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The Theological Origins of Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of Nature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2009

AVIHU ZAKAI
Affiliation:
Department of History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91905, Israel; e-mail: msavihu@tms.huji.ac.il

Abstract

An analysis of the works of Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) on natural philosophy, this article aims to show the affinities between the content and form of his philosophy of nature and some main features of medieval, scholastic and Renaissance thought: theology as the ‘queen of sciences’ (‘regina scientiarum’), science as ‘handmaiden to theology’ (‘philosophia ancilla theologiae’), the emblematic or typological understanding of world phenomena, and belief in the ‘great chain of being’ (‘scala naturae’). It argues that Edwards's works are inseparable from the school of ‘physico-theology’, the English followers of which set out to prove the being and attributes of God by the order and harmony of nature, and through their worship of the God of nature to show ‘the wisdom of God in creation’ in face of the threats which new modes of scientific thought and reasoning were posing to traditional Christian thought and belief in the early modern period.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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References

1 Edwards's various works on natural philosophy can be found in the Works of Jonathan Edwards, VI: Scientific and philosophical writings, ed. Wallace E. Anderson, New Haven 1980 (the Yale edition). All future references will be to this edition.

2 Perry Miller, ‘The objective good’, in his Jonathan Edwards, New York 1949, 71–99.

3 Anderson, Wallace E., ‘Introduction’, Works vi. 1143.Google Scholar To this might be added Perry Miller's introduction to Perry Miller (ed.), Images or shadows of divine things, Westport, Cn. 1972, 1–41, and, most recently, Josh Moody, Jonathan Edwards and the Enlightenment: knowing the presence of God, Lanham 2005, esp. pp. 94–118.

4 Miller, Jonathan Edwards, 72–3.

5 Anderson, ‘Introduction’, vi. 47.

6 Edmund Halley, ‘Ode dedicated to Newton’, in Sir Isaac Newton's mathematical principles of natural philosophy and his system of the world, ed. Florian Cajori, Berkeley 1934, i, p. xiv.

7 Roger Cotes, ‘Cotes's preface to the second edition’, ibid. i, p. xxxii.

8 Edwards, ‘Outline of “A rational account”’, Works, vi. 397.

9 Idem, History of the work of redemption (1739), ibid. ix. 278.

ibid.

10 Ibid. ix. 440.

11 Ibid. ix. 441. For Edwards's adherence to ‘philosophia ancilla theologiae’ see also Guelzo, Allen C., ‘Learning is the handmaid of the Lord: Jonathan Edwards, reason, and the life of the mind’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy xxviii (2004), 118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 Edwards, , ‘The importance and advantage of thorough knowledge of Divine truth’, Works, xxii. 85–6.Google Scholar

13 Idem, History of the work of redemption, ibid. ix. 441.

ibid.

14 Idem, ‘Images of divine things’, ibid. xi. 62–3.

ibid.

15 Ibid. xi. 114.

16 William B. Ashworth, Jr. ‘Catholicism and early modern science’, in David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (eds), God & nature: historical essays on the encounter between Christianity and science, Berkeley 1986, 156–7.

17 Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the scientific imagination from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century, Princeton 1986, 10.

18 Nancy Murphy, Theology in the age of scientific reasoning, Ithaca 1990, 5.

19 Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the rise of natural science, Cambridge 1998, 1.

20 Galileo Galilei, The assayer, in Discoveries and opinion of Galileo, trans. Stillman Drake, New York 1957, 237–8.

21 Peter Dear, Revolutionizing the sciences: European knowledge and its ambitions, 1500–1700, Princeton 2001, 80.

22 Robert Boyle, About the excellency and grounds of the mechanical hypothesis (1674), in Selected philosophical papers of Robert Boyle, ed. M. A. Stewart, Indianapolis 1991, 152.

23 Blaise Pascal, Pensées and other writings, trans. Honor Levi, Oxford 1999, fragment 690, p. 172.

24 Harrison, The Bible, 168.

25 Funkenstein, Theology and the scientific imagination, 28–9.

26 Ashworth, Jr, ‘Catholicism and early modern science’, 140

27 René Descartes, ‘Fourth meditation’, Meditations on first philosophy (1641), in The philosophical writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch and Anthony Kenny, Cambridge 1985, ii. 39. This was also the view of Francis Bacon: Ian Maclean, ‘White crows, graving hair, and eyelashes: problems for the natural historian in the reception of Aristotelian logic and biology from Pomponazzi to Bacon’, in Gianna Pomata and Nancy G. Siraisi (eds), Historia: empiricism and erudition in early modern Europe, Cambridge, Ma 2005, 167.

28 René Descartes, Principles of philosophy (1644), Philosophical writings, i. 202. Edwards's view is the opposite. While Descartes claimed that we cannot ‘grasp the ends which he [God] set before himself in creating the universe’ (Principles of philosophy, i. 248), Edwards strove to unveil God's aim and goal in the creation, as can be seen in his Concerning the end for which God created the world (1755).

29 Edwards, Miscellany, no. 362, Works xiii. 434. For Edwards's typology see Janice Knight, ‘Typology’, in San H. Lee (ed.), The Princeton companion to Jonathan Edwards, Princeton 2005, 190–209.

30 Edwards, Miscellany, no. 8, Works, xiii. 53.

31 Ashworth, Jr, ‘Catholicism and early modern science’, 157.

32 Edwards, ‘Images of divine things’, Works, xi. 53.

33 Idem, Miscellany, no. 42, ibid. xiii. 224.

ibid.

34 Idem, ‘Images of divine things’, ibid. xi. 66.

ibid.

35 Michel Foucault, The order of things: an archaeology of the human sciences, New York 1994, 17.

36 Ibid. 32, 39–40.

37 Ibid. 29–30.

38 Paracelsus, Selected writings, ed. Jolande Jacobi, Princeton 1979, 120–1.

39 Edwards, ‘Images of divine things’, Works, xi. 61.

40 Ibid. xi. 106.

41 Alexandre Koyré, From the closed world to the infinite universe, Baltimore 1968, 2.

42 Edwards, Miscellany, no. tt, Works, xiii. 190.

43 Ibid. no. 1263, Works, xxiii. 206–7, 211.

44 McGuire, J. E., ‘Boyle's conception of nature’, Journal of the History of Ideas xxxiii/4 (Oct.–Dec. 1972), 542.Google ScholarPubMed See also Michael Hunter, Science and society in Restoration England, Cambridge 1981, 182, and C. A. Patrides (ed.), The Cambridge Platonists, Cambridge 1980.

45 Edwards, Miscellany, no. tt, Works, xiii. 190.

46 Idem, ‘The mind’, ibid. vi. 337.

ibid.

47 Idem, Miscellany, no. 178, ibid. xiii. 327.

ibid.

48 Ernst Cassirer, The philosophy of the Enlightenment, Boston 1962, 39.

49 Edwards, ‘The mind’, Works, vi. 363.

50 Idem, Miscellany, no. 541, ibid. xviii. 89.

ibid.

51 Idem, ‘The mind’, ibid. vi. 337.

ibid.

52 Idem, ‘Things to be considered an[d] written fully about’, ibid. vi. 238.

ibid.

53 On Edwards's attack on mechanical philosophy see Zakai, Avihu, ‘Jonathan Edwards and the language of nature: the re-enchantment of the world in the age of scientific reasoning’, Journal of Religious History xxvi (February 2002), 1541CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jonathan Edwards's philosophy of history: the re-enchantment of the world in the age of enlightenment, Princeton 2003; and ‘The age of enlightenment’, in Stephen Stein (ed.), The Cambridge companion to Jonathan Edwards, New York 2006, 80–99.

54 Edwards, Miscellany, no. 332, Works, xiii. 410; Concerning the end for which God created the world, ibid. viii. 526–36.

ibid.

55 Idem, Miscellany, no. 108, ibid. xiii. 279; Concerning the end for which God created the world, ibid. viii. 530–1.

ibid.
ibid.

56 Brian W. Ogilvie, ‘Natural history, ethics, and Physico-Theology’, in Pomata and Siraisi, Historia, 95.

57 Edwards, ‘Wisdom in the contrivance of the world’, Works, vi. 307–10.

58 For Edwards's philosophy of history see Zakai, Jonathan Edwards's philosophy of history.

59 Edwards, ‘Of insects’, Works, vi. 161.

60 Idem, ‘The “Spider” letter’, ibid. vi. 164–5.

ibid.

61 Idem, ‘Wisdom in the contrivance of the world’, ibid. vi. 307–10.

ibid.

62 Idem, ‘Of being’, ibid. vi. 204, 206.

ibid.

63 Idem, ‘Things to be considered an[d] written fully about’, ibid. vi. 235.

ibid.

64 Idem, ‘The mind’, ibid. vi. 341.

ibid.

65 Idem, ‘Of atoms’, ibid. vi. 214–16.

ibid.

66 Idem, Miscellany, no. ff, ibid. xiii. 184.

ibid.

67 Idem, ‘Of atoms’, ibid. vi. 214–16.

ibid.

68 Isaac Newton, ‘General Scholium’, in Sir Isaac Newton's mathematical principles, ii. 547.

69 Edwards, ‘Things to be considered an[d] written fully about’, Works, vi. 231–2.

70 Ibid. vi. 234–5.

71 Ibid. vi. 246.

72 Idem, Miscellany, no. 362, ibid. vi. 434.

ibid.

73 Idem, ‘Beauty of the world’, ibid. vi. 305.

ibid.

74 Idem, ‘Wisdom in the contrivance of the world’, ibid. vi. 308.

ibid.

75 Idem, ‘The mind’, ibid. vi. 353–6.

ibid.

76 Idem, ‘Outline of “A rational account”’, ibid. vi. 397.

ibid.

77 Immanuel Kant, Critique of pure reason, ed. Norman K. Smith, New York 2003, 9.

78 Edwards, ‘To the Reverend Thomas Foxcroft’ (1757), Works, xvi. 695.

79 Idem, ‘Letter to the trustees of the College of New Jersey’ (1757), ibid. xvi. 727.

ibid.

80 On Edwards's reaction to the variety of Enlightenment thought see Zakai, ‘Age of enlightenment’, and Jonathan Edwards's philosophy of history.

81 William James, ‘Is life worth living?’ (1895), in Fredrick H. Burkhardt and others (eds), Will to believe and other essays in popular philosophy, Cambridge, Ma 1979, 43.

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