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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Natural Law Quotes (41 quotes)

On peut braver les lois humaines, mais non résister aux lois naturelles.
One can defy human laws, but cannot resist natural laws.
Original French in Les Voyages Extraordinaires par Jules Verne: Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers (1870), 359. (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea). Translation by Webmaster. The context is that Captain Nemo is describing how the submarine Nautilus had been trapped as a melting iceberg flipping to find a new equilibrium. Nemo regarded the accident as caused by “a caprice of nature, not from the ignorance of man.”
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A few days ago, a Master of Arts, who is still a young man, and therefore the recipient of a modern education, stated to me that until he had reached the age of twenty he had never been taught anything whatever regarding natural phenomena, or natural law. Twelve years of his life previously had been spent exclusively amongst the ancients. The case, I regret to say, is typical. Now we cannot, without prejudice to humanity, separate the present from the past.
'On the Study of Physics', From a Lecture delivered in the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the Spring of 1854. Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 1, 284-5.
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A natural law regulates the advance of science. Where only observation can be made, the growth of knowledge creeps; where laboratory experiments can be carried on, knowledge leaps forward.
[Attributed, probably incorrectly]
Seen in various places, but Webmaster has found none with a source citation, and doubts the authenticity, because none found with attribution to Faraday prior to 1950. The earliest example Webmaster found is in 1929, by Walter Morley Fletcher in his Norman Lockyer Lecture. He refers to it as a “truism,” without mention of Faraday. He says “law of our state of being” rather than “natural law.” See the Walter Morley Fletcher page for more details.
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Can the cause be reached from knowledge of the effect with the same certainty as the effect can be shown to follow from its cause? Is it possible for one effect to have many causes? If one determinate cause cannot be reached from the effect, since there is no effect which has not some cause, it follows that an effect, when it has one cause, may have another, and so that there may be several causes of it.
As quoted in Alistair Cameron Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700 (1971), 81.
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Conscientious and careful physicians allocate causes of disease to natural laws, while the ablest scientists go back to medicine for their first principles.
Aristotle
Attributed.
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Everything which comes to be, comes to be out of, and everything which passes away passes away into, its opposite or something in between. And the things in between come out of the opposites—thus colors come out of pale and dark. So the things which come to be naturally all are or are out of opposites.
Aristotle
In 'Physics', Book 1, Chapter 2, 188b22, as translated by William Charlton, Physics: Books I and II (1983), 12.
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For it is the nature of that which is the same and remains in the same state always to produce the same effects, so either there will always be coming to be or perishing.
Aristotle
From 'On Generation and Corruption', Natural Philosophy, Book 2, Chap. 10, 336a27. As translated by Inna Kupreeva, Ancient Commentators on Aristotle: Philoponus: On Aristotle on Coming-to-be and Perishing 2.5-11 (2014), 84.
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For ourselves, we may take as a basic assumption, clear from a survey of particular cases, that natural things are some or all of them subject to change.
Aristotle
In 'Physics', Book 1, Chapter 2, 185a13, as translated by William Charlton, Physics: Books I and II (1983), 2.
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Human behaviour reveals uniformities which constitute natural laws. If these uniformities did not exist, then there would be neither social science nor political economy, and even the study of history would largely be useless. In effect, if the future actions of men having nothing in common with their past actions, our knowledge of them, although possibly satisfying our curiosity by way of an interesting story, would be entirely useless to us as a guide in life.
In Cours d’Economie Politique (1896-7), Vol. 2, 397.
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If you will have your laws obeyed without mutiny. see well that they be pieces of God Almighty’s Law; otherwise, all the artillery in the world will not keep down mutiny.
In History of Friedrich II. of Prussia: Called Frederick the Great (1869), 128.
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In my understanding of God I start with certain firm beliefs. One is that the laws of nature are not broken. We do not, of course, know all these laws yet, but I believe that such laws exist. I do not, therefore, believe in the literal truth of some miracles which are featured in the Christian Scriptures, such as the Virgin Birth or water into wine. ... God works, I believe, within natural laws, and, according to natural laws, these things happen.
Essay 'Science Will Never Give Us the Answers to All Our Questions', collected in Henry Margenau, and Roy Abraham Varghese (eds.), Cosmos, Bios, Theos (1992), 66.
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It is the triumph of civilization that at last communities have obtained such a mastery over natural laws that they drive and control them. The winds, the water, electricity, all aliens that in their wild form were dangerous, are now controlled by human will, and are made useful servants.
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 75.
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Edwin Grant Conklin quote: Man cannot change a single law of nature, but can put himself into such relations to natural laws tha
Man cannot change a single law of nature, but can put himself into such relations to natural laws that he can profit by them.
In Heredity and Environment in the Development of Men (1920), 275.
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Man cannot have an effect on nature, cannot adopt any of her forces, if he does not know the natural laws in terms of measurement and numerical relations. Here also lies the strength of the national intelligence, which increases and decreases according to such knowledge. Knowledge and comprehension are the joy and justification of humanity; they are parts of the national wealth, often a replacement for the materials that nature has too sparcely dispensed. Those very people who are behind us in general industrial activity, in application and technical chemistry, in careful selection and processing of natural materials, such that regard for such enterprise does not permeate all classes, will inevitably decline in prosperity; all the more so were neighbouring states, in which science and the industrial arts have an active interrelationship, progress with youthful vigour.
Kosmos (1845), vol.1, 35. Quoted in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1970), vol. 6, 552.
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Mathematicians are inexorably drawn to nature, not just describing what is to be found there, but in creating echoes of natural laws.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 361.
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Natural law is not applicable to the unseen world behind the symbols, because it is unadapted to anything except symbols, and its perfection is a perfection of symbolic linkage. You cannot apply such a scheme to the parts of our personality which are not measurable by symbols any more than you can extract the square root of a sonnet.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 53.
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Nature is the principle of movement of its own accord and not by accident.
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Nature produces those things which, being continually moved by a certain principle contained in themselves, arrive at a certain end.
Aristotle
In 'Physics' as quoted by Henry Fairfield Osborn in Address (29 Dec 1925) for the Opening of the new Peabody Museum of Yale University, 'The Origin of Species 1859-1925', The Scientific Monthly (Mar 1926), Vol. 22, 190.
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People make the mistake of talking about ‘natural laws’. There are no natural laws. There are only temporary habits of nature.
In Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, as recorded by Lucien Price (1954), 367. As cited in G. Debrock (ed.), Process Pragmatism: Essays on a Quiet Philosophical Revolution (2003), 94.
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People make the mistake of talking about “natural laws.” There are no natural laws. There are only temporary habits of nature.
In Alfred North Whitehead and ‎Lucien Price (ed.), Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954), 267.
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Science has sometimes been said to be opposed to faith and inconsistent with it. But all science in fact rests on a basis of faith for it assumes the permanence and uniformity of natural laws—a thing which can never be demonstrated.
In Tryon Edwards (ed.), A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1891), 165.
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Spaceflights can’t be stopped. This isn't the work of any one man or even a group of men. It is a historical process which mankind is carrying out in accordance with the natural laws of human development.
As quoted in Space World (1974), 10.
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The Archetypal idea was manifested in the flesh, under divers such modifications, upon this planet, long prior to the existence of those animal species that actually exemplify it. To what natural laws or secondary causes the orderly succession and progression of such organic phaenomena may have been committed we as yet are ignorant. But if, without derogation of the Divine power, we may conceive the existence of such ministers, and personify them by the term 'Nature,' we learn from the past history of our globe that she has advanced with slow and stately steps, guided by the archetypal light, amidst the wreck of worlds, from the first embodiment of the Vertebrate idea under its old Ichthyic vestment, until it became arrayed in the glorious garb of the Human form.
On the Nature of Limbs (1849), 86.
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The concepts of ‘soul’ or ‘life’ do not occur in atomic physics, and they could not, even indirectly, be derived as complicated consequences of some natural law. Their existence certainly does not indicate the presence of any fundamental substance other than energy, but it shows only the action of other kinds of forms which we cannot match with the mathematical forms of modern atomic physics ... If we want to describe living or mental processes, we shall have to broaden these structures. It may be that we shall have to introduce yet other concepts.
…...
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The discovery of natural law is a meeting with God.
Philosophie der Technik (1927), 31. In Marike Finlay, Powermatics: a discursive critique of new communications technology (1987), 68. Finlay's translation uses the word 'technics' in place of 'the discovery of natural law.'
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The first successes were such that one might suppose all the difficulties of science overcome in advance, and believe that the mathematician, without being longer occupied in the elaboration of pure mathematics, could turn his thoughts exclusively to the study of natural laws.
From Preface to Traité de calcul différentiel et de calcul intégral (1864-70), i. Quoted in address to the section of Algebra and Analysis, International Congress of Arts and Sciences, St. Louis (22 Sep 1904), 'On the Development of Mathematical Analysis and its Relation to Certain Other Sciences,' as translated by M.W. Haskell in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (May 1905), 11, 408.
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The mind has an outlook which transcends the natural law by which it functions.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 56.
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The natural scientist is concerned with a particular kind of phenomena … he has to confine himself to that which is reproducible … I do not claim that the reproducible by itself is more important than the unique. But I do claim that the unique exceeds the treatment by scientific method. Indeed it is the aim of this method to find and test natural laws…
In Aufsätze und Vorträge über Physik und Erkenntnistheorie (1961), 94. Quoted in Erhard Scheibe and Brigitte Falkenburg (ed), Between Rationalism and Empiricism: Selected Papers in the Philosophy of Physics (2001), 276
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The physicist’s problem is the problem of ultimate origins and ultimate natural laws. The biologist's problem is the problem of complexity.
In The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 15.
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The scientific method is a potentiation of common sense, exercised with a specially firm determination not to persist in error if any exertion of hand or mind can deliver us from it. Like other exploratory processes, it can be resolved into a dialogue between fact and fancy, the actual and the possible; between what could be true and what is in fact the case. The purpose of scientific enquiry is not to compile an inventory of factual information, nor to build up a totalitarian world picture of Natural Laws in which every event that is not compulsory is forbidden. We should think of it rather as a logically articulated structure of justifiable beliefs about nature. It begins as a story about a Possible World—a story which we invent and criticise and modify as we go along, so that it ends by being, as nearly as we can make it, a story about real life.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 59.
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There are certain things which can exist but do not, and others which do exist. Those which can be are said to exist in potency, whereas those which are, are said to exist in act.
First sentence of Chapter I in Selected Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas (1965), 7.
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There is a finite number of species of plants and animals—even of insects—upon the earth. … Moreover, the universality of the genetic code, the common character of proteins in different species, the generality of cellular structure and cellular reproduction, the basic similarity of energy metabolism in all species and of photosynthesis in green plants and bacteria, and the universal evolution of living forms through mutation and natural selection all lead inescapably to a conclusion that, although diversity may be great, the laws of life, based on similarities, are finite in number and comprehensible to us in the main even now.
Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24.
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There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.
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There is very little flexibility in the behavior of the Universe. What it does once, it does again.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 167.
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We find it a law of our state of being that where only observation can be made the growth of knowledge creeps; where experiment can be made knowledge leaps forward.
From Norman Lockyer Lecture delivered before the British Science Guild (19 Nov 1929), 'Medical Research: The Tree and the Fruit', in The British Medical Journal (30 Nov 1929), Vol. 2, No. 3595, 995. Fletcher introduces this statement as a “truism,” without mention of any prior person saying it. Yet it is very similar to a quote often seen, perhaps incorrectly, as a quote attributed to Michael Faraday: “A natural law regulates the advance of science. Where only observation can be made, the growth of knowledge creeps; where laboratory experiments can be carried on, knowledge leaps forward.” Webmaster has found no instance of this quote being made prior to 1929, which raises the suspicion that Faraday did not originate it — else why is it not easily found in his written work or quoted in a book in all the years since his time? If you know a primary source linking it to Faraday, please contact Webmaster.
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What remains to be learned may indeed dwarf imagination. Nevertheless, the universe itself is closed and finite. … The uniformity of nature and the general applicability of natural laws set limits to knowledge. If there are just 100, or 105, or 110 ways in which atoms may form, then when one has identified the full range of properties of these, singly and in combination, chemical knowledge will be complete.
Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24.
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When everything moves at the same time, nothing moves in appearance.
Quand tout se remue également, rien ne se remue en apparence.
From Pensées Art. vi, 27. In Craufurd Tait Ramage, Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 237.
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When the state is shaken to its foundations by internal or external events, when commerce, industry and all trades shall be at a stand, and perhaps on the brink of ruin; when the property and fortune of all are shaken or changed, and the inhabitants of towns look forward with dread and apprehension to the future, then the agriculturalist holds in his hand the key to the money chest of the rich, and the savings-box of the poor; for political events have not the slightest influence on the natural law, which forces man to take into his system, daily, a certain number of ounces of carbon and nitrogen.
Reflecting on events of 1848.
Familiar Letters on Chemistry (1851), 3rd edn., 483.
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When we have fully discovered the scientific laws that govern life, we shall realise that one person who has more illusions than the dreamer is the man of action.
In Epigrams of Oscar Wilde (2007), 111.
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Why then does science work? The answer is that nobody knows. It is a complete mystery—perhaps the complete mystery&mdashwhy the human mind should be able to understand anything at all about the wider universe. ... Perhaps it is because our brains evolved through the working of natural law that they somehow resonate with natural law. ... But the mystery, really, is not that we are at one with the universe, but that we are so to some degree at odds with it, different from it, and yet can understand something about it. Why is this so?
Coming of Age in the Milky Way (1988), 385. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 185.
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[The teaching of Nature] is harsh and wasteful in its operation. Ignorance is visited as sharply as wilful disobedience—incapacity meets with the same punishment as crime. Nature’s discipline is not even a word and a blow, and the blow first; but the blow without the word. It is left to you to find out why your ears are boxed.
The object of what we commonly call education—that education in which man intervenes, and which I shall distinguish as artificial education—is to make good these defects in Nature’s methods; to prepare the child to receive Nature’s education, neither incapably, nor ignorantly, nor with wilful disobedience; and to understand the preliminary symptoms of her displeasure, without waiting for the box on the ear. In short, all artificial education ought to he an anticipation of natural education. And a liberal education is an artificial education, which has not only prepared a man to escape the great evils of disobedience to natural laws, but has trained him to appreciate and to seize upon the rewards, which Nature scatters with as free a hand as her penalties.
From Inaugural Address as Principal, South London Working Men’s College, in 'A Liberal Education; and Where to Find it', Macmillan's Magazine (Mar 1868), 17, 370.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 40 -
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