Isaac Newton, God and the eternal war between faith and science: Killing the Buddha/Newton and the Counterfeiter edition

Just a quick heads’ up:

I have a new essay up at Killing the Buddha on Isaac Newton, God, and the unintended damage done to faith by Newton’s personal commitment to a divinity immanent throughout nature.

The piece, adapted that opus readers of this blog may have heard of — Newton and the Counterfeiter (AmazonPowells,Barnes and NobleIndiebound) — argues that the proper way to understand the full (and astonishing) range of Newton’s interests and creative output is to recognize that all of it was directed to the same end:  to know (in Hawking’s anachronistic phrase) the mind of God.

It was a grand ambition, a passion, really, in all the resonance of that term.  It was also, I argue, one that was bound to end in tears.  Newton told the clergyman Richard Bentley in anticipation of the first Boyle Lectures that  “When I wrote my treatise upon our System, I had an eye on such Principles as might work with considering men fore the beleife of a Deity”

But, of course, it was easily grasped at that time and ever after, that the principles of natural philosophy do not, in themselves require the active presence of a god concerned with space and time….and from thence all our quarrels flow.

Go check it out.  Let me know what you think.

Image:  Michaelangelo, Sistine Ceiling “The First Day of Creation,” 1509

Explore posts in the same categories: Art, History of Science, Isaac Newton, Newton and the Counterfeiter, science and religion, Self-aggrandizement, Uncategorized

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3 Comments on “Isaac Newton, God and the eternal war between faith and science: Killing the Buddha/Newton and the Counterfeiter edition”

  1. AJ Hill Says:

    Thank you for a cogent & illuminating essay (at KTB). It’s interesting to compare the way in which Newton’s conception of God and Einstein’s deism informed their passion for science. Even the most adventurous intellect can be held hostage to its time.

    • Tom Says:

      Thanks for the nice words.

      On scientists and their times: they are not held hostage, imho; they like anyone are embedded in their times.

      That said — I think Einstein is barely a deist. Certainly not of the sort that, say, Adam Smith or Gibbon was (or TJ, for that matter).

  2. AJ Hill Says:

    Touche! Even Einstein had difficulty describing his “faith” succinctly, but in this forum especially I should have been more judicious! Setting aside terminology, had Einstein been born into a generation for whom quantum phenomena were a quotidian part of life, would he have devoted the latter part of his to a futile pursuit of determinism?

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