Can Atheists Believe in the Laws of Nature?
Consider the following argument:
1 All laws require a lawmaker who makes the laws, as we can see from all the laws that human beings make.
2 Therefore, if there are laws of nature, there must be a lawmaker who makes the laws of nature.
3 But a lawmaker who makes the laws of nature would be God.
4 Since atheists reject God, they reject the existence of a lawmaker of the laws of nature.
5 But since there can’t be laws of nature without a lawmaker, no atheist can coherently believe that there are laws of nature.
Something like this argument has been made historically, and it seems to have impressed not a few thinkers that the lawfulness of nature does seem to suggest—if not rationally entail—the existence of a lawmaker.
I don’t think the argument is very good, because it seems to me the rest fundamentally on a EQUIVOCATION, which is this:
A “law” of nature just isn’t the same thing or even the same kind of thing as a “law” of the land. Human laws obviously require lawmakers. The laws of nature MAY require some kind of intelligent source, but that’s a totally different argument, it seems to me. They just aren’t the same kind of thing as human laws, and it only confuses things when laws of nature and human laws are conflated, just because they share the same name. A lot of people—me included—have wished ANOTHER WORD besides “law” had been given to what we do call the laws of nature.
So, yes, atheists can believe in the laws of nature just fine.
But here’s the rub: The confusion of “law of nature” with “law of the land” is VERY MUCH LIKE the confusion of God with gods, because they, again, share the same name (sort of), even though we have a convention of capitalizing the G when we mean God precisely in order to differentiate God from a god. We don’t capitalize “God” because it’s a proper name. It isn’t.
God is a not a god, not the same, not the same kind of thing—God doesn’t even HAVE a kind (and cannot), whereas “god” is a kind (although it is unknown to me if it is an instantiated or merely fictional kind).
If you are an atheist and can grasp that a law of nature and a human “law” are terms that refer to very different things, you ought to be able to grasp that God and gods refer to very different things. God has literally no more or less to do with gods than any other kind of being.