A Report of the Book, “The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World”, by Edward Dolnick.
I am pleased to post this book report a client prepared of this wonderful short history of the British Royal Society, which is no less than a summary of Mankind’s entry into the modern world of science.
My client’s husband had been lead down a false path. As a result, he and she were talking about moving to a foreign country in order to be safe from future chaos in America.
As a condition of representing her, he had to agree to read three books. This is one of them. His first report on “Don’t Believe Everything You Know” was perceptive and impassioned. I am proud to have edited the report below to my style, but the thoughts are his. It is a remarkable accomplishment to make such steps so quickly. I am very proud of him, for loving his wife enough to be willing to rethink his world view, and for sticking to what for some people would be a boring book.
The Clockwork Universe Book Report
(book by Edward Dolnick)
This is my summary of The Clockwork Universe. I submit it for those who may have lost their way or who have not yet begun to find it. A friend suggested this book to me at a time when I had begun to follow a path based upon unreliable information.
Dolnick sets the scene by explaining the ignorance and superstition that dominated the “civilized world” until the 16th century.
But, in the 1500’s, our world began to change. Many of the beliefs that were held by the majority of people were being challenged by great discoveries found by great minds. By the mid 1600’s, Newton, Galileo, Leibniz, Brahe, and Keplar (to name a few) were brilliant men who challenged the world they lived in with the scientific discoveries that made them famous: however, they were still greatly influenced by the method of thinking that held mankind captive during that time, and even today it has a great effect on many.
This book focuses on the foundation that these scientists’ discoveries created on shaping the current world that we live in, but it also does a great job in showing the world which they were influenced by and the sometimes shocking, and hilarious, beliefs that gripped many minds of that era. They were members of a group known as the Royal Society. Most of their experiments were comical compared to today’s standards.
Prior to this time, the beliefs the majority of people held were greatly influenced more by myth and imagination than fact. Even for these great scientists, doctors, and scholars, their beliefs, and the experiments that they performed, were outrageously “silly” compared to the knowledge that we have today.
The physicians’ “remedies” were based on what we would be consider witchcraft or sorcery instead of true medicine. One such remedy was presented by a Sir Digby. It was referred to as weapon salve. Made from moss that grows on the unburied skulls of criminals, weapon salve is placed on the weapon that inflicted a wound rather than the wound on the victim itself, and it is believed that would help the wound heal. As ridiculous as this sounds, it made me realize that even today we still have a tendency of believing what can only be impossible. For example, last year my son was suffering from cutting teeth as an infant, and a coworker brought me a root of some kind to help. I asked her if he is supposed to chew on it or if I put the root in water for him to drink, but she said just attach the root to his shirt using a clothes-pin and it will help. As sceptical as I was at this, I tried it. Whether it helped or not I am not sure, but I can only use my imagination to determine what in the world the root would have (to put through the air) to help my son’s teeth. At least it didn’t hurt.
The Clockwork Universe has been a huge help to me in realizing many things. Most important is how the beliefs of the members of The Royal Society in Biblical prophecy impacted them.
Isaac Newton spent much of his life studying bible prophecy and trying to decipher biblical passages. The bible predicts the return of Christ at the end of the age.
Newton and others used a date in which great apostasy entered the church (in 400 a.d.) and added to this the biblical date range of 1260 years to get the year 1660. Although the world didn’t end this year, great fear continued to grip people, especially as the year 1666 approached (note the 666 for the number of the antichrist).
The year 1665 came, and with it the great plague claiming tens of thousands of lives. When 1666 came, London burned out of control, forcing tens of thousands into homelessness.
I can see why they thought the world was ending, but now I realize that if we look down through history, with any given major world disaster (or even not), there have been calculations and predictions that the end will happen soon and Christ will return.
I have also noticed that the view people of that era had of God was extremely different than the view that we have of God today. They saw God, not as a loving and forgiving creator, but as a hard and condemning judge waiting for the opportunity to punish the souls of dead individuals in hell forever.
Although it is not specifically stated in this book, this view of God was forced upon the masses by the Catholic church so that they could convince people that the escape from “purgatory” was only by the giving of tithes and following the rules and traditions of the church. The doctrine of purgatory is actually not even found in the bible.
It was only after the revolution of Martin Luther that the “common people” even had the opportunity to read the bible for themselves. Before this, the scriptures were only read and interpreted (interpreted here meaning modified) by the leaders of the Catholic church. One Cardinal even stated long ago, “The scriptures are too complex for the common priests to understand, let alone regular men”.
I recently read an article by a Catholic author that states the reason that the Catholic church kept the bible out of so many hands was that denominations would appear left and right due to disagreements in doctrine and that bible prophecy would be misinterpreted leading to fear and confusion. Their alternative was religious suppression.
All of this has caused me to re-evaluate many of my beliefs. Although I don’t think the Bible should be kept from the common population, I am ashamed to see, and have been part of, the harm that can be caused by the superstitious interpretations of the Bible.
At I suspect others feel, I would rather have a view of a God who is loving and forgiving over one who is judgmental and condemning.
If God was loving and forgiving, and caring for us all, we would not need to worry about what our future will hold for us. So, if we believe in God, let’s believe in one like that.
As a practical matter, since most of us are not brilliant scientists, all we need to learn is how to become a better person by ridding ourselves of fears which will cause harm to our loved ones.
The book continues to give many examples of not only the beliefs that these great minds had which hindered their progress towards the truth, but also how these beliefs led them to spend much time and resources looking in the wrong direction. For example, rather than trying to learn the exact orbits of the planets Keplar spent much time trying to figure out the “pattern” that God would have used to create these orbits. This caused him to present several models which were incorrect and a book which was incorrect as well, all the while making several great discoveries along the way. One would wonder what even greater discoveries these men would have made if they would have abandoned their pre-conceived beliefs and truly approached their goals with only scientific fact and knowledge. We can learn from this great example in our lives today and always approach situations in which we learn new things by using the scientific method and removing that which is myth, or not proven as true, from our minds.
For myself, I will live in the “here and now” and only believe that which is common knowledge and true. I still believe in God, but I will leave it at that. No bible interpretations and no prophecies are needed in our lives. In our age of technology and advancement, we have plenty of high-tech “toys” to enjoy which are not figments of our imaginations, but real and true marvels of the genius of men. We only need wait to see what tomorrow brings, for it will bring great advancements from the great minds of our age.
This post was written by Burton Hunter