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Book Review: Isaac Newton

February 28, 2010

This review is part of Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program. Have a blog? Like free books? Check this out.

Thomas Nelson is releasing a series of biographies under the banner “Christian Encounters.” From the inside cover:

We learn about life through the lives of others. Their experiences, their trials, their adventures become our schools, our chapels, our playgrounds. Christian Encounters, a series of biographies from Thomas Nelson Publishers, highlights important lives from all ages and areas of the Church through prose as accessible and concise as it is personal and engaging.

I was shocked and delighted to find the first five when I logged into BookSneeze recently: Isaac Newton, Jane Austen, John Bunyan, Saint Patrick, and Winston Churchill. It was the hardest BookSneeze decision I’ve ever made. I don’t remember why, but I went with Isaac Newton.

I suspect I would have said this about any of the available choices, but that doesn’t make it less true or in any way insincere so I’m saying it still: I’m glad I chose Isaac.

What I knew about Isaac Newton last week: Sir Newton was a very smart man who was good at everything, discovered gravity, and invented calculus. I admit that’s shamefully little.

After devouring Mitch Stokes’s biography – which, for the record, actually was “accessible and concise,” “personal and engaging” – I think I qualify for the most ignorant yet most enthusiastic Isaac Newton super-fan. I’m not only eternally impressed with his intellect, diligence, and invaluable contributions in mathematics, natural science, and chemistry – I’m in love with his humble demeanor, his under-handed humor, his quirky disposition, and the innocent way he avoided conflict.

I have a school-girl crush on Isaac Newton.

I was also completely captivated by his faith. Sir Issac Newton – the man who single-handedly rewrote man’s scientific understanding of all of creation (that’s not the slightest exaggeration)  – wrote far more about theology and his deep Christian faith than any of the sciences or mathematics he studied (or created).

Newton believed that science is worship.

The ultimate goal of Newton’s studies was to know God and ‘give Him honour and glory.’ In face, for Newton, natural philosophy’s main benefit was not the improvement of man’s earthly condition; that was the Baconian view. Newton believe that all knowledge – including knowledge of nature – was, in the end, knowledge of God. Knowing was worship.

Newton’s behavior illustrates this more than empty words he may have written. He began developing the language of calculus alone in his room at age 22 and didn’t publish anything for decades. In fact, most of his discoveries – from the nature of light to the shape of a planet’s orbit – he simply figured out and set aside.

He was a passionate, insatiable man, but it wasn’t for his fame or even the benefit of mankind. Newton ate little and slept even less, dedicating fervent and endless hours to his curiosities and puzzles, because he wanted to understand God and he felt he could best do so by deciphering and understanding His work.

So much about Isaac Newton is amazing – bordering unbelievable – and inspiring that you just have to check out this book. It would make for an endless blog post that no one would want to read. I’m sure the others are great, but I can vouch for this one: You will not be disappointed with Isaac Newton.

Quotes after the break … “Manuel writes that Newton knew the Bible “as few theologians did, and he could string out citations like a concordance.” Newton devoted his life to studying God’s Word and his world. The discoveries for which he’s famous are in the realm of the latter, but these are motivated, underwritten, and informed by Newton’s knowledge of the former.”

“Recently, the atheist, Richard Dawkins suggested that since Newton was born on Christmas day, his birthday would be an appropriate alternative to celebrating Christ’s birth. It would be interesting to see Newton’s reaction.”

“During his time away from the academy, he had become Europe’s leading mathematician as well as it’s leading expert on optics, and he had laid the foundation for his revolutionary theory of gravity. Out in the country, in the mind of a twenty-four-year-old, the scientific revolution had advanced further in a few months than it had in a century. And no one knew about any of it.”

“Seven months later, in August 1684, Halley traveled to Cambridge and presented the question to Newton. Newton casually answered: an inverse square law would result in an elliptical orbit. Halley was astounded. How did Newton know? Newton replied that he had calculated it and went to look for the paper. He couldn’t find it at the time but promised to send the calculation along to Halley.”

“In one of his letters to Bentley, Newton made the following statement that has tantalized ever since: ‘There is yet another argument for a Deity which I take to be a very strong one, but till the principles on which tis grounded be better received I think it more advisable to let it sleep.’ Newton never shared what this argument is.”


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