Concept

Thomas Burnet

Summary
Thomas Burnet (c. 1635? – 27 September 1715) was an English theologian and writer on cosmogony. He was born at Croft near Darlington in 1635. After studying at Northallerton Grammar School under Thomas Smelt, he went to Clare College, Cambridge in 1651. There he was a pupil of John Tillotson. Ralph Cudworth, the Master of Clare, moved to Christ's College, Cambridge in 1654, and Burnet followed him. He became fellow of Christ's in 1657, M.A. in 1658, and was proctor in 1667. Burnet took employment travelling with Lord Wiltshire, son of Charles Paulet, 6th Marquess of Winchester, and through Tillotson as tutor to Lord Ossory, grandson of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. The influence of the Duke of Ormonde, one of the governors, secured his appointment in 1685 to the mastership of Charterhouse . Burnet took part in the resistance offered to James II's attempt to make Andrew Popham a pensioner of the Charterhouse. At two meetings held by the governors 17 January and Midsummer day 1687, the king's letters of dispensation were produced, but, in spite of the efforts of George Jeffreys, a governor, the majority refused compliance. After the Glorious Revolution Burnet became chaplain in ordinary and Clerk of the Closet to William III (until 1695). He received no clerical preferment and lived quietly in the Charterhouse, where he died on 27 September 1715, and was buried in the chapel. Burnet's best known work is his Telluris Theoria Sacra, or Sacred Theory of the Earth. The first part was published in 1681 in Latin, and in 1684 in English translation; the second part appeared in 1689 (1690 in English). It was a speculative cosmogony, in which Burnet suggested a hollow earth with most of the water inside until Noah's Flood, at which time mountains and oceans appeared. He calculated the amount of water on Earth's surface, stating there was not enough to account for the Flood. Burnet was to some extent influenced by Descartes who had written on the creation of the earth in Principia philosophiae (1644), and was criticised on those grounds by Roger North.
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