John Ray. The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation. 7th edition. London: R. Harbin, 1717. Gift of the Class of 1912.

Thomas Burnet. The Sacred Theory of the Earth. 4th edition. London: J. Hooke, 1719.




By the late seventeenth century, the growing number of marine fossils found on mountain sides and the flood of specimens of new species coming into Europe from around the world suggested that the origins of life on earth were more complicated than the account in Genesis would suggest. Two prominent British naturalists, John Ray (1627-1705) and Thomas Burnet (1635- 1715) took on the task of reconciling biblical accounts with the new scientific discoveries.

Ray’s early work focused on classifying specimens, and he was the first to use the term “species.”  He later influenced the development of Linnaeus’s binomial nomenclature, although his classification system was based not on reproductive organs, but rather on all parts of a plant.  For all of his scientific work, Ray, who trained for the priesthood at Cambridge, remained a devout Christian and believed that the study of the natural world could only enhance one’s faith.  His book Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation, first published in 1691, is his explanation of the connections between nature and religion.  For Ray, the extraordinary diversity of species was simply proof of the great power and wisdom of the Creator in designing all of them. Ray’s book went through numerous editions in the next decades, and his arguments were echoed by others well into the nineteenth century.

Whereas Ray focused on the examination of animal and plant species, Thomas Burnet, also trained for the Church at Cambridge, was concerned with reconciling fossils and geological evidence with the biblical account of the creation of the world. The Sacred Theory of the Earth focuses on the development of the Earth from the original state of Eden to the current time. This development consisted of different stages of the world, overseen by the Creator. The frontispiece of The Sacred Theory of the Earth is an illustration of Revelation 22:13: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last, the beginning and the end.” Christ is shown above a series of globes arranged in a circle, each of which represents a different stage of Burnet’s development of the Earth. He presides over the whole cycle, as an illustration of Burnet’s attempt to prove that the natural processes of the earth are guided by the divine.

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