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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Laws of Nature Are Mainly Quasi-teleological

Scientists study the laws of nature in great detail, but it is relatively rare for anyone to attempt a qualitative assessment of the laws of nature. We might do such a thing by imagining three different quality categories. If a law of nature seems to serve a good purpose, we might call that law quasi-teleological, a term that means “as if it was intended for a purpose.” If a law of nature seems to serve a bad purpose, we might call it dysteleological, a term that means “as if it was intended for a bad purpose.” If a law of nature seems to serve no purpose either good or bad, we can simply call it neutral.

Let us attempt to judge whether the most important laws of nature fall into any of these three categories. One way to do that it is to make judgments based on random incidents, or incidents chosen to support a particular viewpoint. You would be following that approach if you made statements like this:

I just heard that someone was struck dead by lightning. Damn that awful law of electromagnetism! It's so harmful.

I was hiking yesterday in the mountains, and hurt my leg when I slipped and fell. Damn that stupid law of gravity! It's such a terrible law.

Making assessments of laws of nature based on incidental experiences such as this does not make any sense. What we need is an intelligent general-purpose algorithm for assessing whether a law of nature is quasi-teleological, neutral, or dysteleological. I propose the algorithm shown in the flowchart below.



The algorithm starts by asking: is the law of nature necessary (directly or indirectly) for the existence of living things such as ourselves? If the answer to question is “Yes,” the law is considered quasi-teleological, because it helps to achieve a good purpose (the purpose of allowing creatures such as us to exist). If the answer is “No,” the algorithm then asks whether the law of nature is mostly harmful in its effects. If the answer to that second question is “Yes,” the law of nature should be considered dysteleological (a law that serves a bad purpose). If the answer to that question is “No,” the law is considered to be neutral (meaning that it neither seems to serve a good purpose, nor seems to serve a bad purpose).

Let's try a simple example, and see whether the algorithm seems to make sense. Consider the case of the law of gravitation, the universal law of nature that there is a force of attraction between all massive bodies, directly proportional to the product of their masses, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Gravitation is (indirectly) absolutely necessary for the existence of living beings, because if it were not for gravitation we would have neither a planet to live on, nor a sun to produce warmth. So even though occasionally gravity produces deaths from falling, the fact that gravitation is absolutely necessary for planets decisively trumps all other considerations. It is therefore absolutely correct for us to consider gravitation as a quasi-teleological law. It serves the good purpose of allowing the existence of planets for living things to exist on. In this case the algorithm seems to steer us to the right answer.

Let us apply the same algorithm to other major laws of nature. Another major law of nature is Coulomb's law (the basic law of electromagnetism). This is the law that between all electrical charges there is a force of attraction or repulsion, directly proportional to the product of their charges, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. It is true that very rarely this law helps to kill people in lightning strikes, but that fact is absolutely trumped by the fact that living things could not exist for even a minute without Coulomb's law. Electromagnetism is what makes chemistry possible, and without chemistry we would all instantly die. If you were to turn off Coulomb's law, our bodies would quickly disintegrate. So again, using the above algorithm, we must classify Coulomb's law as a quasi-teleological law, as it serves the good purpose of allowing the existence of biological organisms.

The table below shows a list of fundamental laws of nature. Most of the laws have commonly used names, but some very important laws do not have any common name, although they should have one. One of the most important laws is one I have designated below as the Law of the Five Allowed Stable Particles. This is simply the law that rather than producing hundreds or thousands of different types of stable particles from a high-energy particle collision, nature makes sure that only five types of stable particles result. Although not important now, the current arrangement of matter in the universe would be hopelessly different (in a very negative way) if such a law had not applied shortly after the Big Bang, when all the particles in the universe were colliding together at high speeds. You can say the same about the other conservation laws listed below.



All of these laws have one thing in common: for various reasons, all of them are necessary for the existence of life. In the case of the law of the strong nuclear force, the Pauli exclusion principle, and the law of electromagnetism, this is glaringly obvious, as we couldn't exist for even a minute if these laws didn't exist. In the case of the law of gravitation, it's almost as obvious that it is required for life, as gravitation is absolutely necessary for the existence of planets. In the case of the law of the conservation of baryon number, this college physics textbook says, “if it were not for the law of the conservation of baryon number, a proton could decay into a positron and a neutral pion.” If such a decay were possible, there wouldn't be any protons around by now, nor would there be any life.

In the case of the law of the conservation of charge, the law guarantees that electrons are stable particles that cannot decay into neutrinos, and thereby assures that we have a universe with plenty of the electrons needed for atoms and life. In the case of the laws of quantum mechanics, we have laws that restrict the states that electrons can take inside an atom, and thereby prevent electrons from falling into the nucleus of an atom (something they would otherwise have a strong tendency to do because of the very strong electromagnetic attraction between protons and electrons). 

As all of these laws are needed for life, we must characterize all of them as quasi-teleological. But other laws of nature should be classified as neutral, because they do not seem to have any bad effect nor any good effect. 

Although the modern materialist scientist may attempt to banish teleology from nature, such an attempt is not at all supported by his subject matter. The quasi-teleological nature of the main laws of nature present a huge problem for those who wish to believe in a capricious universe whose characteristics are the result of blind chance. Such people have not only the huge problem of explaining the universe's fine-tuned fundamental constants, but also the problem of explaining the universe's fine-tuned laws.