Newton and scientific publication

While on the subject of Isaac Newton, here are several statements by historian Scott Mandelbrote on Newton’s attitude to the public dissemination of his work.  The more we know of Newton, the less we should consider him a scientist in the modern meaning of the word.

His [theological investigation] was a voyage of personal discovery; even the Principia required Halley’s exertions as a midwife to bring them to light.  Newton might share his religious opinions with other members of the remnant, as he did in his letters to Locke, but he worried about the consequences of their wider dissemination:  ‘I was of opinion my papers had lain still & am sorry to heare there is news about them.  Let me entreat you to stop their translation & impression so soon as  you can for I designe to suppress them.’  Newton’s concern may have reflected fear of being discovered to hold unorthodox  opinions, but it was also the product of religious motives.  Not everyone could be expected to comprehend ‘strong meat’, which was  intended for personal consumption, and which might be wasted on others.” (p.299)

His [Newton’s] theology pervaded his alchemy, in his analysis of the Emerald Tablets of Hermes Trismegistus, and in turn  his alchemy suggested to him how matter might be understood physically.  A true understanding of the uses of language enabled  Newton to introduce astronomical calculation into his chronological writings, and to complete his mathematical arguments with theological references:
. . . .
Mathematics was God’s language; the language of the prophets communicated God’s purposes and ‘times’ to men.  Newton felt it was his duty to understand and to reconcile the two, to decipher the hieroglyphs which corrupted religion and learning had obscured.   The problems of mathematics ended in the solutions of divine majesty, and mathematical language solved the theological problem of describing Newton’s Arian interpretation of the relations within the Trinity:
. . .
Newton’s natural philosophical and theological discoveries removed the obscurities from divine language, in the books of nature and of scripture.  In the life of the true believer, the two could not be separated.  But most had to be content with the milk for babes, because Newton’s own language was beyond them.” (pp. 300-301).

Scott Mandelbrote [1993]:  ‘A dute of the greatest moment’: Isaac Newton and the writing of biblical criticism. British Journal of the History of Science, 26:  281-302.

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