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I am an atheist. The theists I meet, mostly, try to place religion and science as opposite viewpoints and thus, I have never seen them argue as follows:

Science has been successful. Mathematical laws seem to explain natural phenomenon well, make predictions and thus cause technological advancement. Say, we infer from this, that the universe has a certain quality: let's call it, 'Mathematical Describability'. This property exists within the universe and is what we ascribe to God. The laws are indeed God's will.

I am not sure why theists do not argue thus. Is there any problem with this argument?

Or, is it that this idea of a mathematical God is not the God they believe in? For example, why would one pray to such a God, since he has already "planned ahead".

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    I don't see why "mathematical describability" should be ascribed to God. You could make the exact same argument for "mathematical indescribability" - it's God's will. – Nuclear Wang Oct 16 '18 at 15:43
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    There is a big problem. Your argument is: if G then M, M, therefore G, this is called affirming the consequent. What you'd need is: if M then G, but alas "mathematical describability" can exist without God and there is a lot more to God then that according to theists. – Conifold Oct 16 '18 at 17:40
  • If God exists he, she, it.. created everything in the instant of the big bang.. time.. physical laws.. the future innevitability of gespacho soup. Destiny. Omniscient and omnipotent. True.. godlike power of a level the ancients who wrote the old testament couldn't even imagine... – Richard Oct 17 '18 at 20:03
  • @Conifold I didn't mean for it to be a deductive argument for God. I meant it to be an inductive or abductive argument. If G, then M. M. Therefore, probably G, if there is some reason to think that G is the best or simplest explanation for M. – BlowMaMind Nov 2 '18 at 9:17
  • That is called the argument from intelligent design, and some theists do offer it. It has a very bad reputation though. – Conifold Nov 2 '18 at 17:44
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As has been observed, there does not seem to be a relationship of implication between mathematical describability and God's existence, i.e., if "the universe is describable in mathematical terms" is true, then "God exists" must be true.

I can imagine a possible universe in which its own mathematical describability is the invention of one of the creatures that has evolved there. This because it is not necessarily the case that the mathematical describability of a thing is anterior to its creation.

The argument apparently being offered here by theists looks like this:

1) If a thing is describable in mathematical terms, then the mathematical terms must be anterior to that thing.

2) The universe is describable in mathematical terms.

3) Mathematical terms must be anterior to the universe. (modus ponens)

4) "Ex nihilo, nihil fit" (From nothing, nothing comes.) is true.

5) Mathematical terms cannot have come from nothing.

6) The something from which mathematical terms have come is anterior to the universe, as it is anterior to the mathematical terms, which are anterior to the universe.

7) Since "Ex nihilo, nihil fit" is true, something must preexist mathematical terms.

8) The thing that preexists mathematical terms is God.

This seems to be the argument proposed by some theists, but it has a few weaknesses:

a) The eighth premiss and conclusion seems to introduce an infinite regress: One could ask, "If Ex nihilo, nihil fit is true, then whence came God?

b) The first premiss is not true a priori, rendering the third premiss only probable.

c) The fourth premiss carries no necessity, placing the whole argument on a probable-only basis.

d) Even if the argument were somehow accepted as sound, all it proves is that we have agreed to call a certain thing "God," and that thing preexisted the universe. This seems like weak brew.

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    Would you have specific references to the theists who take the position you have presented? This would allow the reader to get more information and strengthen your answer. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Oct 16 '18 at 17:21
  • Welcome to Philosophy Stack Exchange! This answer ignores the fact that God can be described in mathematical terms. – Carl Masens Oct 17 '18 at 3:22
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This question came up in a debate in the nineties, during the Q&A, between William Lane Craig and Peter Atkins:

Question

The philosopher from Scotland, David Hume, pointed out that we as human beings don’t really have any rational basis for believing in the uniformity of nature; that the future will be like the past. Dr. Atkins, as a Christian I can believe that the future will be like the past, or nature is uniform because I believe that God created the universe, and this universe reflects the uniformity which God has imposed upon it through his governing. I’d like to ask, in the atheistic worldview, the presupposition that there is no God and that all we have is matter in motion, what is your basis for believing that the future will be like the past?

Peter Atkins

Well I don’t believe it will be like the past because I believe in continuing evolution. I believe that the universe is expanding, and therefore the universe in the future will not be like the universe in the past. I also believe, but on a deeper level if I could respond there, on the cogency and continuity of physical law because physical laws are commentaries on the behavior of matter and of radiation and whatever else you want to include. And so I see, because matter and radiation don’t change their character, physical laws do not change their character. I see the universe evolving into the future, changing as it goes, but the physical laws that underlie the universe will not change.

...

William Craig

...you cannot justify science scientifically. You have to begin with certain assumptions.

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If the universe evolves according to mathematical laws, does that imply God exists?

Short answer: No - why should it?

let's call it, 'Mathematical Describability'. This property exists within the universe and is what we ascribe to God. The laws are indeed God's will.

This would be great... if we were able to then start from "God's will" to get to this "Mathematical Describability". If this hypothetical Mathematically Descriptive God (let's abbreviate that to MDG) is something we should take seriously, then we might expect that this deity's divine revelations would at least give some clues about some of those mathematical descriptions. Instead, we find that the revelatory texts tend to reflect the values, prejudices, taboos and superstitions common to the place and time in history when they were written or transcribed.

If knowledge flowed the other way - if Millikan had discovered a passage in an ancient text that proclaimed "Electrical charge is quantized, we call this the electron" instead of having to perform repeated careful experiments with oil drops and charged plates, we would be more able to support a hypothesis where the Mathematical Descriptions and the deity are closely related. (We might also find ourselves in a universe where the charge given to the electron is called positive instead of negative, instead of being stuck with a confusing relic of history that is the bane of every young physics student)

I am not sure why theists do not argue thus. Is there any problem with this argument?

I cannot speak for all theists, of course, but the MDG isn't really compatible with most people's ideas of a god. Deists may propose arguments like an MDG, but MDG doesn't get you at all close to an interventionist deity who works miracles. If MDG is concerned about maintaining the electromagnetic force between all the subatomic particles and in keeping all the stars and galaxies moving along their prescribed paths, what good is a prayer from an unremarkable planet orbiting an average star in a fairly typical galaxy?

Is it that this idea of a mathematical God is not the God they believe in?

For the average theist, yes. The deities that people believe in are generally interventionists in some way, and making MDG work with those deities requires significant compromises or logical inconsistencies to make them sorta~kinda same thing.

For a theist to argue for theism using the idea of this MDG as the argument's foundation, the theist is arguing for something they don't really believe in, which is usually a deity that they can relate to in some way at a human level.

Now, many professional debaters will use a wide variety of tactics to try and make their points. Some do use the idea of, say, an "Intelligent Designer" to explain these natural laws. The "Intelligent Designer" approach is probably the closest example of arguing for an MDG that we currently see in the wild.

One final thought I would add is that Mathematical Describability actually hurts the deity hypothesis more than it helps it. Deities are generally supposed to be free to intervene in the affairs of mortals in one way or another, so if deities exist we would expect to find certain kinds of anomalies in our Mathematical Descriptions.

For example, statistical analyses might show that patents who belong to certain faiths or denominations enjoy faster hospital recovery times, even after you correct for all other socio-economic factors. Finding an anomaly like that, some significant deviation from the Mathematic Descriptions, would be evidence suggestive of the possibility of a deity's intervention. However, if the statistics hold true within normal error bars and are adequately Mathematically Described, that's cold comfort for those looking for evidence of the handiwork of their preferred deity.

  • This answer pertains only to a pre-modern understanding of deities. – Carl Masens Oct 17 '18 at 3:25
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God is an abstract deification of an abstract ethical concept (goodness), which is an abstract form of a concrete idea (goods), which shows the usefulness of something. The idea of God proofs Mathematical laws (not the other way around) in linguistics, but the problem you encounter with theists, is the same problem I encounter with historical linguists. Their careers often depend on upholding an incomplete and sometimes incorrect model of the universe instead of exploring its complexity. Hence dogma’s and establishments of people knodding Yes to each others ideas and refuting progressive incentives.

On Mathematical laws you may want to make a Division between Pi (growth patterns) and algebra. The square can’t be the circle except in growth motion as Leonardo DaVinci shows with the universal man. And motion is related to emotion and animation (anime also referring to spirit). Good and go-eth relate to bad and bath/bed (distiction between walking and lying down as the concrete origins for the abstract metaphoric ethics good and bad. Truth and lie form a similar pair with tred and ly. Leg and foot and lieg (lie in Dutch) and fout (wrong in Dutch). It seems that leg in this case refers to the negative lie but actually it is the earthly antonym of ciel (French sky). We move over the earth but through sky. Mathematical laws that govern our word formations. And the growth patterns our thoughts follow create abstract ideas of concrete items, which become metaphores and then words of their own. So Maybe take the Bible literally in one place, that in the beginning there was the word and the word was God. God originated from the abstract use of goods. The realm beyond the universe is eternal and infinite and so are the limits of our imagination, and in the memory God has a place. As a word and an idea and a concept. You can give value to it and live by the rules you or others before you ascribed to this concept. It is functional; it is good; it is God.

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The question you're asking has certain logical affinities to Spinoza's ontology. Basically, Spinoza's argument goes something like this:

  1. "Everything that exists has a certain essential property or depends on a certain kind of power which I'll call NN"
  2. "When I say say God I'm referring to NN"

This is congruent to the argument you suggest, if you substitute "mathematical describability" for NN. What Spinoza uses for his NN is something closer to persistence and has two attributes, extension and thought (mathematical describability would arise out of the correspondence between thought and extension).

This idea wasn't wholly novel to Spinoza; the Arab philosopher Averroes had a similar idea, and he was building off of different ideas that had been tested out by Aristotle, the Stoics, and Neoplatonism. The primary worry about this type of argument, historically, was that it was "fatalist": it implied God was totally passive/indifferent/uninvolved in particular events in the universe; He might make general rules like "don't murder your friends" that typically would carry bad consequences but if someone murdered his best friend and suffered no consequences, there was no sense in which a fatalist could claim God cared about that. The technical language: there may be "general providence" but no "special providence". (It also creates difficulties for the question of whether God can inspire people, or reveal truths to them, and implies some version of determinism.)

But the coherence of this distinction depended in odd ways on classical metaphysical categories and it wasn't clear if this problem still mattered in Spinoza's system (or if the special/general distinction still made sense). Spinoza himself wrote as though he took the Bible seriously (and lived on a sort of Mennonite compound in rural Holland), but many critics thought Spinoza was a heretic, his piety was a sham, and identifying God with the universe amounted to the same thing as saying there was no God at all. Others thought that, heretic or not, Spinoza was entirely sincere, in fact a "man drunk on God", whose divine will and power he saw everywhere.

Yet eventually the objection almost everyone could eventually agree on was that nothing Spinoza had said excluded the possibility that the God he had described was a blind, mindless, meaningless force. (This summary is unfair to Spinoza: on his own terms, he had specifically shown that God was a substance that had unlimited mind as an attribute, and thus was hardly "mindless" - you'll have to study if you want details.) So the question becomes: granted that perhaps some entity, or more technically some substance exists that we could call God, can we also say that this entity is a subject (a person or agent that is active or purposive in some sense comparable to human beings, who have "life stories", characters, make choices, and so on)?

Hopefully that resolves your question. Some people do try to answer the question in this way; it has difficulties; as a result, some people avoid the argument you suggest because they think it doesn't prove the existence of God (or the right kind of God) at all, and the people who find it attractive (including me) typically, after spending a lot of time familiarizing themselves with classical attempts to understand its texture, jump right over it to the bigger challenge of understanding how God is a subject.

(I should also mention, since you are an atheist and undoubtedly interested in the atheist rejoinder, that the most common atheist objection to arguments akin to Spinoza's is that they do not have much in common with what ordinary people mean when they use the word "God", and therefore are not talking about God at all. The problem with that response is that dumb people generally don't have preconceptions that will withstand careful philosophical scrutiny about anything - you wouldn't normally refuse to consider a sophisticated atomic theory, or construction of the real numbers or something, because ordinary people have a less sophisticated, inaccurate view of electrons, arithmetic, etc.)

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