Natural-law argument

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The natural-law argument is an argument that the laws of nature are dependent on god.


Background information

The natural-law argument states that because there are consistent and predictable natural laws in the universe, there must be a law-giver who set those laws in motion. That law-giver is assumed to be God.



p1. There are natural laws which govern the universe
p2. All laws have a law giver
c1. That law giver is God

Counter arguments

False premise p1: Natural laws

This argument relies on equivocation between two meanings of the word "law".

Legislative laws, such as "Do not murder" or "No littering" are prescriptive: they are established to demarcate acceptable and unacceptable behavior. If a person breaks such a law, he or she has committed a crime, and may be subject to punishment.

Natural laws, on the other hand, are descriptive: they are human concepts that describe how some aspect of the universe behaves. For instance, Newton's law of motion "F=ma" describes how solid objects behave when acted upon by a force. If a person or object breaks a physical law, then it is the law that is in error, since it obviously does not adequately describe what it seeks to describe. However, there are natural laws that are at odds with one another and are still taken to be true because there is a clear and consistent pattern. For example, entities governed by the laws of quantum mechanics do not follow the same thermodynamic laws that govern the macro universe.

Bertrand Russell:

"We now find that a great many things we thought were Natural Laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depth of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature."

This is peripherally related to the Transcendental argument for god, in that it heavily confuses a conceptual abstraction with concrete reality.

False premise p2: The law giver

The laws in question are descriptive abstractions of what the universe does, not prescriptive legislations about what the universe can do. As such they do not require a law giver, but as long as a law giver is being asserted, it opens up the question of where god got his laws. This opens up a paradox somewhat similar to the euthyphro dilemma.

Bertrand Russell:

"Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others? If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others -- the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it -- if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary."

Special Pleading c1: Which god?

Main Article: Which god?

Even if we grant the false premises that there are prescriptive natural laws, and by extension the existence of a lawgiver god, it does not follow that that god is the one the apologist has in mind, or even that there is only one god involved. It could just as likely be the Flying Spaghetti Monster, purple space pixies, Santa Claus, or invisible pink unicorns, as it could be Yahweh.

Invalid Argument

As the counter argument Special Pleading c1: which god? points out, the law giver could be any god and therefore even if the premises were true the conclusion could still be false. This means that the argument is invalid since the conclusion is not a valid inference from the premises. Therefore the argument is not sound.


See Also

External Links


v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Majority argument · Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from goodness · Argument from desire
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Sensus divinitatis · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Personal revelation · Argument from observed miracles · Argument from personal experience · Consciousness argument for the existence of God · Emotional pleas
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge
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