Sir Isaac Newton's Beliefs - Catholic Responses?

Hi,

This question falls into the category of Church history and the Catholic-Protestant debate that has been going on for centuries since the Protestant Reformation.

Sir Isaac Newton wrote an extensive theological work, Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John, which is a moderately lengthy read that asserts that the Roman Catholic Church is the eleventh horn on the head of the fourth beast in one of Daniel’s visions. Although I am usually very quick to dismiss railing accusations against the RCC and would have dismissed this accusation immediately if it had come from any lesser source, it is very difficult to dismiss an attack by Newton, one of the world’s greatest intellectuals.

Newton’s argument is rather lengthy, but I will provide a brief summary along with web links to the chapters of Newton’s book:

  1. The four beasts seen by Daniel are the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, the Greco-Macedonian Empire, and the Roman Empire, respectively. (Newton 1733, Observations, Chapter 4, isaacnewton.ca/daniel_apocalypse/pt1ch04.html)
  2. Since the fourth beast in the vision is the Roman Empire, the ten horns (ten kings) on its head must have been kingdoms that were geographically located within the boundaries of what had once been the Roman Empire. (Newton 1733, Observations, Chapter 4, isaacnewton.ca/daniel_apocalypse/pt1ch04.html)
  3. Newton enumerates ten kingdoms that arose after the collapse of the Roman Empire. (Newton 1733, Observations, Chapter 6, isaacnewton.ca/daniel_apocalypse/pt1ch06.html)
  4. Newton discusses the rise of the Church culminating in the crowning of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne in the year 800. He explains how the Church gained control of three of the ten kingdoms left after the Roman Empire dissolved and asserts that this fulfills the prophecy in Daniel in which three of the ten horns were uprooted by the eleventh horn. (Newton 1733, Observations, Chapter 7, isaacnewton.ca/daniel_apocalypse/pt1ch07.html)

Although I have a print copy of this book and have read it with interest (though I do not know Latin and am, therefore, unable to read some of Sir Isaac Newton’s quotes from his primary sources), this book may not be easy to find. A web link to an online copy of this book is provided below.

isaacnewton.ca/daniel_apocalypse/

In any discussion of Newton’s arguments, it is very important to bear in mind that we must focus on the premises, logic, and conclusions of the arguments themselves and not on Newton himself. For example, it is true that Sir Isaac Newton was regarded as a heretic for apparently holding anti-Trinitarian beliefs, and many scholars believe he was an Arian Christian. However, none of the arguments in his Observations appear to be based on anti-Trinitarianism. Some will argue that Newton was merely parroting the anti-Catholic arguments of his day while adding a few innovations of his own. Although it is true that anti-Catholicism was strongly dominant in the Protestant countries of the day, it is still necessary to analyze Newton’s argument itself based on its premises and logic.

Have any Catholic responses specific to Newton’s writings been published? Sir Isaac Newton was one of the greatest minds in recorded human history, and it is difficult to merely dismiss his arguments the way one could very readily dismiss con men like Alberto Rivera. Although it is clearly infeasible to publish responses to every attack on the RCC, and responses are not needed given that so many of these attacks are obviously frivolous, we certainly cannot say the same of the great Isaac Newton.

As it took a tremendous body of scientific evidence to dethrone Newtonian mechanics, it seems to me it may take an equally tremendous body of evidence to disprove the Newtonian argument regarding the Roman Catholic Church.

Sincerely yours,

Seeker-2006

Since protestantism is simply Catholicism with some alterations - protestantism would also be part of whatever beast they call Catholicism. So all Christianity of any type since Christ becomes the Beast - not very smart, unless you’re the beast and have found a nifty way to convince everyone that Christianity its-self is the Beast.

[quote=Seeker-2006]In any discussion of Newton’s arguments, it is very important to bear in mind that we must focus on the premises, logic, and conclusions of the arguments themselves and not on Newton himself.
[/quote]

A great phycist does not necessarily a great theologian make. Was this actual unbiased thought, or did Newton start with a conclusion and develop a theory to prove it?

Contrary to what we are taught in science class, scientists are not unbiased people whose purpose is to see where experiments lead.

Generally we are taught that the scientific model begins with a hypothesis, develops an experiment, and ends with a conclusion. Actual practice is generally the exact opposite.

Just a quick glance at your links seem to indicate this is exactly what Newton did. He makes the claim that the Roman Empire was split into 10 kingdoms. Before it was split into 10, it was split into two, the western empire based in Rome, and the eastern based in Constantinople.

In chapter 4 of Newton’s writing he says:
Nor do we reckon the Greek empire seated at Constantinople, among the horns of the fourth Beast, because it belonged to the body of the third.

In other words, he doesn’t consider Constantinople part of the Roman Empire. That just is not historically accurate.

Later Newton listed the what he saw as the 10 kingdoms represented by the 10 horns:

  1. The kingdom of the Vandals and Alans in Spain and Africa.
  2. The kingdom of the Suevians in Spain.
  3. The kingdom of the Visigoths.
  4. The kingdom of the Alans in Gallia.
  5. The kingdom of the Burgundians.
  6. The kingdom of the Franks.
  7. The kingdom of the Britains.
  8. The kingdom of the Runns.
  9. The kingdom of the Lombards.
  10. The kingdom of Ravenna.

Go back and look at number 1. He lists Vandals and Alans as one kingdom. That looks more like two to me. True they did merge at one point, but then later the Alans were absorbed into the Franks and Visigoths. So I can make the case there were somewhere between nine and eleven kingdoms.

In addition, Newton never mentions the Saxons. That is another kingdom that went on to invade Britain in the fifth century (ca 400 AD). So is that twelve kingdoms?

It seems his Newtons claim of 10 kingdoms is arbitrary, created to fit his preconceived notion about the Catholic Church.

Look no further than…

  1. Since the fourth beast in the vision is the Roman Empire, the ten horns (ten kings) on its head must have been kingdoms that were geographically located within the boundaries of what had once been the Roman Empire. (Newton 1733, Observations, Chapter 4,

Here is a misinterpretation from which the rest of his errors flow. It specifies that the 10 horns are ten kings, then abruptly changes king to kingdom.

IOW, why 10 different kings of 10 different kingdoms, instead of 10 succeeding kings of the same kingdom? (One head with ten horns, not ten heads with one horn each.)

The 10 kings are to rulers of the Roman Empire who constitute the major persecuters of Christianity. While the prophecy of Daniel refers to the 3 1/2 years abominations of Antiochus IV, one of the little horns who rose up after the death of Alexander the Great, it also refers to Nero who murdered his wife, mother, and step brother. (Three horns uprooted by one.) When Nero comitted suicide, the Ceasarian line ended. (The seat of Roman Emperor was succeeded by General Vespasian and then by his son Titus who led the sacking of Jerusalem and the temple. But they were not of the line of Ceasar.)

Thal59

[quote=Seeker-2006] Although I am usually very quick to dismiss railing accusations against the RCC and would have dismissed this accusation immediately if it had come from any lesser source, it is very difficult to dismiss an attack by Newton, one of the world’s greatest intellectuals.
[/quote]

I think this is where your problem lies, as it is a false premise to start with. It is proverbial that, once you get an expert away from his field, he is no better off than anyone else. For some reason religion is an area that everyone seems to think they can be an expert in, but that just isn’t the case. Richard Dawkins and Isaac Asimov were both highly intelligent – but also practical atheists.

It would be like St. Thomas Aquinas designing a spaceship. Intelligence in one field is no guarantee of excellence in another.

Hi there,

If St. Thomas Aquinas had lived in the modern age (which he did not), and if he had applied himself as diligently to engineering physics as he did to theology (which he did not), then his powerful mind may (or may not) very well have yielded good spacecraft designs. We will never know what this saint, one of the intellectual pillars of Catholicism (the other equally great pillar being St. Augustine), would have accomplished had things been different. The real reason we could not ask St. Thomas Aquinas to be a spacecraft designer is that he did not study aerospace engineering (a discipline that obviously didn’t exist in his days anyway) at all in the first place!

By contrast, we do know that Isaac Newton did apply his mind very diligently to theology and to historical study, just as he did to science. We therefore cannot say that this is like asking St. Thomas Aquinas to be a spaceship builder. That is the reason for the difficulty in dismissing Newton’s arguments.

Two previous responses by “SemperJase” and “Thal59” provide good historical arguments against the Newtonian theological position by directly addressing Newton’s historical premises, and that is exactly what we are seeking (thanks “SemperJase” and “Thal59”). I am hoping to receive more historical arguments either for or against Newton’s analysis as I monitor this thread and will be evaluating them over the coming days.

Keep in mind that I’m not closed-minded toward Catholicism. A solid refutation of Newton’s key anti-Catholic arguments (including, but not limited too, his Observations) would be the first critical step for me to possibly move closer to Catholicism. I already reject the hysterical, irrational anti-Catholicism of some of the Fundamentalists (who are irrational and anti-science as well as anti-Catholic), and I don’t exactly put too much stock in everything John Calvin and Martin Luther said either. They were both anti-Copernican and, in more general terms, anti-rational-science (as were many people of the era). As an aside, this clearly implies that Protestants can’t really criticize the Catholic Church over the Galileo affair since both Protestant and Catholic religious authorities were horribly wrong!

Seeker-2006

[quote=Fidelis]I think this is where your problem lies, as it is a false premise to start with. It is proverbial that, once you get an expert away from his field, he is no better off than anyone else. For some reason religion is an area that everyone seems to think they can be an expert in, but that just isn’t the case. Richard Dawkins and Isaac Asimov were both highly intelligent – but also practical atheists.

It would be like St. Thomas Aquinas designing a spaceship. Intelligence in one field is no guarantee of excellence in another.
[/quote]

It makes me laugh to think that the site of Sir Isaac Newton’s garden, in Kensington, London, is now the site of a rather wonderful Carmelite Priory and church - I bet he’s turning in his grave!

[quote=Seeker-2006] Although I am usually very quick to dismiss railing accusations against the RCC… it is very difficult to dismiss an attack by Newton, one of the world’s greatest intellectuals.

… it is true that Sir Isaac Newton was regarded as a heretic for apparently holding anti-Trinitarian beliefs, and many scholars believe he was an Arian Christian.
[/quote]

Due to your respect for Sir Isaac Newtons intellectual abilities, do you question the Trinity and Divinity of Jesus?

If you were consistent you would have to do just that.

Newton “believed that the central doctrine of the church, the Holy and Undivided Trinity was a pagan corruption imposed on Christianity in the fourth century by Athanasius” footnote

I would say that the fact that he denied the two primary articles of the Christian faith - the Trinity and Divinity of our Lord - shows that, while he may have been very smart in some areas, his knowledge of theology and Christianity is very poor.

[quote=]As it took a tremendous body of scientific evidence to dethrone Newtonian mechanics, it seems to me it may take an equally tremendous body of evidence to disprove the Newtonian argument regarding the Roman Catholic Church.
[/quote]

I think I recall reading several years ago that Sir Isaac Newton predicted, based on his studies of the book of Daniel, that the world would end in 1997.

Since he denied the Divinity of our Lord and the Trinity - the two core teachings of Christianity - I really don’t understand how you could give such weight to any argument he had regarding Christianity.

God gives some people great intellectual abilities. The purpose of these gifts is that they be used for the glory of God. St. Thomas Aquinas was one such person. Unlike Sir Isaac Newton, who did not use his intellectual abilities for the glory of God, but instead used them in other areas while at the same time rejecting the two primary doctrines of Christianity - the Trinity and Divinity of our Lord - St. Thomas, who was given, not only a brilliant intellect, but the gift of never forgeting anything he ever read, not only used his intellectual abilities for the glory of God, but became a very great and holy saint as well.

Personally, I would not allow any argument of Sir Isaac Newton regarding Christianity to sway me one iota. In spite of his great intellect (which was a gift of God), Sir Isaac Newton committed the very serious sin of withholding belief from God on the two primary Christian doctrines, and as such was a heretic.

It would seem that Sir Isaac Newton, instead of using his intellectual gifts for the glory of God, fell into intellectual pride, which destroys supernatural faith and results in spiritual blindness.

Thus it is no surprise to me that he fell into heresy - “professing themselves wise they became fools”. “a man that is a heretic… is… condemned by his own judgment” (Titus 3:10,11).

[quote=Seeker-2006]Hi there,

If St. Thomas Aquinas had lived in the modern age (which he did not), and if he had applied himself as diligently to engineering physics as he did to theology (which he did not), then his powerful mind may (or may not) very well have yielded good spacecraft designs. We will never know what this saint, one of the intellectual pillars of Catholicism (the other equally great pillar being St. Augustine), would have accomplished had things been different. The real reason we could not ask St. Thomas Aquinas to be a spacecraft designer is that he did not study aerospace engineering (a discipline that obviously didn’t exist in his days anyway) at all in the first place!

By contrast, we do know that Isaac Newton did apply his mind very diligently to theology and to historical study, just as he did to science. We therefore cannot say that this is like asking St. Thomas Aquinas to be a spaceship builder. That is the reason for the difficulty in dismissing Newton’s arguments.

Two previous responses by “SemperJase” and “Thal59” provide good historical arguments against the Newtonian theological position by directly addressing Newton’s historical premises, and that is exactly what we are seeking (thanks “SemperJase” and “Thal59”). I am hoping to receive more historical arguments either for or against Newton’s analysis as I monitor this thread and will be evaluating them over the coming days.

Keep in mind that I’m not closed-minded toward Catholicism. A solid refutation of Newton’s key anti-Catholic arguments (including, but not limited too, his Observations) would be the first critical step for me to possibly move closer to Catholicism. I already reject the hysterical, irrational anti-Catholicism of some of the Fundamentalists (who are irrational and anti-science as well as anti-Catholic), and I don’t exactly put too much stock in everything John Calvin and Martin Luther said either. They were both anti-Copernican and, in more general terms, anti-rational-science (as were many people of the era). As an aside, this clearly implies that Protestants can’t really criticize the Catholic Church over the Galileo affair since both Protestant and Catholic religious authorities were horribly wrong!

Seeker-2006
[/quote]

Are you considering that intellegence, as everything else, is a gift from God?

Were Aquinas, Augustine and Newton universally intellegent or were they blessed by God to excel in the fields in which he graced them with the ability to perform?

Perhaps Newton was graced by God in the fields of theology and philosophy. Although from what I have read so far in my unqualified opinion makes me think he was not.

I am not qualified to comment directly on Newton’s arguments.

I just wanted to point out that separating human intellegence from God’s Grace or perhaps elevating human intellegence above God’s Grace makes for a false starting point.

[quote=Seeker-2006] Although I am usually very quick to dismiss railing accusations against the RCC and would have dismissed this accusation immediately if it had come from any lesser source, it is very difficult to dismiss an attack by Newton, one of the world’s greatest intellectuals.

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Sadly i actually agree, he is possibly the smartest person ever to live.

I have always been intrigued by Newton. Yes, he was an intellectual giant but he was also a very lonely, sullen, unpleasant man. He had great difficulty trusting or relating to other humans. Read any biography on his personal life and you will be struck at his ability to become vitriolic toward critics.

We have to remember there are many humans who have great gifts in literature or science who have horrible personal lifes and are sometimes amazingly flawed or even nasty people. Admire his mind and contributions to science but get your theology elsewhere.

I realize that one’s personal life shouldn’t hold sway in most debates but when it comes to religion then there is a difference. I don’t see how we can not look at the man himself to judge if he has any credibility on religious matters. Aren’t we supposed to judge other’s on the fruit that they produce. If Newton was a nasty, spiteful person then shouldn’t that have a bearing on how we view his theological views.

[quote=Seeker-2006]2. Since the fourth beast in the vision is the Roman Empire, the ten horns (ten kings) on its head must have been kingdoms that were geographically located within the boundaries of what had once been the Roman Empire. (Newton 1733, Observations, Chapter 4, isaacnewton.ca/daniel_apocalypse/pt1ch04.html)

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I’ve thought about this a bit more today and keep going back to how Newton defined the 10 kingdoms. He said the 10 kingdoms did not come from the eastern Roman empire because that had been part of the previous Greek empire.

That seems inconsistent. The Greek empire had conquered the previous Persian empire. That is how the Alexander created his empire. The definition of an empire is one that conquers other kingdoms.

So if you look for kingdoms that formed in the geographical area of the Roman empire, you have to include the eastern part as well. Newton arbitrarily dimissed that because he would have ended up with much more than the 10 kingdoms he needed.

It reminds me of the logic that claims the Catholic church is the whore of Babylon because Rome sits on seven hills while ignoring the fact that the Vatican does not sit on one of the seven hills. If you include the hill the vatican is on, you are then up to eight hills. That puts the anti-catholics in the awkward position of claiming the eight is the new seven.

Many more than 10 kingdoms sprang from the geographical boarders of the Roman Empire. The huns are another one I can think of offhand. So by my count alone we are up to 13 kingdoms.

There is another chapter in Daniel, chapter 2, that refers to the future kingdoms. The last Kingdom is cut without hands from a mountain and crushes the other ones represented by a large statue of gold, silver, brass, iron, and iron/clay.

Do any of Newton’s writings try to explain Daniel 2? For it shows that a Kingdom will “arise” from the divided kingdom of iron/clay, yet not be “of” iron/clay, for it will be founded upon a rock cut without hands from the mountain, and it will last forever.

Daniel 2:42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. 43 And whereas thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall be mingled indeed together with the seed of man, but they shall not stick fast one to another, as iron cannot be mixed with clay. 44 But in the days of those kingdoms the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, and his kingdom shall not be delivered up to another people, and it shall break in pieces, and shall consume all these kingdoms, and itself shall stand for ever. 45 According as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and broke in pieces, the clay, and the iron, and the brass, and the silver, and the gold, the great God hath shewn the king what shall come to pass hereafter, and the dream is true, and the interpretation thereof is faithful.

So we see that it will in a sense arise from the Roman kingdom and replace it, yet not be “of” it. This kingdom is the Catholic Church, which has already endured 2000 years with a hierarchy consisting of a single ruler, the Pope, and bishops and priests who are given to govern, teach, and feed their subjects with divine authority, teachings, and bread from heaven.

Furthermore, the stone can be considered to be Peter, who was the first of these Popes.

Matthew 16:18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

It seems to me that this is the more obvious fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. Peter was commissioned to feed the sheep of Christ’s flock (Jn 21:15-17), given the keys to the kingdom for binding and loosing (Matt 16:19), and charged to confirm his brethren in the Faith (Lk 22:32). History shows that the Church has indeed wielded temporal power over kingdoms, though itself is not of this world. “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn 18:36) We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. (Jn 17:15-18)

hurst

This is a very bold statement. I would like to see you justify it.

[quote=svoboda]This is a very bold statement. I would like to see you justify it.
[/quote]

Here are two examples of what can happen when “scientists” work backwards and disregard ethics.

  1. A 1992 EPA study claimed second-hand smoke causes 3000 deaths per year. Within the last month the Dear Abby column cited this statistic. A court case challenged the study (the study had been used to pass no smoking bans across the country). A few years later a district court judge Thomas Osteen ruled the EPA had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun.”

  2. A 2004 Center for Disease Control study found that obesity causes 400,000 deaths per year. The Journal of American Medicine rebutted the study by finding that obesity may cause at most 112,000 deaths per year. [font=Arial]The CDC replied, “We should not let the focus on deaths attributable to obesity distract us from this serious health issue”.

This is what happens when integrity is removed from the process. Normally what happens is a scientist observes an outcome then tries to figure out how it happened and arrives at the hypothesis. You’ll just have to take my word for it that researchers I know have admitted this to me in a candid moment. I would even say most of the times it is ethical. Yet the previous two examples are what happens when it isn’t.

[/font]

[quote=SemperJase]Here are two examples of what can happen when “scientists” work backwards and disregard ethics.

  1. A 1992 EPA study claimed second-hand smoke causes 3000 deaths per year. Within the last month the Dear Abby column cited this statistic. A court case challenged the study (the study had been used to pass no smoking bans across the country). A few years later a district court judge Thomas Osteen ruled the EPA had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun.”

  2. A 2004 Center for Disease Control study found that obesity causes 400,000 deaths per year. The Journal of American Medicine rebutted the study by finding that obesity may cause at most 112,000 deaths per year. [font=Arial]The CDC replied, “We should not let the focus on deaths attributable to obesity distract us from this serious health issue”.

This is what happens when integrity is removed from the process. Normally what happens is a scientist observes an outcome then tries to figure out how it happened and arrives at the hypothesis. You’ll just have to take my word for it that researchers I know have admitted this to me in a candid moment. I would even say most of the times it is ethical. Yet the previous two examples are what happens when it isn’t.

[/font]
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Your original statement was:

“Generally we are taught that the scientific model begins with a hypothesis, develops an experiment, and ends with a conclusion. Actual practice is generally the exact opposite”

If you can show it for one or two cases, that’s hardly showing it for the whole scientific enterprise. Maybe in studies about second hand smoking I can see it happening, but not in for instance development of something like quantum mechanics.

Studies are hardly science anyway. How are you going to experiment about people being harmed by second hand smoking? Having a control group and a group exposed to smoke? That would be extremely unethical.

What about hard sciences like physics and chemistry? Or biology?

[quote=USMC]Newton “believed that the central doctrine of the church, the Holy and Undivided Trinity was a pagan corruption imposed on Christianity in the fourth century by Athanasius” footnote
[/quote]

Not only that, but even I know that it was Tertullian who coined the phrase “Trinity”, which was a couple hundred years before Athanasius and I have had no formal theological training. Sir Isaac Newton was definitely a central figure of the ‘Enlightenment’ in Europe, and was mostly a reactionary to his King, James II, who was Catholic. There’s also a good possibility that he was a member of the Rosicrucians.

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