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By Margaret R. Miles

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In sum, the discipline of physico-theology provided the motivation for individuals to study nature and, equally important, gave natural history a coherent theoretical structure. The emergence of physico-theology as a discipline also invested the study of nature with a new and more dignified status. The remarkable popularity of physico-theology as a genre provided additional social sanction for this activity. Crucially, moreover, it made it possible for naturalists to argue that they were pursuing a kind of theological vocation and for clergymen to claim that the study of nature was not merely a diverting sideline but an integral element of their priestly duties.

Richard J. Helmstadter and Bernard Lightman (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 225-61; Livingstone, "Science and Religion," 273; Colin R. Russell, "The Conflict Metaphor and Its Social Origins," Science and Christian Belief 1 (1989): 3-26; Adrian Desmond, Huxley, 2 vols. (London: Michael Joseph, 1997), 2:244-48; Adrian Desmond and James R. Moore, Darwin (London: Michael Joseph, 1991), 560-61; Bernard Lightman, The Origins of Agnosticism: Victorian Unbelief and the Limits of Knowledge (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), chapter 5.

Looking at the development of embryos into chickens, Aristotle observed a programmed series of changes, which he supposed derived from the characteristic form of chickens contained in the embryo. Although contemporary science has challenged the claim that DNA is the exclusive determinant of development, it is not absurd to suggest that the discovery of DNA partially confirmed Aristotle's insight about embryogenesis. Outside of biology, however, modern science sees much less use for formal causes because typical physical objects are taken to be passively obedient to external laws rather than enacting active principles within themselves.

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Agostino. Confessioni by Margaret R. Miles


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