ABSTRACT

One of the remarkable features of the physical universe is the fact that it seems to conform to mathematical laws. On most accounts, moreover, these laws are not simply descriptions of regularities - although some important thinkers have held this view - but rather they dictate how things must be. Laws of nature, in other words, seem to capture some kind of natural necessity. Science, it is usually thought, has as one of its aims the discovery of laws of nature, and the refinement of various expressions of those laws. That there are laws of nature, however, seems to be a presupposition of science, rather than the outcome of its investigations. In light of this we can ask three important questions about such laws of nature: Why are there laws at all? Why are these laws mathematical? Why are they necessary or, to put it another way, what gives these laws their exceptionless character? In the seventeenth century, when the modem notion of laws of nature was first articulated, the answer to each of these questions entailed reference to God. The very idea of a law of nature, from the moment of its birth, was thus underpinned by theological considerations. One of the chief aims of this chapter is to investigate the historical processes that gave rise to the idea of laws of nature and to provide an account of its theological foundations.