drs. L.B. Wolf
Newton's Principia had an important influence on the British tradition of natural theology (i.e. deriving proof for the being and attributes of God from the natural world). Specifically, the Newtonian idea that gravity is an action at a distance supplied philosophers and theologians with an answer against the increasingly mechanized worldview. This was a welcome development for those who feared mechanical philosophy dismissed the active role of God in the world - after all, in a fully mechanical worldview God was only needed to set the clockwork of the universe into motion, after which it would continue to operate indefinitely without the need for God's intervention or maintenance. Newton's theory did not allow for such a mechanical worldview, as gravity required an immaterial source of motion. This lent credence to the theological notion of 'continual providence', which states that matter has no active power of motion, but must instead be continually acted upon by an immaterial substance which supplies it with motion. This union between Newton's physics and the theological idea of continual providence lead to the establishment of a 'Newtonian natural theology' which had its peak between 1692 and 1715.
In my PhD project, I investigate the development of the Newtonian theology in the 18th century. My primary focus is to study the development of natural theology between 1715 and 1802, and figure out how and why the Newtonian natural theology became less and less important as the century progressed.
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