- Today is Isaac Newton’s birthday, December 25.
- Isaac Newton was acquainted with Charles II, a cockfighter.
- Isaac Newton’s heir-in-law was John Newton, a cockfighter.
- Isaac Newton refused to receive the sacrament on his death bed when it was offered to him.
- Now most scholars identify Newton as an Antitrinitarian monotheist.
- ‘In Newton’s eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin’.
“Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.” – Isaac Newton
“Isaac Newton might be in denial about his irreligious inclination. But for sure, he is a freethinker being a scientist.” – GTTE
Isaac Newton was born (according to the Julian calendar in use in England at the time) on Christmas Day, 25 December 1642, (NS 4 January 1643.) at Woolsthorpe Manor in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, a hamlet in the county of Lincolnshire. He was born three months after the death of his father, a prosperous farmer also named Isaac Newton. Born prematurely, he was a small child; his mother Hannah Ayscough reportedly said that he could have fit inside a quart mug (≈ 1.1 litres). When Newton was three, his mother remarried and went to live with her new husband, the Reverend Barnabus Smith, leaving her son in the care of his maternal grandmother, Margery Ayscough. The young Isaac disliked his stepfather and maintained some enmity towards his mother for marrying him, as revealed by this entry in a list of sins committed up to the age of 19: “Threatening my father and mother Smith to burn them and the house over them.” Although it was claimed that he was once engaged, Newton never married.
From the age of about twelve until he was seventeen, Newton was educated at The King’s School, Grantham. He was removed from school, and by October 1659, he was to be found at Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, where his mother, widowed by now for a second time, attempted to make a farmer of him. He hated farming. Henry Stokes, master at the King’s School, persuaded his mother to send him back to school so that he might complete his education. Motivated partly by a desire for revenge against a schoolyard bully, he became the top-ranked student. The Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen considers it “fairly certain” that Newton had Asperger syndrome.
In June 1661, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge as a sizar – a sort of work-study role. At that time, the college’s teachings were based on those of Aristotle, whom Newton supplemented with modern philosophers, such as Descartes, and astronomers such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. In 1665, he discovered the generalised binomial theorem and began to develop a mathematical theory that later became infinitesimal calculus. Soon after Newton had obtained his degree in August 1665, the university temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague. Although he had been undistinguished as a Cambridge student, Newton’s private studies at his home in Woolsthorpe over the subsequent two years saw the development of his theories on calculus, optics and the law of gravitation. In 1667, he returned to Cambridge as a fellow of Trinity. Fellows were required to become ordained priests, something Newton desired to avoid due to his unorthodox views. Luckily for Newton, there was no specific deadline for ordination, and it could be postponed indefinitely. The problem became more severe later when Newton was elected for the prestigious Lucasian Chair. For such a significant appointment, ordaining normally could not be dodged. Nevertheless, Newton managed to avoid it by means of a special permission from Charles II (see “Middle years” section below).
In the last few years of Newton’s life he was troubled by urinary incontinence probably due to a kidney stone. In January 1725 he was seized with violent cough and inflammation of the lungs which induced him to move to Kensington. In the next month he had a case of gout and then had an improvement of health. His duties from the mint were terminated and thus he seldom left home. On 28 February 1727 he went to London to preside at a meeting of the Royal Society but his health condition forced him to return to Kensington on 4 March when it was determined he had a kidney stone. He endured great suffering. On 18 March he became delirious around 6pm and stayed in that state until Monday 20 March 1727 when he died between one and two in the morning. His body was taken to London and on Tuesday, 28 March it lay in state in the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abbey, and then was moved to his burial location in the Abbey. (Note: the date of Newton’s death is 20 March 1727 in the “Old Style” Julian calendar and 31 March 1727 in the “New Style” Gregorian calendar).
His considerable liquid estate was divided equally between his eight half-nieces and half-nephews — three Pilkingtons, three Smiths and two Bartons (including Catherine Barton Conduitt). Woolsthorpe Manor passed to his heir-in-law, a John Newton, who, after six years of “cock[fight]ing, horse racing, drinking and folly” was forced to mortgage and then sell the manor before dying in a drunken accident.
In a minority view, T.C. Pfizenmaier argues that Newton held the Eastern Orthodox view on the Trinity rather than the Western one held by Roman Catholics, Anglicans and most Protestants. However, this type of view ‘has lost support of late with the availability of Newton’s theological papers’, and now most scholars identify Newton as an Antitrinitarian monotheist. ‘In Newton’s eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin’. Historian Stephen D. Snobelen says of Newton, “Isaac Newton was a heretic. But … he never made a public declaration of his private faith—which the orthodox would have deemed extremely radical. He hid his faith so well that scholars are still unravelling his personal beliefs.” Snobelen concludes that Newton was at least a Socinian sympathiser (he owned and had thoroughly read at least eight Socinian books), possibly an Arian and almost certainly an anti-trinitarian. In an age notable for its religious intolerance, there are few public expressions of Newton’s radical views, most notably his refusal to receive holy orders and his refusal, on his death bed, to receive the sacrament when it was offered to him.
Although the laws of motion and universal gravitation became Newton’s best-known discoveries, he warned against using them to view the Universe as a mere machine, as if akin to a great clock. He said, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”
Along with his scientific fame, Newton’s studies of the Bible and of the early Church Fathers were also noteworthy. Newton wrote works on textual criticism, most notably An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. He placed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at 3 April, AD 33, which agrees with one traditionally accepted date. He also tried unsuccessfully to find hidden messages within the Bible.
Newton wrote more on religion than he did on natural science. He believed in a rationally immanent world, but he rejected the hylozoism implicit in Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza. The ordered and dynamically informed Universe could be understood, and must be understood, by an active reason. In his correspondence, Newton claimed that in writing the Principia “I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity”. He saw evidence of design in the system of the world: “Such a wonderful uniformity in the planetary system must be allowed the effect of choice”. But Newton insisted that divine intervention would eventually be required to reform the system, due to the slow growth of instabilities. For this, Leibniz lampooned him: “God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion.” Newton’s position was vigorously defended by his follower Samuel Clarke in a famous correspondence. A century later, Pierre-Simon Laplace’s work “Celestial Mechanics” had a natural explanation for why the planet orbits don’t require periodic divine intervention.
Effect on religious thought
Newton and Robert Boyle’s mechanical philosophy was promoted by rationalist pamphleteers as a viable alternative to the pantheists and enthusiasts, and was accepted hesitantly by orthodox preachers as well as dissident preachers like the latitudinarians. The clarity and simplicity of science was seen as a way to combat the emotional and metaphysical superlatives of both superstitious enthusiasm and the threat of atheism, and at the same time, the second wave of English deists used Newton’s discoveries to demonstrate the possibility of a “Natural Religion”.
The attacks made against pre-Enlightenment “magical thinking”, and the mystical elements of Christianity, were given their foundation with Boyle’s mechanical conception of the Universe. Newton gave Boyle’s ideas their completion through mathematical proofs and, perhaps more importantly, was very successful in popularising them. Newton refashioned the world governed by an interventionist God into a world crafted by a God that designs along rational and universal principles. These principles were available for all people to discover, allowed people to pursue their own aims fruitfully in this life, not the next, and to perfect themselves with their own rational powers.
Newton saw God as the master creator whose existence could not be denied in the face of the grandeur of all creation. His spokesman, Clarke, rejected Leibniz’ theodicy which cleared God from the responsibility for l’origine du mal by making God removed from participation in his creation, since as Clarke pointed out, such a deity would be a king in name only, and but one step away from atheism. But the unforeseen theological consequence of the success of Newton’s system over the next century was to reinforce the deist position advocated by Leibniz. The understanding of the world was now brought down to the level of simple human reason, and humans, as Odo Marquard argued, became responsible for the correction and elimination of evil.
End of the world
In a manuscript he wrote in 1704 in which he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible, he estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said, “This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.”
Enlightenment philosophers chose a short history of scientific predecessors – Galileo, Boyle, and Newton principally – as the guides and guarantors of their applications of the singular concept of Nature and Natural Law to every physical and social field of the day. In this respect, the lessons of history and the social structures built upon it could be discarded.
It was Newton’s conception of the Universe based upon Natural and rationally understandable laws that became one of the seeds for Enlightenment ideology. Locke and Voltaire applied concepts of Natural Law to political systems advocating intrinsic rights; the physiocrats and Adam Smith applied Natural conceptions of psychology and self-interest to economic systems; and sociologists criticised the current social order for trying to fit history into Natural models of progress. Monboddo and Samuel Clarke resisted elements of Newton’s work, but eventually rationalised it to conform with their strong religious views of nature.
Newton’s laws of motion are three physical laws that form the basis for classical mechanics. They describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces. They have been expressed in several different ways over nearly three centuries, and can be summarized as follows:
- First law: If an object experiences no net force, then its velocity is constant: the object is either at rest (if its velocity is zero), or it moves in a straight line with constant speed (if its velocity is nonzero).
- Second law: The acceleration a of a body is parallel and directly proportional to the net force F acting on the body, is in the direction of the net force, and is inversely proportional to the mass m of the body, i.e., F = ma.
- Third law: When a first body exerts a force F1 on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force F2 = −F1 on the first body. This means that F1 and F2 are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.
The three laws of motion were first compiled by Sir Isaac Newton in his work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, first published in 1687. Newton used them to explain and investigate the motion of many physical objects and systems. For example, in the third volume of the text, Newton showed that these laws of motion, combined with his law of universal gravitation, explained Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.
– Gameness til the End