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Home Godly Scholar: The Making of Isaac Newton

Godly Scholar: The Making of Isaac Newton

Dana Jalobeanu

 

For more than half a century, the field of Newton studies was characterized by a long and “exciting chase,” as Richard H. Popkin aptly described the painstaking process of reading, transcribing, attempting to date, understand and interpret the multitude of Newton’s manuscripts. Sometimes, the chase brought remarkable discoveries; but quite often it ended in puzzles, paradoxes and unanswered questions. Take, for example, one decade of Newton’s life, from 1670 to 1680. In these years Newton undertook extensive research in optics and published his first paper on light and colors; he engaged in extensive controversies over refraction, the nature of light and colors and the role of experiment in natural philosophical demonstrations; he wrote (and published) an extensive paper on light sometimes characterized as “alchemical cosmology”; he worked on advanced mathematics, corresponded with Boyle on the nature of chemical bonding, corrected and rethought his initial theory of the aether; corresponded (and quarrelled) with Robert Hooke over the nature of (a force of) gravitation. And yet, if one judges by the sheer bulk of manuscripts coming from the same decade, Newton was not really concerned with any of these issues. His major projects were quite different: they involved nothing short of rewriting the prophetic history, clarifying (and perhaps correcting) the corrupted history of Christianity; finding the “original of religion” and the psychological and political mechanism of idolatry. A sidetrack project involved extensive alchemical experimentation and the reformulation of the entire alchemical vocabulary. None of these major projects was published during Newton’s lifetime. Indeed, until quite recently scholars seemed to agree with Richard S. Westfall that none of these major investigations was ever finished.

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