How close are we to truly understanding the universe that we inhabit?
Does nature exist apart from our idea of it? For as long as we have been using the word “nature,” we have assumed that there is a certain order to things, that immutable laws rule the universe. Logic dictates that a Supreme Being once created those laws, or that they have always existed. Either way, nature is its laws. Nature with a capital “N” that is — nature as a recognizable fabric, as an indivisible whole. But all this is highly speculative. Nature, defined even in this the simplest of terms, still remains a profound assumption embraced by religious and secular minds alike.
Who’s to say that chaos doesn’t rule the universe? How can we be sure that what we call nature isn’t an illusion?
Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation not only marked the final triumph of Copernican’s sun-centered worldview over ancient and medieval fallacies, it ushered in a whole new way of thinking, predicated upon the belief that all nature operates according to unvarying mathematical laws. The Age of Enlightenment began with this fundamental concept. With the acceptance of Newton’s gravitational law, scientific method emerged in the late 17h Century as the best possible way to solve problems and promote technological innovation. And today it remains the dominant paradigm.
The days of the shaman are behind us. It’s all about science now. The laws of nature, created by God or no, rule the world in which we live. Or so we tell ourselves.
Nature is Emblematic
In the first part of the 19th Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson voiced a radically new worldview that, in retrospect, seems perfectly in tune with the spirit of his time. He believed that religion could be served by science, that God’s will is manifest in the laws of nature. He also believed that nature is emblematic of a greater reality, and that we could better understand these “higher laws” through direct encounter with nature. In a slender volume he simply called Nature, he wrote:
The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?