the 1690s andbeyond had been deeply pious and had risen in the London pulpits to defend Christianity by recourse to new arguments drawn from the harmony and design imagined in nature. In Protestant Europe, on both sides of the channel and eventually on both sides of the Atlantic, a new theology emerged, given the somewhat ungainly title, physico-theology, namely a theology that drew its examples from natural philosophy, in particular Newtonian physics. The very vastness of the spacing of the heavenly atoms, Richard Bentley said in the opening Boyle lectures, proved God's providential barrier against matter being able to group and form under its own power. The danger ofmaterialism lurked in the heresies unveiled by Spinoza, Hobbes, and their many followers. Newtonian science offered an infallible antidote, so said his clerical followers.
In the Dutch Republic the pious Bernard Nieuwentyt produced in Dutch in 1715 Het Regt Gebruik der Werelt Beschouwingen ('On the Correct Use of World Views') and it made its way into English as The Religious Philosopher. Its translator told John Toland the book was meant as an antidote to his writings. It sought to show at every turn God's mastery over creation, his power and majesty affirmed by the order and design displayed by creation. The Newtonian, Jean Desaguliers was instrumental in having the book translated into English. In France the pious abbe Noel Antoine Pluche wrote a long (and to our eyes) tedious work, La Spectacle de la Nature (1732) that made its way into multiple French editions and into nearly every European language. It too affirmed God's total dominion, only in the French monarchical context Pluche added the twist: that the king's power imitated the divine. There were probably far more French followers of Pluche than there were proponents of Voltaire. Certainly Bentley enjoyed more public approval than Toland.
The Spectacle ofNature expressed far more closely the majority sentiments of the age than did the heretical musings of the spinozists. As Pluche, Nieuwentyt, Bentley, and others would have it, God is the only active, self-moving, self-willing, self-sufficient, and eternal being. Matter, by contrast, is passive, inert, determined by God's will, contingent upon His nature, and finite. Matter in motion is not due to some inherent property called motion that matter possesses, but rather to God's acting on matter so that it conforms to His will. The stage of history can be dominated by those whose power imitates that of the creator although in the Dutch and English case, they cannot be absolute monarchs. No numbers can ever be given to show how many people subscribed to such views, pious or materialist. But the sheer number of editions for which the pious of the 1730s and 1740s could take credit suggests that for a time at least, they were making the louder noise.
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