Theory of Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins

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Theory of Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins » Christian and atheist science writers » Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

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1 Isaac Newton on Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:16 pm


Isaac Newton

In the book, The Truth: God or evolution? Marshall and Sandra Hall describe an often quoted exchange between Newton and an atheist friend.

“ Sir Isaac had an accomplished artisan fashion for him a small scale model of our solar system, which was to be put in a room in Newton's home when completed. The assignment was finished and installed on a large table. The workman had done a very commendable job, simulating not only the various sizes of the planets and their relative proximities, but also so constructing the model that everything rotated and orbited when a crank was turned. It was an interesting, even fascinating work, as you can imagine, particularly to anyone schooled in the sciences.
Newton's atheist-scientist friend came by for a visit. Seeing the model, he was naturally intrigued, and proceeded to examine it with undisguised admiration for the high quality of the workmanship. "My, what an exquisite thing this is!" he exclaimed. "Who made it?"

Paying little attention to him, Sir Isaac answered, "Nobody." Stopping his inspection, the visitor turned and said, "Evidently you did not understand my question. I asked who made this." Newton, enjoying himself immensely no doubt, replied in a still more serious tone, "Nobody. What you see just happened to assume the form it now has." "You must think I am a fool!" the visitor retorted heatedly, "Of course somebody made it, and he is a genius, and I would like to know who he is!" Newton then spoke to his friend in a polite yet firm way: "This thing is but a puny imitation of a much grander system whose laws you know, and I am not able to convince you that this mere toy is without a designer or maker; yet you profess to believe that the great original from which the design is taken has come into being without either designer or maker! Now tell me by what sort of reasoning do you reach such an incongruous conclusion?"

Newton's Principia is perhaps the most important scientific work of all time.

It contains a General Scholium that begins with a global inference to design and onward to the Designer, in part from the nature of the cosmos and its physics, and in part based on Newton's adherence to the biblical, Judaeo-Christian tradition:

. . . This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems: and lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distances one from another.

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 pantokrator , or Universal Ruler; for God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: these are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God: a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God. And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being; and, from his other perfections, that he is supreme, or most perfect. He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. He is not eternity or infinity, but eternal and infinite; he is not duration or space, but he endures and is present. He endures for ever, and is every where present; and by existing always and every where, he constitutes duration and space. Since every particle of space is always, and every indivisible moment of duration is every where, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and no where. Every soul that has perception is, though in different times and in different organs of sense and motion, still the same indivisible person. There are given successive parts in duration, co-existent puts in space, but neither the one nor the other in the person of a man, or his thinking principle; and much less can they be found in the thinking substance of God. Every man, so far as he is a thing that has perception, is one and the same man during his whole life, in all and each of his organs of sense. God is the same God, always and every where. He is omnipresent not virtually only, but also substantially; for virtue cannot subsist without substance. In him are all things contained and moved [i.e. cites Ac 17, where Paul evidently cites Cleanthes]; yet neither affects the other: God suffers nothing from the motion of bodies; bodies find no resistance from the omnipresence of God. It is allowed by all that the Supreme God exists necessarily; and by the same necessity he exists always, and every where. [i.e accepts the cosmological argument to God.] Whence also he is all similar, all eye, all ear, all brain, all arm, all power to perceive, to understand, and to act; but in a manner not at all human, in a manner not at all corporeal, in a manner utterly unknown to us. As a blind man has no idea of colours, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things. He is utterly void of all body and bodily figure, and can therefore neither be seen, nor heard, or touched; nor ought he to be worshipped under the representation of any corporeal thing. [Cites Exod 20.] We have ideas of his attributes, but what the real substance of any thing is we know not. In bodies, we see only their figures and colours, we hear only the sounds, we touch only their outward surfaces, we smell only the smells, and taste the savours; but their inward substances are not to be known either by our senses, or by any reflex act of our minds: much less, then, have we any idea of the substance of God. We know him only by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final cause [i.e from his designs]: we admire him for his perfections; but we reverence and adore him on account of his dominion: for we adore him as his servants; and a god without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature. Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and every where, could produce no variety of things. [i.e necessity does not produce contingency] All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being necessarily existing. [That is, implicitly rejects chance, Plato's third alternative and explicitly infers to the Designer of the Cosmos.] But, by way of allegory, God is said to see, to speak, to laugh, to love, to hate, to desire, to give, to receive, to rejoice, to be angry, to fight, to frame, to work, to build; for all our notions of God are taken from. the ways of mankind by a certain similitude, which, though not perfect, has some likeness, however. And thus much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearances of things, does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy.

Newton's Theories of Intelligent Design

To understand why Laplace curls the toes of creationists, it's necessary to understand the scientific and religious concepts of Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727). Like virtually all scientists of his era, Newton believed that his study of the universe ultimately revealed the glories of its Creator. Yet, Newton's goal in his masterwork Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687) was to explain the movements of the cosmos without using the assumption of God. As Newton famously stated at the outset of Book 3 of the Principia, “The System of the World”:

No more causes of natural things should be admitted than are both true and sufficient to explain their phenomena. [40]

Or, as he elaborated in an abandoned draft of a preface to a later edition of the Principia:

What is taught in metaphysics, if it is derived from divine revelation, is religion; if it is derived from phenomena through the five external senses, it pertains to physics; if it is derived from knowledge of the internal actions of our mind through the sense of reflection, it is only philosophy about the human mind and its ideas as internal phenomena likewise pertain to physics. To dispute about the objects of ideas except insofar as they are phenomena is dreaming. In all philosophy we must begin from phenomena and admit no principles of things, no causes, no explanations, except those which are established through phenomena. And although the whole of philosophy is not immediately evident, still it is better to add something to our knowledge day by day than to fill up men’s minds in advance with the preconceptions of hypotheses. [41] [emphasis added]

But the first edition of the Principia doesn’t go even this deep in discussing the relationship between religion and physics. The first edition of the Principia doesn’t mention religion or God at all. It was only after Newton had been stung by criticisms of his materialistic approach in the Principia that he added the final General Scholium to the second edition (published in 1713), which discusses the nature of God for those readers who make it through to the end of the book.

Newton's concepts of God's role in creating and maintaining the universe are revealed more in letters and other works than in the Principia. When Richard Bentley (1662 – 1742) was preparing the very first Boyle Lecture, he asked Newton about evidences of intelligent design in the universe. Newton responded with four letters; [42] the first begins with a reference to the recently published Principia:

When I wrote my treatise about our System, I had an eye upon such principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity; and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose. [43]

Newton goes on to describe the fortuitous arrangement of the sun and planets of the solar system:

[H]ad this cause been a blind one, without contrivance or design, the sun would have been a body of the same kind with Saturn, Jupiter, and the earth, that is, without light or heat. [44]

Newton also sees design in the motions of the planets, which all revolve around the sun in the same direction and approximately the same plane:

[I]t is plain that there is no natural cause which could determine all the planets, both primary and secondary, to move the same way and in the same plane, without any considerable variation; this must have been the effect of counsel. [45]

In the 1706 edition of his book Opticks, Newton suggested that God still had necessary chores to perform in maintaining the universe. In reasserting his ideas about the revolutions of the planets, Newton now added a little caveat:

For while Comets move in very excentrick Orbs in all manner of Positions, blind Fate could never make all the Planets move one and the same way in Orbs concentrick, some inconsiderable Irregularities excepted, which may have risen from the mutual Actions of Comets and Planets upon one another, and which will be apt to increase, till this System wants a Reformation. [46]

In other words, the gravitational interactions among the planets and comets eventually destabilize their orbits, causing irregularities that periodically need correction (“reformation”) through divine intervention. This got the attention of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646 – 1716), who ridiculed Newton’s theology:

Sir Isaac Newton, and his followers, have also a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to their doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion. Nay, the machine of God’s making, is so imperfect, according to these gentleman; that he is obliged to clean it now and then by an extraordinary concourse, and even to mend it, as a clockmaker mends his work; who must consequently be so much the more unskillful a workman, as he is oftener obliged to mend his work and to set it right. [47]

Both Newton and Leibniz are wading into treacherous waters here. It’s the central paradox of natural theology: As the universe is increasingly shown to be governed by fixed laws, God’s perfect creation seems to require no further divine interaction, which implies a deistic cosmology. The need for miracles and divine intervention implies a flawed creation. Yet, the absence of miracles implies a God who no longer cares.

Newton's influence over British (and later, Continental and American) science, philosophy, and religion cannot be underestimated, but the influence manifested itself in several streams. Some Newtonians used the existence of natural laws — the order, harmony, and regularity of the universe — as clear evidence of intelligent design. This was the tradition of natural theology epitomized by the Boyle Lectures, Paley, and the Bridgewater Treatises. Others, however, found the perfection of these laws to be the best argument for deism. Miracles were increasingly doubted because they represented improbable violations of God's own laws. Even the most prominent Newtonian theologian — Samuel Clarke (1675 – 1729), who had delivered the Boyle Lectures of 1704 and 1705 and who was Newton's spokesman in the debates with Leibniz — was, like Newton, a disbeliever in the divinity of Christ.

It is a direct line from Newton to the deists, skeptics, and Unitarians of the late eighteenth century Enlightenment — to British writers such as David Hume and Edward Gibbon, French philosophes such as Denis Diderot and Voltaire, American revolutionaries such as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. [48]

To modern-day creationists, Laplace provides a convenient bogeyman in this philosophical evolution. Laplace followed Newton’s dictum about admitting "no more causes of natural things" to the limit, and in that sense, Laplace was the ultimate Newtonian.

But if modern-day creationists really wish to identify the man who secularized cosmology, the man who planted the seeds of deism that took root during the eighteenth century, the man on whose shoulder Laplace stood, they really must attack Newton — just like late nineteenth-century Methodist ministers did. [49]

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2 Re: Isaac Newton on Sun Jul 05, 2015 9:28 am



In all of this inductive analysis, we are to be responsible and humble, as Newton also pointed out in his 1704 Opticks, Query 31, where he laid out the generic scientific method much as we are now taught it in school:
[[Scientific] Analysis consists in making Experiments and Observations, and in drawing general Conclusions from them by Induction, and admitting of no Objections against the Conclusions, but such as are taken from Experiments, or other certain Truths . . . [[.]
And although the arguing from Experiments and Observations by Induction be no Demonstration of general Conclusions; yet it is the best way of arguing which the Nature of Things admits of, and may be looked upon as so much the stronger, by how much the Induction is more general. And if no Exception occur from Phaenomena, the Conclusion may be pronounced generally.
But if at any time afterwards any Exception shall occur from Experiments, it may then begin to be pronounced with such Exceptions as occur.
By this way of Analysis we may proceed from Compounds to Ingredients, and from Motions to the Forces producing them; and in general, from Effects to their Causes, and from particular Causes to more general ones, till the Argument end in the most general. [[paragraph breaks added.]

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