William Derham: Concordant Foundation of the Earth


220px-William_DerhamWilliam Derham (26 November 1657 – 5 April 1735) was an Anglican priest,  the vicar of Wargrave and chaplain to the Prince of Wales. He was interested in zoology, the natural sciences, physics, and astronomy, publishing a list of nebulae. Derham’s measurement of the velocity of sound was the best that had been achieved; Newton accepted and used it in the Principia. An exponent of the theological-physical movement, he published apologetic works, among them Astro-Theology: Or a Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God from a Survey of the Heavens (1715).

He gave the same arguments that St. Augustine used, and we still use nowadays: do not read Holy Scripture as Natural Sciences Textbooks, but we need to keep in mind that Science was still part of Philosophy at that time:

“These are the chief Texts of Scripture, which seem to lie against the Copernican Hypothesis. In answer to which, this may be said in general to them all,* That since the design of the holy Writings is not to instruct Men in Philosophical, but Divine Matters, therefore it is not necessary to restrain the sense of those Texts to the strict propriety of the Words, but take them to be spoken according to the appearance of things and the vulgar notions and opinions which men have of them, not according to their reality, or Philosophical verity. Thus in diverse other instances the holy Scriptures speak, – and thus even Philosophers themselves speak. Yea, the Copernicans themselves, although they professedly own, and defend the contrary; yet in vulgar speaking in our prelent cafe, say, The Sun riseth, setteth, and moveth, &*c. making that to be the act of the Sun in vulgar Discourse, which they contend to be in reality performed by the Earth. And if Philosophers, and others should not thus express themselves according to the appearance of things, and men’s vulgar apprehensions of them, it would need a Comment, and they mud: explain themselves every time they speak, in order to their being understood.

And in the first place, as for the Texts brought to prove the Immobility of the Earth, it is manifest that the Stability of the World, mentioned in the three first Texts, doth not relate to the Earth’s motion, either Annual or Diurnal, but to the Condition, State and Order of the World inhabiting the Earth, particularly the Peace and Prosperity thereof. One of our own latest, and most learned Commentators, the late Bishop Patrick understands the Gospel state to be meant in the first and third of the Texts. And his Paraphrase on that in Psalm 93.1. is, He who made the World will support that excellent order wherein we are settled; so that it shall not be in the power of man to disturb what he hath established.”

Picture below: William Derham Memorial Plaque, St. Laurence’s Church Upminster, 2011

william derham

—Derham, William. Derham’s Physico and Astro Theology: Or, A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God. Vol. 1. (London, GB: J. Walter, 1786), 189.

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