Welcome back to Defender’s Voice. Today I want to talk about Sir Isaac Newton.
In his book God Delusion, Richard Dawkins wrote these words,
“Newton did indeed claim to be religious. So did almost everybody until – significantly I think – the nineteenth century, when there was less social and judicial pressure than in earlier centuries to profess religion, and more scientific support for abandoning it”
So, according to Richard Dawkins, ‘Yes, Newton claimed to be religious due to religious and judicial pressures. He did not really believe in God. Among others, Newton abandoned faith in God as more scientific support emerges.’
But is this true? Let us see.
Newton, who barely traveled farther than 150 miles from his birthplace, changed our view of the universe. His ideas have been enormously influential both among scientists and nonscientists. We see Google Doodles featuring Newton. In one of the Star Trek movies, Stephen Hawking would play poker with Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. When inducted into the Royal Society, Hawking said, “My name sat alongside Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin”
Newton is considered the greatest scientist ever lived. He laid the foundations for classical mechanics. He formulated three laws of motion and universal law of gravity.
Apple: We all know the story of the apple tree. Newton sat under an apple tree, he saw
an apple falling to the ground. Newton took that apple in his hand, and wondered about the
forces that pervade this universe that draw objects to each other.
What attracted this apple to the ground?
What attracts the moon to the earth?
What attracts planets toward the sun?
That’s the beauty of Newton’s thinking.
That apple made him think about the whole universe.
The period between the publication of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory (1543) and the death of Isaac Newton (1727). We call it Scientific Revolution. Newton lived during the peak of Scientific Revolution. His ideas changed the world forever.
Did the apple really fall on Newton’s head? Did it just fall on the ground? There are many versions of this story. Newton told the story to his friend William Stukely. French philosopher Voltaire (1694 – 1778) popularized Newton’s apple story. Voltaire said that he got the story from Newton’s niece. God only knows exactly where the apple fell! You can still see the piece of this apple tree in London’s Royal Society.
Many times in science, great ideas start with simple observations. Galileo observed a swinging lamp in the Cathedral of Pisa and came up with his law of the pendulum; Alexander Fleming observed growth of fungus in one of the petri dish cultures in his lab and revolutionized modern medicine with the discovery of antibiotics. Similarly, observation of the falling apple ultimately gave us Newton’s laws of motion and his universal law of gravitation, which revolutionized the modern physics. Newton’s discovery that the same laws of motion which guide earthly objects also move heavenly objects was the greatest achievement of the scientific revolution. I want to take some time to describe the impact of Newton’s ideas. We can see the powerful influence of Newton’s ideas on almost every branch of science.
Let’s start with classical physics. Newton’s laws redefined Classical Physics. I remember when I enrolled in physics class in college, our professor first taught us Newton’s 3 laws of motion.
Newton’s 3 Laws
1.Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.
2.Force is equal to the change in momentum per change in time.
We got the equation F = ma.
3.For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Every object in the world can be studied using these 3 laws.
Look at a roller coaster. How fast should it have to travel at the top of a loop to keep
passengers from falling out?
Newton’s laws would help you.
Look at the airplane. Observe it moments, observe its take-offs and landings. How much banking should a plane make before landing?
Newton’s laws would help you.
You want to build tracks for race cars. How much banking you need?
Newton’s laws would help you.
You want to send a human being to moon?
How much escape velocity do you need?
Newton’s laws would help.
You want to go to international space station?
The amazing feeling of weightlessness.
Newton’s laws predicted that.
These are just a few examples of applications of Newton’s laws.
Theory of Relativity
In 1916, Einstein published his general theory of relativity. He focused on gravity in this theory. This theory posited gravity as a warping of space-time. Einstein realized that a man in free fall perceives gravity as zero. He called it his “Happiest thought”. Initially many scientists thought that was science fiction. But in 1919, Arthur Eddington (1882 – 1944) traveled to the island of Principe off the west coast of Africa.
He watched the solar eclipse. He proved that sun’s gravity bending the light traveling from stars to earth. Everyone was shocked.Einstein became a world celebrity overnight. Eddington’s results were announced at a meeting of the Royal Society in London.The meeting was presided by J.J.Thomson, who had discovered electron in 1897. After their presentation, J.J. Thompson looked at the grand portrait of Sir Isaac Newton and told the attendees, “Our conceptions of the fabric of the universe must be fundamentally altered” Some people said, ‘it’s the end of Newton’. Some people say, ‘Einstein overthrew Newton, Einstein replaced Newton, Einstein vanquished Newton etc.’ It is true that Einstein’s theories superseded Newton’s theory. But it was not like Einstein overthrown Newton. In fact, Eddington showed that Newtonian gravitation could be interpreted to predict half the shift predicted by Einstein. Einstein built his theories of relativity on Newton’s theory.
The mystery of gravity goes back to Newton. The greatest success of Newton’s physics is his theory of gravity. He made Gravity king of physics and the ruler of the universe. It is the fundamental attractive force between all forms of mass and energy. Newton described gravity using his famous equation, F = Gm¹ m²/D². It is known as inverse square law of attraction.
Albert Einstein came out with General Theory of Relativity that described gravity, space and time. Einstein’s theory of gravity succeeded even in areas where Newton’s theory of gravity failed. For example, In 1915, Einstein was able to explain Mercury’s perihelion shift using the General Theory of Relativity.
Einstein once said, “Fortunate Newton, happy child of science! Nature to him was an open book. He stands before us strong, certain, and alone”
Newton described gravity using his inverse square law, Einstein described it as the motion of objects across a space-time warped by matter. In Newton’s theory, space and time had separate identities. In Newton’s theory, time was absolute, fixed and immutable.
But in Einstein’s theory, time is not absolute, it is not fixed, it became soft, you can stretch it or contract it. Einstein led us into a four-dimensional world of space time. In the latter years of his life, Einstein was obsessed with unification theories. Such attempts started with Newton. Newton unified physics and astronomy into a single study of nature. So, we have to say, even Einstein built his theory of relativity on Newton’s laws of classical physics.
Beside the theory of relativity, Quantum mechanics is one of the two revolutions in 20th century physics. It is a triumph of abstract mathematics. Paul Dirac held Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge University, once held by Isaac Newton. He wrote the Principles of Quantum Mechanics. He starts that book with the Principle of Superposition with a reference to Newton. The profound mathematization of quantum mechanics owes its origin to Newton.
Newton revolutionized optics. In 1704, Newton published Opticks. He invented the reflecting telescope. He studied the behavior and properties of light. In 1660s, Newton proposed the corpuscular theory of light. He famously showed that white light was a mixture of colors which can be separated with a prism.
Newton invented calculus, and created a revolution in mathematics. We were taught calculus and geometry in high school Calculus is the mathematical study of change. Geometry is the study of shape while calculus is the study of change. Newton took Descartes’ analytic geometry and created calculus, independent of Leibniz.
First of all, Newton was a mathematician. What is Principia? It’s Principia Mathematica: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Galileo saw God as a mathematician and said universe was written in the language of mathematics. Newton followed that tradition. What was Newton’s day time job? He was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. Aristotle separated terrestrial physics from astronomy. He said they are two different realms. Newton combined the two, he unified terrestrial physics and astronomy.
An apple here and a galaxy out there follow the same rules. Newton combined all physics using calculus and the face of mathematics changed forever. You can’t use your air conditioner without calculus, You can’t use your credit card without calculus, you can’t use your cell phone without calculus. Calculus is everywhere in our modern world. Using calculus and Newton’s law of cooling you can predict the cooling time for a cup of coffee. You can calculate the radioactive decay of a quantity of plutonium.
We say Donald Trump won against all odds. We cannot speak about anything these days without taking a poll. Data crunching became a must for every activity. Statistics is the study of the collection, organization and interpretation of data. What does Statistics have to do with Newton? Newton said natural laws are absolute, there are not flexible. If you know all the laws you can be certain. But the problem is you don’t know all the laws, and you cannot be certain. You have to settle for probabilities. Gather as much data as you can and settle for the most probable outcome, and run the newscycle. So, our obsession with polls is a consequence of Newton’s laws and their impact on our worldview.
Cosmology is the study of the origin, evolution and fate of the universe. How did universe come into existence? Aristotle said universe is eternal, it has no beginning. 2000 years later, Albert Einstein said the same thing, universe is eternal, it has no beginning. Later he called it the ‘biggest blunder of life’. But Newton said, ‘universe is not eternal, it has a beginning’. How could Newton avoid the mistake committed by Aristotle and Einstein?
Because Newton was a Christian and he took his Bible seriously. Einstein was a Jew but he did not take his Bible seriously. He bought into secular, unbiblical cosmologies. If Einstein were to meet Newton, Newton would have told him, ‘Einstein, read your Bible, it starts with in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…. the universe has a beginning’
Einstein would have avoided the ‘biggest blunder of his life’
Sheldon Glashow, a Nobel Prize winning physicist once said, “We theorists can come up with a lot of garbage to fill the universe” Newton did not get his head into any of those garbage, he believed in the first sentence of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. That settles the matter, universe has a beginning.
Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. That discovery settled it once and for all that universe has a beginning. Robert Wilson said, “the best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five Books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole” Newton did not have the big data from Hubble telescope or a radio telescope. He had the Bible and he believed what the Bible told us about the beginning of the universe.
Newton brought a revolution in astrophysics. He made gravity the king of the universe, the most important force shaping the structure and motions of the universe. He gave a formula to calculate the force of gravity in Principia.
Newton built telescopes, his laws predicted the path of planets and comets. Newton’s friend Edmond Halley, he calculated the orbit of the comet later named after him, Halley’s comet. I remember waking up one morning back in 1986 and watching this comet with my family members.
The comet will come back in 2061. If I live that long, God willing, I would like to see that comet again. Halley used Newton’s laws to predict the orbit and the appearance of the comet. That prediction power popularized the accuracy of Newton’s laws.
Success of a scientific theory depends on its predictive power. Theory of relativity predicted that speed of light would be a constant, it predicted the existence of black holes Quantum mechanics predicted that light is a wave. Similarly, Newton’s laws predicted certain things. For example, Newton’s laws helped in the discovery of new planets. Urbain Le Verrier (1811 – 1877) was a French mathematician. If you go to Paris, you could find his name engraved on Eiffel Tower. In 1846 he was studying the astronomical observations of the known planet Uranus. He found some discrepancy.The observations are not matching with predictions from Newton’s laws of gravity. Why this mismatch? He took his pen and did some math using Newton’s laws.
Some unknown planet is the reason for this discrepancy. He wrote a letter to Johann Galle of the Berlin Observatory. John, focus your telescope in that direction and you will find a new planet. On 23 September 1846, Johann Galle opened the letter and that same night peered into the sky and found new planet within 1 degree of the predicted location. Neptune, the beautiful blue planet was discovered. No telescopes, no satellites, Urbain Le Verrier discovered Neptune using a paper and a pen, out of pure mathematics based on Newton’s laws. Arago, Prime Minister of France said, “the man who discovered a planet with the point of his pen” That’s the power of Newton’s laws, that’s the beauty of pure mathematics.
We all heard about black holes. A black hole is an object whose gravity is so strong that nothing inside its event horizon – even light itself – can ever escape. 200 years ago, Pierre-Simon Laplace predicted the existence of black holes. Laplace did that using Newton’s laws of gravity. Imagine regions with very high gravity that even light cannot escape such intense gravity, then the most massive objects in the universe might be invisible to us.
Subrahmayan Chandrasekhar (1910 -1995) was an Indian American astrophysicist. He was awarded Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983. He made amazing theories about black holes. He was influenced by Newton. You can read his book, ‘Newton’s Principia for the Common Reader’. The Chandra X – ray Observatory launched in 1999 was named in his honor.
This telescope has made stunning discoveries from supernova to black holes to neutron stars to a pulsar that named, ‘Hand of God’. So, even in this age of outer space telescopes, Newton’s laws are still with us. By the way, Newton was the first to realize that objects could be sent into orbit around the Earth. Vera Rubin (1928 – 2016) passed away recently. She was an astrophysicist who confirmed the existence of dark matter. She died on Christmas Day, 2016.
She died on Christmas!
People thought of Newton, he was born on Christmas Day, 1642. Like Newton, she changed the way we think about the Universe. Raising four children she wanted to do pursue her passion in astrophysics. People discouraged her, you are a woman, give it up. Go home and make some cookies for your kids,if you got lot of time on your hands. Those days women are not even allowed into observatories dominated by male astronomers.
But in spite of all those insults, she persisted She made great observations. She discovered the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion. She was thinking about Newton. Why this discrepancy? Is there something we are not seeing? The discrepancy that led Leverrier to the discovery of Neptune.
That’s around the planets, this around the galaxies. Her work led to the discovery of Dark matter. So, even in this age of dark matter and dark energy, Newton is still standing behind us.
Newton dissected animal organs to understand their internal structure. Newton’s ideas wentinto biology. If there is an order in the physical sciences, there must be an order in biological sciences. Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) wanted a Newtonian order in life sciences and started to classify plants and animals. French naturalist and father of paleontology, Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), he said, ‘I am French Newton’ and we should bring order and classify all these fossils we are digging up’
Newton’s influence also went into chemistry. It was called Newtonian dream. If natural laws work in physics, they should be working in chemistry. If there are mathematical expressions for forces in physics, why not in chemistry? Chemistry never recovered, it became subservient to physics ever since.
Francis Bacon was a forerunner of Newton. We call him the father of inductive method and Rene Descartes, the father of deductive method. Newton blended those two methods in his science, and all scientists are following that lead since Newton.
What is the nature of reality? What is our place in nature? What is our relationship to nature? What is our relationship to the Creator? Newton gave his own answers to these philosophical questions. Newton responded to philosophers like Descartes and Leibniz and Robert Boyle.
In the second edition of the Principia Newton wrote studying God is a proper part of natural philosophy (Principia, 943). Newton wrote that concept of God should be at the center of natural philosophy, Newton wrote in Principia; “It is agreed that the supreme God necessarily exists, and by the same necessity he is always and everywhere” (Principia, 942).
For Newton, God is the first cause because God created the physical world. Because God is infinite and eternal, He is omnipresent and occupies history at all times. Newton’s God is a necessary being, all laws of nature are contingencies that follow from God’s will and God alone exists necessarily. Newton placed God at the center of natural philosophy and every philosopher had to respond to that view, from John Locke to David Hume to Immanuel Kant.
Newton also influenced Enlightenment, the intellectual movement that swept through Europe which destabilised the traditional rulers like kings and monarchs. Newton’s worldview profoundly influenced American Revolution and French Revolution. English philosopher John Locke (1632 – 1704): was 10 years older than Newton. He made correspondence with Newton and they discussed their ideas often. Locke became an ardent follower of Newton’s ideas.
Like Newton, Locke believed in Special Creation of man by God. He wrote, “We have been sent into the world by God’s order, and about His business, we are His property, whose Workmanship we are, made to last during his, not one another Pleasure”
Locke studied the book of Genesis in detail, from Genesis chapter 1, verses 26 – 28, he derived basic human equality. Locke said, because God created all human beings equally free, governments needed the consent of the governed. That idea became central to the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” “We hear the phrase, “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”: That’s a political reflection of Newton’s philosophy of nature.
Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) was an English philosopher and one of the founders of modern political philosophy. He is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan. He argued that kings rule by divine right. Kings rule as God’s agents and everyone must obey the king. Locke rejected that view. He said, ‘Newton showed us universe is running on natural laws – laws of physics, laws of chemistry, law of life, laws of planetary motion, the laws of logic, the laws of mathematics, the laws of morality – if everyone is under the laws of God, how can you say that king is God’s special agent? The founders of America loved those words. John Locke became the philosophical father of the founders of America and its Constitution. In his political theory, Locke presented the idea of governmental checks and balances.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Bacon, Locke, and Newton….I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral Sciences”
Note those words, “having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral Sciences” So, you see, Newton’s worldview has not been confined to physical sciences, it also entered moral sciences.
From Newton to John Locke to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, Newton made into the Declaration of Independence. Newton’s worldview and Locke’s ideas also went into France.The French embraced Newton’s theory of gravity. The French Revolution was founded on the idea of deism, God created and left. Newton said, God created and he is still with us.
The French said, no, God created and left. Needless to say, the French Revolution was a big mess. The philosopher-founders were guillotining each other like there was no tomorrow. American Revolution ended with George Washington who refused to be their king, while French Revolution ended with Napoleon Bonaparte, who destroyed their Republic and became their dictator.
Locke’s ideas also went into psychology. If gravity is affecting material world, what is affecting mind? If Sun is influencing earth through gravity, what structure in brain is influencing human behavior? Natural laws acting on materials and causing purposeful actions in the universe.
Purposive action then became the most fundamental category of psychology just as the motion of an object according to Newton’s laws of motion has long been the fundamental category of physical science. (A Textbook of Psychology by William Mcdougall)
Newton predicted that day would come when we could see atoms using instruments that magnify objects three or four thousand times. That became a reality in our time. We got Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland. It was the largest machine every built by human beings, of any kind. On July 4, 2012 a sensational news flashed all over the world: Higgs boson was discovered. Every physicist in the world was thrilled by that news. They were overwhelmed by the knowledge that there is a Higgs field that fills space. Everything around us, everything in the universe is filled with Higgs space. We are walking in the Higgs field.
What is the fundamental nature of reality? Quantum field theory says that the world, at a fundamental level is made of fields. When we look at those fields, we see them as particles. The search for Higgs field goes back to Newton and his universal law of gravitation. Newton said gravity is universal. With one single equation he explained that gravity pulls everything from apples to moons to planets to stars and galaxies.
Laplace took Newton’s theory of gravitation and modified it into gravitational potential field theory. The field is everywhere. The field gives the force of gravity. Quantum field theory extended that idea, now we have electric field, magnetic field, and gravitational field. It says gravity is carried by massless particles called gravitons forming out of gravitational field.Higgs field is giving us Higgs boson. So, you see, when we are talking about Higgs boson, Higgs field, Large Hadron Collider and particle physics, we are going back to Newton’s laws of gravity.
Newton inspired countless innovators and designers. When Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011) was looking for a logo for his company he drew inspiration from Newton. Originally it was Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree.But Steve Jobs wanted to make it simple and settle for an apple with a bite mark, so that you won’t confuse it with tomato. So, now Newton’s apple is everywhere: iphones, ipads, macbooks, imacs.
Newton also explored theology. He studied his Bible carefully. It’s not like reading couple of verses at the dinner table. Newton would put most of us to shame in his commitment to Bible study.He did a very exhaustive study of the scriptures.
He wrote commentaries on the Bible. In fact, he spent more time on Bible than on science. Lawrence Krauss (1954 – ) is a theoretical physicist. He wrote a book titled A Universe from Nothing. He says, ‘universe came without God, there is a conflict between God and Science’.
Newton would not agree with him. Newton, the greatest scientist ever lived, saw no conflict between his Bible and his physics. Earlier we talked about Vera Rubin, who confirmed the existence of dark matter with her observations. She did not see any conflict between faith and science. She was Jewish. She often spoke of the value of science and faith when studied together.
That’s what Newton did. The book of science and the book of scriptures. Newton studiedboth books and enjoyed both of them.
We’ve seen how Newton impacted our world: from classical physics, theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, optics, mathematics, statistics, cosmology, astrophysics, biology, chemistry, scientific research, philosophy, political science, psychology, particle physics and theology.
If philosophy became a footnote to Plato, physics became a footnote to Newton.
Newton brought forth four, not one, four scientific revolutions -one, in mathematics by inventing calculus in optics by studying the nature of light in mechanics with his laws of motion in cosmology with his theory of gravity If Newton were living today, he would win half a dozen Nobel Prizes. Alexander Pope’s praise for Newton was not an exaggeration.
Nature, and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night
God said, Let Newton be! And all was Light.
Newton will continue to fascinate us. Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976) was one of the founders of quantum mechanics. He is famous for his uncertainty principle. He won Nobel Prize in physics in 1932. He once said, I quote, “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you’.
Newton would agree with Heisenberg. Newton went to the bottom of the glass and found God waiting for him. In his magnum opus, Principia, he praised God for his creation, His glory, His majesty and for His providence. The world has been blessed by this Saint of Science.
Newton was not an atheist. He was a theist from the heart, not from tradition as Richard Dawkins would have us believe. We read in Psalm 19:1: The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Romans 1:20 says, For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead;
Newton ended his great book Principia with General Scholium, a Doxology. Praising God for His great Creation.
Where are you ending today? Have you seen the glory of God in His Creation? Are you praising God for His creation?
As Sheldon Glashow said secular physicists fill the cosmos with lot of garbage, the garbage of godless thinking.
Don’t fall for it, see the glory of God in the creation.
That is what Newton did. He saw the handiwork of God in the creation and took time to praise and worship God. Have you taken time today to praise and worship the Creator?
The Bible says all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Have you realized that you are a sinner on your way to hell and God’s grace is available to you through His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
It is my prayer you see God’s majesty in the creation and accept Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior today.
Paul Kattupalli MD