Modern people, especially those educated in science, fancy themselves to be hard-nosed rational materialists. The universe, they tell us, is random. It is the mere playing out of the laws of physics. There is no broader meaning or purpose.
But when you look around at the world, where exactly is the randomness? What we see is not random, but ordered. What we mistake for ‘random’ is actually the freedom of matter to behave freely within the ordering constraints of natural laws.
And from where do those laws of physics come? If everything is supposedly random, are the laws of physics ‘random’ as well? Could we have different laws of physics?
Imagine a box filled with oxygen gas. What are the odds that when you open up that box, all of the oxygen atoms will be neatly arranged in the shape of a cube in the upper left corner? In principle, that is possible. The oxygen atoms could bounce around just right so that for a split second, they are arranged in a cube, a doughnut, or the first stanza of a poem.
But the number of configurations of that gas such that the oxygen atoms are evenly distributed throughout the box is so astronomically vast, that the odds of you happening to see a configuration wherein the oxygen atoms make the shape of the Sphinx is nearly infinitely close to zero.
Randomness in the Universe
Now imagine a truly random universe. Imagine that universe is in a box, just like the gas was. What are the odds that when you open up that box the matter is arranged in the shape of stars, planets and polar bears?
‘But the laws of nature make those shapes!’ you might think to yourself.
Now imagine random laws of nature. Why should we have the particular laws of nature we happen to have? If the universe is ‘random’, shouldn’t those laws be ‘random’ as well?
So what are all of the possible universes that could exist if the laws of nature are randomly determined? The answer isn’t mere infinity. It is an infinity beyond all comprehension.
The laws of nature could be such that universe consists of a single hydrogen atom. Or just two hydrogen atoms. Or just three, and on and on and on. There are an infinite number of possible universes consisting just of hydrogen atoms. Now toss a single oxygen atom, then two, then three into the mix. How many universes are possible then?
Now toss time and space into the equation. One possible universe could be 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom, arranged in the shape of a triangle for the first billion years, then the laws of nature are such that they move into a straight line for the next billion years, then 5 seconds after that make an ‘L’ shape, and on and on and on.
The Infinite Nature of the Real Numbers
The number of possible universes is (probably) at least the same size as the number of ‘real’ numbers (whole numbers, fractions and infinitely long fractions). That is a set of numbers so vast as to be incomprehensible in any real sense. You can just get a rough feeling for how large an infinity like that really is.
In order to feel the immensity of what infinity like this means, consider that you can count for an infinite amount of time between the numbers 1 and 2 (1.1, 1.001, 1.00342, 1.349204… etc etc) and never reach the number 2 or the number 2.01 or the number 53.
In fact, between any two numbers you pick as you count between 1 and 2, there is an infinite amount of numbers between those two as well. E.g. you can count for infinity between 1.3 and 1.31 (1.3000001, 1.300002, 1.30000055… etc etc) And there is an infinite amount of numbers between any two of these new numbers as well.
Infinity is something beyond all human comprehension
Infinity is not exhaustive
The critical point to remember however is that infinity is not exhaustive of all possibilities. You can count forever between the numbers 3 and 7, and never reach 8, 9 or 9.23.
Likewise there are infinities and infinities of possible universes in which there are no such things as stars, planets or polar bears.
So when we look at our universe and the incredible order it exhibits: stars, planets, flowers, people… where exactly is the randomness? I don’t see any. I see order, rationality and a divine intelligence at work.
I see everything existing in-between truly random chaos and order, making freedom possible. If things were too ordered, there would be no freedom. If things were too chaotic, there would also be no freedom.
How could the existence of emotion be random?
Most importantly, not only does order exist… emotion exists. Without emotion, we wouldn’t know we exist. And if we didn’t know we existed, if we couldn’t feel our existence, could you say that the universe in any meaningful way exists? Can something exist if there is no one around to notice it?
Therefore, nothing is truly random. The universe is not ‘random’. If it were random, odds are it would just be a mess of weird natural laws, not the miraculous natural laws that we happen to have that just so happen to lead to emotional beings like us.
The universe is highly ordered and law-like, but still exhibits enough chaos to permit freedom. In this no man’s land, we live our emotional lives.