In the comments to “Pond” post, my opponents were ready to believe that Newton was religious but, in their opinion, there was no evidence that he could be interested in astrology, and his apparent interest in alchemy was nothing but a minor oddity of the genius of the modern science.
Here I present a series of quotes from a remarkable book by Dr Charles Webster “From Paracelsus to Newton. Magic and the making of modern science” (Cambridge University Press, 1982). The author is a historian at the University of Oxford, and the book is the Eddington Memorial Lectures given in 1980.
The main idea of the book is that there is a firm link between occultist Paracelsus (1493-1541) and physicist Newton (1643-1727), because both of them were natural philosophers in their perception of life and science, and although this influence on Newton is generally denied by some modern studies, “it is unfortunate for any proponent of this line that figures of outstanding importance, including Newton himself, turn out to display a lively interest in the occult”.
“The literature of alchemy, hermetism and Paracelsian natural philosophy was […] required reading among the serious scholars of Newton’s generation”, because there existed “the self-evident kinship between hermetic, alchemical and scriptural sources”.
“Somewhat inconveniently for standard interpretations of the Scientific Revolution, the decades following the foundation of the Royal Society witness an outburst of judicial astrology, the continuing flourishing of Paracelsian medicine, undiminishing appeal of alchemy and hermetism, and the full fruition of Cambridge Platonism”.
“The changes in fortune of judicial astrology should not attract attention away from the continuing appeal of such ideas as divine plentitude, metaphysical hierarchies, or the existence of fundamental harmonies and correspondences between celestial and terrestrial world exercised through the intervention of a variety of spiritual agencies and intelligences. This animistic view of nature provided the intellectual underpinning for magic […] Magic retained its appeal as a useful spiritual exercise, and it was also recognised as of value for medicine and relevant to scientific explanation. It is therefore important not to assume that the decline of popular operative magic entailed the wholesale abandonment of the magical worldview”.
F.Manuel, “The religion of Isaac Newton” (Oxford, 1974): “The more Newton’s theological and alchemical, chronological and mythological work is examined as a whole corpus, set by the side of his science, the more apparent it becomes that in his moments of grandeur he saw himself as the last of the interpreters of God’s Will in action, living on the eve of the fulfilment of times”.
As John Keynes beautifully formulated in his work “Newton, the Man”, “He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago. Isaac Newton, a posthumous child bom with no father on Christmas Day, 1642, was the last wonderchild to whom the Magi could do sincere and appropriate homage.”