To make the great strides that it has in the last few centuries, physics had first to break free of the Aristotelian tradition. For Aristotle physical explanations include a purposive or teleological component. Things strive to attain their ends and ultimately, on the cosmological level, the activities of the world are to be explained in terms of things loving, and therefore attempting to imitate, the activity of the unmoved mover who, unaware of what he is elsewhere stirring up, calmly goes on thinking his own thoughts.
Physicists no longer think in terms of an immanent teleology in this way—at least, not in their non-metaphysical moments. 1 This is not to say that teleological thinking has no relevance at all for modern physics. A case can be made for the view that the Christian concept of God as creator of the universe provided the intellectual justification for the uprise of modern science. M.B. Foster (1934) has argued that Christianity, in contrast to an influential strand of Greek metaphysics, implied a concept of nature which is conducive to the empirical approach. In later Greek thought a thing, such as a tree, is regarded as a union of intelligible form and matter, the form of a thing being that which is grasped a priori by the intellect while the matter is that which is perceived. Matter was thought to be an imperfection and this led to Greek science playing down the importance of perception and emphasising an a priori deductive method. In Christianity the view is of things as freely created by God who is not now regarded, as Plato thought of him, as merely bringing together pre-existing form and matter; and matter, which still is what is perceived, is no longer thought of as contributing to the imperfection of things. This, Foster thinks, paved the way for the empirical approach of science.