Is Krauss right? Isaac Newtown does not think so | Third Space

Is Krauss right? Isaac Newtown does not think so

Lawrence Krauss has argued the rise of science is due to having 'nature as a guide'
Thu 15 Aug 2013

Historically one of the foundation stones of science was the Christian rejection of a priori principles.

Lawrence Krauss on an ABC online post wrote

'But science has taught us to think the unthinkable. Because when nature is the guide - rather than a priori prejudices, hopes, fears or desires - we are forced out of our comfort zone. One by one, pillars of classical logic have fallen by the wayside as science progressed in the twentieth century'

However the rise of the scientific paradigm of empirical observation was not a result of 'nature as a guide' historically overturning the a priori principles (principles and knowledge gained by deductive reasoning rather than empirical evidence. It is a latin phrase that means “from what is before”). Rather it was a result of overturning the a priori principles about the nature of humanity’s ability to grasp the world accurately.

Greek and Aristotelian thinking, which dominated the thinking landscape for over 1000 years, assumed that the human mind could accurately grasp nature. Famously, Aristotle predicted that two objects of different weight would fall at a different speed. This was his rational understanding but he never tested his rational understanding with empirical experimentation because of his a priori assumption about his rational ability. It wouldn’t have been hard to walk to the nearest cliff and test his belief, but he never did.

This all changed under Robert Boyle, Isaac Newtown and others. Their thinking gave rise to the scientific paradigm as we now know it – rational empiricism. And what was the turning point? It was a rejection of the a priori idea that human beings, by purely rational thought, could think their way to truth. Rather they had to test their hypothesis. Empiricism was needed.

And what gave rise to this new thinking? It was the understanding that God was free. God was not governed by immutable laws but that he could voluntarily do what he liked according to his character. And since He is free and we are not him but are separate agents, we must think and observe and test to see what He has done. We don’t know how God has made nature but we can investigate it. We expect there to be coherence and rationality because of who God is but he is free.

Let me quote the 2nd edition of Isaac Newtown’s Principia to show his thinking:

‘Without all doubt this world...could arise from nothing but the perfectly free will of God... From this fountain (what) we call the laws of nature have flowed, in which there appear many traces indeed of the most wise contrivance, but not the least shadow of necessity. These therefore we must not seek from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experiments. He who is presumptuous enough to think that he can find the true principles of physics and the laws of natural things by the force alone of his own mind, and the internal light of reason, must either suppose that the world exists by necessity, and by the same necessity follows the laws proposed or, if the order of Nature was established by the will of God, that himself, a miserable reptile, can tell what was fittest to be done.’ (Cited from Religion and the Rise of Modern Science by Hooykaas page 49).

Was it science that taught us to think the unthinkable or was it an understanding of the nature of God that gave rise to science so we could think the unthinkable?

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  • Alt
    Fri, 16/08/2013 - 9:54am reply


    The fact that Isaac Newton believed in a god has absolutely no bearing on whether or not such a creature actually exists. Such argument from authority is completely fallacious. Newton was wrong about alchemy so why does he have to be correct about a supernatural being? He was a man of his time with severely restricted information compared to the scientist of today.

    You are correct about empiricism, so why not apply it to your claim that there exists a supernatural being who created the universe? Bland and completly unverifiable statements such as "God was not governed by immutable laws but that he could voluntarily do what he liked according to his character" are nonsensical in the extreme. You are being every bit as arrogant and presumptuous as those early scientists who thought that the nature of the universe could be discovered by thought alone.

    So please, Glenn, let's have your empirical evidence that there even exists a supernatural realm. Then you can tell us why your particular god is the one who exists rather than any of the hundreds of others which have been and still are believed in. Feel free of course to throw hard thinking out the window and retreat into faith. But faith, being the deliberate abandonment of empiricism and critical thinking, is surely not something to be admired.

    Your remarks about empiricism are spot on. How ironic that you have not realised that you are arguing against yourself and actually making a good case for non-belief in the supernatural.


    Neil Crellin

    • Alt
      Fri, 16/08/2013 - 2:20pm reply

      Neil, thanks for your post but you misunderstand my argument.
      My argument is not that Newton believed that there was a God and so there is one. You need to read me more carefully.  I’m challenging Krauss statement that science in and of itself has taught us to think the unthinkable.
      I’m arguing about a philosophical framework that enables the scientific methodology to exist and be successful. What gives ground to the scientific methodology and I’m pointing out is that basis was not in pure rationality but an understanding of God. Do I think this proves God? Nope. Again you’ve assumed what you think I’m proving.  

      Perhaps Newton was wrong to accept there was a God. What is interesting is that a scientific methodology didn’t arise that corresponded with reality until certain ideas about God were were strongly accepted. Does this prove God? No.

      But it sure is interesting. Why in a chaotic universe formed from randomness would we expect there to be enough coherence such that science works? Even Krauss at the end of his book recognises that there are laws that govern the shape of the universe and that scientists have to assume the stability of quantum mechanics for scientists to probe our understanding of the universe.  Do I think this proves God? No. But it is interesting. It points to a pretty interesting coherence.

      Back, on Isaac Newton but this time on his practising alchemy; it is very ironic that you want to use that to dismiss his thinking. Let’s say a scientist – let’s call him Richard -  has scientific theory L which is correct (as correct as our ongoing knowledge allows it to be). But he also has scientific theory A which is incorrect. By your argument – because Richard was wrong about A then L must also be wrong.  He believed in Alchemy so then his understanding of Light was also by definition rubbish. In such case, no scientific thinking could progress.  In others words, you imply that if Krauss is wrong in one area of cosmology he must be wrong in every area.  Surely you don’t think that, do you?



      • Alt
        Fri, 16/08/2013 - 4:12pm reply


        I was not dismissing Isaac Newton's thinking by any stretch of the imagination. But I was pointing out that he was a human being capable of error and his opinions on a creator are not relevant unless he has evidence for them. I do not accept that, in quoting Newton, you were not using argument from authority. I would love a dollar for every time Isaac Newton has been brought up in the context of a Christian philosophical outlook being the origin of science, which it of course is not.Even if it ever was, the current inanity of belief in a seven thousand year old earth, denial of the science of biological evolution which has given us our modern medicine and other absurdities of some current "Christian" thinking show that a "Christian" perspective is now a major barrier to understanding the universe.

        You are very well aware that I was not suggesting that because a scientist is wrong in one area he must be wrong in others. Either you misunderstood me or you are indulging in sophistry of the worst kind, a sophistry that would not be needed if your belief in the supernatural had any evidential underpinning.

        "Why in a chaotic universe formed from randomness would we expect there to be enough coherence such that science works?"

        Cmon Glenn. Chaos thory has been around for decades, and order evolving from chaos is a well understood fact. Your need to postulate a conscious creator to make it happen is more a reflection of your ignorance, lack of understanding or emotional need than anything to do with truth. Your inability to comprehend, what Richard Dawkins calls "proof from incredultity" is not of any relevance.

        The strange thing is that postulating a supernatural entity to "explain" the so far inexplicable actually explains nothing, but adds an unnecessary complication.

        What do you mean by "god"? What do you mean by "supernatural" and how do you demonstrate that any particular event is due to this supernatural being/force?

        We really require empirical evidence that there exists anything at all supernatural before we move on to what entity/creature/mysterious force may comprise that supernaturality. All you have so far is speculation, and you are as far from demonstrating that your (so far) imaginary friend actually exists as you ever were. But cloyingly sweet videos, clever sophistry and emotional blackmail work well with certain people when you have no evidence at all for your convictions. A meeting legitimately searching for truth would never use such devices which are aimed at the lowest common denominator.

        But I guess you know your audience.





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