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An Introduction to Divine Action: Isaac Newton’s God

Newton would have subscribed to the following six ways in which God was active:

  1. the creation of matter and setting it in motion in accordance with certain prescribed laws;
  2. the formation of the present world system;
  3. its continued operation;
  4. its occasional reformation;
  5. occasional spiritual intrusions in human affairs through the agency of natural phenomena (e.g., comets and epidemics);
  6. miracles.Kaiser, C, Creation and the History of Science (London: Marshall Pickering, 1991) p193

It is especially interesting to note that Newton himself did not hold the mechanical view of the universe to which his system led.Brooke, JH, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) pp144-48Rather he thought of God directly mediating the force of gravity. Yet within a hundred years of the publication of Newton’s Principia in 1687 there were many who would have denied that any of these six aspects of divine action were operative. It was accepted that physical forces could act at a distance without mediation, divine or other. Hume had attacked the reasonableness of believing in miracle (see the question of miracle). Laplace had posited the complete determinism of a world governed by Newtonian physics. And the simplicity and elegance of Darwin’s evolutionary scheme did away with the notion that individual living creatures need be the direct products of divine design.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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