Mather Family. Cotton Mather was born at a time when Boston was the capital of American science. Cotton’s father, Increase Mather, was a leader of the scientific community. A historian of note and leading Boston clergyman, Increase Mather adopted the new scientific ideas coming from Europe in the 1600s. Influenced by Francis Bacon and Robert Hooke, Increase Mather incorporated scientific ideasinto his Sunday sermons. He tried to counter superstition with realistic explanations about comets and the nature of the universe. Newton’s Comet of 1680 in particular inspired Increase Mather’s interest in astronomy. Acting upon his scientific interests, Mather organized the Philosophical Club of Boston in 1683. One of the members was twenty-year-old Cotton Mather.
Christian Philosopher. CottonMather’s life and work illustrate two sides of early American science. As a Congregational clergyman and a firm believer in divine revelation and miracles, Mather accepted some very unscientific notions, such as the power of witchcraft. His first publication was an analysis of the validity of the story of Noah’s Ark. Mather firmly believed in the literal truth of the Bible and in God’s constantprovidence at work in world affairs. At the same time, Mather was one of the leading American scientists of the early eighteenth century. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1713. He read and praised the work of such European scientists as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. Mather believed that the study of science could teach humans about God. Natural phenomena were “second causes” toGod, the First Cause. “There is not a Fly,” Mather wrote in 1690, “but what would confute an Atheist ”. In 1721 Mather’s philosophy about religion and science appeared in The Christian Philosopher. Mather argued that everything in the universe had a reason and a purpose. The universe glorified the wisdom of its Creator, who with perfect thrift and economy created only necessary things. Everythingin God’s kingdom was essential.
Medical Knowledge. Mather had broad scientific interests. He wrote on fossils, astronomy, mathematics, zoology, entomology, ornithology, and botany. Medicine particularly interested him. Like other clergymen, Mather studied and practiced medicine as an amateur. He was the foremost advocate of smallpox inoculation in America. His interest was perhaps due to theterrible toll the disease had wrought on his own life: two of his children and his wife succumbed to it. Indeed, only two of Mather’s fifteen children survived him. In his autobiography Mather explained his attraction to medicine as owing to hypochondria. As a teenager he read widely in medical literature, which spurred his mind into imagining upon himself the symptoms of dread diseases. As theyears passed, Mather became interested in the causes and cures of mental illness, measles, scurvy, fevers, and of course smallpox.
Angel of Bethesda. In 1724 Mather wrote a learned medical treatise, The Angel of Bethesda. In this book Mather argued that disease resulted from sin: there was a clear connection between the mind and the body. He provided a sympathetic appraisal of mental illness anddiscussed techniques of psychotherapy. He prescribed prayer as a means of combating illness. Otherwise the book was an extensive clinical description of diseases, modes of prevention, and cures. Mather also discussed in detail the theory, then debated in Europe but not well known in America, that microorganisms (germs) were causal agents in disease. Notwithstanding his religious views, Cotton Matherwas clearly one of the great scientists of colonial
Cotton Mather, Puritan minister, author, and scholar was born on February 12, 1663, the eldest child of Increase Mather, a Puritan minister, and Maria Cotton. The marriage of Increase Mather and Maria Cotton was an interesting one because Increase and Maria were stepbrother and sister. It was also "the union of two great New England...
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