Samuel Clarke’s Four Categories of Deism, Isaac Newton, and the Bible

  • James E. Force
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 145)


Newton has often been identified as a deist. In Newton’s time, the high-church, non-juring bishop, George Hickes, writes to his fellow high-churchman, the layman, Roger North, that “It is their Newtonian philosophy wich hath Made Not onely so many Arians but Theists, and that Not onely among ye laity but I fear among our devines.”1 In the nineteenth century, William Blake seems to have put Newton into the deistic camp.2 Scholars in the twentieth century have often persisted in viewing Newton as a deist. Gerald R. Cragg views Newton as a kind of proto-deist and as evidence, points to Newton’s belief in a true, original, monotheistic religion first discovered in ancient times by natural reason. This position, in Cragg’s view, leads to the elimination of the Christian revelation as neither necessary nor sufficient for human knowledge of God. Cragg writes that, “In effect, Newton ignored the claims of revelation and pointed in a direction which many eighteenth-century thinkers would willingly follow.”3 John Redwood has also recently linked anti-Trinitarian theology with both “Newtonianism” and “deism.s.”4


Religious Knowledge Design Argument Natural Religion Introductory Discourse Monotheistic Religion 
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  1. 1.
    George Hickes to Roger North, 23 May 1713. B. M. Add. MSS 32551, f. 34. Cited in Larry Stewart, “Samuel Clarke, Newtonianism, and the Factions of Post-Revolutionary England,” Journal of the History of Ideas 42.1 (Jan.—March 1981 ): 65.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For Blake, Newton is the supreme spokesman of pernicious materialism based upon the evidence of the “Five Senses.” Thus, in “Europa, a Prophecy,” Blake writes A Mighty Spirit leap’d from the land of Albion Nam’d Newton: he seized the Trump blow’d the enormous blast! Yellow as leaves of autumn, the myriads of Angelic hosts Fell thro’ the wintry skies seeking their graves, Rattling their hollow bones in howling lamentation. [From The Complete Writings of William Blake. With All the Variant Readings, ed. Geoffrey Keynes (London: The Nonesuch Press, 1957), p. 243.] Blake concludes the second chapter of his “Jerusalem” with a section entitled “To the Deists.” Newton is not specifically mentioned here, although Voltaire, Rousseau, Gibbon, and Hume are. Blake describes the nature of deistic religion: Deism, is the Worship of the God of this World by the means of what you call natural Religion and Natural Philosophy, and of Natural Morality or Self-Righteousness, the Selfish Virtues of the Natural Heart. This was the Religion of the Pharisees who murder’d Jesus. Deism is the same ends in the same. (See The Complete Writings, p. 682.) Accordingly, I think Paul J. Korshin is correct when he writes that, for Blake, “The Deists of history — Locke, Newton, Voltaire, Rousseau, Gibbon, and their like — are the Pharisees and hypocrites responsible for human suffering.” Typologies in England, 1650–1820 ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982 ), p. 351.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gerald R. Cragg, Reason and Authority in the Eighteenth Century ( Cambridge: At the University Press, 1964 ), p. 13.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    John Redwood, Reason, Ridicule and Religion: The Age of Enlightenment in England, 1660–1750 ( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976 ), p. 169.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Richard S. Westfall, “Isaac Newton’s Theologiae Gentilis Origines Philosophicae,” in The Secular Mind: Essays Presented to Franklin L. Baumer,ed. Warren Wagar (New York: Holmes Meier Publishers, Inc., 1982), p. 15.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. 31. In a brief descriptive catalog of books prepared recently in conjunction with a library exhibition, Westfall makes an exceptionally brief and clear statement of his argument that Newton is a deist. Describing the context and nature of Matthew Tindal’s Christianity as old as the Creation,Westfall writes that: Matthew Tindal was another of the prominent Deists. The title of his book suggests its central argument, that true Christianity consists solely of the natural religion known to all men by their natural reason from the beginning of the world, that the Gospels only republished the religion of nature, and that all the rest of Christianity during the previous fifteen hundred years, was a packet of superstitions foisted onto believers by priests serving their own self interest. Newton’s published works contain the argument from design for the existence of God, an argument so similar to a thousand other arguments common in his age that commentators have assumed his orthodoxy. His extensive theological papers, however, which he kept very private during his own life and which have become available to scholars only recently, indicate a much more religiously troubled man, who believed that the ground was shifting under the traditional structure of Christianity and that it was necessary to rethink some of its teachings. He rejected the doctrine of the Trinity as irrational. He pursued the themes of natural religion, and in one manuscript treatise composed shortly before the Principia and thus long before Tindal even thought of his book, he adopted a position on what he called the one true religion that was very close to the position Tindal expressed nearly half a century later. Newton manifestly considered this treatise important; he continued to draw upon it for the rest of his life. (See Newton and the Scientific Revolution. An exhibition prepared and described by Richard S. Westfall [Bloomington: The Lilly Library, Indiana University, 1987], pp. 66–67.)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Westfall, “Newton’s Theologiae Gentilis,” p. 31.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Samuel Clarke, A Discourse concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation. Being Eight Sermons Preach’d at the Cathedral-Church of St. Paul, in the Year 1705, at the Lecture Founded by the Honourable Robert Boyle Esq. (London, 1706), p. 19. For Clarke, this first sort of deism “must unavoidably terminate in absolute Atheism” for reasons precisely parallel to those he later outlines to Leibniz. Clarke writes that while it may be possible, through “very nice and abstract reasoning,” to hypothesize about a creator god who set the world machine up so precisely in the beginning that “worthy Effects” might have successively been produced “without the immediate interposition of his Almighty Power upon every particular occasion,” it still is difficult to reconcile our particular world, with its particular quantities of matter and motion and its particular ordefing of causal laws, especially gravity, with such an absconding deity. Clarke writes that “to fancy that God originally created a certain Quantity of Matter and Motion,and left them to frame a world at adventures, without any determinate and particular view, design or direction… must of necessity recur to downright Atheism.” (Ibid., pp. 19–20.)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., pp. 26–27. Once again, this kind of deism, Clarke argues, must terminate in “downright Atheism” because the “Practice and Behaviour” of such deists “is exactly agreeable to that of the most openly professed Atheists.” (Ibid., p. 28.)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ibid., p. 32. Clarke once again argues that deists in the third group “must finally recur to absolute Atheism.” This is because “the Moral Attributes of God, however they be acknowledg’d in words, yet in reality they are by these Men entirely taken away” just because God’s Justice and God’s Goodness are so wholly “Transcendental” to human justice and human goodness that we “mean nothing when we say that God is necessarily Just and Good.” (Ibid., pp. 33–34.)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid., pp. 34–36.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., p. 37.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
  14. 14.
  15. 15.
    Ibid., p. 41.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ibid., p. 39.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ibid., pp. 41–42.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    William Whiston, Astronomical Principles of Religion, Natural and Reveal’d (London, 1717), pp. 242–243.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    The Utopians hold a variety of religious beliefs ranging from sun worshippers to euhemeristic idolaters. But, according to More’s narrator, Raphael Hythloday, “The vast majority of Utopians, however, and among these all the wisest, believe nothing of the sort: they believe in a single power, unknown, eternal, infinite, inexplicable, far beyond the grasp of the human mind, and diffused throughout the universe, not physically, but in influence. Him they call father, and to him alone they attribute the origin, increase, progress, change and end of all visible things; they do not offer divine honours to others.” Thomas More, Utopia,eds. George M. Logan and Robert M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 96. These monotheistic Utopian citizens correspond very closely to Clarke’s fourth category of deist and, when Hytholday and his companions are told of Jesus’s teachings, life, and miracles, “no small number of them” convert to Christianity.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion,pp. 39–40.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    One of the most important attempts to reconcile religion, “natural and revealed,” is William Whiston’s important work of 1717 which is entitled Astronomical Principles of Religion, Natural and Reveal’d which is dedicated “To the Illustrious Sir Isaac Newton, President, And to the rest of the Council and Members of the Royal Society.” When Sampsome Letsome and John Nicholl come to publish their collection of all the Boyle Lectures in 1739, they entitle their three-volume edition A Defence of Natural and Revealed Religion: Being a collection of the sermons preached at the lecture founded by the Honourable Robert Boyle, esq.; (from the year 1691 to 1732). Significantly, in the codicil to his will in which he establishes the lecture series bearing his name, Boyle calls for an annual lecturer “to preach eight sermons in the year for proving the Christian religion against notorious Infidels, viz. Atheists, Theists, Pagans, Jews, Mahometans, not descending lower to any controversies, that are among Christians themselves.” See The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle. In five volumes. To which is Prefixed the Life of the Author (London, 1744), l:clxvii. By “Theists,” of course, Boyle means “Deists,” a usage of “Theist” for “Deist” also followed by George Hickes (see note 1).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Clarke cites Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations (Lib. III.i. 2—ii-3.) with regard to the “present corrupt State of Humane Nature,” ibid., pp. 196–197. A little further on, just before a section entitled “A Divine Revelation absolutely necessary for the recovery of Mankind,” Clarke returns to the theme of the contrast between man’s ability to obtain knowledge now compared to his ability before the Fall: Indeed in the original uncorrupted State of Humane Nature, before the Mind of Man was depraved with prejudiced Opinions, corrupt Affections, and vitious Inclinations, Customs and Habits; right Reason may justly be supposed to have been a sufficient Guide, and a Principle powerful enough to preserve Men in the constant Practice of their Duty. But in the present Circumstances and Condition of Mankind, the wisest and most sensible of the Philosophers themselves have not been backward to complain, that they found the Understandings of Men so dark and cloudy,their Wills so biassed and inclined to evil,their Passions so outrageous and rebelling against Reason that they lookt upon the Rules and Laws of right Reason, as very hardly practicable, and which they had very little Hopes of ever being able to persuade the world to submit: In a Word, they confessed that Humane nature was strangely corrupted and acknowledged this Corruption to be a Disease whereof they knew not the true Cause,and could not find out a sufficient Remedy. So that the great Duties of Religion, were laid down by them as Matters of speculation and dispute,rather than as the Rules of Action; and not so much urged upon the Hearts and Lives of Men, as proposed to the Admiration of those, who thought them scarce possible to be effectually practised by the generality of Men. To remedy all these Disorders, and conquer all these Corruptions; there was plainly wanting some extraordinary and supernatural Assistance; which was above the reach of bare Reason and Philosophy to procure, and yet without which the Philosophers themselves were sensible there could never be any truly Great and Good Men. Ibid., pp. 239240. For both Whiston and Clarke, divine revelation aids enfeebled human rational understanding to understand God when properly read, i.e., read in the light of all the external and comparative guides available to modem scholarship.Matthew Tindal quotes long portions of the above text from Clarke’s A Discourse the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion (relying upon the fourth edition, corrected, of 1716), and points out that such a view of human nature supposes that, for nearly 4,000 years, right up to Tindal’s day, God has left mankind. destitute of sufficient Means to do their duty, and to preserve themselves from sinking into a corrupted and degenerate State; and that it was impossible for them when thus sunk, to recover themselves; and yet that God (their Duty being the same after, as before the Fall,) expected Impossibilities from them; viz. either to preserve themselves from thus falling; or if fallen, to recover themselves. But if they had not Power to do This, and it was not their Fault, that they at first were in, and after remain’d in what he calls a State of universal Degeneracy and Corruption; this must then be the State God design’d they shou’d be in: And it wou’d seem not only to be in vain, but a Crime in them, to endeavour to change that State, in which, God, of his infinite Wisdom and Goodness, thought fit to place them…. The Dr’s Scheme outdoes That of the most rigid Predestinarians; for That at all Times saves the Elect: But here are no Elect; but all, for many Ages, are inextricably involv’d in a most deprav’d, corrupted, and impious State. Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as the Creation: Or, The Gospel, A Republication of the Religion of Nature (London, 1730), octavo ed., pp. 375–377.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion,pp. 306ff. Cf. Whiston, Astronomical Principles,Part VII (“Important Principles of Divine Revelation confirm’d from the foregoing Principles, and Conjectures”) and, especially, Part VIII (“Such Inferences shewn to be the common Voice of Nature and Reason, from the Testimonies of the most considerable Persons in all Ages.”)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    James E. Force, “Science, Deism, and William Whiston’s `Third Way’,” Ideas and Production: A Journal in the History of Ideas, Issue Seven — History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology, 1987), pp. 18–33. Whiston writes: ‘Tis hard to say whether those dishonour God most who embrace Doctrines, suppos’d deducible from Scripture, tho’ plainly absurd and unreasonable in themselves; or those who venture to deny or at least wrest and prevaricate with the obvious meaning of such Texts whence those Doctrines us’d to be infer’d. Both these methods of procedure are bold and dangerous…. There is a third or middle way, which, tho’ an instance of real self-denial, we both may and ought to take. [William Whiston, A New Theory of the Earth, From its Original, to the Consummation of all Things. Wherein The Creation of the World in Six Days. The Universal Deluge, And the General Conflagration, As laid down in the Holy Scriptures, Are shewn to be perfectly agreeable to Reason and Philosophy. With a large Introductory Discourse concerning the Genuine Nature, Stile, and Extent of the “Mosaick” History of the Creation (London 1696), from the separately paginated “Introductory Discourse,” pp. 72–73.]Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Ibid., pp. 18–19. Westfall here cites the basic manuscript which is entitled “Theologiae Gentilis Origines Philosophicae,” which is now known as Yahuda MS 16, and which is a sizeable and nearly complete Latin treatise in five chapters. Westfall rightly suggests that this manuscript is the basis for Newton’s treatise entitled “The System of the World.” Newton wrote “The System of the World” sometime before the fall of 1685. An English translation was first published in 1728. The title of this work is the same as the title of Bk. III of the Principia. This separate treatise was intended to be the second book in Newton’s original conception of the Principia in two books. When he decided in the summer of 1685 to expand the Principia to three books he also decided to change the nature of Book III and to shift it from the open accessibility of his original “System of the World,” to a treatise for mathematicians. He, therefore, wrote an entirely new Bk. III at this time and entitled it “System of the World (In Mathematical Treatment)” His original treatise was copied in part by his amanuensis, Humphrey Newton, and deposited in the University Library. Originally composed by Newton in Latin, this work was published in English in 1728 by an anonymous translator. This translation was followed into print by the original Latin text which was published by John Conduitt who changed the title from Newton’s original, De motu corporum (Liber secundus),which no longer made any sense, to De mundi systemate. A modernized English translation was published by Florian Cajori along with his updated edition of the Principia. Newton is most clear in this statement of his view about the nature of ancient rational theology: It was the ancient opinion of not a few, in the earliest ages of philosophy, that the fixed stars stood immovable in the highest parts of the world; that under the fixed stars the planets were carried about the sun; that the earth, as one of the planets, described an annual course about the sun, while by diurnal motion it was in the meantime revolved about its own axis; and that the sun, as the common fire which served to warm the whole, was fixed in the centre of the universe. This was the philosophy taught of old by Philolaus, Aristarchus of Samos, Plato in his riper years, and the whole sect of the Pythagoreans; and this was the judgment of Anaximander,more ancient still; and of that wise king of the Romans, Numa Pompilius,who as a symbol of the figure of the world with the sun in the centre, erected a round temple in honor of Vesta,and ordained perpetual fire to be kept in the middle of it. The Egyptians were early observers of the heavens; and from them, probably, this philosophy was spread abroad among other nations; for from them it was, and the nations about them, that the Greeks,a people more addicted to the study of philology than of Nature, derived their first, as well as soundest, notions of philosophy; and in the Vestal ceremonies we may yet trace the ancient spirit of the Egyptians; for it was their mysteries, that is, their philosophy of things above the common way of thinking, under the veil of religious rites and hieroglyphic symbols. [See Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy and his System of the World,Translated into English by Andrew Motte in 1729, the translations revised by Florian Cajori, 2 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1934), 2: 549.] Just as Newton’s “Theologiae Gentilis” serves as the Ur-source for the above text, it also serves as the spring for what are now known as the “classical scholia.” These scholia were composed by Newton in the Principia in which these “classical scholia” would be additions to Propositions IV through IX of Book III. This contemplated second edition was never published. In these “classical scholia,” Newton tries to show that important elements of his natural philosophy — atomism, gravity, the inverse square law, and the cause of gravity by a “certain infinite spirit,” an “anima mundi,” which “pervades all space into infinity, and contains and vivifies the entire world” — were known by ancient philosophers. On these scholia, see the original groundbreaking article by J. E. McGuire and P. M. Rattansi, “Newton and the `Pipes of Pan’,” in Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 21.2 (Dec. 1966): pp. 108–143. McGuire and Rattansi’s study must now be examined in the light of Paolo Casini’s more recent essay entitled “Newton: The Classical Scholia,” History of Science 22 (1984): 1–57.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    About 300 B.C., Euhemerus of Messene wrote The Sacred History in which he theorized that the traditional deities were merely earthly rulers deified and worshipped by their subjects. See Jean Seznec The Survival of the Pagan Gods: The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art,trans.Barbara F. Sessions (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1953), pp. 11–36.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Newton, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (London, 1728), pp. 225–226. Newton’s basic project in this massive work is to apply a version of what Whiston calls the “third way” to the chronological data of scripture and “to make Chronology suit with the course of Nature, with Astronomy, with Sacred History, with Herodotus… and with itself.” Cited in Derek Gjertsen, The Newton Handbook ( London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1986 ), p. 565.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Westfall, “Newton’s Theologiae Gentilis” pp. 19–21. Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ibid., p. 20.Google Scholar
  30. Ibid., pp. 23–24. Cf. Frank E. Manuel Isaac Newton Historian (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963), p. 104; and Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), pp. 103–125. Google Scholar
  31. Westfall, “Newton’s Theologiae Gentilis” pp. 18 and 22. In a recent article, Danton B. Sailor shows how Newton’s keen interest in both the rational religious knowledge of the gentiles of antiquity and its progressively idolatrous subversion through ancestor, hero, and kingly deification is influenced by Newton’s reading of his long-time Cambridge colleague, Ralph Cudworth. Sailor has carefully analyzed Newton’s notes on Cudworth’s True Intellectual System of the Universe (London, 1678) which are contained in four pages of folio holograph manuscript by Newton entitled “Out of Cudworth” and in the possession of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles. Newton is interested in Cudworth, therefore, in precisely the same way that he is interested in the works of Bochart, Marsham, and Vossius. See Danton B. Sailor, “Newton’s Debt to Cudworth,” Journal of the History of Ideas 49 (July-Sept. 1988): 511–518. Google Scholar
  32. Westfall, “Newton’s Theologiae Gentilis” p. 24. Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Whiston, “Introductory Discourse,” p. 95.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Westfall, “Newton’s Theologiae Gentilis,” p. 29. Brooks Richard Stoddard has also pointed out Westfall’s tendency to argue that Newton’s view of true religion is that it consists simply of the natural (i.e., purely rational) theological doctrines of simple acts of worship of God and righteousness towards others. And, in fact, Newton’s theological manuscripts do contain texts which support Westfall’s interpretation. “However,” notes Stoddard, “such a position overlooks many other texts.” Brooks Richard Stoddard, “The Relationships Between Natural Philosophy, Natural Theology and Revealed Religion in the Thought of Newton and Their Historiographic Relevance,” Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1976, pp. 94–95.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Ibid., pp. 22–23.Google Scholar
  36. 36. Tindal Christianity as Old as the Creationp. 163. Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Ibid., p. 184.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
  39. 39.
    Newton Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John. In Two Parts (London, 1733), p. 6. Newton believes that “The Books of Moses Joshuaand Judges, contain one continued history down from the Creation to the death of Sampson,” he also believes that “all these books have been composed out of the writings of Moses, Joshua, and other records, by one and the same hand, after the beginning of the reign of Saul, and before the eighth year of David.” Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Burnet to Newton, 13 January 1680/1, in The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, vol. 2, 1676–1687, ed. H. W. Turnbull ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966 ), p. 324.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Ibid., p. 332Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Ibid., p. 331Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Ibid., p. 334Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Ibid., p. 332Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Tindal, Christianity as Old as the Creation,p. 247. Here Tindal writes that: “Among the numerous Answerers of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion,Mr. Chandler is deservedly reckon’d to stand in the foremost Rank; and this judicious Divine says, that `Natural Religion is the only Foundation, upon which Revelation can be supported and which must be understood, before any Man is capable of judging either of the Nature and Evidence of Christianity’.” Tindal here gives the following source for this text: “Chandler’s Dedic. to Serm. preach’d in the Old Jury,p. 8.” Tindal is referring here to the “judicious Divine,” Edward Chandler, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Whiston, “Introductory Discourse,” p. 95.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Newton, Yahuda MS 41. ff. 9–10. Cited by Westfall, “Newton’s Theologiae Gentilis,” p. 25.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
  49. 49.
    Newton is adamantly cautious in his treatment of prophecies. One must never attempt to predict exactly how, where, and when God will fulfill his prophetic promises. Such an ability exceeds our rational power. God gives us such prophecies not to gratify human curiosity but so “that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the Event, and his own Providence, not the Interpreters be manifested thereby to the world.” (Newton, Observations upon the Prophecies,p. 251.) In contrast to Newton’s explicit voluntarism, Tindal, again, argues that, because of the rational nature of man, God cannot “reveal” to him any truth save by “shewing its Agreement with those self-evident Notions, which are the Facts by which we are to judge of everything, even the Being of a God and natural religion” (Tindal, Christianity as Old as the Creation,p. 184.) Tindal here echoes Ralph Cudworth who adopts this position to argue against the voluntarism of Descartes. In Cudworth’s view, God is unable to do anything repugnant to human reason and urges that “Conception and knowledge are hereby made to be the Measure of all Power; even Omnipotence” [Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe (London, 1678), p. 719.3 Newton, by contrast to both Cudworth and Tindal, adopts a voluntarism akin to that of Descartes and emphasizes God’s omnipotence over the constraints of human rationality. Similarly, Whiston writes that “We depend on God Almighty as to what we know,as well as what we have,or what we are.” (Whiston, “Introductory Discourse,” p. 77.) See Richard H. Popkin’s commentary on this passage in Cudworth in “The Crisis of Polytheism and the Answers of Vossius, Cudworth, and Newton,” in James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin, Essays on the Context, Nature, and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), pp. 9–25. Of course, in his agreement with Tindal on the point of the constraints on God’s power by the limits of human understanding, Cudworth sounds more like a deist than Newton who adamantly maintains the totality of God’s power and dominion over creation.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    The absolute nature of God’s dominion over creation makes human knowledge of nature and nature’s laws necessarily contingent upon God’s power and will to change the ordinary course of events. Thus, Newton writes in Rule IV that: “In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions inferred by general induction from phenomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined, till such time as other phenomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exception.” See Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,2:400. See also James E. Force, “Newton’s God of Dominion,” in Essays on the Context, Nature, and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology,esp. pp. 83–90.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion,pp. 239–240. In his “Newton’s Theologise Gentilis,” p. 30, Westfall cites this text as evidence that Newton’s “deism” goes well beyond the slightly more orthodox theology of his disciple, Samuel Clarke. For the reasons which I give, I take this text to represent Newton’s own position and to be the reason why he utilizes the evidence of scripture in contrast to a deist such as Tindal whose chief desire is simply to proscribe the use of scripture totally. Newton shares with Clarke an acute awareness of the cyclical rise and fall of purely rational religions. They also share the same view about the nature of Jesus Christ. See Note 53.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Westfall, “Newton’s Theologiae Gentilis,” p. 29.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Newton, Yahuda MS 15, Ch. 2, ff. 96–97. Cited in David Castillejo, The Expanding force in Newton’s Cosmos as Shown in his Unpublished Papers (Madrid: Ediciones de Arte y Bibliofilia, 1981), p. 77. Clarke agrees exactly with Newton about how the Supreme Father has delegated a portion of his own dominion to Jesus. Clarke writes that: The reason why the Scripture, though it stiles the Father God, and also stiles the Son God, yet at the same time always declares there is but One God; is because in the Monarchy of the Universe, there is but One Authority,original in the Father,derivative in the Son: The Power of the Son being, not Another Power opposite to That of the Father,nor Another Power coordinate to That of the Father, communicated to,manifested in,and exercised by the Son. [Samuel Clarke, The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity (London, 1712), 323 pp.]Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Richard H. Popkin, “Newton as a Bible Scholar,” in Essays on the Context, Nature, and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), p. 117, n. 66.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Samuel Chandler, Reflections on the conduct of the Modern Deists, In their late Writings against Christianity: Occasioned Chiefly By Two Books, Entitled, A Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons, c. And the Scheme of Literal Prophecy considered. With a Preface containing some Remarks on Dr. Rogers’s Preface to his Eight Sermons (London, 1727), pp. 73–74. Most significantly, the dissenter Samuel Chandler observes how untenable is Collins’ scoffing argument against the very possibility of a true text of the Bible solely because Whiston is in opposition “to the generality of Christians” and differs with them about whether the Apostolical Constitutions are divinely inspired and, therefore, possess the same “authority” as the other books of the New Testament. (p. 71) The mere fact that Christians disagree with one another is not a sufficient argument for setting the pursuit of the true text aside as impossible a priori. Chandler asks, “Is this the impartial debate, the fair reasoning, that our adversaries, these strenuous asserters of liberty, plead for?” (p. 74)Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Chambers, Cyclopaedia,s. v. “Deists.” Cf. Samuel Johnson’s more succinct definition: “The opinion of those that only acknowledge one God, without the reception of any revealed religion.” Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language,2 vols. (London, 1755), vol 1, s. v. “DEISM.”Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Gjertsen, The Newton Handbook,pp. 155–156.Google Scholar

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  • James E. Force

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