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be neatly described by any single natural law, or even any sizable set of laws and law-like
statements, it is largely uncontroversial.
There is, however, a significantly less plausible interpretation of the claim. On this
interpretation, to say, “all natural laws are context sensitive” would be to deny, for example,
that it is always the case that, in a closed system, energy is conserved. While, generally, in
closed systems energy is conserved, there will some cases where the law fails to hold. If this
is how (1) is to be understood, it is a deeply implausible claim. As before, even if one is
tempted to accept this interpretation of (1), any argument based on this understanding of (1)
immediately begs the question against the scientific realist. Various theories in physics count
among our best scientific theories. Furthermore, these theories are committed to the existence
of exceptionless laws. Consequently, even if one accepts this second interpretation of (1), it
cannot serve as a premise in an argument against scientific realism.
Just like (1), (2) is doubly ambiguous. If we understand “all natural laws are context
sensitive” in the second sense, then (2) is true. The realist is committed to the view that, for
instance, the laws of thermodynamics are exceptionless. However, if we understand “all
natural laws are context sensitive” in this way, then (1) is either false or question begging.
For the above argument to pose a threat to realism, we must understand the claim that
“all natural laws are context sensitive” in the first way. That is, we must understand it as a
claim about the lack of explanatory power of any individual law treated in isolation. When
understood in this way, is it the case that
If realism is true then there are natural laws that
are not context sensitive
? The answer is clearly “no.” The realist is not committed to the
implausible view that the world is anything like the simplified physics problems presented to
high school students.
This argument does not play well for the creationists. Evolution if it is anything is
indeed context sensitive, while by contrast, the same cannot be said for an omniscient and all-
powerful creator. The creationist may respond by pointing out that that same omniscience
and all-powerfulness must therefore explain everything, but such a tautology cannot be
considered to be a successful argument that creationism is thus a science.
Realism is false because knowledge requires a knower
The final naïve objection I want to consider is based on the banal observation that
requires a knower
. (One can also formulate a version of the argument based on the equally
trivial remark that
observation requires an observer
.) The argument can be formulated as
If knowledge requires a knower then there is no mind-independent knowledge.
If there is no mind-independent knowledge then realism is false.
If knowledge requires a knower then realism is false. (From 1 and 2)
Knowledge requires a knower.
Therefore, realism is false. (From 3 and 4)