Ok this is the home stretch to our proof that the laws of Physics cannot be the ultimate explanatory entity that gives reality to the universe. We have shown such laws are contingent and they therefore are not qualified to be Entity X. Let’s look at some common attempts that are used to try and rescue the idea that physics alone can explain reality.
We have shown that the laws of Physics are contingent, and that more than one logically coherent set of laws could exist. Perhaps one could argue that every logically coherent set of laws exists in some universe. The problem with this idea is that there is no reason to assume that logically consistent is equivalent to real. All essences are logically consistent, that is precisely what makes them essences! Essences alone however only have possible existences. Simply because something is logical does not entail that it exists, otherwise everything possible does exist which at least at first glance seems self-evidently not true. (No unicorns or Santa Claus around anywhere).
However, what if someone persists and says maybe there are alternate realities where things non-existent here do exist somewhere else. This on some level is crazy (imagine if someone walked up to you and said in an alternate reality he has superpowers and could fly, what would your reaction be…) Moreover this concept is a different than the multiverse idea with which it should not be confused (which incidentally takes on different forms, some more scientific and plausible than others). The difference is in the multiverse idea, in its most extreme form is based on casually separate entirely distinct physical universes. In the “all things exist” picture of reality, we would have to say that there are some realms where there exist 100 universes and others where there is only one universe. Some realms would be pure spiritual, others would be materialist. Some realms would be orderly, others would not. Some would include something like “gods” and some would not. Interestingly enough, if everything logically consistent does in fact exist, it would seem as though we would have to admit that God exists as described by the classical theists. Since God is the ultimate being and thus not be contradicted by another being, and so far it seems as though there is no inherent contradiction in the concept of God, it would follow that God exists if everything possible exists. So saying that everything logical exists does not help the atheist. However, the view that logically consistent and real are the same is clearly a false one.
Take an example to explain my point about logical consistency and real: Imagine I have two boxes of crayons and I know there is a total of 50 in the boxes put together. If I count the crayons in each box I might find that the numbers are 30 and 20 or 15 and 35 or 40 and 10. Each of these are logical descriptions of the crayon distribution. What makes one description true and the other false? It cannot be the logical consistency of the scenarios since this would mean they all are true. Therefore, the crayon distribution must be explained by something outside of its logical consistency. The only way out is to say that every possible distribution is realized in some alternative reality (remember this is different than an alternate universe and it is far more wild a belief). This does not solve the problem because as I said, we would still not know why logically consistent entailed real. First, we would have to know why each of these possibilities was realized somewhere. Saying “because it is logically consistent” only begs the question because this just postulates that logically consistent and real are the same but it never explains it. Even more fatal a flaw is that what explains why one logically consistent scenario exists in this reality rather than another logically consistent scenario. The only answer is to appeal beyond the logical consistency. If my crayon distribution is 25/25 and not 30/20 in this realm of existence, it cannot simply be answered because 25/25 is logical obviously because 30/20 is as well. It cannot be answered that another realm contains the 30/20 distribution because it doesn’t explain why this realm doesn’t and that realm does. The only explanation must be some external factor, some circumstance that made it this way, or some cause. Because of this, it follows that a complete description of reality cannot be made by simply describing what is logically consistent. Going back to the idea of substances, if something is describable, i.e. it is an essence, it does not follow that it exists. Not only does it not follow that it does exist, we have to appeal to something outside of the essence of the thing for its existence. We cannot go from “what” something is to “that” it is without some further explanation. It is clear that the objector cannot appeal to the essence of the laws of physics as logical to explain why they are real.
As we mentioned briefly in earlier parts of this essay the final way to know that the laws of physics are not “necessary” and thus have distinct essence and existence is that we can learn about, describe, study, and experiment with them but not know whether or not they are accurate, that is whether they exist until we actually have results of experiments and make real observations about how the world works. Scientists pride themselves on this very aspect of what they do. A scientific theory is scientific to the extent that it is falsifiable. By definition then it must be contingent. Physics uses mathematics to describe phenomena but it is not typically thought of as reducible to math. A lot of what is going on is figuring out what makes logical sense and how to fit together different things we know through experimentation and observation. Once we fit these together we can rule out certain options, make certain testable predictions, look for specific features of the world, possibly through the process of elimination learn some things about reality, etc. What we cannot do though is deduce the real from the mathematical. Physicists can study the laws of physics and explain how they work. We can learn about why the world behaves the way it does and why we observe what we do. However, when we describe the laws of physics, we cannot learn if they are real simply by describing them. Physicists agree on this. It is like describing a unicorn, what a unicorn could do, why it might do what it does, etc. We will never get from describing a unicorn to whether or not it exists. In fact it does not, even though it makes perfect sense in and of itself. Stephen Hawking, a physicist who is known for some of his comments on philosophy (not a real friend of faith so to speak) even said: “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?” [Emphasis added by me].
It seems apparent that this is sufficient alone to reject the idea that the laws of physics are the explanatory ultimate. And as pointed out earlier that they are contingent, that is could be otherwise is implicitly demonstrated by scientists since they spend large sums seeking to do experiments to prove whether a given theory is “real” or not. Mathematicians do not do experiments, the logically prove from premises certain truths, sort of like philosophical metaphysics does. We can conclude that the laws of physics are not the ultimate necessary entity.
We are still left with “Entity X” (Let us redefine entity X= God). Further reasoning can demonstrate that once we unpack what God “is” we can demonstrate that this entity has many divine attributes, we have already shown this entity is of its nature pure existence, and stands outside of time and not only does not require a cause, but cannot have a cause by definition. Other traits like omniscience can be demonstrated (that will have to wait for another day however; this has been a long series of posts!)
Due to the nature of the laws of physics themselves, it would be seriously flawed to assume that they are the ultimate answer to existence; they are the true subsistent entity. We must therefore look to something outside of the laws of physics as to their explanation. Since they are combinations of essence and existence we still must ask the question Hawking asked: “What breathes fire and gives them a universe to describe?” In other words, what joins the essence of the laws of physics to the act of existence, what gives them reality? Ultimately, we know that this must be pure reality itself, or better, Himself, the one who can say “I am.”
Once again, we can call upon St. Thomas Aquinas to help us understand the relationship between faith and reason.