Ed Feser on the Laws of Nature


An excellent video presentation here of philosopher Ed Feser addressing the problem of what “laws of nature” are. It closely relates to the question of the limits of science, including its unconscious dependance on theology. He discusses 4 main models - the theological view, the regularity view, the Platonic view and the Aristotelian view.

Just a couple of observations of dissent to consider.

The theological view of laws was that, as he correctly says, which underpins the origins of modern science in Descartes and Newton: the universe is lawlike because God makes and enforces the laws.

Feser’s final objection to this is that it entails occasionalism, ie that what seem to be causes in nature are in fact God doing stuff. In his view that would make nature arbitrary, whereas in fact we see it to be consistent, so the view fails.

My response to this is that the early scientists believed in miracles and providence, and discussed how that was consistent with observable laws because God usually acts according to the laws, sufficiently for science to be valid. Modern occasionalists have expressed this in terms of God’s attribute of faithfulness, and that must be reasonable. After all, any admission of miracles, or special providence, into the world must limit the universal applicability of its adherence to laws.

Feser’s preferred alternative, Aristotelian essences, does seem to me a better explanation of things than any of the alternative explanation of “laws”, and he is right that it is the only explanation that actually accommodates atheism as well as religion at all satisfactorily. Nevertheless, he fails to mention that as soon as miracles and providence are allowed in (and as a Catholic Thomist he does admit them), then those Aristotelian natures will sometimes be overridden.

That carries its own theological problems of God apparently working aginst his own creation (problems to which there are good answers), but it remains simply untrue that the world exhibits completely lawlike regularity in practice, if the Christian God exists. So theologically, Aristotelianism seems no better than divine law models - though I think rationally and biblically it makes a lot more sense.

Watch the video - time well spent.


Highly relevant to conversation with @rcohlers coming up. Hope you’ll come have some fun on that too.


Hi @jongarvey and @swamidass,

Here’s a short paper by the Suarezian philosopher Alfred Freddoso, of the University of Notre Dame, on miracles:

Comment on Peter van Inwagen’s “The Place of Chance in a World Sustained by God”

It’s well worth reading. Feser is of course a concurrentist, like Freddoso and the vast majority of Christian philosophers in the Middle Ages. Freddoso’s remarks on the miracle of Daniel in the fiery furnace are well worth reading.