Before 1947, scholars believed that Sir Isaac Newton had envisioned God as the absentee master clock-maker of the universe. What does this mean? Well, it means that before 1950, everyone who studied Newton’s scientific and mathematical writings did so with the preconceived idea that Newton believed there was a God, who had created the Universe, but had basically abandoned Creation to continue on its own. More recent research has revealed that this traditional Newtonian ideology is simply not true. The research has introduced new theories exploring Newton’s views on religious and esoteric traditions and ways these pursuits interacted with his scientific research.
Modern studies of Newton’s non-scientific writings have shown that during the years he published his scientific writings, he also practiced alchemy, attempted to reconstruct ancient histories of Near Eastern civilizations, compared and analyzed religious and philosophical traditions, rituals, architecture, and texts, and designed a complex symbolic lexicon.[i] Recent scholarship has been forced to ultimately face the daunting question of why the most widely acknowledged and revered scientist of modern history privately calculated and tested theories about natural symbolism, alchemy, ancient histories and rituals, philosophy, and specific genres of Judeo-Christian literature.
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, it was well-known that Newton had collected, recorded, corrected, and hypothesized about an expansive amount of information on the subjects listed above.[ii] However, we are still actively seeking answers to questions like: Why did Newton focus on these specific areas of knowledge? What fragments of ancient wisdom did he hope to recover as he sifted through the sands of time? And, most importantly, what larger puzzle was Newton attempting to solve when he defined scientific principles that ultimately changed the course of human history?[iii]
Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, one of the main post-1950 scholars who sought answers to the previous questions, suggested that, “[t]o Newton himself, all his diverse studies constituted a unified plan for obtaining Truth, and it is organized around a religious interpretation…of all his work.”[iv] Matt Goldish built upon the research of Richard Westfall, B.J.T. Dobbs, James Force, Richard Popkin, and David Katz to deliver a detailed analysis of Newton’s non-scientific corpus and evidence the explicit influence of Hebraic and Jewish histories and traditions on Newton’s search for, and discovery of, Universal Truth[s]. Goldish, like Westfall and others, determined “the analysis of scriptural prophecy was the unifying principle of Newton’s theology.”[v]
Even though leading academic figures agree there was a theme that connected Newton’s various studies and that his interpretation of “scriptural prophecy” was the specific study which “unify[ed] Newton’s theology,” no one has identified the particular form of apocalypticism which connects a majority, if not all, of Newton’s assorted scientific and religious inquiries. Furthermore, recent findings evidence that, at least in the latter years of his life, Newton did not anticipate an immediate arrival of the Millennium.[vi]
It is perplexing that there appears to be no late-twentieth or twenty-first century academic material accurately detailing the characteristics and implications of what may be described as apotheosis apocalypticism. As we will see throughout this series of blogs, the term apotheosis apocalypticism functions well as a classification for the specific type of apocalypticism which can be identified within Isaac Newton’s writings.
[i] Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy or, The Hunting of the Greene Lyon’, New York: Cambridge UP, 1975 and The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton’s Thought, New York: Cambridge UP, 1991; Richard Westfall in B.J.T. Dobbs, The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton’s Thought; Matthew Goldish, Judaism in the Theology of Sir Isaac Newton, Norwell, MA: Kluwer AP, 1998; Richard Popkin and James Force in Matthew Goldish, Judaism in the Theology of Sir Isaac Newton; James Gleick, Isaac Newton, New York: Vintage, 2004; David Boyd Haycock, “‘The long-lost truth’: Sir Isaac Newton and the Newtonian pursuit for ancient knowledge” Studies in History and the Philosophy of Science 35 (2004): 605-23; Stephen Snobelen, “The Theology of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica: A Preliminary Survey,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 52 Bd., (2010): 377-412 and "A Time and Times and the Dividing of Time: Isaac Newton, the Apocalypse, and 2060 A.D.,” Canadian Journal of History Dec 2003 38:3, 537-51.
[ii] Snobelen, "A Time and Times,” 542.
[iii] Gleick, Isaac Newton, 3.
[iv] Dobbs, Janus, 17-8.
[v] Goldish, Judaism, 57.
[vi] Snobelen, "A Time and Time,” 537-51.