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Metaphysics From John Ray to Nima Arkani-Hamed


When John Ray refused to conform to the 1662 Act of Uniformity—aimed mainly at the Puritans—and so was forced to leave his position at Cambridge University, he roamed Europe for three years doing what he loved: observing nature. Ray and his companions were in for a surprise: unfathomable diversity. They found thousands of different kinds of insects, animals and plants. Every place had a different flora and fauna, and with different interactions. Life did not seem to follow the kind of compact formulas Isaac Newton was discovering for the new physics. With the overthrow of Aristotelianism, physics was becoming more parsimonious in line with Occam’s Razor. But biology was headed in the opposite direction. Were all these organic life forms and their detailed life histories really necessary? Ralph Cudworth had warned that the immense details of the world, while refuting Descartes’ rejection of final causes, were surely beneath the sovereign Creator’s dignity, and Ray’s three-year tour upped the ante. The Infra Dignitatem argument for a less hands-on creation story was born. There must have been something between the majestic Creator and this ad hoc, capricious, gritty creation. Like the Gnostics, the Aristotle of England, who would also become the father of natural theology, called for a separation between the Creator and the world.  Read more


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