René Descartes, Isaac Newton and other early scientists were Christians, and their faith was essential to their science. In fact, as Dr. Jeffrey Koperski explains, “The early moderns thought there were laws of nature because there was a divine law-giver.” The entire notion of natural laws came about from a theistic worldview.
How, then, did we go from theistic notions of natural law to naturalistic? When did the notion of laws of nature get divorced from the law-giver? Why was a wedge driven between theology and science?
Enter the X-Club — men like the zoologist Thomas Huxley, biologist Herbert Spencer and physicist John Tyndall. This group of British thinkers actively sought to drive a wedge between science and faith, and they largely succeeded.
Dr. Koperski tells the story in his recent lecture, “How the Laws of Nature Were Naturalized,” delivered at a PhD Symposium at Southeastern Seminary. You can watch it above, or read highlights below.
Jeffrey Koperski is professor of philosophy at Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan. He has a Ph.D. (Philosophy) from Ohio State University and a B.E.E. (Electrical Engineering) from the University of Dayton. His areas of expertise are philosophy of science and philosophy of religion.
While most of his early work focused on philosophical questions in physics, his more recent publications deal with issues at the intersection of philosophy, science, and religion. He is an editorial board member for Philosophy Compass and has published articles in Philosophy of Science, the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, and The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, among others. His two books are titled The Physics of Theism: God, Physics, and the Philosophy of Science (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015) and Divine Action, Determinism, and the Laws of Nature (Routledge, 2020).
Theism was not a useless appendage that gets tacked onto early modern science. It was an integral part of the big picture.
- “You can’t understand Descartes, Newton,or Leibniz if you take the theology out of it. I don’t mean you can’t understand their philosophical writings; you can’t understand their physics. Theism was not a useless appendage that gets tacked onto early modern science. It was an integral part of the big picture.”
- “The early moderns thought there were laws of nature because there was a divine law-giver…. You just don’t get laws for all of nature without theism.”
- “It was not an accident, not a conceptual drift over time. In my view, the most important players in this story were a group of British thinkers… called the X-Club.”
- “One prong of the strategy was clearly this flood of publication and lectures. But the other was getting members of the X-Club into positions of influence, like the Presidency of the World Society and lots of other organizations. The X-Club cultivated allies in publishing, in the church and in education, and they controlled a new school for the training of science teachers.”