[A] "If a law governs a particular space-time region then the physical states will so evolve." (Maudlin, 17)[B] "My analysis of laws is no analysis at all. Rather I suggest we accept laws as fundamental entities in our ontology." (Maudlin, 18)
[C] "The laws can operate to produce the rest of the Mosaic exactly because their existence does not ontologically depend on the Mosaic." (Maudlin, 175; emphases in original)
[D] "The universe, as well as all the smaller parts of it, is made: it is an ongoing enterprise, generated from a beginning and guided towards its future by physical law." (Maudlin, 182; emphasis in original)
Maudlin's book is fantastic. It gives you a sense of what metaphysics looks like if one has an advanced education in recent physics; it is also rooted in "scientific practice." With laser like precision it focuses on the most fundamental weaknesses of the most important alternative approaches (Quine, Lewis, Van Fraassen, etc), and it makes obscure physics seem easy to digest. What would stop somebody sympathetic to Maudlin's general orientation from accepting laws in one's ontology [B]?
Maudlin calls the fundamental laws "FLOTEs" (for Fundamental Laws of Temporal Evoluton). Together with "adjunct principles," FLOTEs describe how states (may) evolve into later states. (17) Initial conditions are examples of such principles. One can certainly understand physics such that its business is mainly discovering FLOTEs. So far so good. But [A, C, D] describe the laws themselves as the productive sources of change. If Maudlin were writing in the seventeenth century we would describe his position about laws either as "second causes" (Cartesian language) or as a special modern instance of "formal causation" (in the way that platonizing mathematicians thought of these [see Mancosu's book])--inspired by Kuhn (and anticipated by Burtt), I think such formal causes were conceptually transformed into laws of nature by Bacon and Newton.
One does not need God to think of laws as formal causes. Now, to avoid confusion, formal causes need not be accompanied by any (guiding) final causes (the formal causes are, as it were, "blind"). But this approach faces three problems: first, one wants to know how or in what way laws are "productive" or "guide." Ideally one wants to have some mechanism that connects the FLOTE, on the one hand, and the evolving universe, on the other hand. (To offer a geometric analogy, one wants the construction mechanism that guides the cosmic ruler and compass.) But on the whole physics is not in the business of explaining how laws operate in such fashion. Rather, physics is about the entities that figure in or are described by the laws, including various universal constants (which are curiously absent in Maudlin's approach). (It is also possible -- as Katherine Brading insists -- that the laws are constitutive of the entities so described.)
To accept the critical point of the previous paragraph, one need not be a follower of "Parmenides and the modern idealists" (Maudlin, 127), nor be an instrumentalist about science (recall my point about Schlick's "true empiricism"); that is, one can be a card-carrying "contemporary 'analytical' philosopher, people like Price or Horwich or Sklar or Albert or Williams or Earman -- in short, [somebody] who takes modern physics as the touchstone for ontology," (127) and resist the conflation between accepting the standard formulations of physics as one's ontology and instead focus on what physics is about. For, one can be an instrumentalist or nominalist about laws, however fundamental they are, without being forced into being an instrumentalist about what laws describe (that is the terms that figure in the laws such as very strange entities, spacetime, maybe constants, etc). For our measurement and detecting practices do not interact with laws, but with the things that figure in the laws. (This is compatible with letting in space, time, number, (etc) into our ontology, but need not.)
This is why, I think, a nominalist tendency about laws can be discerned even in Newton. Consider for example this passage:
“it may be also allowed that God is able to create particles of matter of several sizes and figures, and in several proportions to space, and perhaps of different densities and forces, and thereby to vary the laws of nature, and made worlds of several sorts in several parts of the universe,” (Newton Opticks).
Let's leave aside Newton's voluntarism. In this passage the laws of nature are a consequence (“thereby”) of the nature of matter and forces. Matter and, perhaps, foces are ontologically basic, and the laws will vary accordingly. Maudlin also allows "that the very laws themselved may change...Parochial laws are still laws." (12) So, second, if FLOTEs can change, one wonders in virtue of what ontologically more basic cosmic features they can change? (Unless, of course, the change in the FLOTE-regime can itself be due to some most fundamental FLOTE--a position open to Maudlin.) Now it is my sense that there are parts of contemporary cosmology that try to answer questions about the emergence of FLOTEs, so I do not mean to suggest that the situation is hopeless on this score for Maudlin's approach (on the contrary).
Even so, third, we can accept FLOTEs as primitive and not subject to analysis, and still ask fairly, (i) where do laws reside? In or outside space? If one thinks the preceding two sentences are merely rhetorical, one can reformulate the question by asking, (ii) What are the way or manner of being of FLOTEs? (i) and (ii) areperfectly legitimate metaphysical questions that do not require meddling with analysis or the primitive status of one's ontology. According to Newton "whatever is neither everywhere nor anywhere does not exist." (De Gravitatione) Such an ontological criterion for what exists is not very welcoming to the existence of FLOTEs. Now, Newton has not the last word on these matters but Maudlin does owe us some story on the nature of FLOTE-ing existence.
As an example of what I call "Newton's Challenge," Maudlin often appeals to the philosophical authority of "scientific practice" to settle debate within metaphysics. Yet, as physics has moved away from its roots in natural philosophy, it has also lost some of the ongoing engagement with the resources that may have once helped in answering the problems put here. For, there is quite a bit of "shut up and calculate" (apparently attributed to David Mermin) in contemporary scientific practice. So, I suspect that one is going to require extra-scientific (but not anti-scientific) resources to complete Maudlin's project.