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How Newton’s model of mechanical universe paved the way for uncritical acceptance of Darwinism

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Neil Thomas, author of Taking Leave of Darwin (2021), comments on how the approach to the world taken by Isaac Newton made it easier to accept Darwinism as an account of the history of life, ignoring its limitations:

Once the Newtonian paradigm in cosmology had won acceptance, there then followed a predictable amount of follow-my-leaderism as it came to be thought that all scientific explanations should henceforth remain congruent with that paradigm. After all, did not Darwinian theory dovetail satisfyingly with those other naturalistic approaches to the universe which had been gathering momentum in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and which, cumulatively but sometimes insensibly, were edging Britain towards a post-Christian era? Newton having satisfactorily explained the starry heavens above, and Lyell having explained the inanimate, geological realm, the sights of scientific research were now refocused on organic life by use of the same methodological means. The direction of the scientific quest now turned to finding a solution to the riddles of the terrestrial world in wholly natural terms: how had its plant and animal life developed?

It was at just this time that Darwin made his grand entrance on to the public stage to give people the kind of answer they would have wanted at precisely the time they would have wanted to hear it. He could not have timed it better, for now Darwin came to be seen as marching in triumphantly to provide a crowning consummation of Newton and Lyell. So it was that by the mid to late 1860s, Darwin’s theory began its irresistible integration into that great, overarching metanarrative of the age which reduced all things to natural causes, his intervention in history commonly viewed as “a completion of the unfinished Cartesian revolution that demanded a mechanical model for all living processes.”2

Neil Thomas, “Darwin and the Newtonian Metanarrative” at Evolution News and Science Today (January 29, 2022)

The thing about such models is that they receive a great deal of social support and a person who diligently enquires into the evidence, exposing defects, is treated with — at best — suspicion. Not a healthy situation for honest inquiry.

4 Replies to “How Newton’s model of mechanical universe paved the way for uncritical acceptance of Darwinism

  1. 1 says:

    There’s no excuse for something as demonstrably stupid as “natural selection”…

    Its only justification being an analogy to breeding aka “artificial selection” that not only is intelligent design par excellence, but it is also incapable to change the nature of the organism beyond minor features, and even those requiring increasing efforts to maintain.

  2. 2
    chuckdarwin says:

    The word “metanarrative” is so cool….

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    Here is what I posted 13 years ago on this. A long comment based on a Teaching Company course on. the Enlightenment.

    It essentially says the enlightenment which began with Gaileo, Newton and Leibniz showed the majesty of God’s work but then morphed into “Who needs God” by a hundred years later.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    “If you have missed Newton’s Theism you have missed everything”
    – Stephen Meyer – Wrong Again: Neil deGrasse Tyson Misrepresents Legacy of Sir Isaac Newton

    Newton’s Rejection of the “Newtonian World View”: The Role of Divine Will in Newton’s Natural Philosophy
    Abstract: The significance of Isaac Newton for the history of Christianity and science is undeniable: his professional work culminated the Scientific Revolution that saw the birth of modern science, while his private writings evidence a lifelong interest in the relationship between God and the world. Yet the typical picture of Newton as a paragon of Enlightenment deism, endorsing the idea of a remote divine clockmaker and the separation of science from religion, is badly mistaken. In fact Newton rejected both the clockwork metaphor itself and the cold mechanical universe upon which it is based. His conception of the world reflects rather a deep commitment to the constant activity of the divine will, unencumbered by the “rational” restrictions that Descartes and Leibniz placed on God, the very sorts of restrictions that later appealed to the deists of the 18th century.
    Newton’s voluntarist conception of God had three major consequences for his natural philosophy. First, it led him to reject Descartes’ version of the mechanical philosophy, in which matter was logically equated with extension, in favor of the belief that the properties of matter were freely determined by an omnipresent God, who remained free to move the particles of matter according to God’s will. Second, Newton’s voluntarism moved him to affirm an intimate relationship between the creator and the creation; his God was acted on the world at all times and in ways that Leibniz and other mechanical philosophers could not conceive of, such as causing parts of matter to attract one another at a distance. Finally, Newton held that, since the world is a product of divine freedom rather than necessity, the laws of nature must be inferred from the phenomena of nature, not deduced from metaphysical axioms — as both Descartes and Leibniz were wont to do.
    It is indeed ironic that such a theologically interesting story should remain largely unknown among theologians, not to mention other scholars. Even the late Richard S. Westfall, the leading Newton scholar of our time and a keen student of Newton’s theological views, mostly failed to see the relevance of Newton’s theological views for the content of his natural philosophy. Much scholarship on Newton hitherto has been dominated by the “conflict” school of historiography, growing out of the Enlightenment, according to which religion and science are bitter opponents that cannot possibly influence one another in positive ways; relations of the sort detailed here have gone unnoticed, for they have been inconceivable. In this essay, however, we see the degree to which Newton himself was not an Enlightenment person — not a “Newtonian,” as that term is typically understood.

    Isaac Newton: His Science and Religion – Stephen D. Snobelen
    Excerpt: At this point Newton launches into a majestic description of the God he found in Nature and Scripture. This Being, Newton begins, “rules all things, not as the world soul but as the lord of all. And because of his dominion he is called Lord God Pantokrator”. Then follows an account of God’s eternity and omnipresence that is shot through with biblical language. Newton’s God is sovereign over time and space. This twofold sovereignty, Newton suggests, ultimately underpins all things in time and space: “All the diversity of created things, each in its place and time, could only have arisen from the ideas and will of a necessarily existing being”. … At the end of the explicitly theological section of the General Scholium Newton writes: “This concludes the discussion of God, and to treat of God from phenomena is certainly a part of experimental philosophy” (changed to “natural philosophy” in the 1726 third edition of the Principia). Thus for Newton discussions about God and design are not to be kept separate from natural philosophy, but rather are integral to it.
    – Snobelen

    ‘To treat of God from Phenomena’ – 2017
    Excerpt: I’m going to start with the famous passage from the General Scholium to the Principia: “to treat of God from phenomena is certainly a part of natural philosophy”. The meaning of the first part of the statement is clear: we have epistemic access to God via our observations of the world. And so, from the phenomena, we can learn about God’s nature and divine will—in the same way that we can learn about, say, gravity.,,,

    And with such a high view of God’s divine will sustaining the universe in its existence, I think that Newton would be very pleased to see that the ‘freedom of choice loophole’ has now been closed in quantum mechanics,

    Cosmic Bell Test Using Random Measurement Settings from High-Redshift Quasars – Anton Zeilinger – 14 June 2018
    Abstract: This experiment pushes back to at least approx. 7.8 Gyr ago the most recent time by which any local-realist influences could have exploited the “freedom-of-choice” loophole to engineer the observed Bell violation, excluding any such mechanism from 96% of the space-time volume of the past light cone of our experiment, extending from the big bang to today.

    Of further note, when we rightly allow the Agent causality of God ‘back’ into physics, (as the Christian founders of modern science originally envisioned, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, and Max Planck, to name a few of the Christian founders,,,, and as quantum mechanics itself now empirically demands with the closing of the free will loophole by Anton Zeilinger and company), then rightly allowing the Agent causality of God ‘back’ into physics provides us with a very plausible resolution for the much sought after ‘theory of everything’ in that Christ’s resurrection from the dead bridges the infinite mathematical divide that exists between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics and provides us with an empirically backed reconciliation, via the Shroud of Turin, between Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity into the much sought after ‘Theory of Everything”

    Jesus Christ as the correct “Theory of Everything” – video–eE


    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    2 Timothy 1:9
    He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.

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