Skeptical and Natural Philosophy

Francis Bacon and the Scientific Revolution

What were the main elements of Newton’s scientific system and what did they have to do with God?

Newton (1642–1727) used the model of Euclidian geometry to demonstrate the mathematical axioms describing the system of the world. He held that the world consisted of material bodies, or masses made up of solid corpuscles that were either at rest or that moved according to the three laws of motion. Preceding these laws of motion was a “scholium,” in which Newton stated the conditions of his entire system, which were: absolute time, absolute space, absolute place, and absolute motion.

For Newton, the universe itself was like one gigantic box that never moved. (These absolutes were to become very important in contrast to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.) According to Newton, God played an active role in his system in several ways: he was the first cause of the whole celestial system; he keeps the stars and planets from crashing into one another; he creates absolute space and time; and he corrects for irregularities in the movements of planets and comets, which might otherwise undermine the entire harmony of the cosmos. That is, for Newton, not only did God exist outside of nature as its immaterial and transcendent soul, but God was the real and practical ruler and regulator of the physical universe. He wrote, “And thus much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearance of things, does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy.” (This was religious science in religious times.)


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