Thursday, May 03, 2012
Doesn't Take Much To Rip Us Into Pieces
Through some serendipity I discovered that on this date in 1779, a fascinating man I'd never heard of died. John Winthrop, great-great grandson of Massachussets Bay Colony's founder, was a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard, and is arguably the world's first seismologist.
Winthrop, like Kepler, was clearly comfortable integrating the religious and scientific worlds. Here's a lecture he gave about earthquakes, for example:
Though these explosions, and consequent concussions of the earth, have indeed occasioned most terrible desolations, and in this light may justly be regarded as the tokens of an incensed Deity ; yet it can by no means be concluded from hence, that they are not of real and standing advantage to the globe...
The all-wise CREATOR could not but foresee all the effects of all the powers he implanted in matter ; and, as we find in innumerable instances (and the more we know of his works, the more fuch instances we discover) that he has established such laws for the government of the world, as tend to promote the good of the whole, we may reasonably presume, that he has done it in this case as well as others...
The power of gravity, a power of such indispensable importance, that without it the system of nature could not subsist a moment, has yet proved the destruction of multitudes. The wind, fo necessary for the purposes of navigation, as well as to purge the air...how often has it risen to such a pitch, as to overthrow houses, and wreck vessels by which means thousands have perished...
Other instances of the like sort I leave to your own reflexions ; and would rather observe, that the world is governed by general laws ; and general laws must, from the nature of them, be liable sometimes to do hurt. However, laws of this sort are sufficiently vindicated, not only as wise, but as good if upon the whole they produce a maximum of good...and this, It is in the highest degree probable, all the laws of nature do.
Quite a contrast with people who deny the compatibility of the Bible and understanding the world scientifically. Anyway, that excerpt came from a copy of a published version he had personally given to John Adams a few years later.
Winthrop wrote to his friend a few months before Independence:
We have intire confidence in the wisdom and firmness of the Congress. The fate of America is in their hands, and it cannot be in better hands. We have no doubt, but they will seize this opportunity of establishing the Liberties of America on a foundation that cannot be shaken. Is it possible to come to a reconciliation with people that have treated us with so much barbarity? Tis the wish of many, I believe most, of our people, that they would throw off that dependence which has been the source of all the evils we have suffered, and which, as long as it continues, must be productive of the same, [and] if possible of greater evils.
I found this interesting in light of his observation about the good of general laws outweighing the bad.
[resists urge to use smallpox innoculation scene from John Adams to make larger point about contemporary policy debate]
And that's all I've got to say about that...
May 3, 2012 | Permalink
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"Anyway, that excerpt came from a copy of a published version he had personally given to John Adams a few years later."
Of course, the Adams family (not to be confused with the Addams Family) were a bunch of @#$%^& Unitarians, whom we all know are always up to no good... [/snark]
Posted by: Steve Bates | May 3, 2012 5:33:44 PM