The uniformity of natural laws in Victorian Britain: Naturalism, theism, and scientific practice

Zygon 46 (3):536-560 (2011)

Abstract

Abstract. A historical perspective allows for a different view on the compatibility of theistic views with a crucial foundation of modern scientific practice: the uniformity of nature, which states that the laws of nature are unbroken through time and space. Uniformity is generally understood to be part of a worldview called “scientific naturalism,” in which there is no room for divine forces or a spiritual realm. This association comes from the Victorian era, but a historical examination of scientists from that period shows that uniformity was an important part of both theistic and naturalistic worldviews. Victorian efforts to maintain the viability of miracles and divine action within a universe ruled by natural laws receives special attention. The methodological practices of theistic and naturalistic scientists in the nineteenth century were effectively indistinguishable despite each group's argument that uniformity was closely dependent on their worldview. This similarity is used to reexamine both the reasons for the decline of the role of religion within the scientific community and claims made by the intelligent design movement about the relationship of science and religion

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