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Dec 26 2012

In Honor of Isaac Newton’s Birthday — A Debunking of a David Barton Lie About Him

OK, I’m actually a day late … Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day … but I didn’t get around to posting this yesterday.

In his book The Jefferson Lies, pseudo-historian David Barton claims that the reason Thomas Jefferson considered Isaac Newton to have been one of the three greatest men who ever lived was not because of Newton’s work in the fields of science and mathematics, but because of Newton’s theological writings.

As I wrote in a previous post, Barton uses a series of lies, misquotes, and anachronisms to support his ridiculous claim that Jefferson rejected all of the secular Enlightenment writers, and only embraced the religious ones. In that post, I used an excerpt from my book, Debunking David Barton’s Jefferson Lies: #2 – Jefferson Founded a Secular University, to show how Barton rises to a whole new level of misquoting Jefferson to make it appear that Jefferson rejected the secularism of writers like David Hume and Abbé Raynal. The following excerpt from my book picks up where that post left off (so if you didn’t read my previous post, you might want to read that first).
 

With his two examples of Hume and Raynal – both of which are complete misrepresentations of what Jefferson wrote – Barton now proceeds as if he has proved that Jefferson was not influenced by any secular Enlightenment writers:

So if secular Enlightenment writers were not a primary force in shaping Jefferson’s thinking, then who was? Jefferson himself answered that question, declaring that “Bacon, Newton and Locke… [are] my Trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced.”

Barton then proceeds to explain that the reason Jefferson admired and was influenced so much by Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke was because of their theological writings. …

Barton begins by pointing out that Bacon, Newton, and Locke all wrote theological works. This is true. They all did. But this doesn’t mean that it was their theological works that made Jefferson consider them the three greatest men who ever lived.

The reason given by Jefferson for his choice of Bacon, Newton, and Locke as the three greatest men who ever lived was that they had “laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences,”(1) not that they were his favorite theologians. Barton is just once again making something all about religion that wasn’t all about religion.

First of all, it is impossible for Jefferson to have even read Newton’s theological writings because almost none of them had been published at the time that Jefferson was alive. There was one book on church history, and one on the Apocalypse, but the rest of Newton’s “1.3 million words on Biblical subjects” that Barton writes about didn’t come to light until over a century after Jefferson’s death, when they were auctioned off in 1936 by someone who had inherited them. Barton very deliberately hides this inconvenient little fact by chopping it out of the article he quotes about Newton’s theological writings, replacing the words “Yet this vast legacy lay hidden from public view for two centuries until the auction of his nonscientific writings in 1936”(2) with an ellipsis.

The reason that Newton’s theological writings weren’t published at the same time that his scientific papers were published was that they were rejected by Cambridge University because of Newton’s heretical religious views. All that diligent studying of the Bible that Newton did had apparently turned him into a Unitarian, rejecting the Christian doctrine of the trinity and everything else that he considered irrational and superstitious (pretty much the same opinions that Jefferson later independently arrived at from his own study of the Bible).

 

So, no, Mr. Barton, you lying sack of Christian nationalist crap, Thomas Jefferson never even read Newton’s theological writings. Without a time machine, Jefferson obviously could not have read something that wasn’t even published until over a century after his death. Jefferson considered Newton great because he was a scientist, not a freakin’ theologian!

 

1. Thomas Jefferson to John Ttrumbull, February 15, 1789. Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 14, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958), 561.
2. Charles E. Hummel, “The Faith Behind the Famous: Isaac Newton,” ChristianHistory.net, April 1, 1991. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1991/issue30/3038.html.

 

 

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Argle Bargle

    As you point out, Newton was quite “unorthodox” in his religious beliefs. He kept his theological writing secret because he wanted to remain Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a job which then had specific religious qualifications which Newton would not have met if his religious views became publicly known.

    Incidentally, other holders of the Lucasian chair include Charles Babbage, P.A.M. Dirac and Stephen Hawking.

  2. 2
    trucreep

    You are my absolute favorite Ms. Rodda!!!

  3. 3
    slc1

    Actually, Newton was an Arian. Furthermore, as Mr. Nelson points out, he kept his theological musing secret because they were unorthodox. Actually, they would have been considered heresy by the authorities and would not only have cost him his job, but quite possibly his head.

  4. 4
    christophernicholas

    Great post! Buying your books.

  5. 5
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Barton very deliberately hides this inconvenient little fact by chopping it out of the article he quotes about Newton’s theological writings, replacing the words “Yet this vast legacy lay hidden from public view for two centuries until the auction of his nonscientific writings in 1936”(2) with an ellipsis.

    I never cease to be impressed by the sheer magnitude of Barton’s dishonesty. This can’t be a case of inadvertence; Barton knows that the facts don’t support his thesis, so he merely suppresses the inconvenient details. This from a man who thinks his religion is the key to morality.

  6. 6
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    “Without a time machine, Jefferson obviously could not have read something that wasn’t even published until over a century after his death. “

    Well, if Abe Lincoln could be a vampire hunter why not Isaac Newton time-traveller? (Joke)

    I eagerly await that movie!

    BTW. Newton was born on Xmas? Cool -something new I’ve learnt today, thanks Chris Rodda.

  7. 7
    richardelguru

    Sorry, a bit OT (but it’s your own fault for bringing this to mind :-) ).
    Bringing up Bacon was also rather interesting (he’s supposed by some to have started the Masons, so Barton surely shouldn’t want him to influence Jeff?) and to prove that Barton is a rank amateur at making things up:
    I have a 1930′s book The Alfred Dodd edition of “Shake-speare’s Sonnet Diary”. This, after starting with something like (from memory) “Francis Bacon was the greatest genius and one of the most loveable men the world has ever seen”, proves conclusively that he wrote all of Shakespeare, Marlow and (of course) Bacon (duh!) and was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth I!! All of this based on apparent (to Dodd at any rate) significant variations in weight of characters in the 1609 edition of the Sonnets. And if you’ve seen much C17 printing you’ll know how insane that idea is.

  8. 8
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Nice anachronism there. Even if it weren’t anachronistic, I can’t imagine Barton would be down with the actual Newton, for whom “heretical” and “unorthodox” barely begin to be to be accurately descriptive in terms of religious/mystical dreck.

  9. 9
    gfeltham

    Chris,

    As usual, you are spot on target. I followed up and read the link to the Christianity Today article (Chas E. Hummel, 1991) you included, which was Barton’s referenced source. Wow! It read like something prepared as a middle school report on the life of Newton. Pretty basic stuff on why Newton is important – 80% straight life story and why he is remembered as an important word figure in the realm of science. The remaining 20% that is devoted (?) to his ‘theology & faith’ is pretty simplistic, and if anything, raises more questions about his ‘Christianity’ than it answers. Not much meat on that bone for Barton, and yet he has somehow cobbled a few phrases to make it appear (at least to the Barton faithful) that Newton was a believer just like Barton.(and, as you note, Barton’s well used ellipsis device must be once again deployed to get even that little tidbit he does use) I got the sense that Hummel couldn’t say anything else about Newton’s religious thinking, lest he let the cat out of the bag; and then realizing that he didn’t have nearly enough text for a ‘serious’ essay on the topic, he fluffed it out with a bunch of other, non-theological information on Newton’s life.Voila! Newton’s Christian Faith affirmed!

    Just for grins, I went to Wikipedia to check out what they had to say about Newton’s religiosity. Pretty interesting article….WAY more information than provided by the Hummel piece…and in a column not much longer in length than the Christianity Today article. And very interesting as well, with scads of references to pursue further for the curious minded. But none of that is surprising at all. The world, and our history in it is such an amazing place to explore!

    Interested?…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton's_religious_views

  10. 10
    jamesgoswick

    Chris,

    You could possibly have reasons for disagreeing with David Barton; perhaps calling him a liar, but to equate Isaac Newton with the founding religion of the United States, i.e. “Christian Nationalist …” is a non sequitur.

  11. 11
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    jamesgoswick

    Uh, what?

  12. 12
    kangxi

    Excellent article. I now go away to laugh heartily at David Barton. Again. What a dishonest maroon.

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