Foundations of Physics

, Volume 40, Issue 9–10, pp 1611–1624 | Cite as

The Contingency of Laws of Nature in Science and Theology

Article

Abstract

The belief that laws of nature are contingent played an important role in the emergence of the empirical method of modern physics. During the scientific revolution, this belief was based on the idea of voluntary creation. Taking up Peter Mittelstaedt’s work on laws of nature, this article explores several alternative answers which do not overtly make use of metaphysics: some laws are laws of mathematics; macroscopic laws can emerge from the interplay of numerous subsystems without any specific microscopic nomic structures (John Wheeler’s “law without law”); laws are the preconditions of scientific experience (Kant); laws are theoretical abstractions which only apply in very limited circumstances (Nancy Cartwright). Whereas Cartwright’s approach is in tension with modern scientific methodology, the first three strategies count as illuminating, though partial answers. It is important for the empirical method of modern physics that these three strategies, even when taken together, do not provide a complete explanation of the order of nature. Thus the question of why laws are valid is still relevant. In the concluding section, I argue that the traditional answer, based on voluntary creation, provides the right balance of contingency and coherence which is in harmony with modern scientific method.

Keywords

Laws of nature Experimental method Scientific revolution Creation Contingency of laws Peter Mittelstaedt John A. Wheeler Immanuel Kant Nancy Cartwright 

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Biblique de Nogent-sur-MarneNogent-sur-MarneFrance

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