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The fuss over Isaac Newton’s more eccentric beliefs says more about the fussers than about him

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On his death in 1727, pioneering physicist Isaac Newton left behind a trove of manuscripts that he had shared with almost no one during his lifetime. The long-unpublished papers—containing some 10m words, or the equivalent of roughly a hundred novels—have tantalised scholars ever since. Newton famously left little published evidence of how he made his scientific discoveries. Could these private writings hold the key to understanding his genius?

Recovering the gold within his papers is no easy matter. The material is difficult on many levels. Forbiddingly technical, and unrelentingly heterogeneous, these are the writings of an introverted scholar working across six decades who was loath to throw away even the smallest scrap. One measure of the difficulty of this material is the fact that no comprehensive edition of Newton’s writings has ever been published.

To make matters worse, Newton left no will and no instructions for dealing with the papers. It was a strange omission that becomes clearer once it is understood just how inflammatory their contents were. The papers contained damning evidence of Newton’s heretical disbelief in the notion of the Trinity of God the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost—which he believed to be a mere scriptural corruption. Newton’s fascination with alchemy was also evident from these papers, as was his unseemly obsession with abstruse matters of church history and doctrine.

Immediately following Newton’s death, his relatives brought a Fellow of the Royal Society in to make a quick assessment of their worth (he had just three days with the papers). Unsurprisingly, he determined that, with a scant few exceptions, the papers were “Not fit to be printed.” The existence of these papers threatened Newton’s public image as a scientist-saint.

Stable, conventional folk have a hard time with geniuses because stable conventionals just don’t “get” a central fact: The qualities that enabled Newton to formulate usable laws of motion* meant that he was never going to be a club member in good standing at “Aren’t I Good?” Girls.

Many of us can choose but the choice was probably forced on Newton by his outstanding abilities.

* Vulgarized presentations of the story say that Newton “invented” the laws of motion. But that’s nonsense; most people understood then and now how motion works. But intuitions don’t lead directly to calculations. Newton formulated laws that enabled reliable calculations, which was a huge boost to technology in an age that was hungry to improve living standards thereby.

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newton wasn't a geneius as there are no such people. He just thought about things more and guessed or had insight on how to figure things out. So his other ideas are using the same mechanism as he used for his good ideas. physics is easy since it must work and few people back then thought about it. I don't think it was a big intellectual accomplishment. just putting two and two together. its a exalted opinion of his smarts that then makes people question the other stuff. its all no big deal and the same use of basic presumptions to knock through walls of mystery. Robert Byers
I never said that Christians weren’t important in the end of slavery. But it would be naive, and delusional, to pretend that it wasn’t also Christians who prolonged it.
Prolonged it? You make it sound like other societies would have abolished slavery earlier than the Christians did. Can you name one non-christian society that abolished slavery at all? StephenA
awstar: Thanks for the great list. By any chance do you know which document outlines Newton's "heretical disbelief" in the Trinity? And by "disbelief in the Trinity" I presume the OP article is not suggesting the Newton disbelieved in God, but rather disbelieved in the idea of the three-in-one amalgamation interpretation of scripture? Eric Anderson
Jorje: "The Catholic Church never condemned slavery per se. Nevertheless, just a few centuries after inheriting from pagan Rome the biggest slave society the world had ever seen, slavery was almost completely eradicated from all of Christendom. " A few centuries? How many generations are we talking about? How many millions of slaves? Acartia_bogart
The Catholic Church never condemned slavery per se. Nevertheless, just a few centuries after inheriting from pagan Rome the biggest slave society the world had ever seen, slavery was almost completely eradicated from all of Christendom. By their fruits you shall know them. George E.
I never said that Christians weren't important in the end of slavery. But it would be naive, and delusional, to pretend that it wasn't also Christians who prolonged it. Acartia_bogart
awstar #6 Under the Mosaic Law, the Hebrews were forbidden to have a save from among their own people, since it was abominable to the Lord. It follows that: a) The same would hold for Christians; b) Or for anyone else, since their first Christian duty would be to evangelize the slave and make him a brother. Well, in fact, absolutely central to Christianity is the precept Christ taught to the effect that we are all brothers and sisters of one another. 'Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." 48But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" 49And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers!…' Incidentally, far from Christianity constituting an ogrish patriarchy oppressing women, prior to its hegemony, under Roman law, women were held to be chattels, and the husband had the power of life or death over his wife, as he did his children. Here's an interesting article on Christianity's raising of the status of women above chattels/slaves. Axel
A_b: Go read Philemon, then ponder why the Antislavery Society -- founded BTW by Christians -- had as its motto "Am I not a man and a Brother" [vv. 15 - 17] and/or "Am I not a woman and a sister" [add v. 2], then understand the one-sided polarisation game that is going on. Note, that epistle came from a prison cell while the Apostle was literally chained to a Roman Soldier. Understand the obvious surveillance, looking for any excuse to execute, and censorship then understand how he addressed the issues of slavery, escaped slaves and more, by the opposite of what is going on today . . . heart softening. KF kairosfocus
Not sure how we got round to slavery, but one complexity is that early Christians were more likely to be slaves than own slaves. Indeed, that was one if the jibes against them. Also, the penalty for slave rebellions under Roman rule was crucifixion. So any advice given to Christians about how to conduct themselves in those times had to reckon with those facts. Peter and Paul both took the view (which they lived out by martyrdom) that Christians would likely suffer anyway and it was important to the faith that they suffer *for the Gospel,* not some other cause. None of that need direct policy today, when many heads of state are Christians, and Christians (and others) can simply abolish slavery legally. News
Newton believed that the end of the present world would come in the year 2030. He also believed that almost all ancient myths were metaphorical stories with hidden meaning. Contrary to popular belief, alchemy was not about magic but had to do with the occult (hidden) sciences. Alchemists used metaphors to hide the meaning of their research. This is the reason that alchemical writings make no sense to the uninitiated. If Newton lived in our times, he would be branded as a crackpot creationist and a crank by evolutionists and materialists. PS. I am a Christian and I, like Newton, believe that the Trinity doctrine is unmitigated nonsense. I believe in a Yin-Yang duality. Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." Mapou
A-B said:
the bible never openly condemns slavery; it even talks about the proper way to treat your slave.
the proper way to treat your slave in the Bible was based on the economic master-slave relationship being that of a brother-brother relationship not owner-property relationship. It was covered in the laws God gave to the nation He chose to reveal Himself to. Now where do you suppose the idea that a slave was property, to be hijacked from his homeland and sold like a plow or an oxen, and didn't need to be treated as a fellow human being came from? awstar
The question I have is, why should Newton's religious belief have any bearing on whether or not god exists? Newton believed in a Christian god, Einstein didn't. I didn't think that truth, whatever it is, is based on consensus. The majority of eligible voters in the south during the mid 1800s believed that slavery was OK and often used the bible to justify it. After all, the bible never openly condemns slavery; it even talks about the proper way to treat your slave. That doesn't make it right. Acartia_bogart
A list of Newton's papers on theology http://dlib.nli.org.il/R/?func=collections&collection_id=7856
Newton Papers 1 - Untitled treatise on Revelation (9) Newton Papers 2 - Various texts on Revelation, Solomon's Temple and Church history (6) Newton Papers 3 - Introductio. Continens Apocalypseos rationem generalem. (1) Newton Papers 4 - Variantes lectiones apocalypticæ (version 1) (2) Newton Papers 5 - Theological Notes (3) Newton Papers 6 - The synchronisms of the three parts of the prophetick Interpretation (1) Newton Papers 7 - Miscellaneous drafts and fragments on prophecy, principally Daniel and Revelation (41) Newton Papers 8 - Notes on prophecies (4) Newton Papers 9 - Treatise on Revelation (sec. 1-3) (3) Newton Papers 10 - Notes and extracts on interpreting the prophets (part 1-3) (3) Newton Papers 11 - Proœmium and first chapter of a treatise on Church history (1) Newton Papers 12 - Treatise on Church history (1) Newton Papers 13 - Miscellaneous theological extracts and notes (part 1) (3) Newton Papers 14 - Miscellaneous notes and extracts on the Temple, the Fathers, prophecy, Church his (1) Newton Papers 15 - Drafts on the history of the Church (sec. 1-7) (7) Newton Papers 16 - Miscellaneous draft portions of 'Theologiæ Gentilis Origines Philosophicæ' (2) Newton Papers 17- Three bundles of notes for a work on the ancients' physic-theology, related to 'Th (3) Newton Papers 18 - Fragment on the history of the Church's apostasy (1) Newton Papers 19 - Treatise on Church history with particular reference to the Arian controversy (1) Newton Papers 20 - Expanded Latin translation of the first part of 'Two notable corruptions'. (1) Newton Papers 21 - Exposition of 2 Kings 17:15-16 (1) Newton Papers 22 - Copies of second and third 'professions of faith' by early Church Councils (1) Newton Papers 23 - Roman Catholicism and Prophecy (1) Newton Papers 24 - Proposals concerning calendar reform (7) Newton Papers 25 - Draft passages on chronology and biblical history (21) Newton Papers 26 - The chronology of ancient kingdoms, amended (draft) (part 1) (4) Newton Papers 27 - Seven drafts of Newton's defence of the Chronology of ancient kingdoms (1) Newton Papers 28 - Fragments on the kingdoms of the European tribes, (5) Newton Papers 29 - Fragment on Church history, mainly concerning Athanasius (1) Newton Papers 30 - 'Out of La Lumiere sortant des Tenebres' and 'Out of the Commentator on La Lumier (1) Newton Papers 31 - Miscellaneous notes on history, chronology and theology (1) Newton Papers 32 - Tract against signing the Oxford address (1) Newton Papers 33 - Notes on ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian deities (1) Newton Papers 34 - Newton's expenses at Cambridge (1) Newton Papers 35 - Newton's obligation as master (1) Newton Papers 36 - Phrases and translations from Terence's "Andria" and "Eunuchus" (1) Newton Papers 37 - "Historia Coelestis" of Flamsteed (parts). (1) Newton Papers 38 - De Igne sophorum et materia quam calefacit (1) Newton Papers 39 - Notes on early Church history and the moral superiority of the 'barbarians' to th (1) Newton Papers 40 - Newton family geneaology (1) Newton Papers 41 - Draft chapters of a treatise on the origin of religion and its corruption (1)
Judging from the title of his papers, if Newton had any left-field theological belief it was probably the same one I suffer from. I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, and considering how much time Newton spent writing down his thoughts on Biblical prophecy, I would wager that's what he believed also. awstar
The Holy Trinity is such a profound mystery, I very much doubt that repudiation of its post-Gospel formulation by the Church, albeit under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could disqualify a person from legitimately defining himself as a Christian. If they were to expressly reject any of Christ's Gospel teachings concerning the Divine Persons, mysterious as they are, even individually, that would be another matter. Axel
News, Strange are the ways of genius. Which, we should respect. And in so doing, we should recognise that ideas stand on their merits, not their authorship. Which brings us to the significance of plumb-line principles in reasoning, especially self-evident first principles. KF kairosfocus
Although I've seen atheists use the 'Newton denied the trinity' argument before to try to deny Newton was a true Christian, (apparently they were more concerned with attacking Christianity in particular than attacking Theism in general), in response I pointed out that, number 1, Newton, a few hundred years before it was remotely feasible, predicted the return of the Jews to their homeland,,
Israeli library uploads (Sir Isaac) Newton's theological texts - February 15, 2012 Excerpt: He's considered to be one of the greatest scientists of all time.,, However, the curator of Israel's national library's humanities collection said Newton was also a devout Christian who dealt far more in theology than he did in physics,, "He (Sir Isaac Newton) took a great interest in the Jews, and we found no negative expressions toward Jews in his writing," said Levy-Rubin. "He (years before it was remotely feasible) said the Jews would ultimately return to their land." http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-02-israeli-library-uploads-newton-theological.html
And Number 2, Newton predicted the return of Christ:
"Prophetic Perspectives, 2008-2015" - Jim Bramlett Excerpt: For years I have been intrigued with Newton's interpretation of Daniel 9:25 and the 62 weeks and 7 weeks (62 X 7 = 434 years, and 7 X 7 = 49 years), counted "from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem." In his commentary on Daniel, a copy of which I have, Newton wrote that the interpretation of those 69 weeks is usually incorrect, violating the Hebrew language. He said the two numbers should not be added together as most scholars do, but the 434 years refer to Messiah's first coming (which he demonstrated), and the 49 years refer to His second coming, after Israel is reestablished, an idea unheard of 300 years ago but happening in our generation The start date for counting has been controversial. Many thought the 49-year-count would be the date of Israel's rebirth on May 14, 1948, but, alas, that did not work out. Other dates were tried unsuccessfully. But what if the count begins on one of the two most historical dates in Jewish history, the date in the miraculous Six-Day War when Israel captured Jerusalem and the Temple Mount: June 7, 1967? Assume the 49-year count (49 Jewish years X 360 days = 17,640 days), does start on June 7, 1967. Using a date-counter Web site at http://www.timeanddate.com/date/duration.html we learn that the 17,640-day count takes us exactly to September 23, 2015. September 23, 2015 is the Day of Atonement! What are the odds against that? Many have believed that the Second Coming will be on the Day of Atonement. If he knew this, old Isaac Newton would be doing cartwheels and back flips right now. http://www.prophecyforum.com/bramlett/prophetic_perspectives.html
Thus, whatever Newton's peculiarities of belief about the trinity, apparently Newton was 'enough of' a Christian to believe that Christ would return to this earth from heaven to rule and reign over this earth. Of supplemental note: I think Newton, who 'discovered' gravity, would be very interested to learn that the moon keeps better time than we do. Also of interest, it may surprise some to learn that the biblical ‘prophetic’ calendar is more accurate than our modern day 'scientific' calendar. The Gregorian calendar uses a fairly complex system of leap days (and seconds) to keep accuracy with the sun, whereas, on a whole consideration, the prophetic calendar uses a simpler system of leap months to keep accuracy to the sun. When these two systems are compared against each other, side by side, the prophetic calendar equals the Gregorian in accuracy at first approximation, and on in-depth analysis for extremely long periods of time (even to the limits for how precisely we can measure the Earth’s solar years) the prophetic calendar exceeds the Gregorian calendar in accuracy. i.e. God’s measure of time exceeds the best efforts of Man to scientifically measure time accurately for the earth.,, But, since God created space and time in the first place, why am I surprised about any of this this? :)
Bible Prophecy Year of 360 Days Excerpt: Is the Biblical 'prophetic' calendar more accurate than our modern calendar? Surprisingly yes! Excerpt: The first series of articles will show the 360-day (Prophetic) calendar to be at least as simple and as accurate as is our modern (Gregorian) calendar. In the second part of our discussion we will demonstrate how that the 360-day calendar is perfectly exact (as far as our 'scientific' measurements will allow). http://www.360calendar.com/ Trust in God's Perfect Timing - photo http://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc6/s320x320/154716_433469916682215_100000576310394_1504581_1340154442_n.jpg Strontium Atomic Clock Sets New Records in Both Precision and Stability - Jan. 22, 2014 Excerpt: the JILA strontium lattice clock is about 50 percent more precise than the record holder of the past few years, NIST's quantum logic clock.,,, The new strontium clock is so precise it would neither gain nor lose one second in about 5 billion years, if it could operate that long. (This time period is longer than the age of Earth, an estimated 4.5 billion years old.) In JILA's world-leading clock, a few thousand atoms of strontium are held in a column of about 100 pancake-shaped traps called an optical lattice formed by intense laser light. JILA scientists detect strontium's "ticks" (430 trillion per second) by bathing the atoms in very stable red laser light at the exact frequency that prompts the switch between energy levels. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140122133831.htm OMEGA Co-Axial Chronometer - The perfect mechanical movement - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctj-RDbTBMU A Surreal Look at Time - video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDnt-JnatxY Shatter Me Featuring Lzzy Hale - Lindsey Stirling - music video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49tpIMDy9BE

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