Science and the Lawgiver2020 Oct 31
Modern science was birthed by belief in a creative God, a God that is stable and rational. Science has progressed in parallel to other things that God revealed to humans about himself.
From God: the Progression
God revealed himself to a few in early history, but only on an individual basis. God isn’t recorded as having established systems of social justice at that time (laws and governments) even though people knew what evil and injustice was. Those who knew God also knew that he was the source of all material things.
At the inception of the Jewish nation, God set up a covenant with this people group. It came with some laws that established a basis of morality and truth. note The covenant and the laws demonstrated a steadiness of purpose and action by God. The Jewish people didn’t keep their promises to God. God, however, was reliable and kept his promises. God continued to speak through prophets to the people; he repeatedly indicated that laws were not the ultimate solution.
A covenant is a promise between parties which does not have a conditional end. This is in contrast to a contract which becomes broken when one of the parties to the contract violates the agreement.
The initial set of laws grew through time, as improved codes of justice were developed (case law).
The Jews were not the only group of people with relatively decent systems of law in ancient history. Others like Hammurabi had well-developed systems of justice, and it is also likely that there was copying of good legal structures between nations.
However, in the years since the propagation of the Christian Bible, this system of law became well known and studied in many parts of the world. It became the basis of laws in many other contexts. And it taught people about the character of God.
When God sent Jesus, he revealed himself much more clearly than ever before. Jesus brought a message of truth and justice based not on laws, but on a first principle of love. Laws fail because they are simplified models for the world, and they do not cover all contingencies. (We call these loopholes.) In contrast, a person reasoning from first principles could think and determine a just course of action in any new situation.
Laws are very useful because they can quickly be applied, usually without slow and costly reasoning. Of course reason is needed for working with laws, however, working from first principles requires good reasoning skills even more.
Jesus did not repudiate law. Instead, he elevated thinking and reason - the hallmarks of mind. This fulfilled the law so that the law was moved to a secondary status relative to the first principle. The law continued to be useful as a sort of quick and rough model to give guidance for action. However when the model encoded in law had a poor fit, the first principle provided a basis for reasoned thought forward. note
People have always reasoned from and within law. Through case law and by reason, lawyers and judges construct a consistent system of law.
However, God would have preferred people to reason from the first principle. We know this because when Jesus came he taught the first principle and said that all law derived from it.
Law is primarily a mechanism for restricting evil and bad behavior. However, Jesus’ first principle of sacrificial love for the benefit of others is a guide to good and positive behavior. The principle is much better than law.
Note that this is related to a common progression of teaching / learning. The usual way that young humans are taught to govern themselves is from rules to reasoning. The young learn by starting with the concrete and then advancing to the abstract.
By Humans: the Progression to Law
Throughout history, people from many cultures and belief systems have advanced our knowledge of the world. However in earlier times, these were primarily individual discoveries that were often not connected to other things. note The younger earth was more unpredictable because it was more tectonically active, and so the world was generally considered to be a chaotic place. Discovery of a pattern in one place did not necessarily indicate in their thinking that the world would be ordered in some similar fashion elsewhere.
An example of how individual discoveries might not be connected: a person discovers that boiling water softens wax and wood in unique ways, but it doesn’t (seem to) soften rocks. If they would not connect the cases of softening as a common mechanism, they would instead be individually remembering that each substance reacts in a unique way to the boiling water.
However, modern science is based on a different view of the world. note Our world is seen as behaving in law-like ways that are understandable to humans. This view came into existence because early scientists were Christians who already believed in a God who was a moral lawgiver. God had revealed himself as consistent and reasonable. He had made the world and he sustained it by his steady will.
Note that science is also based on several metaphysical assumptions. These include:
- Truth exists and is knowable
- Truth can be inferred from evidence, artifacts or experiments
If truth does not exist, then all scientific ideas are merely personal opinion and simply meaningless. Even if truth exists, it might be that we could not come to it; in that case valid science would not be doable.
Science simply cannot speak to these assertions. They are accepted axioms before the science can be started. I personally credit that they are correct, as would any practicing scientist. Since there can be no science without these assumptions, the actual basis of science is metaphysics.
This was the view of the biggest names in early science (Newton, Kepler, etc). Scientists were motivated to search deeply to understand the laws of physical things because it enabled them to “think the thoughts of God after him,” which to them was a great honor. note Mathematics became the language of science because it was specifically suited for encoding such laws.
Interestingly in more recent years the worldview of most scientists has changed. Now they often believe only in the material world. Since they have the heritage of viewing the world as law-like and they have seen that the approach works well, they continue to pursue their science with that assumption. Their view has become an axiom without a supporting metaphysical basis, and I think that is risky for the success of science.
As science progressed, problems would be found in models that initially had seemed adequate. The sun was thought to circle the earth until planet epicycles showed the heliocentric model as better. This was replaced with the gravitational model and then with the relativity model. Better laws were developed because they were more accurate, and they supplanted the old.
This work was done after the coming of Jesus, but the world was yet rich with the low-hanging fruit of law-like behaviors. Learning from the concrete had not been exhausted, so law-like relationships were what was studied.
Post-Law and Mind
In very recent times, we have come to realize that the universe and our own world is made of matter with particular characteristics that are ideally suited for living beings such as ourselves. This is backed by incredible fine-tuning of a vast number of parameters in our universe, note again ideally suited to enable living beings. It is impossible for these things to have occurred by natural processes because these characteristics and tunings had to have been established before the beginning of our universe, and therefore before any natural law existed. In fact, quoting atheistic astronomer Fred Hoyle:
The observed fine-tuning is inexplicable for a naturalistic universe. The multiverse is a speculative explanation for this, but it is is not scientific and is purely metaphysical (even though proposed by some practitioners of science). See The Multiverse God
“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology" wikipedia
Biology is increasingly showing that the basis of living things is highly sophisticated specified complex information and systems that work with it. Based on uniform human experience, this type of information and forethought is a product of mind only. Therefore for both the universe and for life, a creative mind with intellect and reason is the only known explanation for what we observe.
In this newer context, law-like explanations become quite inadequate. This is a problem for those that will only accept law-like naturalistic explanations. However, it is not an issue for those who accept the idea that the world and things in it are artifacts and not merely products of natural processes. note
Logically there are two possibilities for the universe. It is either a result of natural process, or it was not. The universe either made itself (by some natural process) or it was made (which is not a naturalistic process). Curiosity about the universe is neither helped nor hindered by these possibilities.
If everything is created then everything ultimately is an artifact. Natural laws could be taken as an example of the steady will of the maker. Other parts of the world (e.g. fine tuning, information in DNA) would be best explained as products of the maker’s mind. However, if everything is only from natural process, then only natural law is available for explanations. Things that would otherwise seem to be of products of mind are very inexplicable in this context.
In both these explanatory cases, curiosity can be satisfied. Discovering natural law explains how something works. Note however that laws are never teleological - they do not explain the why. For things which are most reasonably explained as a product of mind, it makes sense to look for design rationales (from a belief the maker is characterized by rationality). Teleological explanations can make sense in this context.
If a person disallows this second option, note that this is only an artificial self-restriction that keeps them in a field of poorer explanatory options.
God has always revealed his workmanship in what we could read out of nature; this inspires awe. He revealed part of his character in the social system he established with the Jewish people; this showed law, order and consistency. Later God revealed his motivating values in Jesus; this also then showed thoughtfulness and love of reasoning.
Man initially considered that the world was full of chaos. Because of the Bible, the character of God became seen as marked by consistency and lawfulness, therefore the world which God had made became viewed in the same way. A growing body of discoveries together with this view became modern science. However as science has more recently advanced, we are now discovering that the best explanation for the universe and for life is from products of mind and other aspects of reason.
Modern science came into being because of belief that the world was made by the great law-giver. We know through Jesus however, that God is motivated by principle and not law. This then elevates the mature reasoning mind over simple laws.
Revelations in science have paralleled what we know about God as revealed to us. And it follows a familiar pattern of learning: from no rules, to concrete rules, to abstract reasoning. If science is to progress it now needs to see the world as made not just by the great law-giver, but by the great rational designer.