Monday, November 21, 2011

Self-organization: Another step in the dialectics

Suppose that it turns out that, given laws of nature like ours, all sorts of neat self-organization—like what we see in evolution—will follow from most sets of initial conditions. Does this destroy the design argument for the existence of God? After all, that there is complexity of the sort we observe appears to cease to be surprising.

A standard answer is: No, because we still need an explanation of why the laws of nature are in fact such as to enable this kind of self-organization, and theism provides an excellent such explanation.

But what if it turns out, further, that in some sense most laws, or the most likely laws (maybe simpler laws are more likely than more complex ones), enable self-organization processes. So not only is it unsurprising that we would get initial conditions that are likely to lead to self-organization, it is also not unlikely that we would have laws that lead to self-organization. It seems that this undercuts the modified design argument.

But I think there is a further design argument. The result that most, or the most likely, laws would likely lead to self-organization would have to be a very deep and powerful mathematical truth. What explains why this deep mathematical truth obtains? Maybe it follows from certain axioms. But why is it the case that axioms such as to lead to that truth obtain? Well, we can say that they are necessary, but that isn't a very good explanation: it is not an informative explanation. (If it turned out that modal fatalism is true, we still wouldn't be satisfied with explaining all natural phenomena by invoking their necessity. Spinoza certainly wasn't, and this he was right about, though he was wrong that modal fatalism is true.) Theism provides a family of deeper and more informative answers: mathematics is grounded in the nature of a perfect being, and hence it is unsurprising that mathematics has much that is beautiful and good in it, and in particular it is unsurprising that mathematics includes self-organization theorems, since self-organization theorems are beautiful and good features of mathematical reality.

I said that theism provides a family of answers, since different theistic theories give different accounts of how it is that mathematical truth is grounded in God. Thus, one might think, with St Augustine, that mathematical truth is grounded in God's intellect. On the theory I defend in my Worlds book, necessary truths—and in particular, mathematical truths—are grounded in the power of God.

There is, of course, an obvious argument from the beauty of mathematics to the existence of God along similar lines. But that argument is subject to the rejoinder that the beauty of mathematics is a selection effect: what mathematics mathematicians are interested in is to a large degree a function of how beautiful it is. (Mathematicians are not interested in random facts about what the products of ten-digit numbers are.) However, I think the present argument side-steps the selection effect worry.

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