What people normally refer to as “the laws of nature,” do not exist. Whereas in a previous post I focused upon the problem of demonstrating the existence of gravity due to induction, for this post I want to show how the laws of nature are not explanations of reality, but are mere descriptions of events that we commonly perceive.
It does not matter what the particular label may be. Whether we are talking about gravity, principles of magnetism, or the law of refraction, none of these laws actually exist, and even if they did exist, we could never prove that they exist. The only thing these labels do is impose a description upon phenomena; they do not actually explain anything.
Suppose a child asks why a book fell to the ground. You respond confidently that the reason that the book fell to the ground is because of gravity. But what is gravity? You answer again, telling the child that gravity is an attractive force between objects which causes all objects to move closer to one another over time. Therefore, the book fell to the ground because of gravity, and gravity is an invisible force or principle of attraction between all objects in the universe.
Look at the above reasoning closely. The answer to the child’s question degenerates into saying that the book fell to the ground because objects on Earth contain a quality of falling to the ground. This is meaningless. Imagine if I tried to use this type of reasoning as an explanation for anything else. The reason the the eyes see is because they contain a quality of sight. Fish breathe underwater because they contain a quality of breathing underwater. Fire is hot because it contains a quality of being hot. None of these serve as real explanations; they only tell us what happens, but not why they happen. Consider Gordon Clark’s comments on this point:
“Why does a stone fall? What makes it fall? The usual answer is, the law of gravitation. This law as applied to freely falling bodies is that the body falls with an acceleration of thirty-two feet per second per second. Now, to substitute the law itself for its name, the question, Why does a stone fall? is answered by saying that it falls because it falls thirty-two feet per second per second. But how does a statement of the rate of the fall explain what makes the stone drop in the first place?…Does it not become clear upon reflection that the law of gravitation is not an explanation?” (Clark 36).
As Clark indicates, these labels that we attach to phenomena such as gravity, magnetism, refraction or whatever else it may be, are only labels of phenomena. These labels serve as descriptions, not as explanation.
Let’s also look at magnetism. All objects with the same charge repel one another. Why is this the case? Because the laws of magnetism dictate that objects with opposite charges attract and ones with the same charge repel. As with gravity, we have not given an explanation about how this process works by labeling the phenomenon as “magnetism.” We have only described the event in different terms. All scientific laws are worthless interpretations of the nature of reality.
These examples highlight the issues involving the proper role of science. Science – if we grant it the stipulative definition of the process of developing conclusions based upon observations of laboratory experiments – must be understood in terms of a preconceived framework. Therefore, a philosophy of science is necessary in order to determine science’s scope, its worth, and its application. Unfortunately, a naive philosophy of science grips the minds of the majority of western civilization.
The problem with our common, cultural understanding of the role of science is that science is the tool through which humanity will be able to properly interpret reality, as Karl Pearson said, “The goal of science is clear – it is nothing short of the complete interpretation of the universe” (Clark 53). This is why so many still speak of science in such dogmatic and authoritative terms, without having any concept of its definition or proper function. For example, Pearson was too stupid to realize that science is unable to interpret his own statement: that science is the complete interpretation of reality. Since this statement itself is non scientific, Pearson’s statement cannot possibly be a true interpretation of reality.
Science cannot ever be an axiomatic principle of the interpretation of reality, since science itself is subordinate to the framework imposed upon it by the individual scientist. To give an oversimplified example, scientists may sometimes choose to present their data in terms of the data’s average, median, or mode. It is possible for the very presentation of the data to be based upon personal preference, and by implication, scientists’ conclusions drawn from this data may be a reflection of their biases. In reference to issues of geocentrism and heliocentrism, Fieser and Lillegard observe:
“How we observe the world ultimately rests on the theoretical presuppositions that we make. We learn little about reality by simply observing flickering stars and planets across the sky. Knowledge of the heavens is only attained when we interpret our observations from within the context of some theory…Whether our presuppositions are good or bad, they are nevertheless assumptions…” (Fieser 286).
Generally speaking, there is nothing indubitable about the conclusions of these scientists. We must understand their conclusions in light of the preexisting framework that shapes their interpretations of the data in the first place. This framework belongs to the realm of philosophy.
Pearson’s assertion above seems to resemble logical positivism. Logical positivism is an anti-metaphysical, philosophical position which states that statements are only meaningful if they can be scientifically or logically verifiable. The only problem is that logical positivism is itself a metaphysical position that is not scientifically or logically verifiable. While positivists exhort other people to abandon metaphysics, they hypocritically exhort you to accept their anti-metaphysical metaphysic. By mixing distinct categories of thought, positivism reduces itself to absurdity. Oblivious to the fact that they are making philosophical claims concerning the nature and application of science, they deceive themselves into thinking that they are being scientific, truthful, and eliminating superstition, when in reality they are being irrational. Similar to the irrationality of Pearson, Etienne Gilson quotes Sir James Jeans:
“Before the philosophers have a right to speak, science ought first to be asked to tell all she can as to ascertain facts and provisional hypotheses. Then, and then only, may discussion legitimately pass into the realm of philosophy” (Gilson 121).
This statement is itself philosophical. Jeans wanted to exclude the comments of the philosophers in order to establish the supremacy of science, but in doing so he had to make philosophical claims. Words like “ought” and “legitimately” are likewise non scientific, and belong to the realm of philosophy. Asserting that science has the capacity to ascertain facts is to make assumptions about the nature of truth and our ability to know the truth, which belong to metaphysics and epistemology. If Jeans’ assertion is true, then it is false, since science says nothing about people’s rights, what is legitimate, what ought to be, the nature of truth, and the nature of our knowledge of the truth. Jeans’ statement is the exact opposite of what is the case. In order to examine the purpose of science, it is necessary to establish a philosophy of science which establishes a preconceived framework through which we may create scientific experiments and interpret scientific data. Only after this philosophical framework is defined may discussion legitimately pass into the realm of science. Gilson comments on this confused mixing of scientific and philosophical categories:
“mistaking existential, that is, metaphysical, questions for scientific ones, they ask science to answer them. Naturally, they get no answers” (Gilson 123).
Confused individuals like Pearson and Jeans concluded that since metaphysical questions cannot be answered scientifically, they are therefore meaningless. However, they are inconsistent. The question of whether or not science ought to be placed as the criterion of truth cannot be scientifically verified either, so there exists no system of thought which is able to place science as the criterion of truth, since any attempt to do so reveals its self-contradiction. If they were consistent, then they would have abandoned their irrational claims. Instead, they, and all of popular western culture, preferred to remain inconsistent, and propose scientific answers for metaphysical questions, and were satisfied to force metaphysical language upon scientific observations.
When they impose metaphysical language upon their scientific observations, they conclude that they have discovered a law, and pretend that these conclusions are observable, indubitable, and verifiable. Let alone that science cannot truly verify anything, since it commits the formal fallacy of affirming the consequent, science is never able to answer metaphysical questions. “Why do objects fall to the ground?” is an irrelevant question within science, along with all other questions of causation and existence:
“Scientists never ask themselves why things happen, but how they happen. Now as soon as you substitute the positivist’s notions of relation for the metaphysical notion of cause, you at once lose all right to wonder why thing are, and why they are what they are” (Gilson 112).
All we can examine within the scope of science is how things appear to operate. We can roughly calculate the rate at which things fall. We may observe how many colors come as a result of refraction. We can measure the amount of a magnetic charge of an object and how this object reacts to other objects surrounding it. However, we can never know their metaphysical cause – the reason why objects act in these ways – through scientific means. As Clark has elsewhere observed, science cannot even give an explanation to the problem of motion.
Autonomous laws of nature don’t exist and are non scientific. There exists no underlying, orderly arrangement or causal force called “gravity” existing in distinction from “magnetism” existing in distinction from “refraction.” It is ironic that so many materialists believe in the existence of the laws of nature, since laws of nature are not themselves nature. By definition, laws of nature are the underlying causal principle dictating the behavior of material objects. Obviously these laws cannot be the material objects themselves. As a result, materialists are forced to give up the notion of “law,” since laws are not material. If indeed they give up the notion of autonomous laws, and if they resign themselves to materialism alone, then this seems to imply that the universe is not rationally intelligible to us, since we cannot derive any of its orderly principles through scientific means, and neither can orderly principles exist in a world of true materialism. This in turn ought to be enough to plunge the materialist into skepticism. Since autonomous orderly principles run contrary to the philosophical position of materialism, all materialists who attempt to impose intelligibility upon the world do so out of habit and preference, not out of any rational justification. To escape this skepticism, a true metaphysic must be be offered which is able to not merely describe, but explain the metaphysical cause and underlying orderly principles of phenomena.
This true metaphysic is found in God’s revelation, which is the 66 books of the Bible. Revelation is necessary in order to end speculation about the metaphysical nature of things. The Bible teaches that the causal principle and orderly arrangement of all things in creation is God, since scripture calls Jesus Christ the logos, the rationality, the word, or the logic of God (John 1:1), and in Christ “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). The metaphysical explanation for why objects move is God, “for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28). The metaphysical explanation for all things is God, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). Scripture teaches that whatever the event may be, God is the one who plans it and causes it:
“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7)
“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38)
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11)
For the verse in Isaiah, two opposites are contrasted in order to explain that no matter what the event may be, God is the one who does it all. Lamentations explains that all things come by the command of God. Ephesians explains that God not only predestines his elect to salvation, but also that God works all things, meaning that he determines and controls all things according to his own will. Many other verses may be cited which teach God’s specific control over nations, over the weather, over animals, over people, and over crops, but the three verses above are enough to demonstrate that God is the sole metaphysical cause of everything. No matter what the event may be, it is God who does it.
The Bible teaches theistic determinism. The type of theistic determinism that the Bible teaches most resembles occasionalism. Occasionalism is the doctrine which states that upon any given occasion, or event, God is the direct metaphysical cause of it. Glass does not break when dropped to the ground because of some inherent force or quality between the ground and the glass, but because God directly causes it to break on the occasion that it hits the ground. The glass does not fall because of some autonomous law of gravity, but because God directly causes it to fall to the ground. I have no inherent causal power to type this blog, but rather God directly causes my fingers to move, God causes the keys go down on the occasion that my fingers touch them, and the words appear on the screen all according to God’s direct control, as Cheung comments:
“Calvin wrote, ‘Indeed, not even an abundance of bread would benefit us in the slightest unless it were divinely turned into nourishment.’ This sounds like my occasionalism. There is no inherent ‘nature’ or power in bread that always works with the body to provide nourishment, but it must be ‘divinely turned into nourishment’ each time it is consumed” (Cheung 14).
The above quotation becomes obvious in light of Biblical passages such as Exodus 24:18, 34:27-28, and 1 Kings 19:4-8. God has the power to directly sustain people without food and water, but it is through the means of eating and drinking that God nourishes our bodies. God often uses means to accomplish his ends, but as in the case of Moses and Elijah, rather than using regular food and water, God directly sustained them for forty days without either. God uses these means, but he never has to.
This is why Christians ought not believe in the laws of nature. Not only is it the case that science is formally fallacious and that there no scientific justification for the laws of nature, but positing the existence of autonomous causal principles contradicts scripture, since scripture teaches that God is the sole metaphysical causal principle of all things. Since the Bible is God’s word, since God only speaks truth, and since God’s word is true, scripture alone gives us the proper interpretation of reality. The true interpretation of reality rejects the existence of laws operating without reference to God. If one objects and says that laws of nature do exist, it is just God who controls the laws of nature, this would be self-contradictory and useless, since laws of nature are often considered as being free from God, and saying that God controls these laws of nature is to affirm that God directly controls all things anyway. There is no middle position for the Christian. Our options involve either skepticism (another word for disbelief), some form of deism where God passively allows creation to operate according to autonomous laws, or the scriptural position which states that God directly controls all things.
Since scripture denies the existence of autonomous laws of nature, people throughout the centuries confuse themselves when attempting to discover the relation between God and these laws. Unbelievers often object that God has to break the laws of nature in order to perform miracles. Rather than correcting the unbeliever by saying that God is the cause of these orderly events in the first place, many professing Christians attempt to reconcile their understanding of God to this unbiblical concept of the autonomous laws of nature. When they do so, they speak of God as intervening when he performs miracles. This is misleading language, since the word intervene assumes that God moves from a passive state to an active state concerning his creation. In opposition to this, the Bible teaches that God is never passive, but actively controls all things through his providence. Nevertheless, in spite of the Biblical doctrine of God’s providence, even professing Christians often regard God as passive, allowing creation to operate according to principles external to him.
By attempting to discover the relation between God and these non existent laws, the doctrine of God’s providence began to be disregarded, eventually resulting in the exclusion of God in the minds of scientists and philosophers, which in turn lead to deism, and ultimately atheism. This process began with the advent of the modern philosophy of René Descartes. Modern philosophy began with the fundamental idea that reality can be interpreted in terms of mathematical, mechanistic relationships:
“All natural phenomena…can be explained in terms of the arrangement and motion (or rest) of minute, insensible particles of matter (corpuscles), each of which is characterized exclusively by certain fundamental and irreducible properties, – size, shape, and impenetrability” (Moriarty x-xi).
The basis of knowledge revolved more and more around this mechanistic conception of the universe. Philosophers and scientists began to regard nature as being strictly governed by mathematical law, resulting in a type of naturalistic determinism, where humans and animal bodies are regarded as machines. As Russell Shorto observes in his book Descartes’ Bones, Descartes’ main purpose for his mechanistic hypothesis was to form a philosophy through which a successful medical practice could be formulated, and is quoted as saying, “The preservation of health has always been the principal end of my studies.”
For 1,500 years the ancient philosopher Galen had dominated western medicine. His medical theories involved bodily humors, astrology, and general superstition. Descartes wanted to end Europe’s reliance upon Galen’s outdated, primitive theories by advancing a philosophy which would rid physicians of the need to practice astrology, to consider supposed microcosms between the human body and the stars, and so on. By thinking of the human body in terms of a machine, Descartes desired to revolutionize medicine. Mechanistic and mathematical necessity became the new model of the human body in opposition to the organic, teleological model of the Aristotelians. With this new mechanistic model, Descartes theorized that cures for disease would be found that would heal people by necessity, just as a machine like a watch is repaired through repairing its gears and cogs. This eliminates the need to consult the stars and the rest, since these cures operate according to necessary laws, laws that exist autonomously without reference to the stars, spirits, or God.
Since Descartes wanted the human body to operate according to necessary mechanistic laws and for people to simultaneously possess a free will, he suggested that the human individual is not a unity of body and soul, but a composite of body and soul. The result is Cartesian Dualism. This dualism states that the body and soul are completely separate substances, an idea unheard of before Descartes. This idea was so revolutionary that a fistfight broke out at the University of Utrecht when Henricus Regius had one of his students defend Descartes’ thesis. Clearly, Cartesian Dualism “was perceived by contemporaries, not as reassuring or uplifting, but as downright strange” (Moriarty xxxviii). This dualism renders the human soul/mind free from the mechanistic necessity of material things, but poses the problem as to how the soul interacts with the body.
Descartes, in pursuit of his medical goals, established a philosophy of the world which states that all things are governed by necessary, mechanistic laws, and that the human soul exists as a completely separate substance in spite of these laws. Philosophers and theologians like Gisbertus Voetius correctly observed that Cartesian Dualism, and Descartes’ model of the world as being governed by strict mechanistic, mathematical laws, could lead to atheism. If the whole world is conceived of as a mechanistic machine, it takes little effort to move beyond Cartesian Dualism towards the outright denial of the existence of the soul and the existence of God. This is exactly what Thomas Hobbes did. If the world can be understood in terms of this mechanism, then we have no need of the soul or God; we can conceive of the world as material alone. As a result, God and the soul slowly began to be regarded as the vestiges of a primitive era. The existence of God was no longer necessary to explain the events in the world, and so deism came into vogue among European intellectuals around the time of the Enlightenment, eventually giving way to atheism.
Beginning with the advent of modern philosophy and the scientific revolution, explanations of the universe began to exclude metaphysics and God. God began to be seen as a passive spectator of a self-sufficient world:
“God is no longer an active participant in the daily functioning of the universe…He is now a passive spectator to the physical events that he set in motion. The phrase ‘God of the gaps’ is sometimes used to describe the tendency of the scientific revolution to look for divine activity in those areas that science cannot fully explain. As science filled in the knowledge gaps during the scientific revolution, the role for divine activity lessened” (Fieser 295).
Scientific laws such as gravity, magnetism, and refraction, became to be seen as explanations of natural phenomena. Since people think that science is able to explain things, many feel that God is a superfluous and unnecessary concept. However, as I have already demonstrated, these so-called laws do not explain anything. They merely describe events:
“Does science explain anything?…Surely we want to know more than the path of the planets and the acceleration of a freely falling body. Facts such as these are interesting and important. But a statement of fact is not an explanation: It is the very things the needs to be explained. Viewed in this light, science explains nothing” (Clark 36).
By confusing statements about the world with metaphysical causes, atheists and professing Christians alike have fallaciously excluded God from his own creation. There is no rational or scientific justification for autonomous laws of nature. The existence of these laws of nature are nothing more than the assumptions of people who possess a false metaphysical position. Laws of nature do not explain why anything exists or why it exists in such and such a manner. In order to explain these things, philosophy and correct metaphysics is necessary. This correct philosophy is found in the form of theological doctrines derived from the Bible. Only with a consistent application of God’s revelation can we define the application and boundaries of science, explain why things exist and why they exist in the manner that they do, and maintain correct categories in our thought. The laws of nature do not exist; God and his providence exist.
Clark, Gordon H. The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. 3rd ed. N.p.:
Trinity Foundation, 1996. Print.
Frieser, James, and Norman Lillegard. A Historical Introduction to Philosophy.
New York: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.
Gilson, Etienne. God and Philosophy. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University, 2002.
Moriarty, Michael, trans. Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from
the Objections and Replies. Oxford: Oxford University, 2008. Print.