Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton
In Priest of Nature, Newton scholar Rob Iliffe does just that. Tracing Newton's life from his birth though his years as a Cambridge don, his tenure as Warden and Master of the Mint, and his twenty-four years as President of the Royal Society, up to his death in 1727, Iliffe examines how Newton managed the complex boundaries between private and public professions of belief.While previous scholars and biographers have attempted to find coherence in his intellectual pursuits, Iliffe shows how wide-ranging and catholic Newton's views and interests in fact were, and in that takes issue with those who have attempted to underestimate their range and complexity.
Arguing that there is no simplistic coherence between Newton's philosophical and religious views, Priest of Nature delves into the religious writings Newton produced during his life, from his account of the sexually depraved lives of the early monks to his views about the creation of the world and the Apocalypse, and his commitment to a simple (anti-Trinitarian) doctrine that he believed had been corrupted in the first centuries of Christianity. Iliffe argues that religious commitments lay at the heart of Newton's earliest scientific research, and shows how his analysis of the techniques he used to prosecute corrupters of Christian doctrine were identical to those he used when dealing with his scientific enemies. Ultimately, Priest of Nature asserts, Newton's ambitious engagement with a tradition central to Western thought displays the same creative energy visible in his mathematical and scientific work, and despite his reluctance to follow any specific sect, he should be seen as a devout layman who made independence of thought a core virtue.
Offering novel insights into the spiritual life of Newton, Priest of Nature is both a scholarly work and a vibrant biography of one of the most influential scientists in history.
[Iliffe] completely recasts the relationship of Newton's scientific inquiry to his religious beliefs, tying the two together to an unparalleled degree... finely constructed and well-written narrative makes [this] a robust portrait with broad appeal. (Wall Street Journal)This book is an enormous contribution to the Newton literature and the history of science in general. It examines huge numbers of sources that were, until now, essentially unknown and provides an unparalleled contextualization of the man and his work. (Matthew Stanley, Science)Iliffe's fascinating study provides an absorbing glimpse into Newton's work and early modern culture. (Publisher's Weekly)
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