This is the eighth in a series of posts responding to a list of 20 arguments for the existence of god from this article. To be fair, the article does state that these arguments don’t make a case except when taken all together, using the metaphor of a rope, but I am analyzing them individually so I have responses when I encounter the argument later in other sources.
Starting point. This world is given to us as a dynamic, ordered system of many active component elements. Their natures (natural properties) are ordered to interact with each other in stable, reciprocal relationships which we call physical laws. For example, every hydrogen atom in our universe is ordered to combine with every oxygen atom in the proportion of 2:1 (which implies that every oxygen atom is reciprocally ordered to combine with every hydrogen atom in the proportion of 1:2). So it is with the chemical valences of all the basic elements. So too all particles with mass are ordered to move toward every other according to the fixed proportions of the law of gravity.
In such an interconnected, interlocking, dynamic system, the active nature of each component is defined by its relation with others, and so presupposes the others for its own intelligibility and ability to act. Contemporary science reveals to us that our world-system is not merely an aggregate of many separate, unrelated laws, but rather a tightly interlocking whole, where relationship to the whole structures and determines the parts. The parts can no longer be understood apart from the whole; its influence permeates them all.
Argument. In any such system as the above (like our world) no component part or active element can be self-sufficient or self-explanatory. For any part presupposes all the other parts—the whole system already in place—to match its own relational properties. It can’t act unless the others are there to interact reciprocally with it. Any one part could be self-sufficient only if it were the cause of the whole rest of the system—which is impossible, since no part can act except in collaboration with the others.
Nor can the system as a whole explain its own existence, since it is made up of the component parts and is not a separate being, on its own, independent of them. So neither the parts nor the whole are self-sufficient; neither can explain the actual existence of this dynamically interactive system.
- Since the parts make sense only within the whole, and neither the whole nor the parts can explain their own existence, then such a system as our world requires a unifying efficient cause to posit it in existence as a unified whole.
- Any such cause must be an intelligent cause, one that brings the system into being according to a unifying idea. For the unity of the whole—and of each one of the overarching, cosmic-wide, physical laws uniting elements under themselves—is what determines and correlates the parts. Hence it must be somehow actually present as an effective organizing factor. But the unity, the wholeness, of the whole transcends any one part, and therefore cannot be contained in any one part. To be actually present all at once as a whole this unity can only be the unity of an organizing unifying idea. For only an idea can hold together many different elements at once without destroying or fusing their distinctness. That is almost the definition of an idea. Since the actual parts are spread out over space and time, the only way they can be together at once as an intelligible unity is within an idea. Hence the system of the world as a whole must live first within the unity of an idea. Now a real idea cannot actually exist and be effectively operative save in a real mind, which has the creative power to bring such a system into real existence. Hence the sufficient reason for our ordered world-system must ultimately be a creative ordering Mind. A cosmic-wide order requires a cosmic-wide Orderer, which can only be a Mind.
- Such an ordering Mind must be independent of the system itself, that is, transcendent; not dependent on the system for its own existence and operation. For if it were dependent on—or part of—the system, it would have to presuppose the latter as already existing in order to operate, and would thus have to both precede and follow itself. But this is absurd. Hence it must exist and be able to operate prior to and independent of the system. Thus our material universe necessarily requires, as the sufficient reason for its actual existence as an operating whole, a Transcendent Creative Mind.
This is just another version of “the universe exists, therefore god exists”, and no matter how verbosely an apologist makes that argument, it still isn’t convincing to the skeptic.
This is especially true when you say that “every hydrogen atom in our universe is ordered to combine with every oxygen atom in the proportion of 2:1” by “physical laws”. First, it is simply wrong that hydrogen atoms must always combine with oxygen atoms in a ratio of 2:1. Hydrogen peroxide is a common household item that is formed from the combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms in a 2:2 ratio. Second, even if the example were accurate, physical laws as we know them do not “order” matter to behave a certain way. They describe how we observe matter behaving. Therefore, this description is just backwards! Not to mention that gravity has very little to do with how elements combine.
Besides not understanding high school level science, it appears Peter Kreeft is ignorant of current cosmology, for evidence suggests that this universe was once very chaotic, without any order at all.
Another part of science that must be misunderstood for this argument to be convincing is fusion. “For any part presupposes all the other parts—the whole system already in place—to match its own relational properties.” This simply isn’t true. Hydrogen does not need oxygen or any other element to act! Hydrogen can act with hydrogen alone, creating helium, and that happens all the time in our own sun. It’s fusion. It does not take much thought to realize that, therefore, one only needs hydrogen to explain ALL of the elements. Of course, hydrogen is probably still an insufficient explanation for the entire universe, because fusion requires forces (such as the strong force), and hydrogen almost definitely can’t explain itself, but this does show a weakness in the argument.
Like other arguments of the type, this one also falls prey to the fallacy of composition, and fails to explain what it might mean to cause matter, as opposed to causing matter already existing to change, or cause time, which seems outside the bounds of our language. I’ve spoken about these issues before in my cover of the Efficient Causality and Kalam arguments.
2 thoughts on “The Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole”
I’m really loving this series! This particular argument is one I had not heard, before. You’ve rather nailed it on the head. Verbose pseudoscience is only convincing to those who already believe.