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Rethinking English Phyisco-theology: Samuel Parker’s Tentamina de Deo (1665)


In: Early Science and Medicine
Author: Dmitri Levitin1
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Recent historiography has claimed that a radically new, non-dogmatic physico-theology gained prominence with, and simultaneously promoted, the new science. This article challenges this view by focusing on an important physico-theological work by the young Oxford cleric Samuel Parker, published in 1665. It received a glowing review in the first volume of the Philosophical Transactions and gained its author election to the Royal Society, yet has been almost entirely ignored by modern scholars. Parker’s work demonstrates both how easily the pious rhetoric of the naturalists could be incorporated into the traditional – largely humanist – knowledge gained by a typical M.A. student in ­mid-seventeenth-century England. Moreover, far from being non-dogmatic, Parker’s physico-theology culminated in a remarkable deployment of the new philosophy (specifically Thomas Willis’s neurology) to explain scriptural passages referring to God’s passions. Parker believed himself not to be doing something radically new, but to be working in the traditions of scholastic theology. At the same time, his work was one of the most important conduits for the early English reception of both Descartes and Gassendi. 


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