Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton

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9780199995356: Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton

After Sir Isaac Newton revealed his discovery that white light was compounded of more basic colored rays, he was hailed as a genius and became an instant international celebrity. An interdisciplinary enthusiast and intellectual giant in a number of disciplines, Newton published revolutionary, field-defining works that reached across the scientific spectrum, including the Principia Mathematica and Opticks. His renown opened doors for him throughout his career, ushering him into prestigious positions at Cambridge, the Royal Mint, and the Royal Society. And yet, alongside his public success, Newton harbored religious beliefs that set him at odds with law and society, and, if revealed, threatened not just his livelihood but his life.

Religion and faith dominated much of Newton's life and work. His papers, never made available to the public, were filled with biblical speculation and timelines along with passages that excoriated the early Church fathers. Indeed, his radical theological leanings rendered him a heretic, according to the doctrines of the Anglican Church. Newton believed that the central concept of the Trinity was a diabolical fraud and loathed the idolatry, cruelty, and persecution that had come to define religion in his time. Instead, he proposed a "simple Christianity"--a faith that would center on a few core beliefs and celebrate diversity in religious thinking and practice. An utterly original but obsessively private religious thinker, Newton composed several of the most daring works of any writer of the early modern period, works which he and his inheritors suppressed and which have been largely inaccessible for centuries.

In Priest of Nature, historian Rob Iliffe introduces readers to Newton the religious animal, deepening our understanding of the relationship between faith and science at a formative moment in history and thought. Previous scholars and biographers have generally underestimated the range and complexity of Newton's religious writings, but Iliffe shows how wide-ranging his observations and interests were, spanning the entirety of Christian history from Creation to the Apocalypse. Iliffe's book allows readers to fully engage in the theological discussion that dominated Newton's age. A vibrant biography of one of history's towering scientific figures, Priest of Nature is the definitive work on the spiritual views of the man who fundamentally changed how we look at the universe.

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About the Author:


Rob Iliffe is Professor of History at the University of Oxford. He is the General Editor of the online Newton Project and the author of Newton: A Very Short Introduction.

Review:


"[W]hile other biographies acknowledge that Newton possessed a sincere, though heterodox, faith, Mr. Iliffe serves up the most complicated picture to date of the faith itself. He completely recasts the relationship of Newton's scientific inquiry to his religious beliefs, tying the two together to an unparalleled degree....Mr. Iliffe presents a syncretism in Newton's thinking that eludes simple classification....Mr. Iliffe also attends carefully to neglected periods of Newton's life, including the teen years he spent laboring in an apothecary's workshop and his stints as a Member of Parliament. Attention to such detail, woven deftly into a finely constructed and well-written narrative, makes Mr. Iliffe's 'Priest of Nature' a robust portrait with broad appeal. Both the academic and lay reader will appreciate how, in shattering the simplistic Enlightenment account of Newton, the book reveals the flexibility of the great man's capacious mind."--David Davis, 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."--Science


"The author thoroughly examines Newton's religious papers, which were unpublished during the inventor's lifetime, including writings on natural theology, religious doctrine, prophesy, and heresy... Iliffe's challenging and scholarly work addresses an important and long overlooked aspect of Newton."--Library Journal


"Iliffe's fascinating study provides an absorbing glimpse into Newton's work and early modern culture."--Publishers Weekly


"For too long, historians have evaluated Isaac Newton's theological writings wholly in relation to his mathematical and natural philosophical work--first, as an embarrassing obsession, best passed over in silence; then, as a sideshow, taken up when his intellectual powers were fading; more recently, as an influence on properly scientific pursuits. Rob Iliffe knows the range of Newton's unpublished and published writings better than any other living scholar, and he gives us here a stunningly well-read, original, and provocative account of a thinker who struggled with theological matters throughout his life and whose reflections on right religion and on the sources of right knowledge emerged from the heart of his self-understanding. Priest of Nature is well titled: it radically redraws the picture of Newton we have long been offered."--Steven Shapin, Franklin L. Ford Research Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University


"Newton wrote importantly about physics, optics, and mathematics and wrote copiously about alchemy, but he saved his most intense thoughts and passionate investigation for perfecting his theology. In Priest of Nature Rob Iliffe restores Newton to an age of political upheaval and religious anxiety, portraying him as a godly man endlessly in search of truth, prophecy, and history. Newton's lifelong struggle to combat the perceived corruption of Christianity with the tools of faith and reason comes to life in this thought-provoking and deeply researched history. A must read for any serious scholar of Newton."--Paula Findlen, Stanford University


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Book Description Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 2017. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Newton s unusual - or even downright heretical - religious opinions were well known to a number of his contemporaries. For over two centuries the exact nature of his religious beliefs was a matter of intense debate, but by the middle of the nineteenth century it was public knowledge that he had held highly unorthodox conceptions of the Trinity. Until the early 1970s, very few of Newton s private theological researches had been made publicly available, and scholars did not determine his views with any precision. However, in the last few years millions of words from his previously unpublished religious writings have become publicly available, making it possible to offer a considered account of their content, and to assess what they tell us about the man. 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. Bookseller Inventory # AOP9780199995356

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Book Description Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 2017. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Newton s unusual - or even downright heretical - religious opinions were well known to a number of his contemporaries. For over two centuries the exact nature of his religious beliefs was a matter of intense debate, but by the middle of the nineteenth century it was public knowledge that he had held highly unorthodox conceptions of the Trinity. Until the early 1970s, very few of Newton s private theological researches had been made publicly available, and scholars did not determine his views with any precision. However, in the last few years millions of words from his previously unpublished religious writings have become publicly available, making it possible to offer a considered account of their content, and to assess what they tell us about the man. 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. Bookseller Inventory # AOP9780199995356

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