A Smoother Pebble


(In order to understand what I'm yammering about: I left a comment on this post, replied to here. This is my rather disconnected reply. Bryan Norwood in bold, my comments in plaintype.)

First, my remarks weren’t so much addressed at the problem of the first cause, just at the idea that the order of the universe necessitates a creator god. I wouldn't say that progress in the physical and natural sciences contradicts the necessity of God, but I would say that science enables us to explain a great deal that, as Norwood notes, we would once have been unable to explain without appealing to God (angels pushing the planets around, Prometheus moulding humans out of clay, etc.).

A tribe of cavemen had no explanation for how the phenomena of the natural world could have arisen short of a creator, but science can explain not only how the world we see works but how it came to be as far back as the beginning of time. Of course, science doesn't explain everything: it leaves untouched questions like the origin of the universe itself or how space, time, indeed anything at all can exist.

'Could the concept of number even exist without some natural order to illustrate it? Can I have the idea of 2 without ever having 2 of something?'

Well yes, practically we do get our preliminary understanding of number through counting as children and our understanding of geometry through our apprehension of space, but maths isn’t just intuitive geometry and arithmetic. For several centuries now maths has gone beyond these to become totally abstract. We can’t intuit non-Euclidean geometries, but they are just as ‘valid’ as the Euclidean geometry that we can intuit. If we can only have the ‘idea’ of 2 because we have seen a pair of things in the past, how can we grasp the idea of a non-Riemannian manifold, a transfinite ordinal or a Hilbert space?

‘Secondly it seems strange to separate nature from mathematics when so much of mathematics finds itself in nature, whether it be architectural proportions or Fibonacci series.’

I wasn’t trying to 'separate' maths from nature; maths exists independently of nature and embeds itself in the universe due to the universe’s orderly nature. To take a basic example, pinecones and sunflowers don’t owe their Fibonacci structure to some divine artist’s signature.

‘It is correct that the free market is uncontrollable by any one individual, but this argument [i.e. that the market, as an example of spontaneous order, suggests that order could have arisen without God] fails as a parallel to a Godless universe. The argument falls prey to two important principles of causality.

First, the market arose as a contingent agent, not as a necessary one. That is to say, the market would not have come about and could not have come about unless the necessary agent, humans, existed. The market was created by organisms with freewill, and although it may have now attained some sort of psuedo-freewill, this is no way proves that an originating cause was not necessary.

Secondly, the market can never have more reality than its cause. It is the effect of humans. The market it is also still a dependent entity. If humans ceased to exist so would the market.Therefore this illustration turns out to support the necessity of a first cause of the universe.’

My comparison was a limited one, just intended to show in a restricted case how order need not be evidence of design. More broadly. I’d draw a distinction between the teleological argument which says ‘the fact that the universe exhibits order implies design, and therefore a creator’ and the argument from first cause - ‘the fact that the universe exists demands a prime cause, i.e. God.’

Full disclosure: I agree with Norwood about the necessity of God, I just don't find the teleological argument persuasive.

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