Experimental Method and God’s Voluntarism

From Nancy Pearcey, Charles Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy

p. 19 “In 1277 Etienne Tempier, Bishop of Paris, issued a condemnation of several theses derived from Aristotelianism – that God could not allow any form of planetary motion other than circular, that He could not make a vacuum, and many more. The condemnation of 1277 helped inspire a form of theology known as voluntarism, which admitted no limitations on God’s power. It regarded natural law not as Forms inherent within nature but as divine commands imposed from outside nature. Voluntarism insisted that the structure of the universe – indeed, its very existence – is not rationally necessary but is contingent upon the free and transcendent will of God.”

One of the most important consequences of voluntarist theology for science is that it helped to inspire and justify an experimental methodology. For if God created freely rather than by logical necessity, then we cannot gain knowledge of it by logical deduction (which traces necessary connections). Instead, we have to go out and look, to observe and experiment. As Barbour puts it:

‘The world is orderly and dependable because God is trustworthy and not capricious; but the details of the world must be found by observation rather than rational deduction because God is free and did not have to create any particular kind of universe.’”

The book is a good overview of the science development as a fight between three different world views among Christians:

If Aristotelianism portrayed God as the Great Logician, and neo-Platonism as the Great Magus/Artisan, then mechanistic philosophy portrayed Him as the Great Mechanical Engineer.”

Nowadays God seems to be the Great Programmer.