Let's Make Up History to Suit Our Prejudices!

In a review book for AP European History, I find:

"Supernatural and miraculous forces played no role in Newton's universe."

Um, say what?! This guy saw no role for what today would be called the supernatural and miraculous? (Newton himself would not have recognized a distinction between the natural and the supernatural as meaningful, I suspect.) Even in his "pure" physics, Newton believed that God constantly intervened to keep the planets in their orbit.

It is amusing that the newspaper stories about the online publication of the Newton archives claim that they "reveal" that Newton was a mystic. Of course, people who had studied him seriously, such as Keynes and Westfall, knew this decades ago.

And here is the killer: since the is a review for a standard AP history test, I assume that if you actually know anything about Newton, you will be marked wrong on the test!

13 comments:

  1. Yes, this is badly put. Newton was a mystic on many topics. There is no supernatural in Newton's THEORY -- insert Laplace quote here -- but if "Newton's universe" means his conception of the universe (and that is at the very least a plausible reading) it's wrong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "There is no supernatural in Newton's THEORY -- insert Laplace quote here ..."

      There is nothing supernatural in Laplace's version of Newtonian physics. Newton himself:

      1) Felt God adjusted planetary orbits continually; and
      2) Simply would not have made the distinction you are making between being a mystic ob some "topics" and not a mystic on others. In discovering the law of gravitation, he would have said he was discovering a law created by God. The supernatural / natural distinction would not have been meaningful to him.

      Delete
    2. Why is believing in a divine designer incompatible with Newton's theory or guided evolution? You're speaking nonsense.

      Delete
    3. Samson, who is speaking nonsense and about what? I am not clear what you are commenting on here.

      Delete
    4. Men is speaking nonsense about Newton's two view being incompatible.

      Delete
    5. You both are misreading my comment. I cite Laplace to show that Newton's THEORY involves no supernatural stuff. Laplace reformulated Newton's THEORY in a more tractable form. But its the same theory. The text book uses the phrase universe to describe that. I agree with Gene that Newton's universe suggests his world view, in which case the claim is false. God's intervention with the planets is both.

      As usual it's Samson Corwell who is actually speaking nonsense. where do I mention evolution, or even that Newton's views are incompatible?

      Delete
    6. Gene, you are agreeing with me.
      My point, and I guess I need to be super explicit here, is that the AP text used wording which is at best misleading. Had they said the Newtonian theory of motion involved no miracles they would have been right. their actual claim is wrong. had they said that these laws allow a miracle free description of the universe they would have been right (Laplace again). But they didn't. Newton's universe is not the same thing as a Newtonian universe in other words ( which Samson will surely misunderstand).

      Delete
  2. Replies
    1. Richard Westfall. Best scientific biography I've read his his on Newton.

      Delete
  3. Gene, you're being kind of harsh in this post. The writers of that AP History test are just hairless apes. It's impressive they can write coherent sentences at all!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Gene. Your post title reminds me of Denying Problems When We Don’t Like the Solutions from Duke Today:
    "A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don't, then they tend to deny the problem even exists."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...from Duke Today:

      http://today.duke.edu/2014/11/solutionaversion

      Delete