In the continuing phony battle between religion and science, the marvelous contributions of Sir Isaac Newton are often brought in on the atheist side. I say “the atheist side” because popular discussions of science/evolution quickly devolve into arguments about theology (atheology?)
How does Newton hold up as the founding prophet of rationality and materialism? The inscription under his monument reads, in part:
“Mortals rejoice that there existed such and so great an ornament of the human race.” Wow.
Newton’s apotheosis was mostly due to political machinations. What was Newton really all about? A certain box continuing his personal writings was hidden away for one hundred years because it didn’t fit the myth. John Meynard Keynes bought many of these papers (which total a million words worth) and had this to say about the real Newton:
Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.
Why would Keynes call Newton the last of the Babylonian magicians? Because he was for decades profoundly absorbed in alchemy and the Cabbalah.
For in vulgar modern terms Newton was profoundly neurotic of a not unfamiliar type, but – I should say from the records – a most extreme example. His deepest instincts were occult, esoteric, semantic-with profound shrinking from the world, a paralyzing fear of exposing his thoughts, his beliefs, his discoveries in all nakedness to the inspection and criticism of the world
Just a few selections from his writings will suffice to prove the point:
Bright glorious king of all this world, O Sun,
Whose progeny upholder is the Moon,
Both whom Priest Mercury does firmly bind,
Unless Dame Venus you do find,
Who for her spouse Heroic Mars
On the vegetative growth of metals:
That metals vegetate after the same laws. Proved transitory from the circumstances observed by miners. The consent of the Sophy with one another and with nature’s processes and the strange distractions of all other chemists from both nature and one another…its probable those meatlline trees in the earth grew after this manner…
Etc., etc. for one million words.
So, no, Newton was not a heroic prophet leading mankind into the new era of reason and materialism. That is a myth.
I have no beef with mythology. I think it contains valuable truths about us beyond the mere material. But I do have a beef with people who mock mythology and then turn around and make up myths of their own.
Newton, the Man by John Meynard Keynes