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Home Regional Natural History in England: Physico-Theology and the Exploration of Nature

REGIONAL NATURAL HISTORY IN ENGLAND: PHYSICOTHEOLOGY AND THE EXPLORATION OF NATURE
David BECK

Abstract. First the article offers a contextual discussion of more widespread Latitudinarian views of nature and the relationship between the landscape and God. Secondly, it argues that the regional natural history should be seen as a contribution to debates regarding physicotheological belief, through an examination of comments regarding the origin and nature of fossils. This section demonstrates the reciprocal nature of religious and natural thought in the period: fossils informed the regional natural historians’ views of the biblical narrative, and the Bible informed their understanding of fossils. The final section turns to the relationship between the world that God created and both morality and health, finding that in more “scientific” fields regional natural historians were acting “empirically” in reporting isolated instances without wider theorising. The disjuncture between open conjecture upon religious implications and the relative lack thereof upon natural philosophical matters suggests, I argue, that natural theology should be the key in our understanding of regional natural histories in this period.
Keywords: Natural History, Physico-Theology, Fossils, Latitudinarian, Landscape

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