Renaissance science and natural law

A bit of light relief after all that heavy stuff on creation. You’ll be aware how scientists of a naturalistic bent often claim that their naturalism follows on from the findings of science, rather than being merely a metaphysical or philosophical¬† assumption grafted on to science. Many of them are deeply suspicious of both metaphysics and philosophy, almost as much as they are of theology. That may be for good reason, for if you read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Causal Determinism you’ll see that there is growing doubt amongst philosophers as to whether fixed laws of nature exist at all, and that those who maintain there are are standardly termed “fundamentalists”! It’s ironic that those in BioLogos leaping out of the frying pan of Creationist fundamentalism end up in the fire of philosophical fundamentalism anyway!

But the question is whether the naturalists’ contention to be metaphysics-free and dependent only on empirical evidence stands up to scrutiny.

Recently I’ve been doing some reading in Renaissance philosophy to try and consolidate my thesis that belief in natural evil stems, by a circuitous route, from Renaissance humanism. That’s another matter. In my travels I came across a character called Pietro Pomponazzi, who wrote about 1500, well before the scientific revolution. Yet I found that he was a very early proponent of materialistic naturalism, believing that the observations of science preclude any other causes within our world than natural law. His aim was to put “knowledge” in place of “belief”, to find an imminent, rather than a transcendant, explanation for everything – very contemporary, you’ll agree.

As my source, Ernst Cassier, puts it:

No event can be fully understood if it is not brought into this sort of [regular] connection with the ultimate knowable causes of all being and all becoming.

Not only did he apply this to all the common, regular events. Accidental events, if fully understood, would also prove to be from necessity. His psychology too dispensed with the idea of a separate soul: all could be explained by the input of the senses , and the physical functions of the body. Humnans decisions, too, were determined by natural laws – so Jason Rosenhouse and the neurobiologists are treading old ground!

Logically enough, the events of human history follow this same cause and effect path, and that even covers the development of new faiths like Christianity, including their rise to popularity and their decline. Even the “awakening” of the founder of a religion must be explained by their natural disposition and circumstances, rather than by the supernatural.

Along the same lines, miracles can be explained merely as rare natural events, and magical activities, though undoubtedly seen,¬† cannot break through the immanent causality of nature (in Cassirer’s words). Oddly enough, though, divine revelation can happen, but only within the general course of nature, for the Divine can only influence the material world through definite intermediary causes. That certainly has a very liberal evangelical feel to it, as indeed does his whole scheme. Had he known about it, there’s no doubt he would have supported non-interventionist evolution as the explanation for creation.

It only really remains to reveal the solid empirical scientific basis on which Pomponazzi’s whole modernistic approach to the world rested, bearing in mind that the discoveries of Bacon, Newton, Kepler and Darwin were so long in the future.

The answer, of course, is astrology.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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