God’s artefacts: the beauty of mathematical structures in physics
The purpose of this thesis is to argue the following case: amongst the structures of the world beauty is characteristic of those investigated by mathematical physics. It is a plausible response to this that their aesthetic presence manifests the intentional hand of divinity and contributes to our comprehension of them. A common modern picture of the universe is that there is nothing to be found amongst its basic constituents but physical items and processes. Many scientists, philosophers and others take this to be a rational outcome of the natural sciences, particularly physics. Theories of the natural sciences exclude meaning, purpose, value, normative standards, and teleology as a matter of methodological principle. The restriction of explanation to these aspects of the world, however, which yield highly productive theories and ways of testing them, is often however inflated to an overall metaphysical picture in which the causal relations of physical events are taken as accounting for everything that ultimately exists and its origins. The world, in a common phrase, is often described as a consequence as ‘disenchanted’. Consistent with this view, ‘beauty’ when it is experienced in the natural world is largely taken to be a psychological projection onto an otherwise barren physicality in line with what is considered properly real. This is also true of mathematical physics. Physicists and mathematicians in this area often describe the intense beauty of the structures they deal with, but these aesthetic effusions are rarely taken to have serious theoretical, philosophical, or theological conclusions about the matter, structure, and ultimate origins of the world. I contest this view. One reason for developing a different and broader framework for comprehending the world in its entirety is that we too are able to create physical structures and even beautiful ones if we choose. The structures we create are subject to the same mathematical and aesthetic normative criteria that any structure of the world must obey for it to be possible to exist. In our case what we create, our artefacts, rely on our purposes to come to fruition. Contra the ‘disenchanted’ picture of ‘nature’ there is thus a metaphysical commonality between our artefacts, the necessities of their construction, teleology and the events and processes of the rest of nature. Since we are a part of the natural world and since nature ‘allows’ us to interfere with its causal processes to produce novel items of our own design, a full conception of nature must include what makes that possible: the a priori teleological and normative mathematic-aesthetic principles which anything must satisfy to come into existence. Thus, whilst the activities of the natural sciences isolate one part of the world to yield productive theories, what remains hidden are the conditions in virtue of which the world can exist such as to make teleological interference possible. These are found at the very foundations of the world. Ontological naturalism, the philosophical position that supports the idea that the world is ultimately nothing but the natural processes in it and their effusions, cannot I argue support the very possibility of the sciences on which the metaphysics of naturalism depends. I contend as a consequence of this thought, that there is an inclusive metaphysical framework which provides a place for personhood, scientific methodology and teleology from the ground up as equal ontological participants in the cosmos and all in it. The possibility of a natural ‘science’ itself is provided for by the framework which I propose. The idea of a ‘nature’ open to methods of empirical investigation is not an intellectual given but the outcome of comprehending its nature in such a way that it can be seen as a world of process and causal events. Human history shows us this is so. The best ultimate explanation of all this is that of a divine personal agent from whom the world intentionally emanated and who it filled with normatively available structures and aesthetically expressive features indicative of personal agency. We respond to the presence of divine intention in our capacity to recognise the hand of agency in those a priori features of any existence. Like beauty anywhere which seems to reach beyond itself, the ‘beauty’ of the base structures of the physical world provides us with a channel to divine intention and enhances our response. The acknowledgement of the world as the outcome of personal intent I conclude, is not a deductive one in the same sense that our recognition of other persons and their artefacts is not finally a matter of proof but is not as a consequence irrational.