Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Law, rationality and God

Scientists in practice believe passionately in the rationality of scientific law. We are not dealing with an irrational, totally unaccountable and unanalyzable surd, but with lawfulness that in some sense is accessible to human understanding. Rationality is a sine qua non for scientific law. But, as we know, rationality belongs to persons, not to rocks, trees, and subpersonal creatures. If the law is rational, which scientists assume it is, then it is also personal.


Scientific law is clearly like a human utterance in its ability to be grammatically articulated, paraphrased, translated, and illustrated. Law is utterance-like, language-like. ... Language, like rationality, belongs to persons. It follows that scientific law is in essence personal. [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 20]

Vern Poythress in his book Redeeming Science attempts to deal with science and scientific issues from a "God-centered" perspective. At the beginning, Poythress attempts to show that science presupposes the existence of God through focusing on scientific law. Now I for one do believe that science requires God to have a foundation for its operation, but does Poythress' argument actually holds?

According to Poythress, science must be personal, or rather, scientific laws must be personal, because it is rational and rationality involves people. I am singularly unimpressed by such argumentation. What is presupposed here is that of a transcendent basis for law, whereas that has not yet been proven. In an emergentist and descriptive view of law and rationality, law and rationality originate "from below." In other words, the reason why the laws are what they are could be because (1) laws must take on one of the many possible forms, and (2) we discover these forms "from below," through our experimentation. Therefore, in this view of law and rationality, scientific laws are not subjectively (i.e. as the subject) rational but rather they are rationally perceived by rational actors. In other words, rationality is not to be predicated of law but of persons, the people doing the discovering. Therefore, law is not personal.

Now, one could conceivably claim a higher view of law, such that certain scientific laws could not be otherwise (i.e. not contingent). Of course, such is rather impossible to prove. But even if one is to concede this for the sake of argument, an absolute principle is still not subjectively rational but rationally perceived. And this is the problem with Poythress' argument here: Law is objectively rational, but it is not subjectively rational. One can claim that an objective law requires a law-giver, but that cannot be merely assumed, or the argument short-circuited by jumping from objective law to the law-giver as the subject.

So how should the argument be framed? It should be framed based upon the constancy of law, and that there should be no reason why law should be constant apart from an unchanging principle supporting it, which is the workings of God. That law is held by scientists to be constant is besides the point, since there is no reason why a scientific law that "holds true" for the last millennium even should the next day operate in the same manner (which is the fallacy of induction). In other words, it is not rationality that points towards God, but constancy.

In conclusion, while I agree with Poythress' conclusion that science requires God to function, I disagree with his sloppy reasoning. This sloppiness will come up again in dealing with other aspects of science, which we will look at very soon.

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