How do we know that any given law exists? If we were talking about societal laws, we could trace the origin back to the people who wrote the law and codified it into our legal system. We could also observe those who enforce those laws and the court systems which mitigate them. There would be no mystery in determining the origin and existence of these laws.
But how about the laws of physics or nature? Can we verify the origin or existence of these laws with such precision? Sure, we can observe phenomena, and then conclude that these laws are suggested by them; however that is not the same kind of verification process. So how do we know that these laws exist?
The laws of physics began with the assumption that some sort of laws must underlie our reality. We cannot verify this with the source of these laws. It is a purely faith-based assumption from which modern scientific materialism arose. So where did this assumption come from?
Before the laws of physics, human beings assumed that the apparent order in their observations was a symphony conducted by supernatural entities. When patterns emerged in their environment, they would be attributed to powerful or omnipotent entities that created and enforced the laws of reality that people believed guided the world of their experiences.
Then about four centuries ago, pockets of humanity began to question the existence of these entities, recognizing them for what they were — gap fillers constructed by guesswork and faith. This was a fully reasonable conclusion, since no God or Gods ever came forward to verify that they were in fact responsible for creating or managing our reality. Yet while the deities were abandoned, the same assumption that they had been created from was left intact, which is that something must be in control of the universe.
Rather than referring to supernatural entities as having control, we placed this burden on something perhaps even more ephemeral — Nature. If asked to precisely define what nature is, most people would respond that it is ‘the sum of everything in existence’. Is it sensible to claim that the sum of everything in existence has an agency to create immutable laws of self-governing? That seems to differ exactly none from claims of an all-powerful deity. Usually this will be circumvented by claiming that there is no agency, and that these laws arose from random processes, and yet there is a circular logic in maintaining that absolutes arose from randomness. Deferring to randomness gets us right back to religious-minded thinking, in which we claim to derive the absolutely knowable from the absolutely unknowable.
I can anticipate the kind of responses this will create. Those who find these suggestions maddening will be quick to refer to some scientific outcome which they feel proves their assertions that these laws of physics exist. However these laws were constructed on the assumption that laws must exist, sending us right back into the feedback loop of circular logic. This is how religious belief works. If you begin with an assumption that the Bible or Qur’an must be true no matter what, then any logic which supports that seems inalienably true. Scientific materialism is based on the same self-affirming faith that, if a conclusion supports the premise that reality is dictated by universal laws, it must be true.
I am not unsympathetic to those who would protest my thoughts here. By all appearances, the laws of physics seem not just rational, but useful. Appeals to the success of science in it’s technological advancements make the laws of physics seem like a no-brainer. However you must remember that long before the modern era, human beings successfully advanced their technologies using the foundational premises of their belief systems. The inventors of pottery and the wheel most likely worked from their ideas about the fundamental nature of the universe, and even though we would scoff at their beliefs today, the successes predicated on them cannot be denied.
The truth is that one does not escape their dogmas as a result of hearing good arguments against them. An individual must decide to deeply question the most fundamental foundations of their belief system, striking to very roots of why they believe what they believe. In my own self-journey I have discovered that working from the bottom up, there is never sufficient reason to believe in any universal absolutes. Any answer as to why or how things be like they do is easily undermined by removing an underlying assumption. The best that one can do, it seems to me, is unburden one’s self of those assumptions and the circular logic which follows from them. In essence, while we can never really be right about anything, we can teach ourselves to be less wrong.
The more we box ourselves in with absolutes, the less free we become to imagine. When our creativity is limited by dogmas which dictate possibilities, we narrow our ideas and activities to fit. This restrictive course impedes the sort of maverick thinking that we need to outgrow a world which appears to be crashing down around us. The social, political, economic and environmental crises which we face are products of a world constructed on the belief that something must be in control of our existence. To escape those crises we need to start thinking differently. Rather than abdicating responsibility to some cosmic force, perhaps it is time to see ourselves as the guilty party in creating a reality we cannot consistently abide by.
The next frontier for humanity will be to see ourselves as co-authors in the story we are in, and not just actors in some drama written by God(s) or Nature. But the freedom to write a better story can only arise when we firmly believe in our ability to do. And so regardless of what is right or true about reality, what is right and true about living in it is playing by rules which allow us the greatest mobility to create change. The idea that something is in control prevents that. So while you may have a thousand points to raise in favor of that belief, what really is in control is your inability to think you could be completely wrong about just about everything.