The Revolution in Geology from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment
Natural theology, design and law
Published:April 01, 2009
It is widely recognized that Darwin discredited the argument from design for the existence of God. Less well known is the history of a related notion, the argument from law, according to which there cannot be a law without a legislator. Both rested upon the more fundamental assumption that we can interpret the world on the basis of privileged knowledge of God, supposedly an anthropomorphic one. Given that the same being both created the universe and ordained the laws of nature that govern it, viewing geological history and the fossil record as teleological is much easier. Pre-Darwinian scientists invoked both design and law in explaining the history of the world. In either case, the result was a tendency to view the fossil record as if it were, like a developing embryo, headed in a particular direction. Those who have attempted to salvage that view in the face of Darwin’s contribution have generally put more of a causal burden upon laws of nature. Even though that may seem more “scientific,” both arguments are grounded in mysticism.