The Queen of Science and the Handmaiden to Theology: Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards on Natural Philosophy and Noah’s Flood

March 16th, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Hinkson Hall

The rise of natural philosophy (science) during the early Enlightenment (1650-1750) posed tremendous challenges to theologians of all stripes. Among the principal questions were such issues as the dimension, capacity, and design of Noah’s ark, the origin and universal extent of the deluge, calculations about the amount of water necessary to inundate the entire globe, and the use of fossil evidence from European and American sites. The debate involved the brightest minds of the time—men of the cloth like Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton in Europe, and Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards in New England. Smolinki’s presentation focuses on how these clergymen employed the best historical, theological, and scientific evidence of the day, and achieved a remarkable consensus in upholding the authenticity of the Mosaic flood account. In fact, New England furnished some surprising archeological evidence in its confirmation.


smolinskiReiner Smolinski is Professor of English at Georgia State University. He is particularly interested in noncanonical documents in early American religious literature, history, and culture. Since 1984 he has been working on the Mather Family Papers, Puritan historiography, and hermeneutics. Among Smolinski’s ongoing projects is a study of biblical hermeneutics in 17th and 18th-century England and North America.