Monday, May 4, 2009

d'Holbach on Newton

"o man! so great and so powerful, when you were a geometrician; so little and so weak, when you became a theologian"!

Baron d'Holbach on Newton, The system of nature, or laws of the moral and physical world 2.3, trans. Robinson ((New York: G. W. & A. J. Matsell, 1836), 229 (,M1)), as quoted by Michael J. Buckley, S.J., At the origins of modern atheism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987), 312. d'Holbach would have said this of any theologian, but this is also Buckley's thesis: that the theologians of the period (Lessius and Mersenne, but then also Malebranche following Descartes, and Clarke following Newton) gave away the store, thus setting natural theology up for the great and disastrous slide into "modern atheism". They abandoned theology for natural philosophy (either the universal mathematics of Descartes or the universal mechanics of Newton), and became "little and . . . weak" qua theologians.

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