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Robert Boyle on Knowledge of Nature in the Afterlife

  • M. J. Osler
Chapter
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 175)

Abstract

Millenarianism and seventeenth-century natural philosophy have often been linked through the political and theological agendas of the Puritan revolutionaries.2 James R. Jacob, for example, interpreted many of Robert Boyle’s (1627–1691) writings as a reaction against the political agenda of the religious radicals of his time.3 Malcolm Oster has recently argued that Boyle did not share the millennial ideas of the Hartlib circle and that “the temper of Boyle’s understanding of knowledge, opinion and belief pointed towards a different vision in which Christianized atomism and the advancement of learning provided the appropriate historical ciphers for his religious eschatology.”4 The precise characterization of that eschatology is my concern in this paper. I shall approach this issue by considering Boyle’s views on the knowledge of nature in the afterlife.

Keywords

Absolute Power Present World Divine Power Mechanical Philosophy Biblical Criticism 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    An Annual Fellowship from the Calgary Institute for the Humanities provided the time to do the research and writing of this paper. Material support was provided by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I am grateful to J.J. MacIntosh for guidance and to Jan W. Wojcik and Margaret G. Cook who generously shared their knowledge of Boyle’s texts. Margaret Cook made helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, for example, the articles by S.F. Mason, H.F. Kearney, Christopher Hill, Theodore Rabb, Barbara J. Shapiro, and Lotte Mulligan in The Intellectual Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Charles Webster (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974 ) and Charles Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform, 1626–1660 ( London: Duckworth, 1975 ).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    James R. Jacob, Robert Boyle and the English Revolution: A Study in Social and Intellectual Change ( New York: Burt Franklin, 1977 ).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Malcolm Oster, “Millenarianism and the New Science: The Case of Robert Boyle,” in Samuel Hartlib and Universal Reformation: Studies in Intellectual Communication, ed. Mark Green-grass, Michael Leslie, and Timothy Raylor ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994 ), 148.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For background, see Katharine R. Firth, The Apocalyptic Tradition in Reformation Britain, 1530–1645 ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979 ).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Reiner Smolinksi, “The Logic of Millennial Thought: Sir Isaac Newton among his Contemporaries,” in Newton and Religion: Context, Nature, and Influence, ed. James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999 ). I am grateful to Reiner Smolinski for sharing a manuscript copy of this paper with me.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The most comprehensive study of Boyle’s views on the limits of knowledge is Jan W. Wojcik, Robert Boyle and the Limits of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 ). I am deeply indebted to Wojcik’s account in what follows.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Robert Boyle, Appendix to The Christian Virtuoso,in The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle,ed. Thomas Birch, 6 vols. (London, 1772) [facsimile reprint, (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1966), 6:696.]Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    On the history of this distinction, see Richard P. Desharnais, “The History of the Distinction between God’s Absolute and Ordained Power and Its Influence on Martin Luther,” Ph.D. diss., Catholic University of America, 1966.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    William J. Courtenay, “The Dialectic of Omnipotence,” in Divine Omnipotence and Omniscience in Medieval Philosophy, ed. Tamar Rudaysky (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1985 ), 243.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Margaret J. Osier, Divine Will and the Mechanical Philosophy: Gassendi and Descartes on Contingency and Necessity in the Created World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), Chap. 5.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    On voluntarism in relation to theology, see James E. Force, “Hume and the Relation of Science to Religion Among Certain Members of the Royal Society,” Journal of the History of Ideas 45, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec., 1984, pp. 517–36, and “Newton, the Lord God of Israel, and Knowledge of Nature,” in Jewish Christians and Christian Jews from the Reformation through the Enlightenment,ed. Gordon Weiner (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994, pp. 131–58; Margaret J. Osier, “The Intellectual Sources of Robert Boyle’s Philosophy of Nature: Gassendi’s Voluntarism and Boyle’s Physico-Theological Project,” in Philosophy, Science, and Religion, 1640–1700,ed. Richard Ashcraft, Richard Kroll, and Perez Zagorin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 178–98; and G.A.J. Rogers, “Newton and the Guaranteeing God,” in Newton and Religion.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Boyle, The Christian Virtuoso,in Works,6:714.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    Boyle, Considerations About the Reconcileableness of Reason and Religion,in Works,4:161.Google Scholar
  15. 26.
    B.J.T. Dobbs, The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton’s Thought ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992 ).Google Scholar
  16. 27.
    Isaac Newton, “Of natures obvious laws and processes in vegetation,” Dibner Collection MSS 1031 B (1, n. 30), f.4v, as quoted by Dobbs, Janus Faces of Genius,266.Google Scholar
  17. 28.
    Isaac Newton, Opticks, or A Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light. With a forward by Albert Einstein, intro. by Sir Edmund Whittaker, and preface by I. Bernard Cohen. Based on the 4th edition, London, 1730 ( New York: Dover, 1952 ), 403–4.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    Boyle, Considerations About the Reconcileableness of Reason and Religion,in Works,4:161–2.Google Scholar
  19. 30.
    Boyle, Certain Physiological Essays,in Works,1:303.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    Boyle, The Second Part of the Christian Virtuoso,in Works,6:788.Google Scholar
  21. 32.
    Royal Society Library, Boyle Papers, 46 vols., vol. 2, folio 123.Google Scholar
  22. 33.
    Boyle, Excellency of Theology,in Works,4:16.Google Scholar
  23. 34.
    Richard Baxter wrote about the enlargement of our intellectual faculties in heaven. God “advanceth our sense, and enlargeth our capacity… and fills up with himself all that capacity.” Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (London, 1649 ), 29, as quoted by Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988 ), 175.Google Scholar
  24. 35.
    Boyle, Excellency of Theology,in Works,4:28.Google Scholar
  25. 36.
    Boyle, Excellency of Theology,in Works,4:9.Google Scholar
  26. 38.
    See Norman T. Burns, Christian Mortalism from Tyndale to Milton (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972); McDannell and Lang, Heaven, A History; Jacques LeGoff, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); and James E. Force, “The God of Abraham and Isaac (Newton),” in The Books of Nature and Scripture: Recent Essays on Natural Philosophy, Theology, and Biblical Criticism in the Netherlands of Spinoza’s Time and the British Isles of Newton’s Time, ed. James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1994, 179–200.Google Scholar
  27. 39.
    Boyle, Excellency of Theology,in Works,4:15. As Wojcik has demonstrated, Boyle rejected Socinianism from an early age, in part because of its assertion that the soul sleeps between the time the body dies and the time of the resurrection of the body. See Wojcik, Robert Boyle,58.Google Scholar
  28. 40.
    Boyle, The Second Part of the Christian Virtuoso, in Works,6:777.Google Scholar
  29. 41.
    Boyle, Some Physico-Theological Considerations about the Possibility of the Resurrection,in Works,4:192.Google Scholar
  30. 42.
    Boyle, The Excellency of Theology,in Works,4:31.Google Scholar
  31. 43.
    Boyle, Seraphic Love,in Works,1:283.Google Scholar
  32. 44.
    Boyle, The Second Part of the Christian Virtuoso, in Works,6:788.Google Scholar
  33. 47.
    Ibid.,6:788–9. Significantly, Boyle’s language in this passage and others echoes that of Joseph Mede, who also used the unusual term “Hebraisme”. See Joseph Mede, A Paraphrase of the Prophesie of Saint Peter, Concerning the Day of Christ’s Second Coming; Described in the Third Chapter of His Second Epistle. As also how the Conflagration, or Destruction of the World by Fire (whereof Saint Peter Speaks) and especially ofthe Heavens, is to be understood,(London, 1642), 18.Google Scholar
  34. 48.
    Boyle, Excellency of Theology, in Works,vol. 4, 20.Google Scholar
  35. 49.
    Thomas Burnet, The Sacred Theory of the Earth: Containing an Account of the Original of the Earth, and of all the General Changes Which it hath already undergone, or is to undergo Till the Consummation of all things, 2nd ed. (London, 1690 and 1691); reprint ed. Basil Willey (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965 ), 322.Google Scholar
  36. 50.
    Boyle, The Second Part of the Christian Virtuoso, in Works,6:789. Here Boyle’s language echoes Isaiah 65:17: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” Although Boyle did not cite this particular passage in a gloss, he did cite Isaiah 65:2 in connection with the Apocalypse. See Boyle, Excellency of Theology,in Works,4:20–1.Google Scholar
  37. 51.
    René Descartes, Discourse on Method, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes,trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984–91), 1:132 [Oeuvres de Descartes,ed. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, 11 vols. (Paris: J. Vrin, 1897–1983), 6:43.]Google Scholar
  38. 52.
    The inference of immortality from immateriality was an argument frequently used to prove the immortality of the soul. See Osier, Divine Will and the Mechanical Philosophy, 71–5. On the “simplicity” argument for the immortality of the soul, see Ben Lazare Mijuskovic, The Achilles of Rationalist Arguments: The Simplicity, Unity, and Identity of Thought and Soul from the Cambridge Platonists to Kant. A Study in the History of an Argument ( The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974 ).Google Scholar
  39. 53.
    Boyle, The Second Part of the Christian Virtuoso,in Works,6:789.Google Scholar
  40. 54.
    Boyle, A Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things,in Works,5:4 12.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. J. Osler
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of CalgaryCanada

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