In the article “Invisible Gardener, 100 percent natural” I pointed out that a person could be more or less warranted that God orchestrated a particular event like a purported answer to prayer. To the extent that the event evinces a specification of circumstances (e.g. suggestive temporal proximity, highly structured form specified to the circumstances), a person could be fully warranted in believing that God caused the event in question. To illustrate the point I gave the example of Jim who prays for God to provide money to pay off the loan sharks and the exact amount appears in his mailbox within half an hour. Such an event with a suggestive temporal proximity and high structure specified to the circumstances would warrant the inference that God was, in some sense, the cause.
Adam Hazzard offered a lengthy reply, and I was in the middle of responding to it when I got snagged on one particular issue: the popular notion that God’s action in the world constitutes a violation of natural law. This leaves me with three questions.
(1) Why think God acting in the universe is a violation of natural law?
(2) What does it even mean to violate a natural law?
(3) Why think this violation is sufficient to preclude God acting in the universe?
These are important questions which present a daunting problem for the atheist. After addressing them I’ll propose the right solution for the atheist because I always believe in helping motorists broken down on the intellectual road of life.
On Questions (1) and (2)
So first we enquire into why it would be a violation of natural law for God to act in the world. The minute we ask this question we find ourselves facing question (2): what does it even mean to violate a natural law?
The first thing to note is that “law of nature” is being paralleled here with “law of society.” Within society, a law is a rule that is intended to govern individual action and social interaction for individual and/or social betterment. Thus, a strict parallel would mean that “law of nature” is a rule that is intended to govern physical interactions in like manner.
Clearly this is not the case. As the concept functions in science a law of nature does not arise from a mind (or minds) as a mode of governing physical interactions in the universe for any particular end. Instead, it is a description of normative processes that occur within the universe. Thus, ironically, to the extent that an atheist wants to retain the sense of law as violation they are forced to wed the concept to the origination in a divine mind, which is precisely what they do not want to do.
On Question (3)
Let’s assume for the moment that the parallel did function successfully so that “divine” interaction in natural law would constitute a violation of natural law. This brings us to the third question: Would that oblige God not to intervene in the natural world?
Let’s answer that question by considering an analogy. Your friend has been stung by a bee and is about to go into anaphylactic shock. If you exceed the speed limit in driving him to the hospital you will be violating the law. But for most of us it surely is a justified violation.
And so for God, even if his interacting in the natural world does constitute a violation of natural law, who cares? Maybe he has a good reason to violate the laws he established. (Of course one can’t help but surmise that if God really created the world like theists believed, he would have had the good sense to have written a God-exception clause into the universe’s laws the result being that he would never violate natural law through intervention.)
Poisiting the Ethicon!
This seems to leave atheists in a real double bind when it comes to the God-can’t-violate-the-laws-of-nature rhetoric. It doesn’t make sense for God to violate the laws, and even if he did he’d certainly have good reason to do so.
Is there a way that we can help the atheist along, to develop a theory that will overcome these problems and once again exclude God from the universe?
I say yes!
The recent success of the Higgs boson at settling the problem of mass, and the possibility of the graviton settling the issue of gravity, buoys me on to the confidence of positing yet another hypothetical subatomic particle. This one is posited to deal with the inherent oughtness pertaining to the laws of nature.
I call it the ethicon.
According to this conjecture, nay this theory, the ethicon has the unique property of making it wrong for any agent outside the space-time continuum to intervene within it. Ethicons are everywhere distributed through the universe like a fine ether. So the moment God would ever try to intervene in the course of nature, he’d be bumping into ethicons. And of course by definition no agent outside the space-time continuum can do that because of the unique properties of ethicons that disallow such misbegotten behavior.
Voila! God is excluded!
Now all we need is the final confirmation from CERN that the ethicon exists.
But do we really need confirmation? Isn’t the self-confidence of the atheist community that divine intervention is an intolerable natural violation sufficient to establish something like its existence?