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.