Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reasons: II. Ordered Universe

In response to a friend who asked, I recently wrote an essay entitled "Reasons for My Belief". The full essay can be found by clicking here. This post is the second in a series in which I single out the five evidences from the essay. The original post did not allow for comments. As I repost sections, I am seeking readers' comments. So, please, join in the discussion ...

2) the ordered universe

“God does not play dice.” Whatever Albert Einstein meant when he referred to “God”, there can be no mistaking the import of this well-known quote. The universe which Einstein studied, the universe which amazed him with its endless mysteries, the universe which he, more than any other human, helped to explain, this universe could simply not be ruled by chance alone. Someone, or something, must be providing certainty, order, predictability. Without that someone or something, our universe could only be subject to the whim of chance, a chaotic and unpredictable reality which could never submit to the inquiries of physicist or mathematician.

What set men like Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler apart from the great majority of their contemporaries? Why did they suspect the true nature of the universe while others persisted in their primitive superstitions? What led them to explore the solar system as they did, and discover its governing principles? They were led by their undying conviction that their investigations would prove fruitful because of their strong belief in the Creator. They were armed with an expectation that they would find an orderly universe, one governed by mathematical principles and physical laws written by a Creator. Einstein tips his hat to these pioneers of science: “[T]hose individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge” (Ideas and Opinions). To the 21st century mind, this expectation seems self-evident. Of course, we know the universe obeys the laws of physics. Of course mathematics is consistent. Of course the universe is orderly.

Ah, but not so fast! When Einstein confirmed these phenomena, he found them utterly remarkable! Einstein refers to this order as an “unexpected event”, and also declared that it should be regarded as a miracle:
“Well, a priori [reasoning from cause to effect] one should expect that the world would be rendered lawful [obedient to law and order] only to the extent that we [human beings] intervene with our ordering intelligence... [But instead we find] in the objective world a high degree of order that we were a priori in no way authorized to expect. This is the ‘miracle’ that is strengthened more and more with the development of our knowledge.”
We take this ordered, law-abiding universe quite for granted. We regard it as expected, unremarkable. Does this confidence reveal how much we’ve learned, or how little we actually perceive? Is Einstein passé? Was he naive? Or did he see more deeply into the mystery of the universe than we are able, or willing, to look? Is the 21st century skeptic afraid to acknowledge that the order of the universe demands the existence of an “Orderer”?

I find a fascinating juxtaposition in the nature of our cosmos. The same universe governed by law and order is also subject to wild and unpredictable randomness. Clearly, this randomness plays a central role in the progress and development of the universe, and in the evolution of life on our planet. Such randomness is all we should expect in a universe of the materialist’s imaginings. But randomness is not all we have. And randomness, Dawkin’s “blind watchmaker” if you will, can only be productive and meaningful in a context provided by an orderly universe governed by unbending laws. When I consider these remarkable realities, I am compelled to acknowledge the wise and wonderful hand of the Creator.


Tom said...

Thanks for the interesting post, Cliff. I've been following along, but not commenting.

Regarding the previous post, I'm not so sure that a description of God is at least as complex as the universe. Perhaps I'm stumbling over semantics and don't understand, but can't God function like an equation, being relatively simple, but propagate a complex universe?

Regarding this post, I'm also liable to sit this one out a bit. I'm not familiar enough with physics to speak intelligently about it, suffice it to say, if we were in an ordered part of the universe using our ordered bodies and devices that are set to measure order, would that not skew our perspective? I just still don't understand the surprise at finding order in the universe. If you can point me to some simple reading of why we should expect less order, I'd be grateful.

RBH said...

Aw, Cliff. Randomness is not Dawkins' blind watchmaker. C'mon.

Cliff Martin said...


Yes, you are correct. Randomness is the raw material which for blind watchmaker. The blind watchmaker is Dawkins description of how this randomness can be directed by gradual cumulative selection. But my purpose is not to take issue with Dawkins. Natural selection works with the raw material of randomness. I agree. Though I am not a biologist, I am suggesting that without the underlying order built into the universe, evolution might not be possible. Whether or not you see such order pointing to an orderer, do you agree with that premise?

Cliff Martin said...

Perhaps Dawkins himself would agree with my premise? Earlier this week, according to this report, he is on recording admitting that,

"A serious case could be made for a deistic God."

Now it is true, as Psi pointed out earlier, that the first three lines of evidence I cite for belief might equally signify a deistic as a personal God. On the basis of these evidences, I claim no more. And if Dawkins is ready to confess that a "serious case" can be built, perhaps I've gained an unlikely ally.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

I'm sorry but see this one as a simple non-sequitur.

Why does the existence of order require a god behind it?

You keep saying this is obvious.

You don't explain why?



Cliff Martin said...


Actually, the logic I am citing here is Albert Einstein's logic. If anyone is guilty of a non sequitur, it would be Einstein. I am merely citing his conclusions.

I am not a physicist. I do not pretend to be one. But one no less than Einstein found it remarkable that the universe should be endowed with such order sans an endower.

It does seem obvious to me, on its face. I could, if you wish, try to delve deeper into the physics of the question, but it would take a lot of time I don't at present have available.

If you could show me how Einstein was mistaken, or naive, to say the things he did, I would be happy to take this one off my list. Until this, as much as you dislike "arguments from authority", this one works for me.

Remember ... I am citing reasons for my belief. I am not trying to convince the world. And for me, I find no logical problem in learning at the feet of Einstein. Apparently, you do.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,


Argument from authority ^ 10.

I rest my case.

Do you want me to simply give all the other Einstein quotes contradicting this claim?

I think folks can find them for themselves - there are plenty of them about.

Do you really not understand anything about a claim which is number two on your list of reasons to believe other than someone in authority can be quote mined to support it?

Part of a rational approach to things is that you don't just take anyone's word for something simply at face value. Certainly not something as important as the existence of a deity.

Einstein certainly has no better qualifications for pronouncing on the existence of a god/deity than you or I. You should be relieved as he was pretty anti-religion. If you think that Physicists ARE better qualified to give us a pronouncement on this question then I think that you might be disappointed - from memory 90% + of the members of the AAAS are atheist.

I can only give you the slight comfort of saying that Einstein's own thoughts referred to the same kind of deity as Spinoza i.e. a deity that was simply the sum total of all the natural laws and had nothing to do with creation or intervention in any supernatural sense at all.



Cliff Martin said...


If Einstein ever backed off from the pronouncement I quoted, I am unaware of it. If you could direct me to a retraction, or a clear restatement of the conclusions he drew about order demanding an orderer, I would be most grateful.

My understanding of Einstein's spiritual journey is that the discoveries of the middle 20th Century led him (reluctantly) away from his agnosticism into a sort of deistic pantheism. Do you have different information?

Your reactions seem a little over the top here. If I based my belief in God upon Einstein's word, then I could understand your dismay. In fact, these evidences are not the basis for my belief. Rather, I find in them reasonable confirmations of my faith. As such, they are reasons for belief.

The strongest evidences of God's existence in my life (and this is true for millions of other believers) is subjective, but compelling. You would never accept them, because they are not meaningful to you. I am trying, in this essay, to lay down more objective evidence. Do they prove God? Of course they do not. But for me, they do provide a reasonable confirmation of faith.

If you think I am trying to persuade you or anyone else of God's existence based on a quote from Einstein, you are mistaken.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

"A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. "(Albert Einstein)

"I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." (Albert Einstein, 1954)

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings." (Albert Einstein)

Loads more here;


I think we can support both your argument and mine from all these - a built in problem with arguments from authority I think you will find.



Cliff Martin said...


I think we can support both your argument and mine from all these

... except that I’m not sure exactly what your argument is. That Einstein was not a theist? In the section of my essay closing the first three lines of evidence, I wrote the following:

“It should be noted that I have not built this case upon the testimony of theists. Rather, I have appealed to the testimony of an atheist (Hoyle), and agnostic/atheist (Denton), and a deistic pantheist (Einstein). None of them profess belief in the personal God I proclaim.”

I have never contended that Einstein believed in anything like the Judeo-Christian God. And I am familiar with all the quotes you supply above. I’ve read them many times. They do not detract from the Einstein citation in my essay. Einstein looks at the surprising level of order in the cosmos, and declares that we should not expect such order short of an “ordering intelligence”. Einstein took that to mean “Spinoza’s God”, a God described by Spinoza thusly:

"By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, i.e., a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence."

While Christians would certainly take the definition further, you can read definitions similar to Spinoza's in the opening statements of any standard Christian systematic theology.

And the “ordering intelligence” that Einstein posits from his premise of a surprisingly ordered cosmos fits my definition of God as well. I have never suggested that that Einstein’s perception of order proves my brand of theism. But when considered with other indicators, it supplies me with another toehold for reasonable faith.

Do you believe in Spinoza’s God?

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Oh Yes.



Psiloiordinary said...

Of course I can't leave you hanging like that can I.

I think that I am in pretty good touch with my "spiritual" side.

Science gives me an amazing sense of the "numinous".

As I understand it Spinoza is talking about the sum of all things.

I still see no credible evidence for anything supernatural.



Isaac Gouy said...

“God does not play dice.” Whatever Albert Einstein meant when he referred to “God”, there can be no mistaking the import of this well-known quote.

There seems no shortage of mistaking the import of that well-known quote - starting with not reading "God" as metaphor and following with not including the context of Einstein's struggle to reconcile his classical view with quantum mechanics.

So firstly, from Max Jammer's 'Einstein and Religion' p124

'... used this expression in merely a metaphorical sense. ...

"What I am really interested in is knowing whether God could have created the world in a different way; in other words, whether the requirement of logical simplicity admits a margin of freedom."

... Einstein's reference to God in the first part was merely a manner of speaking.'

Secondly, the evidence has gone against Einstein's view to such an extent that we now have Steven Hawking's quip:

"God not only plays dice, he throws them in the corner where you can't see them."

Isaac Gouy said...

Of course, we know the universe obeys the laws of physics.

When physicists speak in that way philosophers roll their eyes :-)

"The laws of physics were not handed down from above. Neither are they rules somehow built into the structure of the universe. They are ingredients of the models that physicists invent to describe observations. Rather than being restrictions on the behavior of matter, the laws of physics are restrictions on the behavior of physicists. ... Thus practically all of fundamental physics as we know it follows directly from the single principle of point-of-view invariance."

Where Do the Laws Of Physics Come From? pdf