The Uniformitarian Creed

More than anything else, science rests on one fundamental faith: that the things we call “physical laws” actually correspond to some kind of essence that the Universe has, which is stable through time (or at least changes only very slowly). We may call this faith, if we like, the “the Uniformitarian Creed“.

Remove the Uniformitarian Creed, and the Problem of Induction eats science whole; there suddenly is no reason to believe that accumulated observations should tell us anything whatsoever about what lies in the future, or what happened far in the past, or even in different places. Events of any kind may happen at any time, anywhere, and all relations between events become specious, impossible to determine, or wholly subjective.

The presence or absence of the Creed—and its ultimate truth or falsity—literally marks the difference between Cosmos and Chaos. It is also the basis for the difference between Progressives and Traditionalists: the Progressive believes that reality either does not exist or, much the same thing, is limitlessly emendable, while the Traditionalist believes that reality is founded in some absolute truth or essence that is fundamentally stable, and which experience and reason together can meaningfully acquaint us with.

But as Hume noticed, there seems to be no warrant for establishing the uniformitarian faith from any number of observed instances, no matter how mutually consistent they seem; and so, once faith is rendered inadmissible or faux pas, scientific knowledge becomes a matter of custom only. This is why scientific reasoning, stripped of absolute faith or Truth of any kind, ultimately devolves to chaos and nihilism: all its truths are conditional, yet nothing is provided to condition them upon.

And so the story of modernity can be summed up this way: Man, in his hubris, thought he could create a Universe all to himself; but what he ended up creating was only a collapsing universe, one riddled throughout by nihilism and skewing towards Chaos–and in which he promptly found himself quite trapped.

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