Daily Archives: July 5, 2011

Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica”: “God is not a mathematical diagram”

The BBC’s documentary, “Isaac Newton: The Dark Heretic,” on Newton’s secret study of alchemy and his speculations on God and the Bible

Sir Isaac Newton published his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica on this date in 1687. The occasion contributes nicely to our ongoing thread, Frye on God.

Blake and Newton in “The Drunken Boat”:

Blake’s view, in short, is that the universe of modern astronomy, as revealed in Newton, exhibits only a blind, mechanical, sub-human order, not the personal presence of a deity. Newton himself tended to think of God still as “up there”; but what was up there, according to Blake, is only a set of interlocking geometrical diagrams, and God, Blake says, is not a mathematical diagram. Newtonism leads to what for Blake are intellectual errors, such as a sense of the superiority of abstractions to actual things and the notion that the real world is a measurable but invisible world of primary qualities. But Blake’s main point is that admiring the mechanisms of the sky leads to establishing human life in mechanical patterns too. In other words, Blake’s myth of Urizen is a fuller and more sophisticated version of the myth of Frankenstein. (CW 17, 79)

Continue reading