Where does knowledge1,2 come from? From research and inquiry? It seems an obvious question, but is it really? It is only obvious if we realize what the unstated assumptions are that go with it. Why do men study science anyway? Why do they believe it a fruitful activity at all? The answer must be founded on the belief that the laws of nature, which they are attempting to discover, are the same today as they were yesterday, and will be the same again tomorrow. What is the justification for this?
If we look back 500 years we see a list of names of well-known philosophers and scientists: Tycho Brahe, Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Gottfried Leibnitz, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Johannes Kepler, Carolus Linnaeus, John Dalton, Christian Huygens, Robert Hooke, Michael Faraday, Joseph Henry, James Joule, Louis Pasteur, William Thomson (aka Lord Kelvin), James Clerk Maxwell, John Strutt (aka Lord Rayleigh), John Ambrose Fleming, to only name a few. These men all believed in the truth of the Bible, so much so they believed that the laws governing nature that we study in the laboratory can be extrapolated to the Universe and apply both in the past and the future. We know this by the very nature of the scientific endeavours they were involved in.
If they studied the cosmos, e.g. planets in the solar system, they believed that what they observed had some order to it—some law by which the planets moved. This eventually led Newton to discover the universal law of gravitation, which ‘tells’ a planet how to move around the Sun. But the law that was discovered was then used to predict the future positions of the planets and it was found to be very reliable. If they studied microbes, for example, they believed that the experiments they performed one day would be repeatable the next and the results could be consistently interpreted.
The assumptions behind science
Ultimately this idea has led to what we now call the ‘Scientific Method’—the notion that an experiment can be repeated and the result will be the same if the conditions are identical. On top of this is the idea that a theory must make predictions that are testable and if a prediction fails then the theory is found to be wrong and must be discarded or modified. This leads to the whole subject of the philosophy of science, which is a subject on its own, but the main point to be taken from this is that scientists in both the past and the present rely implicitly on the idea.
Explicitly, science depends on the idea that the laws of Nature are constant in time and in space. But how can we justify this? Some might justify constancy ‘in time’ simply by repeating the experiment and getting the same results day in and day out, but what about ‘in space’? However, this is strictly speaking the fallacy of induction, as the skeptic Bertrand Russell illustrated with his ‘inductivist turkey’ parable: a turkey is brought to a farm in America, and for 364 days is fed the same food every day, and goes to sleep happily that night. So he has every reason to assume that Thanksgiving will be the same, and he will once more go to sleep happily. But his head is chopped off instead, and he ends up as Thanksgiving dinner. So on a secular basis, there is no proof that the laws of nature will be constant tomorrow, just because we have observed them to be constant so far.
The same applies to the assumption that the laws of nature are the same in all parts of the universe. Since we can test a theory locally, on earth or in the solar system, it seems to be a fair guess for the rest of the universe. But we can’t know for sure that they are not different in the core of Pluto, for example. We cannot experimentally test the laws of nature in other parts of the universe so they are only assumed to be true there also.
The same problem lies with the assumption of an orderly universe. This can’t be proven: first because of the inductive fallacy, and second, because any alleged proof would have to presuppose the very order it claims to prove.
The biblical basis for these assumptions
So why did science advance rapidly since the Renaissance? This has largely been from Europe and based in the Western culture. The underlying assumption that the laws of Nature are constant has been the result of Judeo-Christian thinking. As Thomas Aquinas put it:
‘Since the principles of certain sciences—of logic, geometry, and arithmetic, for instance—are derived exclusively from the formal principles of things, upon which their essence depends, it follows that God cannot make the contraries of these principles; He cannot make the genus not to be predictable of the species, nor lines drawn from a circle’s center to its circumference not to be equal, nor the three angles of a rectilinear triangle not to be equal to two right angles.’3
The creator God by his very nature created laws that are reliable. The Apostle Paul tells us:
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Excluding the occasional miracle, God Himself chooses to generally operate in conformity with His own laws—the laws of Nature. These are part of His Creation, the expression of His own orderly will. He is Lord and judge and lawgiver.
For the LORD is our Judge; the LORD is our Lawgiver; the LORD is our King; He will save us. (Isaiah 33:22, KJVER)
He is the same always.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Through the prophet Jeremiah God tells us,
Thus says the LORD, If my covenant [agreement] be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances [the fixed laws] of heaven and earth, (Jeremiah 33:25)
Clearly God is speaking of the laws of nature like gravity. The Scripture says:
Thus says the LORD, which gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances [the fixed laws] of the moon and the stars for a light by night, … (Jeremiah 31:35)
God usually operates in a regular way that scientists describe as ‘natural law’. He makes it clear that the continuity of these laws can be relied upon to the same extent as His covenantal word, and vice versa—i.e. totally. He says …
If those ordinances [the fixed laws] depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever. (Jeremiah 31:36, KJVER)
Thus saith the LORD; If you can break My covenant of the day, and My covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; 21 Then may also My covenant be broken with David My servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, My ministers. 22 As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David My servant, and the Levites that minister unto Me. (Jeremiah 33:20–22, KJVER)
God is saying that if He doesn’t keep His own laws that hold the universe together then even the Nation of Israel is in jeopardy, God’s covenant is broken—the lineage of David is broken and it even follows that there may be no son of David, who will reign over the Creation, Christ Jesus.
No doubt God is sovereign, but He is bound by His own nature, which is non-capricious, faithful and unchanging. The ‘laws’ are our description of the way He normally acts in a dependable way. The Bible is the basis for the Judeo-Christian culture from which our modern scientific age has developed. On the other hand the Koran ‘ … portrays Allah as absolutely sovereign and bound by nothing. This sovereignty was so absolute that it precluded a key assumption that helped foster the development of science in Europe: … that God is good, and that His goodness is consistent. Therefore, He created the universe according to rational laws that can be discovered, making scientific investigation worthwhile.’4
Robert Spencer, an authority on Islam, makes this very relevant comment: that in Islam the very idea of Laws of Nature would be blasphemy as it is ‘a denial of Allah’s freedom.’5 Spencer goes on to say that the very idea that Allah created the Universe with consistent and rational laws means He cannot do something, which would bind his absolute sovereignty. (In Christianity, the sovereignty of God does not preclude Him from being bound by either his covenantal word, or aspects of His divine nature. In short, God is not limited by anything outside Himself.) So in the world of Islam there is no logical connection between the order in Nature from one instant to the next. No wonder Spencer says in his book that ‘Allah killed science.’ It makes much more sense that science developed in Christian Europe where Islam failed to reach. Islam was stopped by the armies of the Christian west around the 1400s just as science was starting to rapidly develop, fostered by the Christian church (albeit the Church of Rome), which kept learning and knowledge alive.
One Muslim website6 states …
“The muslim says: “The creatures (includes everything) are given by God, their qualifications (including the physical laws, equations, formulaes (sic) [we may be unknowing everything, the real is known by Allah]) and they are executed and may be changed by Allah when(r)ever He wants.”. [emphasis added]
The website argues in favour of the Islamic position, but there is a clear admission and corroboration of Spencer’s conclusion above. It seems to be saying that Allah can change the laws, and their relationships whenever and wherever he likes—a very capricious god, impulsive and unpredictable. The website compares the above with the view of the atheist as:
The (atheist) scientist says “The properties (including above mentioned laws and so on) of everything are intrinsic to them and absolute and not subject to change except for any specific conditions.”6
In fact, the humanist must borrow the order from the biblical worldview before he can even think in an orderly fashion about his universe.
This would be the worldview of most secular scientists today. The atheist assumes the properties of matter or laws of nature are intrinsic to nature itself. That is the position of the materialist who believes all things, all laws, arise spontaneously from the universe itself. The humanist worldview tries to establish itself in a rational consistent universe without a Creator. But how is that possible unless some order is impressed upon matter itself? In fact, the humanist must borrow the order from the biblical worldview before he can even think in an orderly fashion about his universe. The biblical worldview involves a universe that is rational and behaves consistently. It is the expression of an orderly Creator, whose laws reflect His own unchanging nature and the fact that, while He is able to engage in miraculous activity outside of those laws, He chooses not to do so capriciously or arbitrarily. I.e. He ‘keeps’ His laws Himself.
- Article first published on creation.com 18 March 2008, updated and edited.
- Knowledge = acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: knowledge of many things. First definition from <dictionary.reference.com/browse/knowledge>
- St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Two: Creation, Chap 25, section 14. Translated by James F. Anderson. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975).
- Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington, DC, 2005) page 96.
- James V. Schall,War-Time Clarifications: Who Is Our Enemy? 2001; Quoted in ref 4.
- The Anti-Terrorism Coalition, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/AntiTerrorismCoalition/conversations/messages/43504 accessed 14 June 2015