Must a religious story be confirmed as a true fact to be effective and inspiring?
- Wu Hsin is an allegedly ancient Chinese sage whose inspiring teachings were brought to light by an obscure character named Roy Melvyn.
- Wu Hsin's teachings have inspired millions of people across the globe — even if all evidence indicates that he never existed and was made up by Melvyn.
- The remarkable story of Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn explores the conflict between the nature of faith and literal or interpretative readings of religious texts.
Last week, a renowned and highly respected Brazilian journalist emailed me a link to a YouTube video. The video, she said, was about the teachings of Wu Hsin, an obscure Chinese sage that presumably lived about one hundred years after Confucius, some time between 403 and 221 BCE. In a book that collects his writings, translated and edited by Roy Melvyn, Wu Hsin is a teacher of non-dualism, credited with being the bridge between Taoism and Confucianism and what later became Zen Buddhism in China and Japan.
The power of religious faith is not in it being based on established facts but on it being believed and, through the strength of this belief, being effective and inspiring.
My journalist friend urged me to watch the video, especially because "some of the ideas resonate so clearly with yours." The video, in Portuguese and currently with over 700,000 views, was beautifully edited in black and white, with a narration filled with deep and meaningful teachings attributed to Wu Hsin. I was mesmerized. I ordered the book immediately and started researching this enigmatic figure. In the back of my mind, though, was an uncomfortable feeling. If Wu Hsin is so wise and so historically essential, how come I never heard of him?
The teachings of Wu Hsin
"Here, we admit the distinction between what is and what appears to be," the video opens. "And so, we must let go of the belief that our imagination is reality." Wu Hsin literally means "No Mind" in Chinese. And, as I dug deeper into the story, the distinction between what is and what appears to be became more and more blurred.
I went back to YouTube to search for videos about Wu Hsin in English. There were quite a few, but none as beautifully edited as the one in Portuguese. Still, between the books and the videos, millions of people are clearly aware of Wu Hsin's teachings:
- The desire for salvation is the elixir of fools. The only "saving" one needs is to be saved from one's imagination.
- Words are not facts but only ideas about facts.
- Whatever one perceives is not one's own. It is merely an appearance in the field of knowing that one is.
- Clarity does not provide answers; it dissolves questions.
- Beyond the mind, all distinctions cease.
- The entire world is merely a play performed on your stage while you are seated in the front row.
- Consciousness is the antecedent condition of all perception.
The appearance of a separate "I" is an illusion of the mind that divides everything into a subject (the "I") and an "object" (the world outside of the "I"). This apparent duality, this feeling of being apart from everything else, is the ultimate source of unhappiness.
I asked my 13.8 partner Adam Frank and my friend, the philosopher Evan Thompson — both experts on Eastern religions — about Wu Hsin. "Never heard of him," said Adam. "Wu Hsin is a fictional character likely invented by Roy Melvyn. No historical evidence of any such person. It's kind of an ancient Chinese version of Carlos Castañeda's Don Juan," said Thompson.
Does it matter if Wu Hsin was real?
I explored a little deeper and discovered some very strange allegations against Roy Melvyn, the man who gave voice to Wu Hsin. There is no Wikipedia entry about Wu Hsin, the Chinese sage. I then found an online discussion platform where people pondered about Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn. Opinions diverged, with some people stating something that I found fascinating: it doesn't matter whether Roy Melvyn made Wu Hsin up or not; the teachings are still powerful and useful.
A more alarming entry in the same discussion board claimed that Roy Melvyn's name is actually Roy Melvyn Sidewitz in Brooklyn, with a criminal record to boot and offering a link to the court case. According to this link, Roy M. Sidewitz was convicted of illicit trading by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). I noted that the full name Roy Melvyn Sidewitz was never mentioned in the report, only Roy M. Sidewitz. Are Roy Melvyn and Roy M. Sidewitz the same person? I couldn't find out.
The strange story of Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn goes to the heart of the debate between literal and nonliteral interpretations of religious texts and figures. To what extent is it necessary to attribute real existence to a religious historical figure to be inspired by his or her teachings? A video with more of Wu Hsin's teachings (in English) on YouTube makes this clear: "Whether Wu Hsin is fictional or not and those are Roy Melvyn's writings is none of my concern. I just happen to like them. That's all there is to it."
The YouTube channel belongs to an anonymous "Unself yourself." Could it be another one of Melvyn's outlets, trying to justify his actions? Who knows? We remain lost in the fog of not knowing, the truth veiled under the anonymity of the web. "Seeking ends when the fish understands the folly of searching for the ocean."
Will the real Roy Melvyn please stand up?
Maybe Roy Melvyn had something meaningful to say and knew quite well that unless he invented a story connecting his sayings to an obscure ancient sage no one would listen. The fact is that the real Melvyn never came forward with concrete proof of finding any original writings by Wu Hsin. That simple gesture would, of course, solve everything (assuming the documents weren't forged, but that could be determined by experts).
Although we live in a world where thousands of people believe that mediums can channel wisdom from alien intelligences, the story of Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn goes much farther. Melvyn is sharing and repackaging inspiring Eastern teachings about finding inner peace through detachment and embracing the impossibility of ever understanding the deepest reaches of reality. "What is known is sustained by the unknown which, in turn, is sustained by the unknowable."
The power of religious faith is not in it being based on established facts but on it being believed and, through the strength of this belief, being effective and inspiring. I think of Dante's Divine Comedy and Michelangelo's David or Moses. If the power of faith redeems so many apocryphal religious narratives, should it redeem Melvyn?
There were at least four major climate catastrophes that reshaped global religion. It could be happening again.
- Climate-related catastrophes have struck the world in several previous eras, such as gigantic volcanic eruptions.
- From the 1300s to the 1800s, four major climate catastrophes reshaped global religion.
- We must be wary that religion or ideology combined with external shocks like climate change can cause war or revolution.
We presently hear a great deal about global climate change and the disasters it threatens in the imminent future. Within a few decades, large sections of the human race, chiefly in nations of the global South, will regularly be suffering widespread hunger and acute water shortages, as dramatic environmental changes threaten the survival of state mechanisms in many nations. Together, these changes will drive mass migrations, and create refugee crises on a dreadful scale. So much is familiar enough. But with fair confidence, we can also predict that such changes are all but certain to have religious consequences, in terms of driving conflicts between faiths, and also by sparking new movements, and conceivably even whole new faiths.
How can anyone make such an assertion? Because in different ways, climate-related catastrophes have struck the world in several previous eras, whether because of gigantic volcanic eruptions or else sudden shifts in the intensity of the energy being released by the sun. In contrast to the climate change we are now living through, those past experiences were transient and temporary. But whatever the causes, such events have been deeply traumatic, and in every case, they have resulted in massive and wide-ranging religious transformations. How could they not?
It is difficult to imagine that catastrophic climatic changes might not inspire religious responses and even revolutions.
Time and again, climate convulsions have been understood in religious terms, through the language of apocalypse, millennium, and judgment. Often too, such eras have been marked by far-reaching changes in the nature of religion and spirituality. This does not mean that climatic conditions directly caused such outbreaks or currents; rather, they created an atmosphere in which those changes could manifest themselves, and in historical terms, this happened very suddenly. Depending on the circumstances, the response to climatic variations might include explosions in religious passion and commitment, the stirring of mystical and apocalyptic expectations, waves of religious scapegoating and persecution, or the spawning of new religious movements and revivals. In many cases, such responses have had lasting impacts to the point of fundamentally reshaping particular faith traditions.
From those eras have emerged passionate sects — some political and theocratic, some revivalist and enthusiastic, others millenarian and subversive. The movements and ideas emerging from such conditions might last for many decades and even become a familiar part of the religious landscape, although with their origins in particular moments of crisis, they often are increasingly consigned to remote memory. By stirring conflicts and provoking persecutions that defined themselves in religious terms, such eras have redrawn the world's religious maps and created the global concentrations of believers that we know today.
Four climatic catastrophes that transformed religion
In my current book Climate, Catastrophe, and Faith, I particularly highlight four such transformational eras, which combined to create so many of the religious realities we know today. The first of these is the early fourteenth century, especially the years between 1310 and 1325, a time of abrupt global cooling that marked the onset of the Little Ice Age. Societies around the world suffered times of shocking paranoia and conspiracy-mongering. They responded with murderous persecutions of minorities and dissidents, leading to purges and expulsions on an appalling scale. Whole populations suffered bitter times of exile and diaspora, and those changes did much to create our familiar maps of the great faiths and their geographical concentrations. This was the time when large portions of the Jewish population were driven from Western Europe to the eastern fringes of the continent, where their descendants were concentrated until the last century. In the Middle East, meanwhile, Christians were reduced to the status of a despised minority.
About 1560, the Little Ice Age entered a new and brutally cold era, when social strains threatened the survival of social and political orders. The resulting unrest and disaffection took multiple forms, but it especially manifested in one notorious form of social paranoia: the witch-hunts, which reached their peak in Europe. At the same time, the 1560s witnessed a dramatic religious transformation within Christianity, affecting both its Catholic and Protestant dimensions. The fast-growing Calvinist movement represented a revolutionary current that threatened the near-overnight razing of ancient religious ways. On the other side, reformed and restructured Catholicism became equally hard-edged and confrontational — a comparable faith of crisis. The Christian world entered a new and much harsher period of polarization as revolutionary religious change detonated savage wars.
The third era stretches from 1675 through the end of the 17th century, which constituted one of the very coldest and most ruinous periods of the Little Ice Age, an era of lethal famines. Rebellions, revolutions, and civil wars proliferated, inciting larger struggles that led to the dramatic reduction of Islam as a force in Europe. Meanwhile, the cumulative crises generated savage persecution of religious minorities. But unlike the 14th century, Europeans now lived in a world of sea travel and far-flung colonial possessions, and persecuted populations amply exploited these opportunities to seek safe haven. Religious dissidents from Germany and the British Isles flocked to the new world, as a generation of climate refugees built new homes, especially in Pennsylvania. Settlements in foreign lands far from the motherland offered the prospect of new concepts of religious liberty, opening a dramatic new phase in attitudes to religious freedom and spiritual experimentation.
The fourth era of extraordinary Arctic cold struck the North Atlantic world between 1739 and 1742, and this created the desperate conditions that formed the backdrop of the revivals of the Great Awakening and the emergence of Anglo-American evangelicalism. And the story can be carried into the 19th century, when disasters like the Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815 sparked new apocalyptic expectations.
Climate + Religion = Revolution?
If the role of climate change on Christian history is obvious enough, the same factors likewise had their impact on important movements within other traditions, including Buddhism and Islam. Any historical account that ignores or underplays that climate dimension is lacking.
That history must come to mind when we contemplate the global climatic pressures that are predicted for the coming decades. Based on extensive past experience, we can imagine many ways in which the response to those circumstances might take religious forms. We could foresee the rise of new apocalyptic movements, as well as the spread of bitter religiously based animosity and conflict. When we look at contemporary developments in both Islam and Christianity, and at interfaith conflicts across Africa and Asia, it is difficult to imagine that catastrophic climatic changes might not inspire religious responses and even revolutions.
When we trace the historical impact of climate-related change in the religious realm, we see auguries of our likely futures.
Philip Jenkins was educated at Cambridge University and for many years taught at Penn State. He is presently Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, where his main appointment is in the Institute for Studies of Religion. His latest book, Climate, Catastrophe, and Faith: How Changes in Climate Drive Religious Upheaval, was just published by Oxford University Press.
No. But Buddhism and quantum mechanics have much to teach each other.
- Quantum mechanics is so weird that it has challenged scientists and philosophers to divine some greater insights about the nature of reality.
- One attempt is known as the Copenhagen interpretation, and some believe that this interpretation lends itself to a Buddhist worldview.
- Even though I'm a Buddhist, I reject the notion that physics proves my worldview.
The first book I read about quantum mechanics was not a textbook. Instead, it was The Tao of Physics by Frijof Capra, a 1975 bestseller claiming that discoveries in quantum mechanics supported the ancient worldview of Buddhism. I read The Tao of Physics in my freshman year, and in it, Capra, a physicist, offered beautiful descriptions of both quantum science and Buddhist philosophy.
I bought in to each… separately.
Forty years later I am both a Buddhist practioner (Zen in particular) and physicist with a keen interest in quantum foundations. But I never bought into the claim that one supported the other, and today I want to reflect on that mistaken link and, perhaps, a better way to think about Buddhism and physics.
Does Buddhism follow naturally from quantum mechanics?
Capra's book was part of a wave of interest in so-called "Eastern philosophies" and quantum physics. There was also The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukov. Soon it became a staple of New Age mumbo-jumbo to stick "quantum" in front of whatever was being sold: quantum healing, quantum spirituality, quantum colon cleansing. While the first impulse of Capra and Zukov represented a genuine interest in how the well-known weirdnesses of quantum mechanics overlapped with the new (for these western students, anyway) territory of Buddhist philosophies, things got out of controls quickly. The most egregious example of the downward spiral was a 2004 documentary What the Bleep Do We Know!? which was so full of nonsense that I literally threw my box of popcorn at the screen during my viewing.
So, what is the problem with what we might call "quantum Buddhism"?
Let's start with the physics side of things. Quantum physics is theory dealing with the very small, things like atoms, protons, and quarks. Physics at this minuscule scale are really weird compared to the physics we've learned on more human scales. The most important weirdness for the relationship to Buddhism is what's called the "Measurement Problem." Like classical mechanics that is governed by Newton's equations, quantum mechanics has Schrodinger's equations that describe how quantum systems evolve. But here's the weird part: Once the system is observed, Schrodinger's equations no longer apply. The measurement takes precedent over the equation. Why should a physical system care that it's been observed? No one knows, and folks have been arguing over the Measurement Problem since quantum mechanics was first formulated.
Those arguments got crystalized into what are called quantum interpretations. While physicists know exactly how to apply the rules of quantum mechanics to build things like lasers and computers, they don't agree on what the equations mean in a philosophical sense. They don't know how to interpret them.
This is where Buddhism comes in. There is one interpretation of quantum mechanics that seems to mesh well with the philosophical perspectives of Buddhism. Capra and others noted that the so-called Copenhagen interpretation, developed by many of the founders of atomic science, saw quantum mechanics as giving us something different than an objective picture of atoms as little balls existing in-and-of-themselves. Instead, quantum mechanics demonstrates a kind of entangling of the observer and the observed. For Copenhagenists, quantum mechanics is epistemic rather than ontological. It's about uncovering knowledge of how the world works rather than attempting to determine a "correct" perspective. In other words, the Copenhagen interpretation posits that there is no perfectly objective God's Eye view of the universe.
Buddhism, or at least the version of it known well in the West, also has an epistemic focus and eschews the idea of a completely objective perspective on experience. For many Buddhist philosophers, the world and our experience of it are inseparable (at least as far as descriptions and explanations go). There are no essential, timeless properties, and everything arises interdependently.
Why Quantum Buddhism doesn't work
What then is the problem with linking quantum mechanics and this Buddhist view? The trouble is not the with Buddhist side of things. Buddhism has existed for a few millennia and has done just fine on its own. You can choose to engage with it as a philosophy or as a practice if it suits you. If not, that's fine too. But it certainly doesn't need physics for support.
Buddhist monk Barry Kerzin participating in meditation research. Credit: Antoine Lutz - Barry Kerzin via Wikipedia / Public Domain
Instead, the problem is with singling out the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and claiming, "That's what physics says." There's a long menu of possible interpretations of quantum mechanics: the many worlds interpretation, the pilot wave theory, objective-collapse theory, relational quantum mechanics, and (my current favorite) quantum Bayesianism. Some of these would not find any commonality with Buddhist philosophy. In fact, proponents of some of these other interpretations would be justifiably hostile to Buddhist claims about the relationship between knowledge and the world. Most importantly, until there's an experimental means to distinguish between the interpretations, no one really knows which is correct.
So, the fundamental mistake of Quantum Buddhism is bias. Its advocates privileged one interpretation of quantum mechanics over all the others because they liked. And they liked it because they liked Buddhism. I like Buddhism too (I've been staring at a damn wall for 30 years), but that doesn't mean I think quantum mechanics "shows" it to be true.
A dialogue between Buddhism and physics
Can there be a relationship, a dialogue, between Buddhism and physics? Absolutely, and this is where I think there are new roads opening up. Physics, whether we're aware of it or not, is saturated with ideas, concepts, and attitudes inherited from the philosophical traditions that began with the Greeks. These were then mixed with the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and then were shaped by the Renaissance. This long philosophical tradition in physics constitutes an ongoing dialogue about the nature of cause and effect, identity and change, and time and space. When physicists working at the foundations of their fields try to imagine new paths, they naturally draw from this tradition be it consciously or unconsciously.
What the classical philosophies of India and Asia (a much better term than "Eastern Philosophy") offer is a new partnership in discussion. The millennia of philosophical discussions occurring in the Buddhist milieu asked questions similar to those occurring in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Europe. But the Buddhist conversation had a very different set of concerns and foci. In this way, an engagement between physics and Buddhist perspectives can, perhaps, offer a larger set of ideas and perspectives to consider when thinking about foundational issues in physics.
This kind of dialogue is something I get really excited about because it's not a matter of bringing the two together to "prove one is true," but instead, it's about enlarging the sandbox of possibilities in thinking about the world and our place in it. Next spring I'll be participating in a conference in Berkeley called Buddhism, Physics, and Philosophy Redux on exactly this kind of overlap. Hosted by the wonderful scholar of Buddhism Robert Scharf, it promises to be Big Fun!
The mummy was first thought to be a male priest. But a recent radiological analysis revealed a surprising anomaly.
- The woman was likely from a noble background, buried around 100 BC in the royal tombs of Thebes, Upper Egypt.
- The researchers said it's curious that she was buried with the fetus inside her, considering organs were typically removed and embalmed before burial.
- The peculiar burial may suggest that ancient Egyptians believed unborn babies possessed spirits.
Since the 1920s, researchers in Poland were under the impression that an ancient Egyptian mummy they were housing was a male priest named Hor-Djehuty. But a recent radiological analysis revealed an anomaly near the pelvis of the entombed: a tiny foot.
The discovery, reported by researchers with the Warsaw Mummy Project, marks the first-known case of a pregnant mummy. The woman was likely buried around 100 BC in the royal tombs of Thebes, Upper Egypt, according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences.
"She came from the elite of Theban community and was carefully mummified, wrapped in fabrics, and equipped with a rich set of amulets," the study states. "Closer examination has revealed that the woman died between 20 and 30 years of age together with the fetus in age between the 26th and 30th week of the pregnancy."
The Warsaw Mummy Project has named the entombed "the mysterious lady of the National Museum in Warsaw," where she is housed.
It's not the first time this mummy has puzzled researchers. When it was donated to the University of Warsaw in 1826, the staff thought it was female, possibly because of the elaborate decorations on its sarcophagus. But after translating an Egyptian text on the sarcophagus, it seemed the mummy was Hor-Djehuty:
"Scribe, priest of Horus-Thoth worshiped as a visiting deity in the Mount of Djeme, royal governor of the town of Petmiten, Hor-Djehuty, justified by voice, son of Padiamonemipet and lady of a house Tanetmin," the translation read.
But computer tomography conducted in 2016 suggested the mummy might be female, revealing a delicate bone structure, long hair, and mummified breasts.
How did a pregnant mummy end up in the sarcophagus meant for a male priest? The researchers weren't quite sure. It could have been a mistake. Or it's possible that grave robbers or antiquities dealers swapped the mummies to increase its resale value, a common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In any case, the main mystery centers on the fetus.
"This whole discovery brought our attention to the question of why it was not removed," Wojtek Ejsmond, a co-founder of the Warsaw Mummy Project, told CNN. "We don't know why it was left there. Maybe there was a religious reason. Maybe they thought the unborn child didn't have a soul or that it would be safer in the next world. Or maybe it was because it was very difficult to remove a child at that stage from the womb without causing serious damage."
That the fetus wasn't extracted is especially curious considering that several of the woman's organs seem to have been removed, embalmed, and reinserted into the body, per the common mummification practices of Ancient Egypt. Could it be that the Egyptians believed the unborn baby had a soul?
It's unclear. The Egyptians had strong and complex beliefs about the afterlife. While these beliefs changed over the millennia, Egyptians generally believed that the physical body — called khet — needed to be preserved in order for the spirit (and its various parts) to journey into the underworld and, perhaps, beyond.
Given this belief system, it's understandable why the Egyptians developed such elaborate funeral and mummification rites, which often took 70 days. Of course, this process was time-consuming and expensive, usually reserved for those of royal or noble background. Common people were typically buried in the desert, wrapped in cloth and surrounded by a handful of everyday objects.
The researchers at the Warsaw Mummy Project hope their discovery will shed light on how the Egyptians conceptualized the souls of unborn children and that further interdisciplinary research can establish a cause of death for the mysterious lady of the National Museum in Warsaw.
Regularities, which we associate with laws of nature, require an explanation.
- The nomological argument for the existence of God comes from the Greek nomos or "law," because it's based on the laws of nature.
- There are pragmatic, aesthetic, and moral reasons for regularities to exist in nature.
- The best explanation may be the existence of a personal God rather than mindless laws or chance.
Here's a new version of an old argument for the existence of God. It's called the "nomological argument," after the Greek nomos or "law," because it's based on laws of nature.
Suppose that you receive five consecutive royal flushes in a game of poker. What explains this? You could have received them by chance, but that seems unlikely. A better explanation is that someone has arranged the decks in your favor.
Similarly, we can ask for an explanation of why nature is full of regularities, such as that planets have elliptical orbits and that oppositely charged particles attract. As with your sequence of hands, these regularities could be the result of chance, but that seems unlikely. A better explanation is that something is responsible for them. But what?
To clarify, we're not asking why we have the specific regularities that we do in fact have. Thus, we're not asking why the laws of nature appear to be fine-tuned to support life: for example, that gravity is the correct strength to permit the formation of stars. We think that's an interesting question but not our present topic. (See our "Further Reading" section below if you want to learn more.) Similarly, we're not talking about "intelligent design"; we're not asking why well-adapted species exist today. We think that can be adequately explained by citing regularities of natural selection and genetics. Our question is more general: Why are there any regularities at all, as opposed to irregularities?
Regularities: The nomological argument for the existence of God
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
According to the nomological argument, the best explanation of regularities involves a supernatural personal being, God. It's not necessary for God to have all the attributes of a theistic or Biblical god — namely, omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection — but only that God is an intelligent being with the power to control whether nature exhibits regularities. In other words, this argument holds that regularities in nature are analogous to your winning poker hands.
To begin, why does the best explanation of your sequence of royal flushes involve a person? Well, we can think of pragmatic, aesthetic, and even moral reasons why a person might want to impose order on decks of cards. A pragmatic reason is about self-interest: someone might impose order on the deck of cards because they want you to win some money. An aesthetic reason is about elegance or beauty: royal flushes might just look nice. And maybe a moral reason could be that you deserve to win.
Similarly, we can think of pragmatic, aesthetic, and even moral reasons why God might want to impose regularities on nature: notably, most of the valuable things we know of (such as happiness, love, rationality, knowledge, or meaningfully free choices) cannot be realized in worlds without regularities. And since God is a person, we have reason to think that God might have moral and aesthetic preferences. Indeed, this would be so even if God were evil or had poor taste, since almost any moral and aesthetic states of affairs require some degree of regularity. As a result, if you knew that a personal being was about to create a world, you wouldn't be unreasonable in anticipating regularities, even if you knew nothing else about that being.
Objections and further development
At this point, someone might object as follows: Do we really need to invoke God? Doesn't Occam's Razor say we should prefer a simpler explanation or not posit this extra, unnecessary thing? Well, positing God doesn't really commit us to much more than other explanations of regularity would; they too would posit additional entities.
For example, suppose we try to posit laws of nature to explain regularities instead of God. We all have some idea of what a law of nature is supposed to be: Newton's laws of motion, the law that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, or the ideal gas laws. Scientists posit laws such as these to explain things all the time. However, scientists typically assume that there are regularities, and they try to determine which ones are the most significant, important, or fundamental. When they've found one, they call it a "law of nature." In their role as scientists, they don't try to explain why there are fundamental laws of nature in the first place. So if we want to explain why there are regularities as opposed to irregularities — indeed, if we want to explain why science is possible at all — we have to do some philosophy. If we were going to explain regularities by positing laws, we'd first have to say what a law is.
This appeal to God has some important explanatory virtues and that, as a result, it deserves serious consideration as an explanation of why there are regularities.
There are philosophical accounts of laws that do not involve God, but those that attempt to explain regularities all do so by positing extra entities, too. These involve exotic things such as Platonic universals, Aristotelian natural kind essences, or other sorts of primitive necessities. As far as Occam's Razor is concerned, that's no better than positing God.
Moreover, these competing theories face a different problem. Positing mindless laws of nature with no ultimate explanation just seems to push the problem back. Now we have yet another interesting phenomenon to explain. Why did the laws that just randomly happened to exist generate regularities, which are only a relatively tiny portion of the possible set of events? To return to our analogy, it wouldn't be satisfying to say that you got five royal flushes in a row because some mindless law just happened to guarantee that result. (Why wasn't there a different law, one that generated any one of the octillions of other possible sequences instead? Just a huge coincidence?) In any case, we say a lot more in our journal article about why other explanations, such as alternative philosophical accounts of the nature of laws, don't do a great job of explaining regularities.
One might worry that positing God pushes the problem back in exactly the same way: What explains the existence of God? Well, everyone has to posit something, and we can always ask for an explanation of those things. Because positing God is relatively modest, we think it's more or less on the same footing as positing anything else — maybe no philosophical theory can really explain its fundamental entities. However, positing God answers a difficult question that other accounts don't: namely, why are there regularities as opposed to irregularities? To posit nothing, or pure, random chance, is modest but doesn't do a good job of explaining: random chance doesn't explain the five royal flushes. To posit some mindless explanation that just happened, coincidentally, to give us something as complex and consistent as a regularity does a good job of explaining but isn't really modest: your poker opponent would be very skeptical if you posited something as complex and coincidental as that as an explanation of your five royal flushes. (For those familiar with Bayesian reasoning, we're arguing that "God" strikes the best balance between prior probability of the explanation and likelihood of the phenomenon to be explained.) As a result, it doesn't merely push back the specific problem that concerns us.
Another objection might be that we've just posited a "God of the gaps" — simply positing God ad hoc when there's some gap in our knowledge. However, we haven't argued, "We don't know why laws of nature exist, and therefore, God did it." Instead, we've argued as follows: We know why God would create regularities, but we don't know why random chance or some mindless law would. And recall, the version of God we've described — simply a person with the power to control whether there are regularities — is relatively modest. Therefore, God provides a pretty good explanation of these regularities.
We'll mention one last objection. Proponents of a multiverse might say that regularity isn't surprising, because the probability that at least one universe exhibits regularity is high. Some proponents of a multiverse are motivated by scientific considerations. However, since the relevant scientific theories (inflation, string theory, many-worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics) posit underlying regularities that generate and maintain the multiverse, we can simply ask what explains those regularities. Other proponents of a multiverse are motivated by philosophical considerations — for example, that we should posit a plurality of possible worlds to make sense of our concepts of possibility and necessity. This might be a good reason to posit possible worlds, but it doesn't really explain regularities in our world. After all, you wouldn't find your sequence of royal flushes any less surprising upon learning that poker is a very popular game.
Philosophy is hard
One last disclaimer: Philosophy can be really hard. We don't claim to provide a proof, or even an especially strong argument, for the existence of God. Instead, we merely claim that this appeal to God has some important explanatory virtues and that, as a result, it deserves serious consideration as an explanation of why there are regularities.
Though modest, this conclusion is noteworthy. As we alluded to above, scientific practice requires regularities. By providing a philosophical explanation of regularities, we are trying to explain why science is possible in the first place. Relatedly, many Early Modern philosophers thought that scientific investigation of the natural world allowed us insight into the mind of God. If God's relation to the laws of nature might be as we've suggested, theists should have a very positive attitude towards the sciences. Likewise, those who prefer naturalistic or atheistic accounts should at least be open-minded about the relationship between science and religion. This is not a new lesson, but it provides a further illustration of the fact that, while there may be no role for God or other supernatural entities in scientific explanations, this does not mean that science itself is necessarily at odds with religious belief.
Suggestions for further reading
The journal article on which this essay is based is:
Tyler Hildebrand and Thomas Metcalf, "The Nomological Argument for the Existence of God." Noûs. DOI 10.1111/nous.12364 (available on EarlyView)
For a book length defense of a divine explanation of regularities, see:
John Foster, The Divine Lawmaker. Oxford University Press, 2004
For an introduction to the metaphysics of laws of nature, see:
Tyler Hildebrand, "Non-Humean Theories of Natural Necessity." Philosophy Compass 15, 2020
For more on multiverse-style objections to design arguments, see:
Thomas Metcalf, "On Friederich's New Fine-Tuning Argument," Foundations of Physics 51, 2021
Thomas Metcalf, "Fine-Tuning the Multiverse," Faith and Philosophy 35, 2018
For readers interested in the role of God philosophical accounts of laws in the Early Modern period, see:
Ott & Patton's Laws of Nature (Oxford University Press, 2018)
Ott's Causation and Laws of Nature in Early Modern Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2009)
For introductory essays aimed at relative beginners, see:
Thomas Metcalf, "Design Arguments for the Existence of God," in 1000-Word Philosophy: https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2018/02/28/design-a...
Thomas Metcalf, "Philosophy and its Contrast with Science," in 1000-Word Philosophy: https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2018/02/13/philosop...
Michael Zerella, "Laws of Nature," in 1000-Word Philosophy: https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2014/02/17/laws-of-...