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This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.

Isaac Newton (1713)

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Groundbreaking discoveries concerning calculus, gravitation and optics for which Newton is now venerated constitute just one dimension of his work as understood in eighteenth-century Cambridge. The maelstrom of hypotheses relating to God, Universe, and State to be found in David Hughes’s carefully ordered pamphlets tell a different story. A theme common to many is the unified philosophy forged by Newton. In many ways rooted in long established ideas, Newton’s mathematically ordered cosmos represented just one strand in his more ambitious plan to comprehend Creation and Man’s place in it. Alongside mathematics, Newton’s learning encompassed biblical chronology (to reveal the word of God), and alchemy (to locate the operating spirit of nature). Underlying Newton’s search for truth was a conviction that the hand of God was unmistakably evident in the makeup of the universe. Newton’s thinly veiled and heretical theology that held no place for the Son of God as prescribed in Church doctrine was informed by a belief that true Christianity had been corrupted in the fourth century. In the writings of his Cambridge followers such as Samuel Clarke and William Whiston, Newton’s conception of the biggest issues conceivable to man had seemingly limitless implications. As Cambridge pamphlet culture shows, an inseparable component of their support for rational religion and the post-revolutionary order was advocacy of Newton’s natural philosophy as a new, essential part of the Cambridge curriculum. In a university populated by clergy and devoted to the study of Scripture it was perhaps inevitable that the progress of science would become inextricably bound up with God.

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