Maimonides, Stonehenge, and Newton’s Obsessions
by Rob Iliffe
Oxford University Press, 536 pp., $34.95
Philosophers and theologians during the age of the scientific revolution commonly believed that God reveals himself through both the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. Both books are coy with their secrets, but they can be coaxed out by the truly wise. These secrets can never really conflict because they were written by the same author. What many take as the conflict between religion and science during that age is a later invention of the Enlightenment. In the 16th and 17th centuries the issue was more about who had the authority to reconcile scripture with nature.
Although Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist of the age, spent as much time and intellectual energy on scripture as he did on nature, he kept this work a closely guarded secret. Indeed, Rob Iliffe begins his comprehensive new book on Newton’s religious thought, Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton, with an exchange of letters between Newton and Robert Hooke, the secretary of the Royal Society. Hooke asked Newton about his views on recent scientific work, and Newton replied that he had become disillusioned with such work and was concentrating on his “other studies.”