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Natural Theology

1891 to 1893
University of Edinburgh

Delivered over the course of 1891 and 1893, George Gabriel Stokes's Gifford Lectures focused on the question of Divine Design, which he defined as God's Will and creation itself. Stokes contrasts Design with materialism, which posits that all life and all inorganic phenomena are caused by natural laws, and nothing more. Stokes rebuts that view by arguing a materialistic conception of the universe cannot explain why certain natural laws exist, such as the law of gravitation. It can only describe the phenomena we observe in the form of mathematical theories. Answering the why question relies on a type of knowledge that extends beyond the ken of science — it relies on faith. Indeed, Stokes argues such a question can only be answered by appealing to the supernatural — a God that created both functional and beautiful things for the physical and psychological well-being of His creatures. In his Gifford lectures, Stokes takes a particular interest in criticizing the materialistic view of life that he thinks is engendered in Darwinian natural selection. He also takes a particular interest in emphasizing the role Christian Revelation plays in limiting the types of knowledge claims that scientists think they can make. A deeply religious man and a renowned physicist and mathematician, Stokes tries desperately to combine his religiosity with his determined belief in the existence of natural laws.


Natural Theology: The Gifford Lectures Delivered Before the University of Edinburgh in 1893

  • Josipa Petrunic, University of Edinburgh