SRSP 11-16 Topic 3 Unit 1e – Mechanism


Mechanism is the philosophy that all of physical nature is mechanical, automatically following the natural laws laid down by God. René Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician, proposed a mechanistic view of the world in the 17th century. For Descartes, only the human soul, being incorporeal and possessing free will, was not part of mechanism.

This philosophy profoundly affected scientific development. Many scientists after Descartes believed that natural laws were used by God to achieve his predetermined purposes, and also that it was possible, through science, to obtain a complete mechanical description of the universe.

The lessons in this topic focus largely on Descartes, the man and his ideas, and how they have affected human attitudes to living creatures and the environment to the present day.

This unit consists of 2 lessons and is suitable for students aged from 14 to 16 years


Key Questions

  • What is the meaning of mechanism?
  • Is there a place for the divine in a mechanistic universe?
  • How might a mechanistic scientist tackle ethical or environmental issues?
  • What is the difference between a theistic and a deistic understanding of God?

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Unit Resources

Unit Overview (Word)


Lesson 1

Lesson Plan: A clockwork universe (Word)

Student Resource Sheet: Who was Rene Descartes? (Word)

Student Worksheet: The mechanistic view of nature, and its consequences (Word)


Lesson 2

Lesson Plan: What is mechanism? (Word)

Student Resource Sheet 1: Who said this? (Word)

Student Resource Sheet 2: How did Descartes influence science & religion? (Word)

Student Resource Sheet 3: A quotation (Word)

Student Worksheet: Mechanism and Environmental Ethics (Word)

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