At Secular News Daily, Andrew Zak Williams puzzles over the origin of the laws of physics. He acknowledges that science has no answers, at least so far, but he has these objections to finding the explanation in God:
The universe comprises four primary dimensions – three of time and one of space. Since theologians tend to define God as existing outside space and time, it’s consistent with Christian theology for God to play the role of super turtle. Even so, this still amounts to wheeling out God as the answer when difficult questions come along. You know the kind of thing: “There are some things about the universe I don’t understand. Therefore God exists!” And in the words of the atheistic mantra oft-repeated in school debating classes, it is illogical to try to explain away a difficult scientific question (the origin of the laws of science) by invoking an even more difficult one (the origin of God).
But believers have a response: Because of God’s divine properties, he must be outside the laws of science and so they don’t need to explain in scientific terms where he came from. However this does rather smack of believers defining their god in whatever way answers difficult questions, a particularly easy task if you’re constrained by the imagination rather than by evidence.[From Did god create the laws of physics? | Secular News Daily]
I’ll give him credit for stating the problem somewhat thoughtfully (though see below). Granted, God is not easy to explain. In fact theologians don’t even try, and with good reason. To explain some entity w is to provide an account for w in terms of some x, y, …; with x, y, … being prior to w in some logical or temporal sense. But in the case of a necessary being, there can be no prior x, y, ….. God is by definition the being who precedes all else, logically, temporally, and in any other conceivable way. To speak of explaining God is to speak a contradiction, just as much as it would be for me to speak of my being my own grandfather’s (genetic) grandfather. It’s nonsense.
Williams’s challenge of explaining “where he [God] came from” is the same error in particularly egregious form. It is equivalent to, “Where did that which came from nothing beyond his own being, come from (beyond his own being)?”
This is not just a matter of God being “outside the laws of science, and so [we] don’t need to explain in scientific terms where he came from.” Logic alone, apart from and prior to any science, is sufficient to show that the question is meaningless—just as I doubt any reader will think an empirical study is necessary to show I’m not my grandfather’s grandfather. The only meaningful way, and the correct way, to view God’s explanation is that God is the only explanation of God’s existence; or, that God is the necessary being who needs no explanation outside himself.
That still leaves three questions for us theists to answer. First, as Williams wondered, isn’t our conception of God ad hoc, a conveniently adaptable invention, able to morph into any form science requires him to take? That charge might have some force had it happened that way historically. But theologians have defined God (not tended to, but actually defined) as being outside space and time since at least Augustine. The same answer has worked for some 1600 years now.There’s just no truth to the ad hoc charge.
Second, why should we settle on God as our explanation for the laws of physics, when it’s possible that science will come up with a better answer? I have two responses. First, though, let’s take the word “science” out of it; for science is not an answer to questions, it is a means of discovering answers, specifically answers within and concerning nature. So the options are not God or science, they are God or nature.
Which, then, is more likely to be the kind of thing that could conceivably be the originator of the laws of nature? The God of theism clearly has what it takes. That alone doesn’t prove God exists, but it shows that God is a possible answer to the question. Could the same be said about nature? Could nature be the originator of the laws of nature? Only if its existence and its character (its nature) were self-caused in the same sense God is conceived to be. Otherwise, nature would be dependent on some laws to explain the existence of laws, which is hopelessly circular. So then is nature really self-caused? I can’t think of anyone who has proposed a good model for it being that way. Hawking and Mlodinow certainly failed.
Williams acknowledges that problem, but he doesn’t seem to see where it leads with respect to the question of God. God is conceivably a good answer to where the laws of nature came from. Nature is not conceivably a good answer to the same question. Note well that the problem with nature is a logical one, not a “scientific” one. Science could never go so far as to explain where all the laws of nature come from, because (again) that explanation would have to be in terms of some natural law, which would in turn require explanation. From there (as Williams alludes to in his article) it’s turtles all the way down. Another way to say the same thing is that science simply doesn’t have the tools to explain explanation, and these are not the kind of tools science is ever going to acquire. That’s not what science does.
This then is not God of the Gaps argumentation, as one of the article’s commenters claims. It’s not using God as a stand-in for explanation, with risk that science will soon boot him out with a better one. Science isn’t going to solve this question. It’s not in its purview, not in its competence.
Third, is God really an evidence-free invention of believers’ imagination? I hardly know where to begin with answering that one. At this point I take back my appreciative words for Williams’s thoughtful approach. Believers’ view of God is constrained by what we know of his self-revelation in Scripture, by what we see of his works in history and in our personal lives, by what we know of human nature and other nature, and by philosophical considerations. Theologians have been debating the nature of God for centuries, and guess what they’ve turned to in support of their positions? Evidence. It’s not all scientific evidence, but I hope Williams doesn’t need anyone to explain to him the obvious truth that science isn’t the only source of evidence in the world.
I also don’t have time to respond to Williams’s un-subtle, between-the-lines charge that believers are stupid ignoramuses. It’s just obviously false.
I have a question for Williams as I close. His complaint about God as an explanation is that it’s hard to explain where God came from. But he also complains, “Even so, this still amounts to wheeling out God as the answer when difficult questions come along.” Doesn’t his approach amount to kicking out God as the answer just because a difficult question came along? Sauce for the goose…