Join TSR now to have your say on this topicSign up now

Atheism and the Laws of Nature

    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    I saw this really cool quote on this site, how compatible are the laws of nature as explanations with atheism?;

    "The orthodox view of the nature of the laws of physics contains a long list of tacitly assumed properties. The laws are regarded, for example, as immutable, eternal, infinitely precise mathematical relationships that transcend the physical universe, and were imprinted on it at the moment of its birth from “outside,” like a maker’s mark, and have remained unchanging ever since… In addition, it is assumed that the physical world is affected by the laws, but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe… It is not hard to discover where this picture of physical laws comes from: it is inherited directly from monotheism, which asserts that a rational being designed the universe according to a set of perfect laws. And the asymmetry between immutable laws and contingent states mirrors the asymmetry between God and nature: the universe depends utterly on God for its existence, whereas God’s existence does not depend on the universe…

    Clearly, then, the orthodox concept of laws of physics derives directly from theology. It is remarkable that this view has remained largely unchallenged after 300 years of secular science. Indeed, the “theological model” of the laws of physics is so ingrained in scientific thinking that it is taken for granted. The hidden assumptions behind the concept of physical laws, and their theological provenance, are simply ignored by almost all except historians of science and theologians. From the scientific standpoint, however, this uncritical acceptance of the theological model of laws leaves a lot to be desired".
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    Reminds me of a very similar point a Thomistic author made;

    "First, when some scientists confidently proclaim that we can explain such-and-such in terms of the laws of physics rather than God, what they are saying, without realizing it, is: “The explanation isn’t God, it’s rather the laws of physics, where ‘law of physics’ originally meant ‘a decree of God’ and where I don’t have any worked-out alternative account of what it means.” Hence the “alternative” explanation, when unpacked, is really either a tacit appeal to God or a non-explanation. In short, either it isn’t alternative, or it’s not an explanation."

    Posted from TSR Mobile
    Offline

    3
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Whitewell)
    X
    This is is completely false though, in particular this step:

    It is not hard to discover where this picture of physical laws comes from: it is inherited directly from monotheism, which asserts that a rational being designed the universe according to a set of perfect laws.
    This picture of physical laws doesn't come from monotheism, or any theistic or atheistic belief. It is a hypothesis that does an excellent job of describing the physical universe and has stood up well to evidence, the hallmark of a good scientific theory. None of this has anything to do with theology - this "link" is something that somebody seems to have just made up because it sounds convenient.
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Plagioclase)
    This is is completely false though, in particular this step:



    This picture of physical laws doesn't come from monotheism, or any theistic or atheistic belief. It is a hypothesis that does an excellent job of describing the physical universe and has stood up well to evidence, the hallmark of a good scientific theory. None of this has anything to do with theology - this "link" is something that somebody seems to have just made up because it sounds convenient.
    You've misunderstood (probably because I yanked the quote out of context).

    When Paul Davies says that the laws of nature come from monotheism, he is just describing the history of modern scientific thought, specifically its birth, where Aristotelian metaphysics were rejected by Descartes and the rest, replaced with the idea of a Law of nature which was extrinsic and upheld by God. This is simply historical fact as to how the change in methodology happened, the idea is couched in theological terms.

    The actual success of the laws within science arent whats being addressed here.

    Posted from TSR Mobile
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Whitewell)
    You've misunderstood (probably because I yanked the quote out of context).

    When Paul Davies says that the laws of nature come from monotheism, he is just describing the history of modern scientific thought, specifically its birth, where Aristotelian metaphysics were rejected by Descartes and the rest, replaced with the idea of a Law of nature which was extrinsic and upheld by God. This is simply historical fact as to how the change in methodology happened, the idea is couched in theological terms.

    The actual success of the laws within science arent whats being addressed here.

    Posted from TSR Mobile
    We don't assume the laws of nature to be unchanging and immutable because that's what we've seen religious people doing with their moral reasoning, we assume them to be that way because that's the way we've empirically observed the universe acting.

    You may not want to address the actual success of the laws within science, but their absolute, unchanging success is the reason we consider them to be absolute and unchanging. It's that simple.
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by anosmianAcrimony)
    We don't assume the laws of nature to be unchanging and immutable because that's what we've seen religious people doing with their moral reasoning, we assume them to be that way because that's the way we've empirically observed the universe acting.

    You may not want to address the actual success of the laws within science, but their absolute, unchanging success is the reason we consider them to be absolute and unchanging. It's that simple.
    Davies draws attention to the fact that the laws of nature underlying phenomena are not found through direct observation, but extracted through experiment and mathematical theory - they are abstractions.

    Do not put words into my mouth, i said the success of the laws does not mean anything either way as to what the laws actually are, how they are explanations, whether they are descriptive or prescriptive (and how in the world atheism could even account for the latter in principle). Im not addressing the success of the laws (let alone doubting) because its irrelevant to my point.



    Posted from TSR Mobile
    Offline

    3
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Whitewell)
    You've misunderstood (probably because I yanked the quote out of context).

    When Paul Davies says that the laws of nature come from monotheism, he is just describing the history of modern scientific thought, specifically its birth, where Aristotelian metaphysics were rejected by Descartes and the rest, replaced with the idea of a Law of nature which was extrinsic and upheld by God. This is simply historical fact as to how the change in methodology happened, the idea is couched in theological terms.

    The actual success of the laws within science arent whats being addressed here.

    Posted from TSR Mobile
    If you're simply stating the the idea of universal laws came from theology (which is a pretty meaningless statement because as far as scientific integrity is concerned, it is arbitrary where a scientist gets their inspiration for a hypothesis from as long as the hypothesis stands up to scientific rigour), why would you be asking if it's incompatible with atheism? There is nothing here which in any way contests the conviction that there is no God.
    Offline

    3
    ReputationRep:
    Your quote reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific undertaking.

    Natural laws are regarded as "true" because they have been tested by observation. However, they are not regarded as immutable, eternal, etc. because they remain theories and can be disproven or refined. Einstein's theory of relativity improved upon Newton's laws of motion. The discovery of radiation in the late 19C forced us to refine our understanding of nature, in this case going beyond chemical energy and into the structure of the atom. In each case, we learned more and there appears to be room for revolutionary revelations some day, i.e. we have no idea what dark matter is and yet it accounts for up to 9/10 of the mass of the universe. This process is completely different from theological discussion, which posits absolutes that cannot be questioned, disproven, or refined in the same way.
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Whitewell)
    I saw this really cool quote on this site, how compatible are the laws of nature as explanations with atheism?;

    "The orthodox view of the nature of the laws of physics contains a long list of tacitly assumed properties. The laws are regarded, for example, as immutable, eternal, infinitely precise mathematical relationships that transcend the physical universe, and were imprinted on it at the moment of its birth from “outside,” like a maker’s mark, and have remained unchanging ever since… In addition, it is assumed that the physical world is affected by the laws, but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe… It is not hard to discover where this picture of physical laws comes from: it is inherited directly from monotheism, which asserts that a rational being designed the universe according to a set of perfect laws. And the asymmetry between immutable laws and contingent states mirrors the asymmetry between God and nature: the universe depends utterly on God for its existence, whereas God’s existence does not depend on the universe…

    Clearly, then, the orthodox concept of laws of physics derives directly from theology. It is remarkable that this view has remained largely unchallenged after 300 years of secular science. Indeed, the “theological model” of the laws of physics is so ingrained in scientific thinking that it is taken for granted. The hidden assumptions behind the concept of physical laws, and their theological provenance, are simply ignored by almost all except historians of science and theologians. From the scientific standpoint, however, this uncritical acceptance of the theological model of laws leaves a lot to be desired".
    Since when was this orthodox view of the laws of nature or laws of physics? What is your source? I have never seen this before.

    Your "orthodox" premises appear to contradict each other. How can the laws of nature be viewed as "eternal" and "infinitely precise" and at the same time be "imprinted on it at the moment of it's birth? How do you reconcile these statements?

    How can the laws of nature/physics, which are used to explain and describe natural phenomena, transcend the natural universe? On what basis do you make this statement?
 
 
 
Poll
Which party will you be voting for in the General Election 2017?
Useful resources

The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE

Quick reply
Reputation gems: You get these gems as you gain rep from other members for making good contributions and giving helpful advice.