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The uniformity of natural law

Published: 6 October 2013 (GMT+10)
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Neville C. wrote to CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland asking for his response to a statement on a blog. The writer was challenging the ‘Next Generation’ US science teaching standards where these said that “Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.”

Now this was no creationist attacking that statement. Rather, the writer was saying, in effect, ‘We can’t know that things always happened in the past the same as they do now’. His example? That just because we observe today that it always takes intelligence to produce complex specified information, we can’t assume that this was always so in the past.

Neville wrote: “This is applying to Intelligent Design the oft-quoted dictum in creation circles that the present is not the key to the past, because no scientist was there in the past to observe what was happening! Logical! But how do we answer this?

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Carl responds:

Neville, the statement (on the blog) highlights the philosophically biased nature of this whole debate. Let me digress for a moment. When it suits people to exclude the idea of a past miraculous divine creation (regardless how it fits the present-day evidence), they will point to the definitions and assumptions of science which include the uniformity of natural law. Which is what these standards were asserting.

Which means that the laws that apply on Earth also apply to the rest of the universe. And that the same laws applied in the unobservable past. And thus, they often say, science excludes creation by definition. Which means that even if it were the truth, it would be ‘unscientific’. See The rules of the game.

In doing so, of course, they fail to acknowledge that these assumptions (which work in practice) that have given us the explosion of science and technology following the Reformation are firmly based on biblical assumptions. See The biblical roots of modern science. Thus it is no coincidence (and not the result of any alleged racial superiority) that science arose in Western Europe.

Nor is it happenstance that the fathers of the branches of science were virtually all Bible-believing Christians. They were of course fully cognizant of and insistent upon the uniformity of natural law, but saw no contradiction between this as a general principle applying in a created world that was itself the product of supernatural creation. Laws demanded a lawgiver, and the laws commenced at the beginning at His decree, i.e. at creation. Also, given His revealed nature, He is capable of adding to His natural laws via miracles, and the Bible reveals that He demonstrated this in His incarnation as Jesus Christ.  But these are overall rare, not ‘abracadabra’ things that happen all over the place at any time, thus making science impossible. And they are for His special and significant purposes, not the arbitrary whims of a capricious deity.

These basic assumptions about science, including the uniformity of natural law, are normally unchallenged, and are universally adopted (while mostly ignoring their biblical origins) because they work in practice.

On the other hand, it seems, as for this article, when the uniformity of natural law works against naturalistic prejudices by pointing to the need for creation by an all-intelligent God, they say, ‘How do we know that things were always like that? Yes, we know that today, all observation points to the fact that it takes intelligence to produce information, but maybe it wasn’t always like that…”.

So in short, they are prepared to lay aside the uniformity of natural law when it suits, trying to have one’s cake and eat it too.

To avoid the chance of any further confusion, including by creationists reading this; when creationists challenge the uniformitarian dictum in geology that ‘the present is the key to the past’, they are not actually denying the uniformity of natural law. Rather it has to do with the rates of processes.  The father of uniformitarian geology, the lawyer Lyell, insisted that present-day ‘slow and gradual’ processes were sufficient to explain all geology, which of course is squarely aimed at denying that there was a global catastrophic Flood. He admitted in his correspondence that his purpose in this was to attack the Bible, in particular Genesis, see Charles Lyell’s hidden agenda—to free science “from Moses”.

Note that when creationists study the rocks, showing how they are consistent with catastrophism on huge scales, they do not deny that natural laws were operating uniformly during the Flood, rather they use observation and deduction based on those same assumptions. In short, Lyell’s uniformitarianism is not to be confused with methodological uniformitarianism, i.e. the uniformity of natural law, which is basic to science and which creationists also hold to as an important basic principle.

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And it is from this that one can construct a very powerful argument about the inadequacy of natural law to generate the sort of information that permeates biology. Namely that it speaks of a creating intelligence needed to write the original programs of life. Because programmed information of the sort found in DNA, for example, cannot be observed today to arise without intelligence, and concluding from this that life had to be intelligently designed was something which the author of the post (a geologist, interestingly) was keen to challenge.

Importantly, natural selection and mutation (which are all about passing one’s characters on to offspring) are no help in explaining the origin of the information required for the first living organisms in the evolutionary scenario—because you have to have reproduction first before you can have selection/mutation. However, a biological machine that can make copies of itself is now known to have to be horrendously complex. We are not talking about soap bubbles dividing, but about programmed machinery, incredibly complex nanotechnology, in even the simplest conceivable reproducing life. Thus the famous evolutionist Paul Davies has correctly observed that the origin-of-life problem for evolutionists is not about the raw materials (hardware) so much as it is about the information or programs.

Or in his words, “How did stupid molecules write their own software?” He answers correctly that “nobody knows”, and the reason is clear from another Davies comment in the same article (New Scientist, 163 (2204):27–30, 18 September 1999), namely that “There is no known law of physics able to create information from nothing”.

So as far as reasoning from natural law goes, the evidence points strongly to an intelligent Creator. The fact that (as in this case) people are prepared to depart from the uniformity of natural law (by implying that maybe in the past, information could arise from nothing, even though that would be a breach of natural law today) actually strengthens the point, if anything, of how powerful such an argument really is when one needs to use such means to try to evade it, to walk away from something as foundational to science itself as the uniformity of natural law.


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Readers’ comments

Richard L.
The anti-bible scientists’ unprincipled-exception problem is even bigger than consciously done ad hoc exceptions. They are also culpable for negligence leading to their (non-noticed) inadequate approximations of reality, those, in turn, leading to wrong conclusions.

Good science, about a natural phenomenon: (1) the first variables are identified. (2) Other variables are later identified, and the (general solution) mathematical model for that phenomenon gets more complicated. We seek for the FULL RANGE of variable magnitudes.

In remnant-inference science (RIS) involving the past, the RIS community often never gets past step #1. With psychological investment and strong researcher bias, they get locked into the (low) magnitudes of the first identified variables—especially when those magnitudes suit their chosen worldview. While later researchers find both a wider range of variable magnitudes and additional variables, RI scientists don’t let their thinking be adequately informed by these discoveries.

For example, regarding rock-working processes, the James-Hutton approach overlooks high-energy-onset variables (cavitation, hydraulic plucking, kolks) that INESCAPABLY work at HIGH PROCESS RATES. These variables make vulnerable previous rock-excavation-and-deposition models. As and when these variables operate (very much, in Noah’s flood), the related inferred timeframe MUST be substantially reduced. Good science would insist on investigation and any needed timeframe reduction. But woe to the geologist who tries such! Such willful negligence produces another (unreality) form of ad hoc exception to natural law.
Peter H.
I have a question.

Dr. Wieland, in your response in the article above you have clearly distinguished between (a) Lyell’s dictum that “the present is the key to the past” which involves “slow and gradual” processes with no possible global catastrophic Flood and (b) “the uniformity of natural law” which is basic to science, whether evolutionist or creationist.

My question regards 2 Peter 3:4-6. For years I have considered that this passage speaks about Lyell’s uniformitarianism, especially considering that the rejection of the Flood is involved in the context. Yesterday (before I read this article) this passage was explained to me as referring to referring to the uniformity of natural law which is necessary to interpret scientific process.

I would like to have a “second opinion” (or even more?) as to just how this passage should be interpreted.

Thank you.
Carl Wieland
I would suggest that both are applicable, i.e. methodological (uniformity of natural law) uniformitarianism, as well as substantive uniformitarianism (Lyellian insistence on uniformity of process rates). The passage is referring to the scoffers' rejection of TWO issues: supernatural creation by the Word of God (which the blanket assumption that methodolical uniformitarianism ALWAYS rules denies, as it does the Resurrection) and the catastrophic global Flood (which the second type of uniformitarianism denies). Note that the founding fathers of modern science understood that the (biblically-derived) assumption of the general uniformity of natural law is indeed vital for science, but not to the extent that it becomes a dogma that excludes supernatural origins. That would be as foolish as claiming that since one only ever sees natural processes at work in the operation of a computer, therefore natural processes have built it.
james p H.
"“How did stupid molecules write their own software?” He answers correctly that “nobody knows”"

IOW: Davies is being *wilfully STUPID* as per Romans 1:20; come Judgement Day, he will have ZERO excuse(s);

Natan S.
The first car I remember was our family's '52 Chevy. For me as a child, it seemed that car existed forever -- because my 'forever' was very limited. What was an accurate, 'scientific' observation for a child was a completely wrong assumption because of my perspective.
Kobus V.
Thank you Carl for another good article.
I have also referred to "The rules of the game" and realized that "the present is the key to the past" is selfrefuting.
If all remained constant, no evolution could have taken place and furthermore, the universe could then also not have had a beginning as they claim.

Seemingly, the evolutionists rely upon the sum of fallacious arguments, so determined to "prove" their point that reasoning has to be based upon the pre-rejection of another position,then try to argue for their presupposed position from the grounds of that other position.

This is a conundrum from their perspective.

Many of those would now argue as always that they also do not believe in other "dieties" such as Thor, Greek gods and the JuJu up the mountain in Kenya, so that they would still exist based on "not believing" in these man made gods.

Not so. Atheist existence is dependent on the denial of the God that created everything. These man created gods never claimed the things stated in the Bible. Also, to "not believe" in these gods, would not constitute "not believing", or "lack of belief" = atheism, for the only way to know that you do "not believe" in Thor, is to know that there are those that believe in Thor and their reasons for believing. These beliefs are easily evaluated against those very claims, and are either believed or not.

However, "A-theism" = "no theistic affiliation" = "no god exists" = "deny theism"

The atheism therefore only exists from denial. One can only deny what one realistically considers possible. Denying Thor, is to accept he might be real, otherwise, lack of belief would calmly ignore his claims.

Atheists consider the Creater God exists, but deny Him knowingly and actively attack Christians, who deny and reject the Devil.

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