Ann Blair and Kaspar von Greyerz have edited an outstanding volume that breaks important new ground in the history of early modern science and religion. As the contributors to this volume demonstrate, the long-standing discussion of natural theology gave way in the mid-seventeenth century to a new conversation about physico-theology, a distinctive genre of science and religion writing that emphasised the goodness and the predictability of the divine being. Emerging first in the immediate aftermath of the crisis of the English civil wars, this discourse emphasised order and causality, and subjected the being of God to the science of order that was emerging in the same period. But, constructed to explain the benevolence of the creator and creation, physico-theology struggled to make sense of creaturely suffering, and eventually was understood as undermining its own presuppositions. Just published by Johns Hopkins University Press, Physico-Theology: Religion and Science in Europe, 1650-1750 will be a landmark text in early modern intellectual history.
Crawford Gribben is a professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast.