Theology and natural philosophy in late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Britain
A number of historians of science have claimed that the early Boyle Sermons provided a platform for the promotion of a moderate-Anglican social and political ideology underpinned by Newtonian natural philosophy. However, by examining in detail the texts of Richard Bentley, John Harris and Samuel Clarke, this thesis argues that their Sermons should not be characterised as 'Newtonian'. These texts were highly complex literary productions constructed with the intention of achieving victory over the enemies of Christianity. An examination of their rhetorical strategies focuses attention on the use to which various cognitive materials - including natural philosophy - were put. Thus the presence of Newtonian concepts in the texts is explained by the aims and overall scholarly programmes of the Lecturers. It will also be argued that the term 'Boyle Lectureship' is problematic and that the main elements of the Lectureship - Robert Boyle's bequest, the Trustees, the Lecturers, and the Sermons - cannot be conflated into a single historical unit. Therefore, throughout this study, emphasis is placed on the contingent and singular behaviour of individuals located within an ecclesiastical and scholarly community, where career promotion and the notion of scholarly credit were important. The brief in Boyle's last will and testament stipulated that the Lecturers must defend Christianity using the scholarly tools to hand. In this thesis it will be shown that the personnel of the Lectureship conformed to Boyle's brief and that they utilised all available methods and materials in the pursuance of their legal and institutional responsibilities. This approach removes the analysis of the Lectureship from an overarching sociological perspective; instead the Sermons are interpreted as exemplary texts in the rhetorical prosecution of the enemies of Christianity. This study, therefore, acknowledges the complex nature of theological texts in early modern England.