Problems with the Argument from a Comprehensible Universe

At the debate where I heard the cosmological argument I talk about in my last post, I also heard an argument from a member of the audience that I don’t think was responded to adequately. The structure of their argument went something like this:

  1. The Universe is comprehensible.
  2. Everything that is comprehensible was designed.
  3. Everything that was designed had a designer.
  4. The Universe has a designer.
  5. The designer of the Universe is God.

Of course, the latter 2 of the 3 problems I talk about in my last post also apply to this argument – that the premises (in this case, mainly premise 2) are baseless and that even if the argument proved the existence of a designer of the Universe we could say nothing else about that designer than that they designed the Universe. Those aren’t the problems I want to talk about here though.

The biggest problem I have with this argument is that, as far as I can tell, it is incompatible with any form of theism other than deism. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, here is a definition of deist with which I agree, from Princeton University:

a person who believes that God created the universe and then abandoned it

Essentially, deism is the belief in a god who created the Universe but does not interact with the Universe; a god that does not perform miracles. Again, just so we’re on the same page, here is a definition of “miracle” that I think is accurate in this context, again from Princeton University:

a marvellous event manifesting a supernatural act of a divine agent

The important part of that definition is supernatural act. Miracles are, by definition, supernatural. This means that they break the “laws of nature”, which are the physical laws that govern our Universe. This makes miracles inherently unpredictable – if they follow no knowable law then it is impossible to predict or understand them. They are incomprehensible.

So, if it is possible for miracles to take place, then the Universe cannot be said to be comprehensible. If it’s possible for miracles to take place, then there is no method by which we can determine that a particular event was not a miracle. In essence, we could not be sure that God isn’t just messing with us.

If miracles could be understood, then presumably that would mean they were subject to some physical law similar to those with which we are already familiar. However, if this were the case, then there would be no reason to call them supernatural. They would simply be another aspect of nature, and therefore not miraculous. If this were the case, then it would seem to me that a god would not be necessary to explain them.

So, to sum up:

  1. The argument made by the audience member stands upon the premise that the Universe is comprehensible.
  2. A Universe in which miracles are possible would not be comprehensible.
  3. If this argument were correct, it would preclude a god that can perform miracles.
  4. This conclusion is very likely inconsistent with the beliefs of the person making the argument.

I would actually go further to say that this means it is never okay to conclude that a particular event was a miracle, but that’s also a discussion for another post.


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