Nature, Laws of
Nature, Laws of In the question raised under this title the following points must be considered:
(1) the substance itself of nature; (2) the forces working in and through it; and (3) their production always of identical results under identical circumstances.
This immutable connection is intuitively considered as an inherent necessity, the result of experience as assumed by reason. On the other hand all the known laws of nature are sometimes considered as a whole, termed then natural law, by virtue of which all nature forcibly working, and by the combination of all its inherent forces, gives rise to all effects. In this sense, however, natural law can only be fully appreciated by contrast. This is afforded in two ways by theology, in which it gives rise to theories that have attained at times undue preponderance. We find it first in the domain of apologetics and dogmatics, where natural law requires the creative power of the living God to explain not only the creation, but also the preservation of the universe. We find it next in the province of morals, where the distinction between the causality of the natural forces and those of the human will, between the necessities of nature and the freedom of man, and, in short, between natural law and moral law, is to be established. In both instances — the laws of nature are opposed to the effects of freedom; but in dogmatics it is the freedom of the Creator as the absolute master of his creation, while in ethics it is the freedom of man as the membrum praecipuum of the earthly creation.
I. In Dogmatics, the first point which arises is to ascertain whether the laws of nature, inherent in the creature and in the world, admit of or exclude the cooperation of God; and in the latter case whether, according to the pantheistic idea, nature itself is God; or whether, according to the deistical theory, God, after creating the universe, left it to the exclusive guidance of natural laws. The answer to these questions settles also that of the admissibility of miracles. It is well known that Schleiermacher, and still more emphatically Strauss, have denied the existence of miracles from the standpoint of natural laws. Schleiermacher (Der Christl. Glaube, § 46) says that religious consciousness, as a simple feeling of dependence, "is identical with the knowledge that all which afflicts or influences us is caused by and results from natural causes;" and (§ 47) "that the interests of piety can never give rise to the necessity of so arranging a fact that it should be placed in such immediate dependence from God as to deny its taking its source in the general vws of nature." Every absolute miracle disturbs the whole order of nature, both negatively as regards the past, as the miracle contradicts all previous observations, and thus appears to suppress the usual working of nature; and positively with reference to the future, "in which everything is changed at once from what it would have been had not the miracle occurred, so that every miracle not only disturbs forever the whole connection of the original organization, but every new miracle also annuls the preceding, in so far as they have come to be counted among the working agencies." SEE MIRACLES. It will be sufficient for our present purpose to refer to R. Rothe's answer to the views of Schleiermacher (in the Studien u. Kritiken, 1858, 1:27-40): "If the course of the universe is an arithmetical sum, the factors of which, including also the free motives, are in themselves invariable quantities; or if the divine government of the world is something like the clock-work of a music-box, in which the melodies to be played were from all eternity pinned in the cylinder, then, certainly, there can be no room in the universe for miracles. These have for their basis a positive independence with respect to God, although not interfering with absolute dependence upon him; there is a real distinction and separation between the divine causality and that of the creature, and also in,the operation of freedom in the world... I respect the laws of nature, and rejoice at every advance we make in their knowledge. God himself has subjected to them the forces of nature; but he has not subjected to them his liberty or his almighty will. He has retained undisturbed his absolute liberty, and his sovereignty in the universe he has created. Miracles prove that the laws of nature, while they are the greatest power in the world, are yet subject to the government of him who created them, the ever-living God." Thus the laws of nature are the work of the eternal Law-giver and loving Governor.
II. In Ethics we have to consider the connection between inanimate and unreasoning creation and personalities, or, in other words, the relation between natural and moral law. The distinction is generally drawn by the definition that natural law implies a state of being, moral law a volition. The first belongs to the domain of necessity, the latter to the province of free-will.
Schleiermacher has, indeed, sought to lessen and even to destroy this distinction of the phcenomena and noumenc of Kant and Fichte, i.e., of a theoretical and a practical reason of an object and a subject; and for that purpose has resorted to Schelling's philosophy of identity. This system consists in upholding the unity of nature and spirit, and points to the "will" ever arising from dead nature. Thus in his interesting treatise, Ueber d. Unterschied zwischen Natur- und Sittengesetz (in his Sammtliche Werke, III, 2:397-417), he seeks to equalize them. According to the common view (page 400), the natural law must contain a general expression of what really occurs in and through nature, and the moral law of what should occur in and through reason in her domain. Yet here we find again the obligation of the moral law based upon the existence of the mind, and of the respect for the law to which its observance relates. On the other hand (pages 409, 413) the natural law is also connected with an obligation, implying that all does not fully and perfectly proceed according to the law. Thus monstrosities and diseases stand in the same relation to the laws of nature, in whose domain they occur, as immorality and disobedience do to the moral law. Among the elementary forces and processes of nature we find vegetation and animalization; but abortion and disease, in nature, are not the effects of a new principle; they are only a deficiency of those of vegetation and animalization. So also "in the domain of spiritual life we find deviations corresponding to its nature, which we find in that of vegetation and animalization. We even find others, having their origin not in intelligence itself, but in the fact that the mind in its state of earthly existence must become a centre, and as such must in an oscillating life appear inefficient sometimes in view of the subordinate functions." Thus by the side of reason and its laws there exists also a deficiency, and the deviations, in which the mind-force appears inadequate to the work, are in fact nothing but what we call evil and immorality. The two laws are therefore essentially similar. The difference of obligation is simply this: "It is only through the intervention of the mind-force that the individuality becomes free, and a mental life alone is a complete life. Hence it is merely on this point that the obligation is directed to the will." This theory of Schleiermacher agrees perfectly with his general view of ethics as a science, with which he opposed in his time the exaggeration of the feeling of duty, considering ethics especially as the chief good. But quite as evident, in the given theory, is the disadvantageous connection under which this definition of the natural and moral law is placed by Schleiermacher. It lies in the rejection of liberty, and therefore of the positive and essential prevalence of evil. The "intellectual" process is looked upon as similar to the vegetative and animalizing; the mind appears only as perceptive; evil takes its source only in quantitative oscillations, and in the relative weakness of the moral principles. The spiritual life is placed in the light of a natural process, and thus we find again in Schleiermacher's ethics the same naturalism as in dogmatics. Such is the pantheistic side of Schleiermacher's system, the conclusions of which have led many into an atheistical materialism that goes so far as to consider thought itself but "a secretion of the brain." It must both aim therefore of theology to overcome this pantheistic leaven, and to establish the limits of the power of the laws of nature, so as to prevent natural necessity being supposed to annul God's creative power and human liberty. It must show that the Spirit of the Lord is liberty, and not nature, and that God is all in all. See Herzog, Real- umcytol. 10:224 sq. SEE LAW.