claiming for certain that the laws are the source of order, only that they appear to be immediately responsible for the order we see around us. It’s a hypothesis I’m making, not an assertion.
The Origin of Laws
A theist may then ask “but where did the laws come from?” This is a good question, but by asking this the theist has changed the subject of the debate. Here’s why:
- The argument the theist tried to make was that the existence of order in the universe is evidence for an orderer, and hence evidence for God’s existence.
- We’ve shown that logically, order doesn’t require an orderer – it doesn’t follow from the definition of order.
- We’ve also shown that empirical evidence points to the natural laws as being the source of order, not an intelligent orderer.
There is one thing missing here though. How could a theist escape this argument? The only escape for the theist here is to accept the argument above, but then to assert that natural laws could only possibly be a product of an intelligent creator – God. This is why they ask us the question “Where do the laws come from?”. They would agree with us that the laws are the immediate source of order, but not the ultimate source. The ultimate source is God who divined the laws from his intelligence. If the theist could show that natural laws require an intelligent designer, then they can maintain that order requires an orderer. Order requires natural laws, but natural laws require an orderer (God), therefore God exists.
There is no argument I’ve ever come across that establishes that natural laws could only be a product of an intelligent God. I can think of several counterexamples to that claim. If this universe is a simulation then the natural laws of the universe would be the algorithms of some supercomputer. Of course, one could then ask where logic in the universe that houses the supercomputer comes from, but who knows if we could even comprehend the reality behind the simulation! Certainly there’s nothing obviously inconsistent about supposing the universe to be a simulation, so it’s a valid alternative to God being the source of order in the universe.
Another possibility, which is my personal view, is that the laws of nature are themselves necessary. They may not seem necessary to us at the moment, but that’s because we don’t know the fundamental laws of the universe yet! The “laws of nature” we currently have in Physics are, at their best, approximations. So although these approximate laws seem contingent, not necessary, it could well be the case that the fundamental laws of nature, of which the laws we currently know are approximations, are necessary truths. If they are necessary truths, then they need no further justification.
There already I have given you two consistent, possibly even plausible, alternative answers to the question “Where do the laws come from?” The claim that the theist needs, the claim that natural laws can only be a product of an intelligent God seems probably false.
Notice that I am not here to provide an answer to the question of where order comes from in the universe. The theist claims that order is evidence for God, because only God can explain the order in the universe. But what we’ve shown is that order isn’t necessarily a product of intelligence, and so a God is not the only available explanation for order. Order therefore does not require an intelligent orderer, and order is not evidence for God.