Isaac Newton—Religious Works Finally Published
It has been over 270 years since his death, but a religious manuscript by Isaac Newton is finally being published. Newton was a world-renowned physicist and mathematician who was born in 1642 in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England—the same year Galileo died. The World Book Encyclopedia says that Sir Isaac Newton was “one of the greatest names in the history of human thought.” Albert Einstein, the American genius credited for many life-changing discoveries, once praised Sir Isaac by stating that his own work would have been impossible except for the discoveries of Newton. By the age of twenty-seven, Isaac was known as an “unparalleled genius.” His first major public scientific achievement was the invention, design, and construction of a reflecting telescope. To the chagrin of many college students, Newton also invented the mathematical format known as calculus. Additionally, Newton was the first person to describe the idea of universal laws of gravity. By calculating elliptical motion, he concluded that the planets are held in place in their orbits around the Sun by this powerful but invisible gravitational force. He also demonstrated that sunlight could be broken down into the individual colors that comprise the spectrum by passing light through a prism.
In addition to his scientific contributions, however, Newton was a deeply religious man. In the 1670s, Newton shifted many of his energies toward theology. As Michael Fowler observed:
He studied Hebrew scholarship and ancient and modern theologians at great length, and became convinced that Christianity had departed from the original teachings of Christ. He felt unable to accept the current beliefs of the Church of England, which was unfortunate because he was required as a Fellow of Trinity College to take holy orders. Happily, the Church of England was more flexible than the Catholic Church in these matters, and King Charles II issued a royal decree excusing Newton from the necessity of taking holy orders! Actually, to prevent this being a wide precedent, the decree specified that, in perpetuity, the Lucasian professor need not take holy orders. (The current Lucasian professor is Stephen Hawking.) .
Newton was a serious student of the Scriptures. But we are only now learning just how serious. The Newton Project has published, for the first time, a 300,000-word interpretation of the book of Revelation that Newton wrote in the late seventeenth century. In reporting on the released writings, Nature writer Geoff Brumfiel noted: “Newton’s religious writings constitute more than half of his entire written work” (2004, 430:819). Brumfiel continued:
In the past, many thought that Newton pursued religion only in his spare time, or that the majority of his religious work had been copied from others. But Iliffe [Robert Iliffe, a science historian at Imperial College in London—BH] claims that these writings show his theological work was carefully planned and often related to his work in mathematics and physics…. Ultimately, Newton’s religion and science may have been tied together by belief in absolute truth. Newton used testable hypotheses to find truth in nature, and believed that his religious writings revealed the truth about God, says Iliffe (p. 819).
Many in science believe that Newton single-handedly contributed more to the development of science than any other individual in history. Yet, that same brilliant mind also held a firm belief in God—so much so, that “religious writings constitute more than half of his entire written work.” This scientist, who was determined to find “absolute truth,” not only believed in the existence of God, but went on to write a commentary on the New Testament book of Revelation. How ironic is it that one of the leading “father’s of science” was a believer in God, and today, that field is doing all it can to eradicate any acknowledgment of that God!
Newton’s commentary on Revelation can be found online at www.newtonproject.ic.ac.uk. (Both sections can be found under the “theological writings” icon). The commentary is free of charge, and is a strong testament that the father of modern science recognized his Almighty Creator, and diligently studied His Word. Scholars today would do well to follow his example.
Brumfiel, Geoff (2004), “Newton’s Religious Screeds Get Online Airing,” Nature, 430:819, August 19.
Fowler, Michael (1995), “Isaac Newton,” [On-line], URL: http://galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu/lectures/newton.html.