DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q075-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

7. Studies in alchemy and theology

Newton’s unpublished manuscripts contain voluminous studies on alchemy, theology, prophecy and Biblical chronology. His alchemical work led to a number of elaborate chemical experiments carried out from the mid-1670s until 1693. His notes from these efforts display his great skill as an experimenter, but they appear to include nothing that would have altered the course of chemistry had they become public at the time (see Alchemy).

He first became preoccupied with theology in the early 1670s, probably in response to the requirement that he accept ordination to retain his Trinity fellowship. (He was granted a dispensation in 1675.) By 1673 he had rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and concluded that Christianity had become a false religion through a corruption of the Scriptures in the fourth and fifth centuries. He returned to these studies in subsequent decades, especially in the last years of his life. During his lifetime, however, he conveyed his radical views to only a few. They became widely known only when Observations upon the Prophecies was published in 1733.

Recent investigations of the alchemical and theological writings suggest that Newton’s hope in natural philosophy was to look through nature to see God, that it was to be part of a larger investigation that would give meaning to life. His engagement with these larger issues may have helped him to free himself from the narrower restraints of the mechanical philosophy.

Citing this article:
Harper, William L. et al. Studies in alchemy and theology. Newton, Isaac (1642–1727), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q075-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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