[Review of The Christian Philosopher, by Thomas Dick]
Theology of Nature, Piety, Reasoning, Natural Philosophy, Feeling, Scientific Practitioners, Authorship, Reading, Education, Error, Natural Theology, Biblical Authority, Wonder
John Ray, William Derham, Christoph C Sturm
Derham 1713, Derham 1715, Hervey 1746, Sturm 1788, Paley 1802, Chalmers 1817
Asserts that '[t]he connexion of the knowledge of nature with religion and piety, is [...] a matter determined less by reasoning than by authority'. Regrets that in 'modern times', natural philosophy 'has too often been disconnected with sentiments of religion, and, not unfrequently, been arrayed in opposition to it'. Considers that most modern natural philosophers have shown no sign of piety, and that 'most books of science have generally avoided, with apparent design and care, every observation or allusion, which migh texpose the writer to a sneer as a religionist or a fanatic'. Contrasts the scientific books of the last half century with those of Francis Bacon (1st Viscount St Alban), Isaac Newton, and Robert Boyle. Concludes that 'philosophic knowledge' has no power 'to create right and truly religous feelings'. (33) Notes, however, that there have been 'many honourable exceptions' to 'this indifference or hostility of scientific men to religion'. Knowing the good ends to which 'philosophical knowledge' can be turned, especially among the young, the reviewer was pleased by the appearance of Thomas Dick's The Christian Philosopher. However, he has been both 'gratified and disappointed' in the book, 'and that in no ordinary degree'. Dick is a knowledgeable and able exponent of natural philosophy, but he has 'mixed up his subject with much irrelevant matter, and has assumed some false principles'. The book is not a long wished-for 'elementary treatise on Natural Science', combining knowledge of nature with scriptural knowledge of the atonement. Instead, it is 'a work on that mixed subject, which has been usually called "Natural Theology"'. Compared to William Paley's Natural Theology, the argument is not clearly stated, but is rather 'a congeries of reflections'. Objects to Dick's 'resentment at the indifference of the Professors and Teachers of religion to philosophy', though considers the author 'a believer in Revelation' and 'a devout and religious man'. Disputes his claim that religious people are ignorant and narrow minded, noting the popularity among religious people of books 'which treat of the Works of God, in connexion with religion'. (34) Disputes that the clergy should make their sermons more 'philosophical', arguing that 'the works of God' are frequently introduced in sermons to provide appropriate illustrations. Argues that Dick's views are based on 'erroneous opinions respecting the efficacy of natural science as a medium of religious impression'. Considers that a feeling of wonder at nature is not itself a religious impression, and that 'philosophical' knowledge of nature is not necessary (but is, if anything, detrimental) to a religious appreciation of creation. Criticizes Dick for accusing Paley of plagiarism when he 'is himself more eminently and obviously so'. (35) Considers that, without Dick's complaints, the work 'would be a very interesting addition to our standard works on Natural Theology', and hopes for an improved second edition (36). Includes lengthy extracted quotations as specimens of the work.
© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020
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