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November 21, 2016
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December 30, 2016

Who Wrote the Laws of Nature?


[This small portion is taken from Antony Flew’s book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind]

Perhaps the most popular and intuitively plausible argument for God’s existence is the so-called argument from design. According to this argument, the design that is apparent in nature suggests the existence of a cosmic Designer. I have often stressed that this is actually an argument to design from order, as such arguments proceed from the perceived order in nature to show evidence of design and, thus, a Designer. Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formulated, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God. Developments in two areas in particular have led me to this conclusion. The first is the question of the origin of the laws of nature and the related insights of eminent modern scientists. The second is the question of the origin of life and reproduction.

What do I mean by the laws of nature? By law, I simply mean a regularity or symmetry in nature. Some common textbook examples should show what I mean:

Boyle’s law stipulates that, given constant temperature, the product of the volume and pressure of a fixed quantity of an ideal gas is constant. According to Newton’s first law of motion, an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force; an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force. According to the law of the conservation of energy, the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant.

The important point is not merely that there are regularities in nature, but that these regularities are mathematically precise, universal, and “tied together.” Einstein spoke of them as “reason incarnate.” The question we should ask is how nature came packaged in this fashion. This is certainly the question that scientists from Newton to Einstein to Heisenberg have asked—and answered. Their answer was the Mind of God.

Now, this way of thinking is not something found only in well-known premodern theistic scientists like Isaac Newton and James Maxwell. On the contrary, many prominent scientists of the modern era have regarded the laws of nature as thoughts of the Mind of God. Stephen Hawking ends his best-selling A Brief History of Time with this passage:

If we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we should know the mind of God.

On the previous page he asked: “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”[1]

Hawking had more to say on this in later interviews:
“The overwhelming impression is one of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws.” And, “You still have the question: why does the universe bother to exist? If you like, you can define God to be the answer to that question.”[2]


Long before Hawking, Einstein had used similar language: “I want to know how God created this world. . . . I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.”[3] In my book God and Philosophy, I had said we cannot make too much of these sorts of passages, since Einstein had said that he believed in Spinoza’s God.[4] Since for Baruch Spinoza the words God and nature were synonymous, it could be said that Einstein, in the eyes of Judaism, Chris tianity, and Islam, was unequivocally an atheist and that he was “a spiritual father of all atheists.”

But the recent book Einstein and Religion, by one of Einstein’s friends, Max Jammer, paints a very different picture of the influence of Spinoza and also of Einstein’s own beliefs. Jammer shows that Einstein’s knowledge of Spinoza was quite limited; he had read only Spinoza’s Ethics and turned down repeated requests to write about Spinoza’s philosophy. In response to one request, he replied, “I do not have the professional knowledge to write a scholarly article about Spinoza.”[5] Although Einstein shared Spinoza’s belief in determinism, Jammer holds that it “is artifi cial and unwarranted” to assume that Spinoza’s thought infl uenced Einstein’s science.[6] Jammer notes too that “Einstein felt akin to Spinoza because he realized that they shared a need for solitude as well as the fate of having been reared within the Jewish heritage but having become subsequently alienated from its religious heritage.”[7]

While drawing attention to Spinoza’s pantheism, Einstein, in fact, expressly denied being either an atheist or a pantheist:

I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. [Emphasis added.][8]

In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins propounds my old position that Einstein was an atheist. In
doing so, Dawkins ignores Einstein’s categorical statement above that he was neither an atheist nor a pantheist. This is puzzling because Dawkins cites Jammer on occasion, but leaves out numerous statements by Jammer and Einstein that are fatal to his own case. Jammer observes, for instance, that “Einstein always protested against being regarded as an atheist. In a conversation with Prince Hubertus of Lowenstein,
for example, he declared, ‘What really makes me angry is that they [ people who say there is no God] quote
me for support of their views.’ Einstein renounced atheism because he never considered his denial of a personal God as a denial of God.”[9]

Einstein, of course, did not believe in a personal God. But he said:
It is a different question whether belief in a personal God should be contested. Freud endorsed this view in his latest publication. I myself would never engage in such a task. For such a belief seems to me preferable to any lack of any transcendental outlook of life, and I wonder whether one can ever successfully render to the majority of mankind a more sublime means in order to satisfy its metaphysical needs.[10]

“To sum up,” concludes Jammer, “Einstein, like Maimonides and Spinoza, categorically rejected any anthropomorphism in religious thought.” But unlike Spinoza, who saw the only logical consequence of the denial of a personal God in an identification of God with nature, Einstein maintained that God manifests himself “in the laws of the universe as a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.” Einstein agreed with Spinoza that he who knows nature knows God, but not because nature is God, but because the pursuit of science in studying nature leads to religion.[11]


1. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), 175, 174.
2. Gregory Benford, “Leaping the Abyss: Stephen Hawking on Black Holes, Unified Field Theory and Marilyn Monroe,” Reason 4.02 (April 2002): 29.
3. Albert Einstein, quoted in Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way (New York: Morrow, 1988), 177.
4. Antony Flew, God and Philosophy (New York: Dell, 1966), 15.
5. Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 44.
6. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, 45.
7. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, 45–46.
8. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, 48.
9. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, 150.

10. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, 51.
11. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, 148.

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