Monday, January 11, 2010

"Laws of Nature"

More thoughts sparked by this Lutheran quote:

Order is Heaven's first law. As the law of the physical universe is mathematical, the law of the spiritual universe is logical. That which has no place in system, is not of God, is not truth. All his works reflect his unity and self-consistency. -- C. P. Krauth, Conservative Reformation p. 176

Scientists have recently come around to the same view as Orthodox Christians regarding the so-called laws of nature: namely, that this term is misleading.

Of course, many of these scientists, namely the unbelievers among them, embrace this “new” understanding for opposite reasons from ours. They do not want there to be any laws of nature because laws of nature come uncomfortably close to indicating the existence of a Lawgiver.

Nevertheless, among believing and unbelieving scientists alike, there is now general agreement that there are no “laws of nature”. There is order in nature, or at least appears to be, but to call these patterns and symmetries “laws” is overstepping. When Demetrios was a university student, his physics professor gave a very long lecture on how “laws of nature” are simply observations we have made over and over again, countless times, without any variation – so far. The “law of gravity” appears to work every time. Earth keeps rotating on its axis at the rate of once every 24 hours, approximately. And it keeps orbiting the Sun at about once every 365 days. And so forth.

But there is nothing to say these observations, always the same so far, must forevermore and in all circumstances remain the same. There is no basis for thinking these “laws” are inherently immutable or that exceptions can never occur. I think (but am too ignorant to be sure) the first time “laws of nature” appeared to become unstuck (for scientists, anyway) may have been in the realm of quantum mechanics. The phenomenon most people are aware of in that field has to do with light. It behaves as a wave or as a particle – depending upon how you measure it! Anyway, things at the quantum level do not abide by the “laws” of Newtonian physics.

More recently, scientists speak of “broken symmetries”; what they had thought of as immutable laws seem, here and there, not to apply. The “laws of nature” are full of holes!

Of course, the Orthodox have always known this, because the life we live together has always been full of miracles. All sorts of things happen among us, with fair regularity, which would appear to violate the laws of nature, if there were any such things.

But we do not think miracles violate natural laws, because we do not believe God rules His world via any set of laws. Rather, we believe He rules His creation directly, in person, without intermediary laws or intermediary anything, and not sitting back and letting it run itself. If the world is orderly, it's because Gopd is orderly - but he would, could, and apparently does put up with quite a bit of mess should love require it. If the world rotates on its axis, it’s because God is turning it every moment – and in theory, could stop doing that at any moment, too. If the Sun is burning, it’s because God is at every instant causing it to consume its helium. If helium doesn’t suddenly cease to exist and the Sun blink out, it’s because the life-giving, existence-bestowing Power of God is continuing to keep helium in being. We believe God is “everywhere present, filling all things”, directly, personally involved in the hatching of every bird egg and the opening of every blossom.

And this God who paints every sunset, blows along every wave, makes the stars to shine and the ivy twine, this God is Love. It’s Love doing it all, meaning it’s all done because God loves you and me and every rock and every blade of grass.

He doesn’t work with us through laws of nature or any intermediatry or any “means”. “Means” were invented by Platonists like Thomas Aquinas who did not know (or accept) the distinction between God’s Essence and His Uncreated Energies. For them, since there was no distinction, direct involvement by God with His world would mean His unchanging Essence would be involved in all sorts of change. To insulate the Divine Essence from that, they came up with “means”. God cannot be directly involved with us, that is, His very Person must not be. That’s why their relationship with God can never be what we understand as “personal”. It’s always at least one step removed from God's Person. It's logical instead, and perhaps that is why they mistake logic for "the law of the spiritual universe".


Anonymous said...

Excellent insights regarding "personal relationships". The Platonist void was filled incompletely by the Protestant pietist overemphasis on "personal relationship with Jesus", which then distorts the concept of the Trinity.