Tag Archives: religion

The Sins of Isaac Newton

Aside from founding classical mechanics — think universal gravitation and laws of motion, laying the building blocks of calculus, and inventing the reflecting telescope Isaac Newton made time for spiritual pursuits. In fact, Newton was a highly religious individual (though a somewhat unorthodox Christian).

So, although Newton is best remembered for his monumental work, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, he kept a lesser known, but no-less detailed journal of his sins while a freshman at Cambridge. A list of Newton’s most “heinous” self-confessed, moral failings follows below.

[div class=attrib]From io9:[end-div]

10. Making a feather while on Thy day.

Anyone remember the Little House series, where every day they worked their prairie-wind-chapped asses off and risked getting bitten by badgers and nearly lost eyes to exploding potatoes (all true), but never complained about anything until they hit Sunday and literally had to do nothing all day? That was hundreds of years after Newton. And Newton was even more bored than the Little House people, although he was sorry about it later. He confesses everything from making a mousetrap on Sunday, to playing chimes, to helping a roommate with a school project, to making pies, to ‘squirting water’ on the Sabbath.

9. Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese.

Well, to be fair, he was only a boy at this time. He may have had all the unclean thoughts in the world, but Newton, on his death bed, is well known for saying he is proudest of dying a virgin. And this is from the guy who invented the Laws of Motion.

8. Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar.

Clearly he needed to compensate for lack of carnal pleasure with some other kind of physical comfort. It seems that Newton had a sweet tooth. There’s this ‘robbery.’ There’s the aforementioned pies, although they might be savory pies. And in another confession he talks about how he had ‘gluttony in his sickness.’ The guy needed to eat.

7. Using unlawful means to bring us out of distresses.

This is a strange sin because it’s so vague. Could it be that the ‘distresses’ were financial, leading to another confessed sin of ‘Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne.’ Some biographers think that his is a sexual confession and his ‘distresses’ were carnal. Newton isn’t just saying that he used immoral means, but unlawful ones. What law did he break?

6. Using Wilford’s towel to spare my own.

Whatever else Newton was, he was a terrible roommate. Although he was a decent student, he was reputed to be bad at personal relationships with anyone, at any time. This sin, using someone’s towel, was probably more a big deal during a time when plague was running through the countryside. He also confesses to, “Denying my chamberfellow of the knowledge of him that took him for a sot.”

And his sweet tooth still reigned. Any plums anyone left out would probably be gone by the time they got back. He confessed the sin of “Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer.” Just to top it off, Newton confessed to ‘peevishness’ with people over and over in his journal. He was clearly a moody little guy. No word on whether he apologized to them about it, but he apologized to God, and surely that was enough.

[div class=attrib]More of the article here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]

Atheism: Scientific or Humanist

[div class=attrib]From The Stone forum, New York Times:[end-div]

Led by the biologist Richard Dawkins, the author of “The God Delusion,” atheism has taken on a new life in popular religious debate. Dawkins’s brand of atheism is scientific in that it views the “God hypothesis” as obviously inadequate to the known facts. In particular, he employs the facts of evolution to challenge the need to postulate God as the designer of the universe. For atheists like Dawkins, belief in God is an intellectual mistake, and honest thinkers need simply to recognize this and move on from the silliness and abuses associated with religion.

Most believers, however, do not come to religion through philosophical arguments. Rather, their belief arises from their personal experiences of a spiritual world of meaning and values, with God as its center.

In the last few years there has emerged another style of atheism that takes such experiences seriously. One of its best exponents is Philip Kitcher, a professor of philosophy at Columbia. (For a good introduction to his views, see Kitcher’s essay in “The Joy of Secularism,” perceptively discussed last month by James Wood in The New Yorker.)

Instead of focusing on the scientific inadequacy of theistic arguments, Kitcher critically examines the spiritual experiences underlying religious belief, particularly noting that they depend on specific and contingent social and cultural conditions. Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan or 21st-century Saudi Arabia do not lead to belief in Christianity. It seems, therefore, that religious belief very likely tracks not truth but social conditioning. This “cultural relativism” argument is an old one, but Kitcher shows that it is still a serious challenge. (He is also refreshingly aware that he needs to show why a similar argument does not apply to his own position, since atheistic beliefs are themselves often a result of the community in which one lives.)

[div class=attrib]More of the article here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image: Ephesians 2,12 – Greek atheos, courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]

Morality 1: Good without gods

[div class=attrib]From QualiaSoup:[end-div]

Some people claim that morality is dependent upon religion, that atheists cannot possibly be moral since god and morality are intertwined (well, in their minds). Unfortunately, this is one way that religious people dehumanise atheists who have a logical way of thinking about what constitutes moral social behaviour. More than simply being a (incorrect) definition in the Oxford dictionary, morality is actually the main subject of many philosophers’ intellectual lives. This video, the first of a multi-part series, begins this discussion by defining morality and then moving on to look at six hypothetical cultures’ and their beliefs.