Why Russell was Wrong II: Natural Law

bigstockphoto_Theory_Of_Relativity1Given the unfamiliarity of the natural law argument to most modern people, and the length of Russell’s discussion of it, I’ll be breaking my response into a few parts.

Briefly, the Natural Law argument proposes God as an explanation for the fact that nature behaves according to regular patterns (as opposed to the essentially chaotic universe most everyone thought we were living in before the rise of monotheism).

It shows something of the change in culture that Russell feels the need to deal with this, while contemporary atheists do not. In fact, most of them seem to think that order in nature, traditionally and correctly understood as a point in favor of the monotheist, lends itself to arguments against God’s existence.
Russell states:

People observed the planets going around the sun according to the law of gravitation, and they thought that God had given a behest to these planets to move in that particular fashion, and that was why they did so. That was, of course, a convenient and simple explanation that saved them the trouble of looking any further for explanations of the law of gravitation.

The ease with which Russell, and many others, accuse theists of intellectual laziness has always astounded me. While there are many lay-people who tend to seize on a simple answer to complex questions, this is hardly limited to believers in God. Many atheists, for instance, insist that we should halt inquiry into the cause of the universe (simply acquiescing to ignorance) when considering the matter starts to point to God’s existence.

There are intellectually lazy, as well as thoughtful, people on both sides of the argument. To imply that one position is simply the result of laziness is completely out of touch with the facts.

As this keeps coming up, both in Russell’s statements and contemporary discussion, the point is worth some attention:

The Natural Law argument is, most emphatically, not the use of the phrase “God did it” to explain some gap in our current knowledge. Rather, it is attempting to explain why we can have scientific knowledge about the universe in the first place. It is not obvious that the universe should have particular patterns of phenomena, and a rational God is a good explanation as to why that might be.

As such, it is what we know about nature (how well science works) that is the basis of this argument, rather than anything that we do not know. Whether you are convinced by it or not, this is important to keep in mind as we consider Russell’s remaining objections to it.

This is even more important in our current cultural moment, in that so many of the opponents of theism understand God almost completely in terms of the “God of the gaps”, rather than the way God has traditionally been understood.

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