Newton's Argument for Design

This silly argument?!!
« This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being…
This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont, to be called Lord God παντοκρατωρ or Universal Ruler. »
Isaac Newton: Principia

That’s not even an argument. It’s an assertion. Your naked credentialism isn’t an argument either.


Yes, that silly argument, though as Harshman points out, it’s less an argument than a bald and nonsensical claim. Are you under the impression that this particular quote from Newton’s work has been empirically substantiated? Hint: it hasn’t.


“I had no need of that hypothesis”.


If we are meant to take this claim seriously, simply because Newton said it, must we likewise take Newton’s views on alchemy seriously?


Yes, I am, for I see a strong kinship between Newton’s argument and the modern argument of the fine tuning of the universe.

Sorry, but it is an argument. Basically, the argument states that the universe is ruled by a set of laws and that a law-ruled universe required a universal ruler.
And I beg your pardon for my naked credentialism, but Newton is not alone here, as you can see below:
« Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. »
Albert Einstein

Are you at all implying from attaching this quote of Einstein’s, that like Newton, he believed that the laws of the universe required a personal universal ruler?

No, it is an assertion. Arguments present reasons that are supposed to compel conclusions.

Newton merely declares that X could only come from Y. He doesn’t say even a single thing that entails, not even weakly indicates why. It is therefore not an argument but merely an assertion.


Then it’s a bad argument because it conflates legal laws and natural laws, which aren’t the same thing.


Not a personal ruler, but still a ruler that he identifies as a spirit.
Note also that in the quote I referred to, Newton doesn’t speak of a personal ruler, only of a universal ruler. So I do think that Newton and Einstein are pretty much aligned here.

That demonstrates, at least, that you have no idea what empirical substantiation is.

Right. The naive “language tricks” argument where one uses the fact that “law” has different meanings in different contexts as a device for conflating those different meanings with one another. The problem, of course, is that verbal gimcrackery does not suffice to do things which only evidence can do.


I saw no mention of laws in the quote, so if that’s the argument, the quote doesn’t actually make it. But if that is indeed the argument, it’s certainly a silly one.

I refuse to grant my pardon, since you immediately repeat the offense. Why should we care if Newton and Einstein (if indeed he really did say that) made some claim?


I recall that when I was an undergraduate, it was common to argue that the existence of college-ruled notebooks required a college ruler. Yet none of us had ever met the college ruler, despite being at college, precisely the place one would expect to find Him. This led us to believe that the college ruler was transcendent – his work was everywhere and could be apprehended by the senses, and yet, He was nowhere to be found. QED, and BG (By Gum).

After a while, we realized that there were greater implications to this. After puzzling through a whole case of beer-bottle-cap liner rebuses and playing drunk Frisbee with a well-used Barry Manilow record, one guy said:

But none of the rest of us understood why on account of his dominion he’d be called Lord God Tavistock or whatever that was. One guy was familiar with Tavistock, having stayed at a Bed and Breakfast there while visiting Dartmoor. But he hadn’t seen any evidence of the College Ruler there. He did say something about avoiding the moor at night, when the powers of evil are most exalted, but we ignored that because we were pretty sure he accounted for about twelve beers out of that case.

Shockingly, when these facts were related to a professor in the Philosophy department, he completely refused us any sort of extra credit for having proven the existence of the College Ruler. He said we probably should have turned in our term papers on time instead of drinking all that beer and talking about Lord God Tavistock and whatnot. He may have been right.


We do not agree here. Whatever his orthodoxy, Newton wrote of a personal God. What else is an intelligent and powerful Being…Lord over all, in the context of 17th century Europe? Einstein is more difficult to pigeon hole, but his idea of God seemed more in line with a sense of wonderment at existence, and assigning personality to this could only serve to diminish.

Newton is much closer to Aristotle’s prime mover than he is to Einstein.


I don’t know Einstein’s thought well enough to do a three-way comparison, but Newton’s thought is so different from Aristotle’s on so many points that saying he is “much closer to Aristotle than to Einstein” doesn’t amount to much. It’s like saying that balloons are much closer to airplanes than they are to automobiles (presumably on the basis of the fact that the first two are aircraft and the latter is a land craft). The differences among all three types of craft are many, and on some key points the stronger similarity is between airplanes and automobiles.

Probably the comment was meant to be restricted to Newton’s thought on God, and not to anything else in Newton’s thought, but it is still dubious, as Newton’s thought about God is theistic, whereas Aristotle’s isn’t (as the term “theism” is normally used in theology and philosophy of religion, at least since the time of Mill). Aristotle’s God doesn’t do anything (in the typical sense of the word “do”, anyway), does not seem to have any personal dimension, and is certainly not the creator of the world, as is the case in all forms of theism.

Maybe Einstein’s God (his scattered statements are not very systematic, so it’s hard to be sure) is a pantheistic God. If so, it’s hard to say where Aristotle’s non-theistic God, who is an ultimate cause of motion, but not of being, and is not a Creator, would fit in between Einstein’s pantheistic and Newton’s theistic God. Which is closer to which? It would be hard to say.

I would be equally dubious about Giltil’s claim that Newton and Einstein are “pretty much aligned”, even if that remark is meant to apply only to Newton and Einstein’s thought on God. Newton is not as clear as one would like, but clear enough to place him as a theist (albeit a bit of an oddball one), whereas Einstein’s statements about God, while sometimes sounding superficially theistic, at other times sound pantheistic, and at other times agnostic. I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on what Einstein, in his heart of hearts, actually believed about God.

I would agree with Giltil to this extent, however: Einstein certainly seems less hostile to the idea of God, and even sometimes “God-friendly”, in comparison with a number of other celebrated modern scientists who have commented publicly on God or religion. He had the kind of mind that would not automatically reject notions such as fine tuning, but would consider them as serious proposals.
Einstein’s statements about order in the universe, mind, and God have a different “feel” from those of Krauss, Coyne, Dawkins, etc. They are less doctrinaire, and less laden with materialism and reductionism. In that sense Einstein still participates in the broad tradition of metaphysically open-minded physicists that includes Newton, Kepler, probably Galileo, and many others.

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You you don’t really know what Einstein would do. This glorification of deceased scientific or philosophical celebrities is pathetic, and so is the idea of trying to claim that they would have supported this or that position.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter what he would think about it, because we can think for ourselves. Nobody that I know of “automatically rejects” the concept of tine-tuning. Rather it has been considered and found wanting.

Of course, if you can speculate on what Einstein would do then so can I. I’m sure he could see straight through the vacuousness of the argument, as it simply presents an equally unlikely problem as the one it is proposing to solve.

This ridiculous veiled appeals to authority and popularity of long dead thinkers and celebrities that you insist on repeating at every opportunity is becoming ever more toe-curling cringe-worthy with each new utterance.

The subject of origins, if it is to be a complete and thorough study, requires an intellectual openness regarding a large number of notions, an openness which one finds in thinkers like Polanyi, Hoyle, Davies, Polkinghorne, Gould (at his best), Denton, Alfred Russel Wallace, Henderson, Bergson, Robert Russell, J. Scott Turner, Rope Kojonen, etc., but is hard to discern in Monod, Dawkins, Krauss, Stenger, Eugenie Scott, Barbara Forrest, Nick Matzke, and the typical atheist blogger on sites like this.

The glorious and respectable, intellectually open-minded and famously accomplished theist thinkers again trounces the closed-minded typically angry contemporary atheist bloggers. Just when will they give up?

Oh and, Eugenie Scott, Monod(who?), Victor Stenger, Barbara Forrest, and Nick Matzke of all people are supposed to be closed-minded atheists?

Hey, some times we even get hated leftist (but now diseased, so it’s okay) atheist scientists like Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov suddenly synthetically glorified when they can be employed to contrast with nasty, strident, angry, closed-minded contemporary atheist scientists:

50 years ago, atheist scientists like Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan were widely read, and widely liked , by American people, even people of religious leanings, because they weren’t nasty atheists. They were cheery, witty atheists, and they didn’t attack religion; they just set forth the science. Indeed, Sagan even put all kinds of quotations from great religious works in his edition of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Compare that with nowadays. Compare the tone of those writers with the tone of P.Z. Myers, Jeff Shallit, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, etc. These guys sound angry, militant.


Back in the glory days of Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan, the public mostly liked and trusted scientists; but in the era of Lawrence Krauss, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Mann and others, public respect for scientists has gone down. Scientists used to be perceived as people who would tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and who provided information only, never acting as advocates (except as advocates for scientific research, of course) for political or social agendas.

Oh and of course, glorious open-minded Fred Hoyle:

A convinced materialist and atheist is forbidden by his metaphysical/theological dogmas from considering with an open mind the possibility that design might be the “best explanation.” He must try to “explain away” all facts of nature which to a neutral person seem to hint strongly of design. (For a refreshing departure from this doctrinaire attitude, see Fred Hoyle, who though an atheist personally, was capable of objectivity on this subject, unlike Coyne, Krauss, Hawking, Stenger, Dawkins, Myers, etc.). Those of us who are freed from the intellectual tyranny of materialism and atheism are free to consider all options regarding origins, design as well as non-design ones.

ROFL. Look at that last sentence again:

Those of us who are freed from the intellectual tyranny of materialism and atheism are free to consider all options regarding origins, design as well as non-design ones.

Now that is the very essence of irony.


Precisely. Einstein married his cousin and was a repeat adulterer. He was as fallible as any of us, and his opinions on religion are no more meaningful than anyone else’s.


Yes, all very close-minded, though Matzke says he’s not an atheist. He seems to be an “agnostic atheist”, i.e., formally only agnostic but de facto an atheist, but regardless of what he is, he’s very close-minded. I’ve never seen him yield an inch on any point of substance in internet disputations. But then, that’s true of all the people you named – all very sure of themselves. (Remember, Matzke is the guy who ordered, received, read, and reviewed a 450-page book by Meyer within 36 hours of the time it became available for sale, and then savaged the book in an extremely unbalanced review which admitted nothing of value in the book. Clearly he intended to do a demolition job on it even before he had read it, and it’s questionable whether he could have read it properly, as opposed to skimming it, in such a brief window of time. That’s hardly an open-minded attitude. An open-minded person would chew on the thought of a book for a week and restrain himself from writing until his fury had calmed down, and an open-minded reviewer would find some good points even a weak book. Matzke was determined to destroy the book from the get-go, being at that point at the peak of his culture-war rage against anything to do with ID. A very unacademic and unscholarly attitude. But then, as we’ve already seen here many times, many people in the life sciences seem not to have a clue about what academic, scholarly objectivity requires. At least, many of those in the life sciences who post on sites like this.)

As for Asimov, Sagan, and Hoyle, they deserve to be praised above all the other atheists mentioned. They were all more naturally intellectually curious, and certainly classier as human beings, if their writing style is any indication (and in Sagan’s case I have seen him interviewed live on TV, so his oral style is also an indication) than the typical modern atheist culture warrior.

Marrying cousins is permitted in some cultures. Is that the height of depravity for you? As for “repeat adulterer”, that describes a good number of male US faculty in both the sciences and the arts, who frequently cheat on their wives with pretty grad students and even pretty undergrads. It’s got nothing to do with what we’re talking about. A man could be very open-minded intellectually but a rotter morally, and a man could be sexually puritan but still a bully and tyrant in intellectual matters. In fact, I knew some examples personally, faculty at my own school.

Besides that, you’re missing the point (which seems increasingly common). I did not say Einstein’s opinions (on religion, science, or anything else) were more correct. Nor did I say his thoughts should be accepted on authority. I said he was more intellectually open, at least on some matters, than many scientists. I was praising him for his openness, not endorsing any of his particular conclusions. I don’t see how you can have misunderstood my comments as an argument from authority, given the clear context, so I wonder what can be the explanation for such an obvious misreading. Do you just decide to oppose whatever I say, because it is I who have said it?

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Seems appropriately balanced to me. There’s nothing of value in the book. Knowing the book’s conclusion before reading, from its promotional materials, and knowing the evidence much better than Meyer ever did, it would be hard to come to such a book without expectations. And those expectations proved correct, so no problem.

I apologize to everyone for responding to the troll. I’ll try to do better.