John Craige's Mathematical Principles of Christian Theology

John Craige's Mathematical Principles of Christian Theology

John Craige's Mathematical Principles of Christian Theology

John Craige's Mathematical Principles of Christian Theology

Synopsis

First published in Latin in 1699, John Craige's Theology represents a rare early attempt to introduce mathematical reasoning into moral and theological dispute. Craige's effort to determine the earliest possible date of the Apocalypse earned him ridicule as an eccentric and a crank. Yet, Richard Nash argues, the intensity of the response to Craige's work testifies to how widely felt the conflict was between the old and newly emergent notions of probability.

Excerpt

This work of historical recovery attempts to situate in its context a rare early attempt to introduce mathematical reasoning into moral and theological dispute. An appendix makes available to scholars for the first time an English language version of the complete Mathematical Principles of Christian Theology. The opening chapter charts the wide range of responses elicited by the work. Chapter 2 presents a more complete biography of the author than currently exists, introducing new material and correcting several widely reproduced errors of fact. Subsequent chapters locate the work and its responses within a context of profound intellectual change occurring at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, paying particular attention to mathematical and philosophical contexts. As an older notion of probability came to be replaced by our modern one, the two competing notions existed for a time side by side, engendering confusion and enflaming controversy. This work helps identify that process of historical change.

A brief pamphlet that sold for sixpence, the Theology was printed only once in Craige's lifetime. Like most of Craige's work, it was written in Latin and relied on a mathematical argument. The Theology, however, attracted a broader audience than did the rest of his work. Patterning his effort on Newton's discovery of the mathematical principles of natural philosophy and elaborating on hints found in Locke Essay on Human Understanding and The Reasonableness of Christianity, Craige attempted to introduce mathematical reasoning to problems in Christian theology. Foremost among these problems was the declining faith in Christianity and the corresponding rise in atheism and deism that then so preoccupied the established Church. Borrowing Locke's notion of "an historical faith" (Reasonableness 101), Craige developed several rules for the evaluation of historical evidence in an attempt to explain this phenomenon. His treatise attempted at once to account for the declining faith in Christianity while answering the millenarian claims of enthusiasts. One result of his efforts was to draw down upon himself the responses of deists, clergymen, mathematicians, historians, philosophers, and poets. These responses, from an audience scattered from Edinburgh to Padua, continued long after Craige's death in 1731 and included, among many others, such notable figures as Matthew Tindal, Samuel Clarke, Humphrey Ditton, Phillipe Montmort, William Warburton, David Hume, and Alexander Pope.

The various positions adopted by participants in the controversy surrounding this work reveal conflicting assumptions about the nature of belief and demonstra-

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