Isaac Newton may have been the greatest and most influential scientist and mathematician in history, but he would not appreciate that title. For Newton didn’t invent calculus and create the basis for modern physics under pressure and for a purpose, he was, as he said “only like a boy playing on the sea shore” (Gleick 4). Newton, for most of his life, was quiet and kept his work to himself. He suffered a rather formalistic childhood without a father; his mother married a rich man who wanted a wife, but not a stepson (9).
When Newton reached a college age, his mother now rich with the fortune of her second husband, decided that he should go to college, but pay for it himself. Newton had very little money as he entered school.
School, in those days, taught astronomy not as an area of physics, but through Aristotle’s logic.
“Geometry belonged to the celestial sphere; it might relate music and the stars, but projectiles of rock or metal were inappropriate objects for mathematical treatment. So technology, advancing, exposed Aristotelian mechanics as quaint and impotent. Gunners understood that a cannonball, once in flight, was no longer moved by anything but a ghostly memory of the explosion inside the iron barrel; and they were learning roughly, to compute the trajectories of their projectiles.” (24)
Aristotelian mechanics were failing, but the schools still taught them as absolute truth. To go against their logic was frowned upon. “The single authority in all the realms of secular knowledge was Aristotle - doctor’s son, student of Plato, and collector of books. Logic, ethics, and rhetoric were all his, and so - to the extent they were studied at all - were cosmology and mechanics” (Gleick 22). Yet, the texts of earlier astronomers that hinted to the idea of a solar system as we know it today still circled around the schools.
Then the plague hit. Newton had to return home for a few years. While in his rural home isolated from the rest of the world, he began to calculate and develop new, better, predictable, observable, and testable theories for how the world works. “For Aristotle motion included pushing, pulling, carrying, and twirling; combining and separating; waxing and waning” (Gleick, 23). However, Newton extended this thought: “Since everything that is in motion must be moved by something, let us take the case in which a thing is in locomotion and is moved by something that is itself in motion... and that by something else, and so on continually: then the series cannot go on to infinity, but there must be some first mover” (24).
Newton’s faith in God began to play a role in the discussion. To Christians, the first mover must be none other than God. Newton never separated God from science. Although many since his time have taken the methodology developed by Newton, Newtonianism, to produce a mindset without God, a world where everything can be explained and proved, but Newton did not. “He of all people was no...