Monday, May 21, 2012

Newton

"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 is often referred to as an English mathematician & physicist who lived from 1642 - 1727. Yet few remember that he was also a theologian. In fact, he wrote more on theology than he did on natural science. The intriguing thing about this man is that he was a brilliant scientist who believed that he could maintain faith in God while exploring the intricacies of the universe created by God. He had this to say about the uniformity of creation, the ability of eyes to capture light, and the Being who made them:

. . . Can it be by accident that all birds, beasts, and men have their right side and left side alike shaped, (except in their bowels,) and just two eyes, and no more, on either side of the face; and just two ears on either side of the head, and a nose with two holes; and either two fore- legs, or two wings, or two arms on the shoulders, and two legs on the hips, and no more? Whence arises this uniformity in all their outward shapes but from the counsel and contrivances of an Author? Whence is it that the eyes of all sorts of living creatures are transparent to the very bottom, and the only transparent members in the body, having on the outside a hard transparent skin, and within transparent humours, with a crystalline lens in the middle, and a pupil before the lens, all of them so finely shaped and fitted for vision, that no artist can mend them? Did blind chance know that there was light, and what was its refraction, and fit the eyes of all creatures, after the most curious manner, to make use of it? These, and suchlike considerations, always have, and ever will prevail with mankind, to believe that there is a Being who made all things, and has all things in his power, and who is therefore to be feared.#

I bring Sir Isaac Newton to our attention not so that we can follow his theological writings. He was not an orthodox Christian and did reject some doctrines that most contemporary theologians and Christians would view as essential (most notable would be his view on the trinity). Yet, he can teach us a way forward in our contemporary world. Many today assume that we must make a choice: scientist or theologian; believer in science or believer in God. What if, like Newton, we chose to say, "I can trust scientific technique and I can trust God."? Scientists of the 17th century had no problem with this. It is only our contemporary "scientism" and "evolutionism" as philosophical constructs that are in opposition to faith and theology. What might we learn? How much more of God might we understand if we started with the assumption that science can lead us to the Creator rather than starting with the assumption that there is no God? Newton even goes so far as to say that a natural consequence of recognizing that God created this universe ought to be that we also "fear" Him. Indeed, if we allow that there just might be a God behind all that we see would it not be reasonable to respect this awesome Being who has created a universe? In fact, He would be a reasonable authority on the best way to live in this universe in which we find ourselves.


*Tiner, J.H. (1975). Isaac Newton: Inventor, Scientist and Teacher. Milford, Michigan, U.S.: Mott Media. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton#Religious_views

#Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir D.Brewster Volume 2. A portion of this is also quoted in Brouwer, Sigmund. Who Made the Moon? Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

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