Argument from comprehensibility

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Apologists argue that the world is comprehensible and that its comprehensibility itself requires an explanation.

"The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible."

Albert Einstein
"The Christian has a ready answer: God did it. Our brains are able to understand the universe because we’re made in God’s image, and he wants us to understand. [1]"

Apologists argue these phenomena require an explanation:

"It would surely be intolerably intellectually lazy not to seek to pursue this question. Yet science itself will not provide its answer, for it is simply content to exploit the opportunities that these wonderful gifts afford us, without being in a position to explain their origin. Theology, however, can step into the breach. [2]"


Formal argument

The argument runs as follows: [3]

  1. The universe is intelligible (graspable by intelligence) to conscious minds
  2. (1) was caused by design or chance
  3. Chance was unlikely to be the cause
  4. Therefore a designer is responsible for (1)
  5. God exists

Argument from the beauty of physical laws

Richard Swinburne

A related argument, similar to the argument from aesthetic experience and the natural-law argument, is based on the beauty and consistency of physical laws themselves.

"The orderliness of the Universe makes it a beautiful Universe, but, even more importantly, it makes it a Universe which humans can learn to control and change."

Richard Swinburne[4]

"Why is mathematics so unreasonably effective?"

— Eugene Wigner

Scientists use principles of symmetry, beauty, elegance and consistency when hypothesising possible physical laws. Many of these predictions turn out to be true. For example, Maxwell's equations unified what was previously considered as separate phenomena, including electricity, magnetism and light, into a set of only four equations which also strongly implied the existence of other electromagnetic waves before they had been observed. [5] The argument states that these patterns could only be the result of an intelligent mind i.e. God.

Counter arguments

Possibly brute facts

The laws of nature and their attributes could be brute facts. Perhaps the universe could not be other than it is. Until we rule out that possibility, the argument is an argument from ignorance.

God is not an parsimonious explanation

Main Article: Ultimate 747 gambit

As an explanation, God is so complicated and non-explanatory that it negates the premise of the argument that we can understand reality. [6]

Which God?

Main Article: Which God?

The argument supports no specific God or religion.

Beauty or usefulness is subjective

Beauty and usefulness are human concepts. It is unclear if these properly to apply to the laws of physics. It is unclear if an explanation is required.

Spotlight fallacy

How many failed attempts at universes did God need before producing the one we observe? Saying this universe is a typical universe commits the spotlight fallacy. A whole multiverse of universes may exist.

This discussion would not happen if the universe was incomprehensible

Main Article: Anthropic principle
"So what this argument boils down to is the observation that we live in a lawful universe. And of course any universe that could support the likes of us would have to be lawful. So this argument is another version of the The Anthropic Principle — we live in the kind of universe which is the only kind of universe in which observers like us could live [6]"

Explanation by natural processes

Perhaps these phenomena can be explained by natural phenomena. Apologists have not even attempted to rule this out, so the argument is god of the gaps and an argument from ignorance. By forcing the argument to use a false dichotomy of "chance or design" and without any other supporting evidence, the is an argument from ignorance.


Apologists put forth other arguments that, taken together, are unfalsifiable because they take both comprehensible and incomprehensible phenomena as evidence of God's existence.

"If the Universe didn’t always obey physical laws, that, too, could be taken as evidence for God, who could intercede with alarming regularity to alter whatever laws did exist. Heads God wins, tails physicists lose. [...] In other places Polkinghorne (along with other theologians) argue that there are many phenomena in nature that cannot be comprehended with science, much less mathematics. These supposedly include love, aesthetics, and morality. Those phenomena, too, are given as evidence for God. In other words, Polkinghorne is trying to have it both ways: the universe’s comprehensibility via science is given as evidence for God, but aspects that supposedly aren’t scientifically comprehensible are also given as evidence for god. [7]"

The argument is therefore unfalsifiable.

Unreasonable regress of the argument

"Even if we find out why there are laws of physics, Polkinghorne could argue that God was behind it all. [7]"

If we one day discover the reason for the physical laws and their "beauty", apologists would just move their argument back a stage further and say that more fundamental explanation requires a further explanation too. This may be acceptable in terms of intellectual curiosity but it is not a proof of God but rather God of the gaps.

Equating naturalism with chance

In this argument, chance means randomly assembled systems with no guiding principles. Each attempted random system is independent of previous attempts (a process known as random sampling). However, no natural process is known to work in this fashion. The universe progressively changes with each state is a progression from the previous state. To compare natural processes to pure chance, as in the 747 Junkyard argument, is a straw man.

"What we mean by "blind chance" is the way physical nature must ultimately operate if "naturalism" is true—void of any rational plan or guiding purpose. [3]"

The argument is a confusion between "guiding purpose" and "no guiding purpose" and the concepts "naturalism", "chance" and "design". Natural laws are compatible with both guiding and no-guiding purpose hypothesis. Natural laws could be a "brute fact". Even if "no guiding process" hypothesis is rejected, it does not automatically follow that natural processes is automatically ruled out.

To argue that natural laws themselves require a cause is a separate and distinct argument.

Perhaps intelligible is an illusion

Plato suggested that we do not perceive true reality but only a shadow of it in his allegory of the cave.

Partial intelligibility

The universe is only partially intelligible, implying the designer is not perfect.

See also


  1. [1]
  2. John Polkinghorne, Science and Religion in Quest of Truth
  3. 3.0 3.1 [2]
  4. Lecture of [The Existence of God], Richard Swinburne
  5. [3]
  6. 6.0 6.1 Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, 2011
  7. 7.0 7.1 [4]
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