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Could God have made it true that 2 + 2 = 5? Was he bound to make the best of all possible worlds? Is he able at this moment to alter the course of nature, either in whole or in part? Questions like these are often associated with medieval theology, not with early modern science. But science is done by people, and people have not always practiced the rigorous separation of science and theology that has come to characterize the modern world. Although many 17th century scientists sought validity for their work apart from revelation, divorcing science from religion was something they never intended. Indeed most natural philosophers of the scientific revolution assumed without question that the world and the human mind had been created by God. This was no small admission, for it meant that both the manner in which and the degree to which the world could be understood depended upon how God had acted in creating it and how he continued to act in sustaining it. Fifty years ago the late British philosopher M.B. Foster identified two different theologies of creation which differ profoundly in their implications for natural science. Rationalist theology, which assigns to God the activity of pure reason, "involves both a rationalist X philosophy of nature and a rationalist theory of knowledge of nature." Voluntarist theology, which "attributes to God an activity of will not wholly determined by reason," implies that the products of his creative activity are contingent and can be known only empirically. By a careful analysis of four natural philosophies of the early modern period--those of Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, and Newton--! intend to show that there was indeed a connection between theological voluntarism and empirical science in the 17th century.


Ph.D. History & Philosophy of Science (Indiana University)