Physical theology

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The physico (including natural theology ) is a theological direction in which the rationalistic proof of the existence of God in the wonders of his creation is seen (nature, Greek physis.); for development see: Theological Rationalism .

Insofar as physicotheological positions claim the proof of God's existence from nature, there is a relationship to natural theology , which tries to gain knowledge about God with philosophical means (the “natural reason”) instead of recourse to revelation knowledge. The term physical theology, however, is used more narrowly for the proof of miracles and purposeful arrangements, which in scholastic forms of natural theology falls under the cosmological or teleological proof of God or under the extrinsic (external to the content of belief) beliefs. In addition, “physical theology” is usually only used for authors from the 16th century.

History of ideas

A feeling of being overwhelmed by the wonders of nature can already be found in the Baroque , triggered by the radical change in the worldview according to Nicolaus Copernicus , Bruno and Galilei . Corresponding proofs of God (the so-called ›physicotheological‹ as well as ›physico-teleological‹ proof) are now popular among the physicotheological representatives . (For more general and more specific philosophical aspects of the proof of God see also Natural Theology .)

In the variety corresponding to the nature under consideration, there are also terminological modifications, such as astro-, hydro-, ichthyo-, insecto-, litho-, pyrotheology (and at least 30 others). Its most influential representative was the writer and Hamburg Senator Barthold Brockes (1680-1747) with his poetry collection Earthly Pleasure in God, consisting of physical and moral poems (1721-48 in nine volumes), in which, as in the Baroque era, homage nature and creation is still the focus, but is now supplemented by the precise and analytical consideration of them. Even Johann Albert Fabricius and his circle - Johann Christoph , Christian Wolff , Hermann Samuel Reimarus and Michael Richey - have greatly contributed to this genus in Germany. Unlike Brockes, they emphasize - building on the physics theology of the Anglican clergyman William Derham - the special role of God's providence in the order of nature. Such writings have also had a great effect with natural scientists like Carl von Linné and ultimately ensured that ecological relationships could be considered even in the early days of biology by attempting to “establish regular relationships between species” (Schramm 1984, p. 25) .

In German studies , physical theology is relevant for the literary processing of the results of modern natural sciences in the field of tension with the orthodox religiosity of this time. Brockes 'natural poems can also be seen in this light: In Brockes' poetry, the poet's I is always fascinated by the perfection of creation and describes it scientifically precisely in order to then classify it as a miracle and a sign of God's greatness - so science becomes instrumentalized as proof of God. In this sense, the theology of physics is the opposite of a technocratic atheism , as it is e.g. B. in the modern age embodied the figure Faber in Frisch's Homo Faber .

The theology of physics can also be found in a radicalized form in Johann Christian Edelmann (1698–1767) and the Wolffian Lorenz Schmidt , the latter in his so-called Werthheimer Bible translation (1735) offered the complete rewrite of the Pentateuch in the sense of the Enlightenment and therefore as a mocker of religion had to go to jail.

The theology of physics played an important role in the 17th century at the time of the emerging natural sciences, because the theological interpretation of scientific knowledge made it possible to enter into a symbiosis between theology and natural sciences that was beneficial for both sides. Immanuel Kant ( Critique of Judgment § 85) tried to show that the proofs of God sought within the framework of physics theology are false and inadmissible, since allegedly all proofs can be traced back to Anselm's (invalid) proof. Kant made a decisive contribution to the development of a theology-free natural science and natural sciences to get by without theological interpretations. Kant also wanted to show that from a teleological consideration of the physical world, that is, a consideration that is aimed at expediency, one cannot infer God as the ultimate end.

The renaissance of physical theology

As a quasi “postmodern physics theology”, we encounter intelligent design , a newer variant of creationism . This current of conservative think tanks seeks to legitimize teleological modes of argumentation as scientific. Based on the complexity of living beings, conclusions can be drawn about the work of a creator or designer. For this purpose, the "purposes" and "functional relationships" which are methodically assumed in the life sciences are subsumed in biological systems under the Aristotelian concept of purpose (see also entelechy ), so ontologies are made from functions (in scientific models).

See also


  • Wolfgang Philipp, The becoming of the Enlightenment from a theological-historical perspective , Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1957.
  • Sara Stebbins, Maxima in minimis. On the empirical and authority understanding in the physicotheological literature of the early Enlightenment. Frankfurt a. M. [u. a.]: Lang-Verlag 1980 (Mikrokosmos 8), ISBN 3-8204-6154-X
  • Engelbert Schramm (ed.): Ecology reading book. Selected texts on the development of ecological thinking . Frankfurt a. M .: S. Fischer 1984, ISBN 3-596-24064-6
  • Udo Krolzik, secularization of nature, Providentia Dei doctrine and concept of nature in the early Enlightenment . Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag des Erziehungsverein 1988, ISBN 3-7887-1227-9
  • Udo Krolzik, physico in Theological Realenzyklopädie, Art., Berlin / New York 1,993th
  • Susanne Ehrhardt-Rein: Between the doctrine of faith and the truth of reason. Nature and creation among the theologians of Halle in the 18th century . Theology of Physics in a Historical Context 3. Lit-Verl., Münster 1996 ISBN 3-8258-2609-0
  • Robert Felfe: Natural history as an artful synthesis. Physics theology and image practice with Johann Jacob Scheuchzer . Akad.-Verl., Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-05-003717-2
  • Paul Michel, Physikotheologie - Origins, Achievement and Decline of a Form of Thought (= New Year's Gazette for the year 2008, published by the learned society in Zurich). Editions à la Carte, Zurich 2008, ISBN 978-3-905708-35-6 .
  • Christian A. Caroli: Physicotheology: Nature and its sciences as the splendor of God in the early enlightenment ; in: As-Sabil anthologies for cultural pluralism, Vol. 2: The meeting of cultures, Konstanz 2009, pp. 177–230.
  • Holger Steinmann, Reticle - Knowledge - Belief. Physical theology and rhetoric 1665–1747. Berlin: Kadmos 2008, ISBN 978-3-86599-059-4 .
  • Anne-Charlott Trepp, About the bliss of knowing everything. Exploring nature as a religious practice in the early modern period , Frankfurt am Main: Campus 2009.
  • Ian Barbour: Science meets religion. Opponents, strangers, partners? Göttingen 2010.
  • Ferdinando Luigi Marcolungo, Christian Wolff and the physico-theological proof ; in: Enlightenment: interdisciplinary yearbook for research into the 18th century and its history of impact, vol. 23, Hamburg 2011, pp. 147–161.
  • Matthias Wehry, The book of nature as a library of natural science ; in: Förschler, Silke (Ed.): Methods of Enlightenment. Orders of knowledge transfer and generation of knowledge in the long 18th century. Munich 2013, pp. 152–163.