Kepler and the Laws of Nature

  • Article
  • 6 pages
  • Level: high school and above

Owen Gingerich, an astronomer and historian of science with Harvard University, discusses Johannes Kepler and the idea of “Laws of Nature” in this 2011 article published in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith:

Kepler is famous for his three laws of planetary motion, but he never assigned a special status to them or called them laws. More than a century and a half passed before they were singled out and ordered in a group of three. Nevertheless, he believed in an underlying, God-given rationale to the universe, something akin to laws of nature, and as he matured he began to use the word archetype for this concept. Most physicists today have, quite independently of religious values, a feeling that deep down the universe is ultimately comprehensible and lawful. Such ultimate laws are here called ontological laws of nature. In contrast, what we have (including Kepler’s third law, for example) are human constructs, epistemological laws of nature. Belief in the existence of deep ontological laws is an implicit leap of faith. Science, insofar as it assumes the reality of mathematical laws, operates with a tacitly theistic assumption about the nature of the universe. Such insights provide a strong hint for answering Einstein’s most serious inquiry: Why is the universe comprehensible?

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