The Science of it All

Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy

Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica

Many atheists and non-believers think that we are smarter today than humans were thousands of years ago. They insist that the human brain is also evolving as the world turns. I have engaged in many discussions where I insist that it is our knowledge that has expanded not our faculties for discerning that knowledge. From a biblical perspective, Adam was as intelligent after Creation and the Fall as we are today. He just did not have as much knowledge to absorb as we do today.

Non-believers have tried various ‘truths’ to try to prove their belief. They have argued that the size of the brain of ‘early man’ was barely bigger than some of the so-called ‘ape-like ancestors’ of man. However, we have several homunculi, midgets and dwarfs whose brains are half the size of a baboon, but are doctors and various scientists researching the genetic defects they suffer from.   Then they tried to insist it was the percentage of the folding of the various lobes of the brain that indicated relative intelligence. However, subsequent brain dissections of famously intelligent individuals versus the ‘average Joe’ has shown that to be a none productive clue.

It was in 1687 that Sir Isaac Newton, English mathematician, physicist and astronomer, published his monumental work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. In this work, Newton presented his famous three laws of motion: force-free motion is uniform; accelerated motion is proportional to the impressed force; and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. From these, together with the law of universal gravitation, the whole science of matter in motion is derived.

newton_laws

Sir Isaac Newton is regarded by many scholars and historians as the greatest scientist who ever lived. Yet he also firmly believed that the Bible was God’s Word. He wrote much on biblical subjects, and even wrote a book defending Archbishop Ussher’s chronology of the world (Ussher set the date of Creation as 4004 BC). Newton believed in a literal six-day creation, and that the worldwide flood of Noah’s time accounted for most geological phenomena. He also firmly believed in Christ as his Savior.

In thinking on the publication of Newton’s Principia, it would be well to reflect on this great scientist’s view of Scripture:

“I find more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history whatsoever.”

At that time the ideas of the ancient Greek scholars still dominated what was taught in science, and recent scientific discoveries were largely ignored. This greatly annoyed Isaac Newton who firmly believed that ideas in science should be tested and only accepted if their usefulness could be demonstrated. He was committed to the experimental method of science.

Isaac graduated in 1665, shortly before an outbreak of Black Death swept through London. All universities were closed while the plague raged. During this time, Isaac returned to his family’s farm, now run by his young half-brother. He continued his study and research, working on the binomial theorem, light, telescopes, calculus and theology. After supposedly seeing an apple fall in the garden, he investigated gravity, but was unable to solve the puzzle until some years later[1].

Newton applied his binomial theorem to infinite series and from there developed calculus, a revolutionary new form of mathematics. For the first time it was possible to accurately calculate the area inside a shape with curved sides, and to calculate the rate of change of one physical quantity with respect to another.

When Cambridge University reopened in 1667, Isaac Newton returned to do a Masters Degree, while teaching and doing research.

Newton used prisms to show that sunlight was made up of all the colors of the rainbow. This proved that the ancient Greeks’ ideas about light were wrong. In Newton’s time, astronomy was severely hampered because lenses in telescopes broke some of the light into unwanted colors, causing a somewhat unclear view. Although not the first to consider using a curved mirror instead of a lens, Newton was the first to successfully construct a telescope using this principle—a principle still used today in many telescopes.

newton_optiks

In 1672, Newton became a member of the Royal Society—a group of scientists committed to the experimental method. He presented one of his new telescopes to the Royal Society along with his findings on light. The Royal Society set up a committee led by physicist Robert Hooke to evaluate Newton’s findings. Hooke was a scientist employed by the Royal Society to evaluate new inventions. However, Hooke had his own ideas on light and was slow to accept the truth of Newton’s findings. While it was sometimes said that Newton was too sensitive to critical evaluation of his work, he was merely concerned that the time spent justifying past findings was preventing him from making new discoveries.

Newton lived at a time when politics, religion and education were not separated. King Charles II commanded that everyone who taught at places such as Trinity College, must themselves be ordained as Church of England ministers. This included people such as Newton who taught only mathematics and science, not theology.

Although a devout Christian, Newton was not in full agreement with all the doctrines of the Church of England. Thus, his conscience would not allow him to accept ordination.[2] He was also strongly opposed to political involvement in both religious matters and education. The only way for Newton to keep his job was for the king to make an exception in his case. Others who had previously asked for this had been refused. He was granted an exception.

Newton reasoned that since the same God created the heavens as well as the earth, the same laws should apply throughout. In 1684, Newton again began to consider gravity. He developed his theory of universal gravitation, which used what is known as the inverse square law. He developed his three laws of motion (movement) and proved mathematically that the same laws did, in fact, apply both to the heavens and the earth. His faith had focused his thoughts in the right direction.

When Newton was investigating the movement of the planets, he quite clearly saw the hand of God at work. He wrote: ‘This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being. … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called “Lord God” Παντοκράτωρ [Pantokratōr cf. 2 Corinthians 6:18], or “Universal Ruler”. … The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect.’[3]

‘Opposition to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.’[4]

For the next few years, Newton pursued his other great love—studying the Bible. The books he wrote included Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms and Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel.

In 1696, the government appointed Newton to the post of Warden of the Mint. He supervised the replacement of England’s old and damaged coins with those which were new and more durable, and even helped break up a counterfeiting ring.

In 1701, Newton began another short term as parliamentarian. Two years later he was elected president of the Royal Society. His re-election to that position every year for the rest of his life showed the high esteem in which he was held by fellow scientists. Now that he had returned to science, Newton published his earlier work on light. His book, Optiks, contained both his own findings and suggestions for further research. His country officially recognized his work in 1705 when he became the first person to receive a knighthood for scientific achievement.

Newton died in 1727, at the age of 84. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.


 

[1] he well-known story that Newton hit upon the idea of universal gravitation after observing an apple fall to the ground in his garden is not known for certain to be true. The anti-religious French philosopher and skeptic Voltaire first circulated the story after reputedly hearing it from Newton’s grandniece.

[2] Some have accused him of Arianism, but this is rejected by Pfizenmaier, T.C., Was Isaac Newton an Arian? Journal of the History of Ideas 68(1):57–80, 1997. A very detailed defense of Newton’s Trinitarianism is Van Alan Herd, The theology of Sir Isaac Newton, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 2008. This documents much evidence, including Newton’s words refuting tritheism and affirming Triniarian monotheism: “That to say there is but one God, ye father of all things, excludes not the son & Holy ghost from the Godhead becaus they are virtually conteined & implied in the father. … To apply ye name of God to ye Son or holy ghost as distinct persons from the father makes them not divers Gods from ye Father. … Soe there is divinity in ye father, divinity in ye Son, & divinity in ye holy ghost, & yet they are not thre forces but one force.”

[3] Principia, Book III; cited in; Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, p. 42, ed. H.S. Thayer, Hafner Library of Classics, NY, 1953

[4] A Short Scheme of the True Religion, manuscript quoted in Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, p. 347, by Sir David Brewster, Edinburgh, 1855

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