A parson-naturalist was a cleric (a "
The natural theologians John Ray (1627–1705) and William Paley (1743–1805) argued that the elaborate complexity of the world of nature was evidence for the existence of a creator. Accordingly, a parson-naturalist frequently made use of his insights into philosophy and theology when interpreting what he observed in natural history.
The tradition of clerical naturalists may be traced back to some monastic writings of the Middle Ages, although some argue that their writings about animals and plants cannot be correctly classified as natural history. Notable early parson-naturalists were William Turner (1508–1568), John Ray (1627–1705), William Derham (1657–1735), and Gilbert White (1720–1793).
The 19th century witnessed the wide proliferation of the tradition, which continued into the 20th century.
Parson-naturalism declined in the twentieth century. Armstrong covers two men, the ornithologist Charles Earle Raven (1885–1964) and his father, Edward Armstrong (1900–1978), whom he describes as an authority on "bird behaviour and bird song". The Times publishes a letter every year from the Reverend Prebendary John Woolmer recording the status of the dung-feeding forest butterfly, the purple emperor; Woolmer has a stole embroidered with butterflies for the service he holds in a Northamptonshire woodland "to bless the forest rides". Woolmer wrote the book The Grand Surprise: Butterflies and the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Armstrong, 2000.
- Clark, 2009. pp. 26–28
- Worster, 1994. p. 132
- Armstrong, 2000. pp 79–81