We continue to ask the question, can the laws of Physics be the ultimate cause of reality?
They answer in a nutshell is “No” since these laws are not truly necessary entities. They too need an explanation because they too are combinations of essence and existence. In other words the laws of physics are contingent things themselves. I will go through a few reasons:
First, it is not clear whether or not the laws of physics have always existed. Some have said that the laws of physics have come into existence with our universe. This would disqualify them as explanatorily ultimate. Maybe they evolved or sprung forth in some way from previous or more fundamental laws. Unless these laws are eternal, they too cannot be explanatorily ultimate. There is no reason to suppose that the laws of physics must be eternal and some scientists explicitly argue otherwise.
Even if they are eternal however, it is not clear how they can act as causes in the relevant way as a necessary entity that ultimately explains reality. To some extent it depends on what laws of physics are. It is plausible to say that they are really not independent realities themselves but only parts of the essences of the things they describe. It is not as though these laws of physics are floating around ready to act, rather, these are just descriptions of the essences of certain material things behaving under certain conditions. Another way to say this, and one that is actually argued by some scientists is that physical laws are merely formalisms that describe and predict how the real causes (the particles, waves, fields, energy and matter in the universe) interact.
Even if we grant that a physical law has a sort of existence of its own (and by the way once we grant this materialism is done for, since a “law” would not be made of anything or measureable in any way, it is purely something detected via measurements of other material things, so the laws in and of themselves are immaterial, just like the Pythagorean theorem is “immaterial,”), but anyway could such a law in and of itself act at all? Mathematical laws do not cause things. (It would not make sense to say that the Pythagorean theorem causes the sum of the squares of the adjacent sides of a right triangle to add up to the square of the hypotenuse, it merely describes what can be measured). In other words, it is entirely reasonable that laws are just descriptions we give to the world (formalisms). If it is the case that they cannot act on their own, it does not matter if they were necessary because they still would not be explanatorily ultimate as they are not causes or explanations in any relevant sense.
Let’s go yet another step. Even if laws can and do act, and they are some sort of independent substances (which is a possible alternative to assume), they cannot be necessary ones. The essence of such laws is still distinct from the act of existence. Previously we explained that if a logically coherent picture of reality can be made without including a particular thing, the thing would not be necessary. There is no reason to suppose that we cannot conjure up a different set of physical laws. In fact physicists state implicitly that we can since there are multiple fundamental theories of the universe and scientists are working to determine if experimental evidence supports or refutes these theories. The recent search for the Higgs boson was one such experiment. Once there are multiple logically coherent theories, by definition you are talking about a contingent thing. One might argue that there is only one mathematically consistent set of physical laws, this was perhaps plausible at one point, but this has definitely been shown to be false since physicists are able to construct a large number of potential logically consistent fundamental theories. (In fact they can construct an astronomical number, there are some 10520 number of “string theories” fundamental theories that attempt to describe all reality in terms of the interactions of unimaginably small strings) not to mention a number of theories that are alternatives to any of the string theories, that describe a universe something like ours. It is irrelevant if any of these are accurate. It only matters that such theories have an essence they can be described. Once you have multiple possible descriptions of physical laws that are not inherently contradictory then your physical laws themselves are shown to be entities with a separate existence and essence, such things are contingent and therefore one must ask why such things exists. As discussed previously a contingent thing requires causation, something to join the entities essence with its reality. And on a side note, even if there is one way to unify quantum mechanics and relativity, it does not mean that there is one set of logical physical laws that could exist. There might be one set of logical physical laws that includes QM and relativity; however there are also logical descriptions of reality that do not include either. In any case it seems completely untrue to virtually all scientists that there is only one set of physical laws that are possible. In fact if scientists believed this, experimentation would cease and science would become pure mathematics, proceeding from purely logical deduction.
Ok we are almost done, we wrap up a few ideas in our next and last post on this topic.