Loose Talk

Allahpundit at Hot Air loves to twig his predominantly-believer readership with periodic atheist headlines.  Here's the latest, which is nothing new for us.
"The Big Bang could've occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there," said astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. "With the laws of physics, you can get universes."...
"The 'divine spark' was whatever produced the laws of physics," Filippenko said. "And I don't know what produced that divine spark. So let's just leave it at the laws of physics."
Just being "there"?  That's a fairly loose way of speaking.  Where exactly were the laws of physics before the creation of the universe?  What is this "there" where they were?

For that matter, where are they now?  In the same place as before the creation of the universe -- that thing that metaphysically prior to every place, as we usually use the term?

Or should we say that the laws are in every place?  That makes no sense, because they must have existed prior (again, for Joe, in the metaphysical sense) to creation:  creation was enabled by their existence.  Thus, they can't exist in 'every place' in the ordinary sense of the word -- indeed, they can't exist in any place in that sense, as the laws are prior to the places.

But what sense does it make to say that the laws exist in no place?  How do you have laws with universal effects in every place, if the laws exist in no place?

It seems you have to say that they belong to the thing.  Which thing?  The thing that is the field of action in which the universe came to be, and within which it is sustained.  That is to say that this universal container is a thing that has a nature:  a nature in exactly the terms Aristotle offered in Physics II, when he defined nature as when a thing has "within itself a principle of motion and of stationariness."  That's exactly what we want this thing to have:  a principle internal to itself that defines how motion operates.  (We tend to dispense with 'stationariness' in modern and contemporary physics).

Because this thing is the container for our universe, its internal principle is a safe location for the laws of physics to be written.  They can exercise both the creative function he wants, and the universality we seem to observe.

That's an answer to the question of where the laws are located.  It's located in a thing that has no place, because it is the container of every place.  The existence of this container is certain, as is the fact that it must have a nature.

Thus, we don't have to stop with "A" because "A" was caused by a "B" with an unknowable cause "C."  We may stop with "A" as a matter of science, but we can rely on the existence of "B" as a matter of logic.  As to C, well, that's just where I differ with the good astrophysicist.  Rather than wishing to stop at the last safe place before risking that escalation, from my perspective, that's just where it begins to get interesting.

1 comment:

Texan99 said...

I saw that headline yesterday and thought it was too silly to click on. I agree it's a strangely flabby mode of thought about causation. The whole universe could have happened just "because" some laws were there? What does a statement like that purport to explain?

I suppose, to read the argument in the most generous way, he's trying to say that a simple set of initial conditions and laws could unfold, given enough time, into the variety of energy and matter we see today. But that's hardly a new insight: it's the standard "detached watchmaker" model.

The lure of cosmology gets people to spout some truly vacuous drivel.