Imperial College Of London Puts Newton On The Web

Roundup: Talking About History

Steve Jones, The Daily Telegraph (London), 01 Sept. 2004

[Steve Jones is professor of genetics at University College London.]

Plenty of scientists are religious and even more are not, but whatever their beliefs, most have the common sense to separate their moral universe from their daily work. George Bush might deplore stem-cell research and doubt evolution in order to placate the born-again, but Richard Dawkins, who often takes ferocious swipes at him, does so on grounds of loathing rather than by using a spurious scientific argument.

Not everyone is so careful. Historians at Imperial College London are well into the project of putting one great scientist's neglected views about religion on to the web. They are lengthy indeed, adding up to almost three million words, with writings such as"Observations upon The Power of the Eleventh Horn of Daniel's fourth Beast to change times and laws" and"Of the Kingdoms represented in Daniel by the Ram and the He-Goat".

They are the work of Sir Isaac Newton, who wrote much more about philosophy than physics. Imperial College's Newton Project hopes to make public all the great scientist's forgotten manuscripts, most of which are hidden away in obscure libraries or - as they once seemed heretical - were kept secret. Newton's interest was in using scientific analysis to prove that the Pope was the Antichrist and that all Catholics were damned and, to his own satisfaction at least, he succeeded. Like his Cambridge successor Stephen Hawking, he believed that through physics one could know the mind of God (although Newton really believed it and was not inveigled into the phrase by his publisher).

Mathematics had, after all, uncovered the secrets of the book of God's works, the Universe, and must be able to do the same for the book of God's words, the Bible, which Newton called a history of things to come. Some of his predictions are precise: thus, this month's installment from the Newton Project tells us, his sums prove that"We have no reason to suppose more Apocalyptic Whores than one" (which I find oddly comforting). Other forecasts are just as confident but, if true, should fill the reader with concern. At one point Newton calculates the date of Armageddon. He uses a biblical phrase,"time, times, and a half" (interpreted as a year, two years, and a half) - and turned those 1,260 days into years. In AD800, Charlemagne was crowned emperor of Rome by the Pope: the moment at which, he thought, the Church fell into corruption. Add the two figures together and we get to the day of reckoning in the alarmingly near future, in 2060, little more than half a century away.

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