Fazal Masood Malik, Canada
Deus ex operibus cognoscitur. – Isaac Newton
The comet that lit the night sky in the winter of 1664 held the amazement of Isaac Newton for as many nights as it brightened the sky. It was not the first time that the young twenty-two-year-old Newton had forgotten his meal – or his sleep, for that matter.
As a boy growing up in the village of Woolsthorpe in England, Newton was often taken by the functions of mechanical instruments. At an age when children are concerned with playtime, Isaac Newton was often found building sundials, windmills, and even water clocks.
With his mind always returning to the motion of the celestial bodies, a young Isaac would spend an immense amount of time tracing the movement of the stars, drawing them in the yard of his house and marking their location using fixed pins. Those markings became known as ‘Isaac’s dial’ in his village and were used for timekeeping purposes.
In an age when people of science generally ridicule belief in God, it is refreshing to see that Isaac Newton believed in one God.,  A mathematician extraordinaire and a scientist in search of the Creator, he saw God through His work and saw uniformity, one single entity in charge of the universe and everything in it. Starting from his early years to his last, Newton studied the Bible regularly and wrote extensively on theology. However, the time was not conducive to his declaring his conviction in One God and rejecting the Trinity openly. Progressively, he mentioned his belief in God through his science; first in his Principia, then more so in the Opticks. While discussing the excellence of Ayat Al Qursi, His Holiness Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV(rh), the fourth worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, remarked that ‘some scientists move away from God…However Newton not only journeyed towards the light [of truth], but found it; hence if a scientist can be called WaliUllah [a friend of Allah], the honour would belong to Newton.’ 
Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said “Let Newton be” and all was light’,’ – Alexander Pope
Newton read the Bible like a thirsty drifter longs for water. He examined every verse, and questioned every word. It was when he started applying logic to the concept of Trinity that he was left with no choice but to ‘reject this dogma.’ His firm belief was that there is ‘one Mediator between God & Man the Man Christ Jesus.’
He considered divinity with great curiosity, examining nature, God and questioning the immortality of the soul. An extraordinary work published after his death was his notebook from his undergraduate years (1661-1665) at Cambridge, titled Quaestiones quaedam Philosophicae (Certain Philosophical Questions). This notebook contains notes on items that interested Newton, such as God, time, motion and gravity. There are forty-five headings in the notebook with notes and thoughts against many.
‘Were men & beasts &c [etc.] made by fortuitous jumblings of attomes there would be many parts uselesse in them here a lumpe of flesh there a member too much some kinds of beasts might have had but one eye some more than two & the two eyes [sic]’ reasoned Newton under the title ‘Of God’ in Quaestiones quaedam Philosophiae.
An observation supporting his light and color is recorded in the same book as follows:
‘A window lying open to ye south will bee tincted wth ye color of yc curtane. A paper written on put twixt ye eye & ye light ye letters towards ye light looke dim ye light being refracted in ye paper after its’ past ye inke: but ye letters on this side looke perfect ye light comeing streight to ye eye wthout any refraction.[sic]’
Most questions formed in the early 1660s – around the time he was twenty– became the basis of his scientific and mathematical work that extended for the rest of his life. In 1687, Newton published his magnum opus, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), ushering in a new era of physics. During the two decades that preceded Principia, Newton was busy understanding the planetary system and how gravity works equally on all matter. There were occasions when he would divert his attention to optics, even lecturing on many occasions. However, the focus of his research would soon return to gravity.
The Principia started with an essay on discovering nature and getting to the truth, a value Newton pursued all his life; this was followed by the three sections, each a small book on its own. The book I and II (Of the motion of bodies) dealt with mechanics, starting with definitions and axioms of concepts like force, momentum, and mass and then pronounced the three laws of motion. In Book III of Principia, titled On the system of the world, Newton applied his theory of orbital dynamics developed in two earlier books, to the motion of celestial bodies in order to provide evidence for the universal law of gravitation.
The Principia was well received by mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers. However, as Newton lived in the pre-Newtonian era, his methods were questioned, and some controversies arose, a more vocal controversy being with the German mathematician Leibniz (1646-1716) over the invention of calculus, or method of fluxions as Newton called it. Barring these, the depth of his research presented in Principia could not be ignored, and his fame spread throughout the European continent.
A century after its publication, the work of Isaac Newton was well established and recognized in Europe. A French mathematician, Pierre Simone Laplace (1749-1827) wrote an astounding statement that if someone could calculate at any instant the speeds and positions of all the particles in the universe and all of the forces acting on all of those particles, they would be able to use Newton’s laws (as presented in the Principia) to predict the entire history and future of the universe.
‘God placed the Planets at different distances from the Sun, so that they would receive heat from the Sun according to the proportion
of their densities.’
It would not be an exaggeration to say that from the time of its publication in the 17th century, up until the time of Einstein, Principia remained the principal document in the field of physics as it provided all the tools necessary to understand everything about the physical world. Ocean tides, the paths of planets and comets, the flight of arrows and planes, the motion of billiard balls, spinning tops, everything seemed understandable in terms of Newton’s laws.
‘ … This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.’
A study of the Principia reveals that at the core, Newton was simply trying to understand how God works. In the final book of the series (Book III of Principia), in the 1st edition (1687), he wrote: 
‘God placed the Planets at different distances from the Sun, so that they would receive heat from the Sun according to the proportion of their densities.’
In subsequent editions of the Principia (1713 & 1726), Newton removed the reference to God; however, he added an entirely new section titled General Scholium (general explanatory essay), as an extended conclusion. Throughout Principia, every experiment is concluded with a scholium, a short essay giving the philosophical implications of the mathematical or physical principle just demonstrated. However, Newton felt it necessary to add the explanatory essay right at the end as it gave an insight into the nature of religion and science according to Newton. It acted as a mirror to Newton, showing that the natural world is a work of God, and understanding it can give insight into the nature of God himself. Discussing the magnificence of our solar system, Newton discusses the concept of One God. It is refreshing to see how Newton truly saw God through His work. To this author, reading the General Scholium was a true reflection of the Qur’anic injunction, ‘No incongruity canst thou see in the creation of the Gracious God.’ He writes:
” … This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. And if the fixed Stars are the centers of other like systems, these being form’d by the likewise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially, since the light of the fixed Stars is of the same nature with the light of the Sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems. And lest the systems of the fixed Stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those Systems at immense distances one from another. ”
In this author’s opinion, the third paragraph of the General Scholium is the penultimate paragraph. Here, discussing the attributes of God he writes:
“ … And from his true dominion, it follows, that the true God is a Living, Intelligent and Powerful Being; and from his other perfections, that he is Supreme or most Perfect. He is Eternal and Infinite, Omnipotent and Omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from Eternity to Eternity; his presence from Infinity to Infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done.
This discussion on God does not end with the General Scholium of Principia Mathematica. In his second most important scientific work, Opticks, he discusses the creation of matter by God. After his demise, one of the documents found among his papers listed four principles of philosophy. Researchers have concluded that these four principles were intended as a preface for the Opticks, published in 1704. The first principle, a full paragraph in length, is devoted to ‘the being of a God or Spirit Infinite, Eternal, Omniscient, Omnipotent’.
In examining just the three pieces discussed in this paper, each representing a different time period of his life, it would be impossible for a person to ignore his deeply rooted belief in the Creator, who is One and has no partner. Certain Philosophical Questions were notes made by a young Isaac Newton in his early twenties, while a student at Cambridge University in the 1660s. The first edition of Principia Mathematica, his masterwork, appeared in 1684 and Opticks was published in 1704. With each revision of his published scientific work, the strength of his belief increased.
In light of the discussion above, it becomes imperative for an inquisitive person to question why Newton’s theological papers were never published during his lifetime. After all, it was evident to those around him that his knowledge of God and understanding of faith was deeper and more profound than theirs. Dr. Thomas Tenison (Archbishop of Canterbury, B:1636 – D:1715) ‘… importuned him to take any preferment that fellow said why will not you? – you know more then all of us put together – Why then said S(r) I, I shall be able to do you the more service by not being in orders.’
In order to understand some of the reasons why Newton might have opted to observe secrecy regarding his theological belief, we need to understand the political and religious landscape of the time; starting from the time of King James I of England, who reigned from 1603 to 1625. James I commissioned the 1611 King James Bible in English. This was a marvelous feat by any measure, as the Vatican had opposed any such attempts for centuries, mostly awarding the people responsible with death. After the demise of King James I, his son Charles I ruled England till the time of his behead- ing in January of 1649. This was followed by the kingship of the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell who initiated a ‘rule of saints’. On Cromwell’s death in 1660, the military protectorate collapsed; Charles II, son of the beheaded king, returned, and the Anglican establishment was restored. However, conflicts about religious freedom and royal power, going back to the Elizabethan settlement of the previous century, were not resolved but only intensified during the next few decades. Questioning the Bible, let alone the concept of Trinity, was considered a grave sin and punishable by death.
Isaac Newton was a very private person. It seems likely that he did not want to reveal much of his deeper theological beliefs to anyone who might have scrutinized and criticized the mathematics and science of his published work, challenging his esteemed academic status. In order to understand this statement, it becomes imperative to understand the person of Newton.
Sir Isaac Newton had very humble beginnings. He was born on Christmas day (25 December 1642) the year of Galileo’s death, three months after the demise of his father. His mother remarried three years later and moved to live with her new husband. Widowed again when Newton was 15 years of age, she encouraged a young Newton to look after the farm and the family business, which he failed to do. Subsequently, he was enrolled at the King’s College in Grantham where he learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Considered a top pupil, the headmaster encouraged him to prepare for university, which he successfully did. He was admitted to Trinity College in Cambridge and graduated in 1665. Shortly thereafter, he was offered the fellowship in 1667., In 1669 he was elected Lucasian professor, a position held by supremely capable theoretical mathematicians, and soon after admitted to the Royal Society for his work on the telescope.
In 1687, he published the first edition of his magnum opus, Principia Mathematica. As this book circled the scientific community, Newton gained respect and awe as an esteemed mathematician and philosopher on the European continent. However, it did not contribute much towards his financial status in England. Towards the last decade of the 17th century, his colleagues were receiving high offices in the Church or appointments with the state, while Newton was left to live on the meager wage of a professor, a situation that displeased many in England. This all changed when, due to the efforts of Charles Montague, Newton was appointed as the warden of the Royal Mint. Newton was held in high regard and cherished in the court for his academic achievements. Being the warden of the Royal Mint put him in the perfect place to handle a significant monetary problem that the kingdom was facing: the recoinage of currency.
The immensity of this project and the diligence required to complete this mammoth task demands that some explanation be given highlighting the contribution and role of Newton towards its successful completion.
The British coinage used towards the end of the 17th century had been in use since the Elizabethan era of the previous century. Over the course of that time, it had been counterfeited and clipped in order to devalue it. Moreover, the value of the silver used in the coins earned more overseas than it did in England, encouraging the melting of the silver and its sale in Denmark. Many countermeasures had been attempted to no avail. As the warden of the Royal Mint, Isaac Newton was asked to help. Armed with his knowledge of mathematics and chemistry, and a dedication to success bar none, Newton embarked on the mission to resolve a century-old problem. Within three years, notable accomplishments were made, including the conviction of many counterfeiters. For his role in the recoinage of currency, he was awarded the Mastership of the Mint. Over the thirty- one year that Newton presided over the Royal Mint, he made immense contributions towards the currency theory. He was also asked to administer the merging of the economy for the newly formed United Kingdom, as Scotland became part of England.
The more he learned of science, the more he became aware of God – an Eternal and an Everlasting God.
Soon after this esteemed appointment at the Royal Mint, he was elected as the President of the Royal Society of London in 1703: a position he was reelected to each year till his death 25 years later. Perhaps the pinnacle moment of his life was when Queen Anne bestowed the honor of knighthood upon him at the University of Cambridge on April 16th, 1705.
The scientific career of this genius did not end here. He published Opticks in 1703, followed by two more revisions which included queries, numbering 31 by the third edition. Major revisions were done to Principia Mathematica, and two more editions were published during his lifetime.
After his demise in 1742, he was interred at Westminster Abbey. At his deathbed, he did not ask the Church for his final rites. ‘It may be said his whole life was a preparation for another state,’ expressed John Conduitt, who succeeded him as the Master of the Royal Mint. Newton’s funeral was a very public event, and he was ‘buried like a king’.
Once his estate was settled, volumes of unpublished work were found by his estate executor. Over time, some of the material was published for the consumption of general public. This material is ripe with evidence of his theological interests dating back to the early 1670s. His commentary on the Book of Revelation reveals the maturity of thought and indication that he had studied and written on theological matters before.
A series of other important theological manuscripts date to the late 1680s and early 1690s. These include his Theological Notebook (c. 1684– 1690); the Theologiae Gentilis Origines Philosophicae (1680s through early 1690s); studies on the Jerusalem Temple (late 1680s to early 1690s); the Two notable corruptions (1689–1690); the Classical Scholia (early 1690s); the Paradoxical Questions concern- ing the morals & Actions of Athanasius and his followers (early 1690s); Tempus et locus (early 1690s); and a detailed 105-page manuscript listing variant readings of the Apocalypse (1693).
No discussion on Newton can be complete without the anecdote of the falling apple. The general ‘legend’ is that Newton was hit on the head by an apple as he sat pondering underneath it. This incident turned his attention towards gravity. The reality is different, as Newton explained to William Stukeley, a fellow member of the Royal Society. Stukely writes:
‘[A]fter dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden, & drank thea under the shade of some appletrees, only he, & myself. Amidst other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. “Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,” thought he to himself: occasioned by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood: “Why should it not go sideways, or upwards, but constantly to the earth’s centre?”’
There are some who hold a contrary view and argue that the entire story of the apple is just a legend.,  From a personal perspective, I find the thinking of His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad(ra), the second worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, more plausible, where he mentions that ‘the falling apple … made him wonder why is it that the apple always falls straight to the ground and never at an angle’.
Having learned of the phenomenal accomplishments of this astounding person, I wondered, how did Newton perceive himself? The answer is refreshing in this age of atheism, as it demonstrates the modesty that arose from the depth of knowledge possessed by Sir Isaac Newton:
‘I know not what I may seem to the world, but as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’
An amazingly modest view by one of the greatest minds that inspired poets, philosophers, and scientists for hundreds of years. The more he learned of science, the more he became aware of God – an Eternal and an Everlasting God. Perhaps the most befitting insight into the aforementioned viewpoint comes by way of His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(rh):
‘because God had manifested Himself to Newton, his view of self diminished… he declared and proclaimed loudly (a teaching of the Holy Qur’an) that “they encompass nothing of His knowledge except what He pleases.”’
Sir Isaac Newton, mathematician, scientist and theologian, was merely a student who spent his life searching for God. In the course of doing so, he brought to us calculus, the laws of motion and a deep understanding of gravity. He never wavered from his belief in an Omnipotent God that always has been and always will be. He understood his place in the universe and did not doubt for a second that his discoveries were merely child’s play, in the grand scheme of things. What is of interest is that despite the knowledge he imparted to us, he left a challenge for posterity to solve: What is the cause of gravity?
About the Author:
Fazal Masood Malik is a keen student of Islamic Values in the contemporary society. He has traveled extensively in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies delivering presentations on relevance of Islam in every day living. His biography of the Promised Messiahas is currently under publication and he is co-authoring a biography of Hazrat Musleh Maudra. His articles have appeared in Al-Hakam and the Muslim Sunrise, among other Ahmadiyya publications. Fazal has also edited various publications, including a book on extraordinary lives of Ahmadi Muslims, “Kindly Heretics.” He lives on the Eastern shores of Canada in the Province of Prince Edward Island with his wife and two sons.