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  Robert Boyle     1627 - 1691 


Excellence of TheologyGood HypothesesFinal CausesNotion of NatureUsefulness of ScienceMisc. Quotes

Note: Boyle’s writing takes a little getting used to.  Spellings, meanings and style have changed a bit since the 17th century.  Today’s English teachers would surely red-line his long, run-on sentences, the ubiquitous commas and frequent diversions of thought that were characteristic of good writing in his day.  But the wisdom and depth of his words will be evident in these brief examples from his voluminous output.

Except where indicated, excerpts are taken from Robert Boyle on Natural Philosophy: An Essay with Selections from His Writings by Marie Boas Hall (Indiana University Press, 1965).  Ellipses are Hall’s.

The Excellency of Theology, compared with Natural Philosophy (as both are Objects of Men’s Study)
Written 1665, published 1974 (excerpt)

In this selection, Boyle discusses the advantages a scientist has over a preacher in witnessing to unbelievers.
I am not so little acquainted with the temper of this age, and of the persons, that are likeliest to be perusers of the following tract, as not to foresee it to be probable enough, that some will ask, for what reason a discourse of this nature was written at all, and that others will be displeased, that it has been written by me. Those, that would know, by what inducements my pen was engaged on this subject, may be in great part informed by the epistle itself, in divers places whereof, as especially about the beginning, and at the close, the motives, that invited me to put pen to paper, are sufficiently expressed.  And though several of those things are peculiarly applied, and (if I may so speak) appropriated to the person the letter is addressed to; yet that under-valuation, I would dissuade him from, of the study of things sacred, is not his fault alone, but is grown so rife among many (otherwise ingenious) persons, especially studiers of physicks, that I wish the ensuing discourse were much less seasonable than I fear it is. 
    But I doubt, that some readers, who would think: a discourse of this nature needless or useless, may yet not be pleased at its being written by one, whom they imagine the acceptance his endeavours have met with, ought to oblige to spend his whole time in cultivating that natural philosophy, which in this letter he would persuade to quit the precedency, they think it may well challenge, before all other sorts of learning.
    I am not unsensible of the favourable reception, that the philosophical papers, I have hitherto ventured abroad, have had the happiness to receive from the curious: but I hope, they will not be displeased, if I represent, that I am no lecturer, or professor of physicks, nor have ever engaged myself, by any promise made to the publick, to confine myself never to write of any other subject; nor is it reasonable, that what I did, or may write, to gratify other men’s curiosity, should deprive me of mine own liberty, and confine me to one subject; especially, since there are divers persons, for whom I have a great esteem and kindness, who think they have as much right to solicit me for composures of the nature of this, that they will now have to go abroad, as the virtuosi have to exact of me physiological pieces.  And though I be not ignorant, that, in particular, the following discourse, which seems to depreciate the study of nature, may, at first sight, appear somewhat improper for a person, that has purposely written to show the excellence and usefulness of it; yet I confess, that upon a more attentive consideration of the matter, I cannot reject, no, nor resist their reasons, who are of a quite differing judgement.
    And 1. My condition, and my being a secular person (as they speak) are looked upon as circumstances, that may advantage an author, that is to write upon such a subject as I have handled.  I need not tell you, that as to religious books in general, it has been observed, that those penned by lay’men, and especially gentlemen, have (caeteris paribus) been better entertained, and more effectual, than those of ecclesiastics.  And indeed it is no great wonder, that exhortations to piety, and dissuasions from vice, and from the lusts and vanities of the world, should be the more prevalent for being pressed by those, who have, and yet decline, the opportunities to enjoy plentifully themselves the pleasures they dissuade others from.  And (to come yet closer to our present purpose) though I will not venture to say with an excellent divine, that whatever comes out of the pulpit, does with many pass but for the foolishness of preaching; yet it cannot well be denied, but that if all other circumstances be equal, he is the fittest to commend divinity, whose profession it is not; and that it will somewhat add to the reputation of almost any study, and consequently to that of things divine, that it is praised and preferred by those, whose condition and course of life exempting them from being of any particular calling in the commonwealth of learning, frees them from the usual temptations to partiality to this or that sort of study, which may be engaged to magnify, because it is their trade or their interest, or because it is expected from them; whereas these gentlemen are obliged to commend it, only because they really love and value it.
    But there is another thing, that seems to make it yet more fit, that a treatise on such a subject should be penned by the author of this: for professed divines are supposed to be busied about studies, that even, by their being of an higher, are confessed to be of another nature, than those, that treat of things corporal.  And since it may be observed, that there is scarce any sort of learned men, that is more apt to undervalue those, that are versed only in other parts of knowledge, than many of our modern naturalists, (who are conscious of the excellency of the science they cultivate) it is much to be feared, that what would be said of the pre-eminence of divinity above physiology, by preachers (in whom the study of the latter is thought either but a preparatory thing, or an excursion) would be looked upon as the decision of an incompetent, as well as interested judge; and their undervaluations of the advantages of the study of creatures would be (as their depreciating the enjoyment of the creatures too often is) thought to proceed but from their not having had sufficient opportunities to relish the pleasures of them.  But these prejudices will not lie against a person, who has made the investigation of nature somewhat more than a parergon, and having, by a not lazy, nor short enquiry, manifested, how much he loves and can relish the delight it affords, has had the good fortune to make some discoveries in it, and the honour to have them publicly, and but too complimentally, taken notice of by the virtuosi. And it may not be impertinent to add, that those, who make natural philosophy their mistress, will probably, be the less offended to find her in this tract represented, if not as a handmaid to divinity, yet as a lady of a lower rank; because the inferiority of the study of nature is maintained by a person, who, even whilst he asserts it, continues, if not a passionate, an assiduous courter of nature: so that as far as his example can reach, it may show, that as on the one side a man need not be acquainted with, or, unfit to relish the lessons taught us in the book of the creatures, to think them less excellent than those, that may be learned in the book of the scriptures; so on the other side, the preference of this last book is very consistent with an high esteem and an assiduous study of the first.

Return to biography of Robert Boyle.

The Requisites of a Good Hypothesis

This may have formed the outline of an unfinished treatise on philosophy of science by Robert Boyle.  It’s instructive to compare these criteria with Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The Requisites of a Good Hypothesis are:
  1. That it be Intelligible.
  2. That it neither Assume nor suppose anything Impossible, Unintelligible, absurd, or demonstrably False.
  3. That it be Consistent with it self.
  4. That it be fit and sufficient to Explicate the Phaenomena, especially the chief.
  5. That it be, at least consistent, with the rest of the Phaenomena it particularly relate to; and do not contradict any other known Phaenomena of Nature, or manifest Physical Truth.

The Qualityes & Conditions of an Excellent Hypothesis are:

  1. That it be not Precarious, but have sufficient Grounds in the Nature of the Thing itself, or at least be well recommended by some Auxiliary Proofs.
  2. That it be the simplest of all the Good ones we are able to frame, at least containing nothing that is superfluous or Impertinent.
  3. That it be the only Hypothesis that can Explicate the Phaenomena; or at least, that dos explicate them so well.
  4. That it enable a skilful Naturalist to foretell future Phaenomena by their Congruity or Incongruity to it; and especially the events of such Experiments as are aptly devis’d to examine it, as Things that ought or ought not, to be consequent to it.

Return to biography of Robert Boyle.
A Disquisition About the Final Causes of Natural Things
The Conclusion

This conclusion of one of Robert Boyle’s works sums up his answer to the question, should we consider final causes in science, or only efficient causes?  In other words, should we look for purpose in things, or just describe immediate cause and effect relationships?  Boyle answers that final causes are valid, but must be used with caution.
The result of what has been hitherto discoursed, upon the four questions proposed at the beginning of this small treatise, amounts in short to this:
    That all consideration of final causes is not to be banished from natural philosophy; but that it is rather allowable, and in some cases commendable, to observe and argue from the manifest uses of things, that the author of nature pre-ordained those ends and uses.
    That the sun, moon and other celestial bodies, excellently declare the power and wisdom, and consequently the glory of God; and were some of them, among other purposes, made to be serviceable to man.
    That from the supposed ends of inanimate bodies, whether celestial or sublunary, it is very unsafe to draw arguments to prove the particular nature of those bodies, or the true system of the universe.
    That as to animals, and the more perfect sorts of vegetables, it is warrantable, not presumptuous, to say, that such and such parts were pre-ordained to such and such uses, relating to the welfare of the animal (or plant) itself, or to the species it belongs to: but that such arguments may easily deceive, if those, that frame them, are not very cautious, and careful to avoid mistaking, among the various ends, that nature may have in the contrivance of an animal's body, and the various ways, which she may successfully take to compass the same ends.  And,
    That, however, a naturalist, who would deserve that name, must not let the search or knowledge of final causes make him neglect the industrious indagation of efficients.
[Works, V, 444]

Of this treatise, Edward B. Davis writes:

Also related to Boyle’s piety was his strong advocacy of the argument from design.  This is nowhere more evident than in his Disquisition on the Final Causes of Natural Things (1688).  It was his stated desire “that my reader should not barely observe the wisdom of God, but be, in some measure, affectively convinced of it”.  There was no better way to “give us so great a wonder and veneration for it ... [than] by knowing and considering the admirable contrivance of the particular productions of that immense wisdom, and their exquisite fitness for those ends and uses, to which they appear to have been destinated.”  Thereby, Boyle believed, “men may be brought, upon the same account, both to acknowledge God, to admire Him, and to thank Him.”
– Edward B. Davis (History of Science professor, Messiah College), “Robert Boyle, the Christian Virtuoso,” from a talk given at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 9 January 1998, in the series, “The Faith of Great Scientists.”
Return to biography of Robert Boyle.
A Free Inquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature

In this excerpt, Robert Boyle argues against personifying “nature” as some intermediary between God and the world; i.e., “nature gave us good weather today,” as common (“vulgar”) talk suggests.  Instead, Boyle feels God is honored more by having arranged the world to run according to laws that rarely if ever need His direct intervention.
    Boyle’s thesis here, though sensible, must be tempered, because in succeeding years philosophers extrapolated it to include the mind and free will of man – applications Boyle surely would have opposed.  He meant it in the sphere of natural phenomena like chemical reactions, sound waves, and revolutions of the planets.  As a Bible believer, Boyle was no deist; some of his writings defended the Biblical miracles, including the resurrection of Christ and the saving of Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace.
    Even a good idea as expressed below can be misapplied or exaggerated.  He would probably have been appalled at those theistic evolutionists today who disallow miracles to such an extent as to deny God’s freedom to act in response to the free will of His creatures.
It seems to detract from the honour of the great author and governor of the world, that men should ascribe most of the admirable things, that are to be met with in it, not to him but to a certain nature, which themselves do not well know what to make of.  It is true, that many confess, that this nature is a thing of his establishing, and subordinate to him: but, though many confess it, when they are asked, whether they do or no? yet, besides that many seldom or never lifted up their eyes to any higher cause, he, that takes notice of their way of ascribing things to nature, may easily discern, that, whatever their words sometimes be, the agency of God is little taken notice of in their thoughts: and however, it does not a little darken the excellency of the divine management of things, that, when a strange thing is to be accounted for, men so often have recourse to nature, and think she must extraordinarily interpose to bring such things about; whereas it much more tends to the illustration of God’s wisdom, to have so framed things at first, that there can seldom or never need any extraordinary interposition of his power. And, as it more recommends the skill of an engineer to contrive an elaborate engine so, as that there should need nothing to reach his ends in it but the contrivance of parts devoid of understanding, than if it were necessary, that ever and anon a discreet servant should be employed to concur notably to the operations of this or that part, or to hinder the engine from being out of order; so it more sets off the wisdom of God in the fabric of the universe, that he can make so vast a machine perform all those many things, which he designed it should, by the mere contrivance of brute matter managed by certain laws of local motion and upheld by his ordinary and general concourse, than if he employed from time to time an intelligent overseer, such as nature is fancied to be, to regulate, assist, and control the motions of the parts. . . .
    And here give me leave, to prevent an objection, that some may make, as if to deny the received notion of nature, a man must also deny providence, of which nature is the grand instrument.  For, in the first place, my opinion hinders me not at all from acknowledging God to be the author of the universe, and the continual preserver and upholder of it; which is much more than the Peripatetick hypothesis, which . . . makes the world eternal, will allow its embracers to admit: and those things, which the school philosophers ascribe to the agency of nature interposing according to emergencies, I ascribe to the wisdom of God in the first fabric of the universe, which he so admirably contrived, that, if he but continue his ordinary and general concourse, there will be no necessity of extraordinary interpositions, which may reduce him to seem, as it were, to play after-games; all those exigencies, upon whose account philosophers and physicians seem to have devised what they call nature, being foreseen and provided for in the first fabric of the world; so that mere matter, so ordered, shall, in such and such conjunctures of circumstances, do all, that philosophers ascribe on such occasions to their almost omniscient nature, without any knowledge of what it does, or acting otherwise than according to the catholic laws of motion.  And methinks the difference betwixt their opinion of God’s agency in the world, and that, which I would propose, may be somewhat adumbrated by saying, that they seem to imagine the world to be after the nature of a puppet, whose contrivance indeed may be very artificial, but yet is such, that almost every particular motion the artificer is fain (by drawing sometimes one wire or string, sometimes another) to guide and oftentimes overrule the actions of the engine; whereas, according to us, it is like a rare clock, such as may be that at Strasbourg, where all things are so skilfully contrived, that the engine being once set a-moving, all things proceed, according to the artificers first design, and the motions of the little statues, that at such hours performs these or those things, do not require, like those of puppets, the peculiar interposing of the artificer, or any intelligent agent employed by him, but perform their functions upon particular occasions, by virtue of the general and primitive contrivance of the whole engine. . . .  And when I consider, how many things, that seem anomalies to us, do frequently enough happen in the world, I think it is more consonant to the respect we owe to divine providence, to conceive, that as God is a most free, as well as a most wise agent, and may in many things have ends unknown to us, he very well foresaw, and thought fit, that such seeming anomalies should come to pass, since he made them (as is evident in the eclipses of the sun and moon) the genuine consequences of the order he was pleased to settle in the world; by whose laws the grand agents in the universe were impowered and determined to act, according to the respective natures he had given them, and the course of things was allowed to run on, though that would infer the happenings of seeming anomalies and things really repugnant to the good or welfare of divers particular portions of the universe: this, I say, I think to be a notion more respectful to divine providence, than to imagine, as we commonly do, that God has appointed an intelligent and powerful Being, called nature, to be, as his viceregent, continually watchful for the good of the universe in general, and of the particular bodies, that compose it. . . .
[Works, V, 162-64]

Of the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy
PART I: Of its Usefulness in reference to the Mind of Man

In this treatise, Robert Boyle attempts to “sell” the experimental philosophy of science (as opposed to deductive learning from Aristotle and other presumed Authorities), by discussing the many useful benefits that flow from it.
    In the following excerpts, he addresses Christians and theologians with six main arguments proving the usefulness of natural philosophy (i.e., science) in promoting faith and appreciation of the Creator.  He points out attributes of God discernible in nature: particularly, His power, wisdom and love.  Countering the criticisms of some preachers that science tends a man toward atheism, he demonstrates how the study of nature, on the contrary, provides all observers, even those not having Biblical revelation, the most cogent evidences against unbelief.
    The fairly new concept of natural laws, set up by the Creator at the beginning, is evident in his section.  Boyle, however, did not believe the normal workings of nature according to natural laws precluded miracles or the immanent supervision of God, as did some later deists.  He was a thoroughly Biblical Christian; his Scripture quotations flow naturally from his personal faith.  He argues cogently that natural laws cannot invent themselves.
    Another notable aspect of this discourse is Boyle’s introduction of the “Watchmaker Argument” for the existence of a Divine artificer, long before William Paley employed it so famously in Natural Theology (1802).  Boyle’s arguments are as timely as ever for confronting today’s atheistic philosophies of science.

Note: Boyle uses “naturalist” in the favorable meaning of a student of natural science.  Today the term can also mean a materialist philosopher – a position Boyle would most certainly oppose.

The natural philosophy, wont to be taught in schools, being little other than a system of the opinions of Aristotle, and some few other writers, is not, I confess, . . . very difficult to be learned; as being attainable by the perusal of a few of the more current authors.  But . . . that experimental philosophy, which you will find treated of in the following Essays, is a study, if duly prosecuted, so difficult, so chargeable, and so toilsome, that I think it requisite before I propose any particular subjects to your enquiries, to possess you with a just value of true and solid physiology; and to convince you, that by endeavoring to addict you to it, I invite you not to mispend your time or trouble on a science unable to merit and requite it.  In order . . . to the giving you this satisfaction, give me leave to mind you, that it was a saying of Pythagoras, worthy of so celebrated a philosopher, that there are two things. which most enoble man, and make him resemble the gods: to know the truth, and to do good.  For . . . that diviner part of man, the soul, which alone is capable of wearing the glorious image of its author, being endowed with two chief faculties, the understanding and the will; the former is blest and perfectionated by knowledge, and the latter’s loveliest and most improving property is goodness.  A due reflection upon this excellent sentence of him, to whom philosophers owe that modest name, should, methinks, . . . very much endear to us the study of natural philosophy. For there is no human science, that does more to gratify and enrich the understanding with variety of choice and acceptable truths; nor scarce any, that does more enable a willing mind to exercise a goodness beneficial to others.
    To manifest these truths more distinctly, . . . and yet without exceeding that brevity, my avocations and the bounds of an essay exact of me, I shall, among the numerous advantages accruing to men from the study of the book of nature, content myself to instance only in a couple, that relate more properly to the improving of men’s understandings, and to mention a few of those many, by which it encreases their power.
    The two chief advantages, which a real acquaintance with nature brings to our minds, are, first, by instructing our understandings, and gratifying our curiosities; and next, by exciting and cherishing our devotion. . . .
    The next advantage . . . that we mentioned the knowledge of nature to bring to the minds of men, is, that therein it excites and cherishes devotion; which when I say, . . . I forget not, that there are several divines (and some of them eminent ones) that out of a holy jealousy (as they think) for religion, labour to deter men from addicting themselves to serious and thorough inquiries into nature, as from a study unsafe for a Christian, and likely to end in atheism, by making it possible for men (that I may propose to you their objection as much to its advantage as I can) to give themselves such an account of all the wonders of nature, by the single knowledge of second causes, as may bring them to disbelieve the necessity of a first.  And certainly . . . . if this apprehension were well grounded, I should think the threatened evil so considerable, that instead of inviting you to the study of natural philosophy, I should very earnestly labour to dissuade you from it.  For I, that had much rather have men not philosophers than not Christians, should be better content to see you ignore the mysteries of nature, than deny the author of it.  But though the zeal of their intentions keep me from harbouring any unfavourable opinion of the persons of these men, yet the prejudice that might redound from their doctrine (if generally received) both to the glory of God from the creatures, and to the empire of man over them, forbids me to leave their opinion unanswered; though I am sorry, that the necessity of vindicating the study I recommend to you from so heinous a crime as they have accused it of, will compel me to theologize in a philosophical discourse: which that I may do, with as much brevity as the weight and exigency of my subject will permit, I shall content myself only in the explication of my own thoughts, to hint to you the grounds of answering what is alledged against them. . . .
    Now if you should put me upon telling you . . . what those attributes of God are, which I so often mention to be visibly displayed in the fabrick of the world, I can readily answer you, that though many of God’s attributes are legible in his creatures, yet those, that are most conspicuous there, are his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in which the world, as well as the Bible, though in a differing, and in some points a darker way, is designed to instruct us; which, that you may not think to be affirmed gratis, we must insist a while on each of the three.
    And first, how boundless a power, or rather what an almightiness is eminently displayed in God’s making out of nothing all things, and without materials or instruments constructing this immense fabrick of the world, whose vastness is such, that even what may be proved of it, can scarcely be conceived, and after a mathematical demonstration its greatness is distrusted! which yet is, I confess, a wonder less to be admired, than the power expressed by God in so immense a work, which nevertheless some modern philosophers (whose opinions I find some cabalists to countenance) suppose to be not the only production of God’s omnipotence. . . .
    The next attribute of God, that shines forth in his creatures, is his wisdom; which to an intelligent considerer appears very manifestly expressed in the world, whether you contemplate it as an aggregate or system of all natural bodies, or consider the creatures it is made up of, both in their particular and distinct natures, and in relation to each other, and the universe they constitute.  In some of these the wisdom of God is so conspicuous, and written in such large characters, that it is legible even to a vulgar reader: but in many others the lineaments and traces of it are so delicate and slender, or so wrapt up and covered with corporeity, that it requires an attentive and intelligent peruser.  So numberless a multitude, and so great a variety of birds, beasts, fishes, reptiles, herbs, shrubs, trees, stones, metals, minerals, stars, &c. and everyone of them plentifully furnished and endowed with all the qualifications requisite to the attainment of the respective ends of its creation, are productions of a wisdom too limitless not to be peculiar to God: to insist on anyone of them in particular (besides that it would too much swell this discourse) might appear injurious to the rest; which do all of them deserve that extensive exclamation of the Psalmist, “How manifold are thy works, 0 Lord; in wisdom hast thou made them all.” [Ps 104:24]  And therefore I shall content myself to observe in general, that, as highly as some naturalists are pleased to value their own knowledge, it can at best attain but to understand and applaud, not emulate the productions of God.  For as a novice, when the curiousest watch the rarest artist can make, is taken in pieces and set before him, may easily enough discern the workmanship and contrivance of it to be excellent, but had he not been shown it, could never have of himself devised so skilful and rare a piece of work; so, for instance, an anatomist, though when by many and dextrous dissections of human bodies, and by the help of mechanical principles and rules (without a competent skill wherein, a man can scarce be an accomplished and philosophical anatomist) he has learned the structure, use and harmony of the parts of the body, he is able to discern that matchless engine to be admirably contrived, in order to the exercise of all the motions and functions, whereto it was designed: and yet this artist, had he never contemplated a human body, could never have imagined or devised an engine of no greater bulk, any thing near so fitted to perform all the variety of actions we daily see performed either in or by a human body.  Thus the circular motion of the blood, and structure of the valves of the heart and veins (the consideration whereof, as he himself told me, first hinted the circulation to our famous Harvey) though now modern experiments have for the main (the modus not seeming yet so fully explicated) convinced us of them, we acknowledge them to be very expedient, and can admire God’s wisdom in contriving them: yet those many learned anatomists, that have for many succeeding ages preceded both Dr. Harvey and Columbus, Cesalpinus, Padre Paulo, and Mr. Warner (for each of these four last are supposed by some to have had some notion of the circulation) by all their diligent contemplation of human bodies, never dreamed (for aught appears) of so advantageous an use of the valves of the heart, nor that nimble circular motion of the blood, of which our modern circulators think they discern such excellent use, not to say, necessity. . . .
    And in a word, there is a multitude of problems, especially such as belong to the use of the parts of the human body, and to the causes and cures of the diseases incident thereunto, in whose explication those, we write of, content themselves to tell us, that nature does such and such a thing, because it was fit for her so to do; but they endeavour not to make intelligible to us, what they mean by this nature, and how mere, and consequently brute, bodies can act according to laws, and for determinate ends, without any knowledge either of the one or of the other.  Let them therefore, until they have made out their hypothesis more intelligibly, either cease to ascribe to irrational creatures such actions, as in men are apparently the productions of reason and choice, and sometimes even of industry and virtue; or else let them with us acknowledge, that such actions of creatures in themselves irrational are performed under the superintendence and guidance of a wise and intelligent author of things.  But that you may not mistake me . . . it will be requisite for me, to acquaint you, in two or three words, with some of my present thoughts concerning this subject: that there are some actions so peculiar to man, upon the account of his intellect and will, that they cannot be satisfactorily explicated after the manner of the actings of mere corporeal agents, I am very much inclined to believe.  And whether or no there may be some actions of some other animals, which cannot well be mechanically explicated, I have not here leisure or opportunity to examine.  But for (most of) the other phaenomena of nature, methinks we may, without absurdity, conceive, that God, of whom in the scripture it is affirmed, “That all his works are known to him from the beginning,” [Acts 15:18] having resolved, before the creation, to make such a world as this of ours, did divide (at least if he did not create it incoherent) that matter which he had provided, into an innumerable multitude of very variously figured corpuscles, and both connected those particles into such textures or particular bodies. and placed them in such situations, and put them into such motions, that by assistance of his ordinary preserving concourse, the phaenomena, which he intended should appear in the universe, must as orderly follow, and be exhibited by the bodies necessarily acting according to those impressions or laws, though they understand them not at all, as if each of those creatures had a design of self-preservation, and were furnished with knowledge and industry to prosecute it; and as if there were diffused through the universe an intelligent being, watchful over the publick good of it, and careful to administer all things wisely for the good of the particular parts of it, but so far forth as is consistent with the good of the whole, and the preservation of the primitive and catholick laws established by the supreme cause; as in the . . . clock of Strasbourg, the several pieces making up that curious engine are so framed and adapted, and are put into such a motion, that though the numerous wheels, and other parts of it, move several ways, and that without any thing either of knowledge or design; yet each performs its part in order to the various end, for which it was contrived, as regularly and uniformly as if it knew and were concerned to do its duty.  And the various motions of the wheels and other parts concur to exhibit the phaenomena designed by the artificer in the engine, as exactly as if they were animated by a common principle, which makes them knowingly conspire to do so, and might, to a rude Indian, seem to be more intelligent than Conradus Dasypodius himself, that published a description of it; wherein he tells the world, that he contrived it, who could not tell the hours, and measure time so accurately as his clock. . . . When I see in a curious clock, how orderly every wheel and other parts perform its own motions, and with what seeming unanimity they conspire to show the hour, and accomplish the other designs of the artificer; I do not imagine, that any of the wheels, &c. or the engine it self is endowed with reason, but commend that of the workman, who framed it so artificially.  So when I contemplate the actions of those several creatures, that make up the world, I do not conclude the inanimate pieces, at least, that it is made up of, or the vast engine it self, to act with reason or design, but admire and praise the most wise Author, who by his admirable contrivance can so regularly produce effects, to which so great a number of successive and conspiring causes are required. . . .
    In the third place then I consider, that whether or no it be true, which our antagonists suggest, that there are some things in nature, which tempt philosophers more than they do the vulgar, to doubt or deny a God; yet certainly there are divers things in nature, that do much conduce to the evincing of a Deity, which naturalists either alone discern, or at least discern them better than other men.  For besides the abstruse properties of particular bodies, not discovered by any but those, that make particular inquiries into those bodies, there are many things in nature, which to a superficial observer seem to have no relation to one another; whereas to a knowing naturalist, that is able to discern their secret correspondencies and alliances, these things, which seem to be altogether irrelative each to other, appear so proportionate and so harmonious both betwixt themselves, and in reference to the universe they are parts of, that they represent to him a very differing and incomparably better prospect than to another man: as he, that looks upon a picture made up of scattered and deformed pieces, beholding them united Into one face by a cylindrical looking glass aptly placed, discerns the skill of the artist, that drew it, better than he, that looks only on the single parts of that picture, or upon the whole picture, without the uniting cylinder. . . .
    In the fourth place, I consider, that the universal experience of all ages manifests, that the contemplation of the world has been much more prevalent to make those, that have addicted themselves to it, believers, than deniers of a Deity.  For it is very apparent, that the old philosophers, for the most part, acknowledged a God; and as evident it is, by their want of revelation, by many passages in their writings, and by divers others things not now to be insisted on; that the consideration of the works of nature was the chief thing, that induced them to acknowledge a divine author of them. . . .
    In the fifth place . . . I consider, that when the divines we are answering, suppose physiology likely to render a man an atheist, they do it (as hath above been noted already) upon this ground, that natural philosophy may enable him to explicate both the regular phaenomena, and the aberrations of nature, without having recourse to a first cause or God.  But though this supposal were as great a truth, as we have endeavoured to make it a mistake, yet I see not, why a studier of physiology, though ever so great a proficient in it, may not rationally be an utter enemy to atheism.  For the contemplation of the creatures is but one of the ways of coming to be convinced, that there is a God; and therefore, though religion were unable to make use of the argument drawn from the works of nature, to prove the existence of a Deity, yet has she other arguments enough besides, to keep any considerate and impartial man from growing an atheist. . . .
    In the sixth and last place, I will here add (on this occasion) that an insight into physiological principles may very much assist a man to answer the objections of atheists against the being of a Deity, and the exceptions they make to the arguments brought to prove, that there is one.  For though it has long been the custom of such men, to talk, as if themselves, and those of their mind, were not alone the best, but almost the only naturalists; and to perplex others with pretending, that, whereas it is not conceivable, how there can be a God; all things are by the principles of the atomical philosophy, made clear and facile; Though this, I say, have long been used among the opposers of a Deity, yet he, that, not regarding their confidence, shall attentively consider the very first principles of things, may plainly enough discern, that of the arguments, wherewith natural philosophy has furnished atheists, those, that are indeed considerable, are far fewer than one would readily think; and that the difficulty of conceiving the eternity, self-existence, and some other attributes of God (though that afford them their grand objection) proceeds not so much from any absurdity belonging to the notion of a Deity, as such; as from the difficulty, which our dim human intellects find to conceive the nature of those first things (whatever we suppose them) which, to be the causes of all others, must be themselves without cause: for he, that shall attentively consider, what the atomists themselves may be compelled to allow, concerning the eternity of matter, the origin of local motion (which plainly belongs not to the nature of body) the infinity or boundlessness of space, the divisibleness or non-divisibility of each corporeal substance into infinite material parts, may clearly perceive, that the atomist, by denying, that there is a God, cannot free his understanding from such puzzling difficulties, as he pretends to be the reasons of his denial: for instead of one God, he must confess an infinite number of atoms to be eternal, self-existent, immortal, self-moving, and must make suppositions, incumbered with difficulties enough to him, that has competently accustomed his thoughts to leave second causes, beneath them, and contemplate those causes, that have none. . . .

[Works, II, 5-6, 15, 20-22, 38-40, 49-30,55, 58, .59]

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Short Quotes by ROBERT BOYLE

On being a Christian and a scientist:
There is no inconsistence between a man’s being an industrious virtuoso, and a good Christian.
The Christian Virtuoso, cited in Mulfinger, p. 41.

On the design argument:
The vastness, beauty, orderliness, of the heavenly bodies, the excellent structure of animals and plants; and the other phenomena of nature justly induce an intelligent and unprejudiced observer to conclude a supremely powerful, just, and good author.
– cited by Mulfinger, p. 41.

On first causes:
Is it wise to dispute anxiously about the properties of an atom, and be careless about the enquiry into the attributes of the great God, who formed all things?
– cited by Mulfinger, p. 41.

On debate:
A man can be a champion of truth without being an enemy of civility.
– cited by Mulfinger, p. 42.

In his will, he wrote to the Royal Society:
Wishing them also a most happy success in their laudable attempts to discover the true nature of the works of God, and praying, that they and all other searchers into physical truths may cordially refer their attainments to the glory of the Author of Nature, and the benefit of mankind.
– cited by Mulfinger, p. 46.

On doubt:
He whose Faith never doubted, may justly doubt of his Faith.
– cited by Edward B. Davis.

Personal testimony:
I am not a Christian, because it is the religion of my country, and my friends, when I chuse to travel in the beaten road; it is not, because I find it is the road, but because I judge it is the way.
– cited by Edward B. Davis.

On godliness:
We must never venture to wander far from God, upon the Presumption that Death is far enough from us, but rather in the very height of our Jollities, we should endeavour to remember, that they who feast themselves to-day, may themselves prove Feasts for the Worms tomorrow.
– from Occasional Reflections, cited by Edward B. Davis.

On alleged contradictions between the Bible and science:
If we lay aside all the irrational opinions, that are unreasonably fathered on the Christian religion, and all erroneous conceits repugnant to Christianity, which have been groundlessly fathered upon Philosophy, the seeming contradictions betwixt Divinity and true Philosophy, will be but few, and the real ones none at all.
– cited by David L. Woodall.

On motivation for scientific research:
From a knowledge of His work, we shall know Him.
– cited by John Hudson Tiner, p. 179.

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