Isaac Newton’s Mechanistic Universe


Isaac Newton was an ancient scientist and a great mathematician who is credited for the invention of several scientific theories. Newton is credited for coming up with theories that explain the nature of the universe ranging from the theory on the force of gravity to the theory of inertia. The theories by Isaac Newton changed peoples’ view of the universe by shedding light on the understanding of the same. Newton is particularly remembered for the development of the mechanistic view of the universe. Initially, the universe was viewed as a static body controlled by a supernatural power. According to Isaac Newton, the universe was created and set into motion under the command of a powerful God, but He does not oversee its daily physical occurrences (Avegalio 112). Newton compared the universe to a large clock created by God. Also, he compared the universe to a huge machine made up of interacting components (Haught 261). Newton-based his ideas on the concept of inertia, which states that objects tend to remain at rest unless moved by other objects. Equally, “inertia also states that moving objects tend to remain in motion until interrupted or stopped by other objects, and the mechanistic view was later on extended to other fields such as economics, history, and political science” (Avegalio 114).

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Historical background and scientific foundations

Peoples’ understanding of nature was initially based on theological teachings (Davies 183). Theologians recognized the existence of a supernatural being that was responsible not only for the creation of the universe but also for the control of the daily physical phenomena. Different religions across the world, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, asserted that there existed a supernatural being, viz. God, who controlled the operations of the universe, and that the universe was static(Capra 156). Science emerged with different ideas on the universe with most scientists drawing a line between religion and the universe. One of the most prominent scientists of the days was Isaac Newton. Isaac Newton first published his scientific findings in 1687 under the name Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Newton was a Christian, and thus, he believed in the existence of God, who was responsible for the creation of the universe. However, Newton’s views about the universe contradicted that of his religion since he developed a scientific school of thought that did not recognize the role of God in influencing the universe (Nakayama 80). Consequently, the different religions of the time, which held that God created the universe, did not welcome the idea by Isaac Newton, who attempted to detach God from the daily operations of the universe. Newton shed light on the scientific nature of the universe, and his approach continues to develop even to date.

Newton dwelled much on developing calculus in his attempt to explain the universe. Additionally, he focused on establishing the relationship between religion and science regarding the universe. He declined the predominant ideas of Christianity that God controls the day-to-day operations of the universe. Even though theologians initially opposed the new developments in science and termed them as ill-formed, Isaac Newton continued to gather more evidence on his scientific concepts (Davies 165). Newton’s ideas received a major boost when Locke supported them in his book, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which was published in 1689(Haught 261). The publication was influential, and it provided incentives for scientists and other philosophers to do additional research on the issue. Even after the death of Isaac Newton, modern scientists continue to add to his mechanistic theory, and they have currently declared religion and the universe as entirely different entities.

Overview of the Newtonian mechanistic view

Earlier on before the entry of Isaac Newton in science, there existed two contradicting theories regarding the nature of the universe, viz. the inductive method and the deductive method (Nakayama 77). The inductive theory had been developed under the watch of Francis Bacon while the deductive method had been devised courtesy of Rene Descartes (Davies 191). However, the two theories did not offer a uniform approach of the universe, and thus, they contradicted each other in several aspects. Isaac Newton harmonised the two and came up with a reconciled theory, which explained the universe in a better manner as compared to the earlier explanations. The mechanistic theory developed by Newton integrated mathematical techniques to gain extra evidence regarding the universe.

One major discovery that affected peoples’ perception regarding the universe is the law of gravity. The law of gravity states that a certain force tends to pull things towards the center of the earth (Capra 137). Newton maintained that the pull of gravity explains why the moon remains in its orbit. Newton also explained that the “force of universal gravitation is responsible for the attraction amongst different bodies that make up the universe” (Capra 137). The theory explains that a gravitation force binds bodies in the universe in pairs (Avegalio 117). The strength of the force depends on two major factors, viz. the distance between them and the mass of each body (Haught 265).

Newton’s mechanistic view of the universe is “an idea borrowed from the Greek atomism, and it has influenced not only modern science but also the western culture” (Nakayama 78). The theory, as developed by a Greek atomist, states that the universe is made up of atoms, which collide and interact with each other to create different phenomena. According to this view, “the world is likened to a large clock, which is created and set into motion by a powerful god” (Nakayama 78). Though the view recognizes the existence of a god who is attributed to creation, the theory has some kind of philosophical basis. Newton bases his argument on “the concept of inertia, which states that every static object remains in its motionless state until it is moved by another object” (Davies 186). The inertia concept equally states that objects in motion remain in that state unless impeded or interrupted by another object. In a recap, the concept of inertia emphasizes that no object can move or stop itself.

According to Newton, the universe would be well understood by comparing it to a complex machine made up of different dependent parts (Davies 186). Contrary to the earlier belief that the universe was controlled by a supernatural power, and thus it could not be engineered, Newton concluded that God only created the universe and set it into motion, but He has no control over the day-to-day physical phenomena (Avegalio 115).

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Application of mechanistic view to other fields

In contemporary times, Newton’s mechanistic view has extended to another phenomenon, such as history, politics, economics, and ethics (Nakayama 76). Its application in the fields mentioned above is essential since it establishes a line between them and religion. In the modern world and contemporary western culture, religion is no longer linked to such phenomena. The view has changed the traditional perception amongst people that politics, economics, and ethics are unchangeable (Haught 261). It has been recognized that the three aspects can successfully be manipulated under the influence of humans, thus paving the way for the concerned individuals to work towards making them even better.

The implication of the inertia concept to the universe

The application of the inertia concept in Newton’s mechanistic approach to the universe is quite evident (Capra 122). Newton argues that the universe is made up of bodies that are in the motion state. Given that no object can move or stop by itself, Newton argued that the motion results from the interaction of the objects in the universe. However, the theory raises questions on what caused-motion of the first object since according to the concepts of inertia, no object can move or stop by itself. Aristotle, who was a scientist of the day, attempted to provide a viable solution to the controversial question by explaining that the first object was set into motion by an “unmoved mover” whom he referred to as God (Davies 176). Newton adopted a similar explanation and fully agreed with Aristotle on the issue. However, Newton explained that God only set the first object in motion, but he did not control the day-to-day activities in the universe (Avegalio 112). Initially, it was believed that God supervised the day-to-day occurrences in the universe, but with the documentation of Newton’s mechanistic theory, people started viewing the universe from a different perspective. Newton drew a thick line between religion and the working of the universe by explaining the difference between the two. He pictured the world as a machine made up of different parts that could be manipulated to work effectively. His ideas were based on mathematical and empirical proof, and they were an extension of the Descartes’ theory of the universe.


Up to the 18th century, theologians believed that the universe was static and that God controlled its physical phenomena. However, in the mid-18th century, science introduced a different view of the universe. Theologians differed greatly with scientists who brought in the view that God did not control the universe and that the bodies making up the universe dictated the physical phenomena. Isaac Newton, who lived in the 16th and 17th century, is one of the ancient scientists remembered for their contributions in modern science. Most of his discoveries centered on the nature of the universe as he sought to find out why things behaved the way they did. His major discovery is seen in “the law of gravity that explains the uniform motion of planets around the sun” (Avegalio 116). In addition to making such a huge contribution to modern science, Newton is also credited for applying a mechanistic view to explain almost every physical phenomenon. Newton used mathematical approaches to explain every phenomenon, and thus, there is consistency in his ideas. According to Newton’s school of thought, the universe can best be understood by taking it as a machine made up of different objects.

Annotated biography

Avegalio, Papalii. “Reconciling modern knowledge with ancient wisdom.” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 28.2009 (2009): 112-118. Print.

This journal article analyzes both the ancient and modern western culture in an attempt to reconcile the two. The paper analyzes the two major discoveries by Isaac Newton, viz. the law of gravity and the concepts of inertia. The article breaks down the Newton’s mechanistic view and explains the role played by Isaac Newton in developing modern science.

Capra, Fritjof. The hidden connections: A science for sustainable living, New York: Anchor, 2004. Print.

This book compares both the traditional and modern view of the universe. It explains the conflict between scientists and religious leaders. In addition, it analyzes work by Isaac Newton towards increasing peoples’ knowledge on the universe based on mathematical and empirical formulae. The book particularly focuses on the mechanistic view of the universe by highlighting the science behind the operation of the universe.

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Davies, Paul. Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Natures Ability to Order Universe, New York: Templeton Foundation Press, 2004. Print.

In this book, Paul Davies explains how science has increased peoples’ knowledge regarding the operation of the universe. He explains works and scientific research carried out by different authors most notably Isaac Newton. The book outlines the challenges that both modern and ancient scientists faced as they attempted to present their scientific ideas in the backdrop of different religious beliefs.

Haught, John. “Robert Ulanowicz and the possibility of a theology of evolution.” Axiomathes 22.2 (2012): 261-268. Print.

This article describes the religious and scientific life of Isaac Newton. It presents the contribution that he made towards transforming the universe. It details the reader on the Newton’s mechanistic view of the universe by highlighting the major achievements by Newton.

Nakayama, Shigeru. “Galileo and Newton’s Problem of World Formation.” Japanese Studies in the History of Science 1.1 (1962): 76-82. Print.

This article analyzes the origin of modern science by paying special attention on the major contributions to modern science by major scientists. It gives details of the Newtonian mechanistic view as well as the traditional view of the universe.

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