Newton provides an example of how the idea of "science" had not yet fully emerged as something separate from religion in early Enlightenment thinking. In fact, during the seventeenth century, the word "scientist" was not commonly used to describe experimenters at all; they were called natural philosophers"^^ in an extension of the Puritan idea of the study of the Book of Nature. Science had also not fully emerged as a separate concept, but was sometimes thought of as a method or style of study rather than a discretely defined set of disciplines. This was true even into Thomas Jefferson's day. Jefferson himself usually used the word to mean what today we call the hard sciences, but sometimes he used it to refer simply to the rigorous study of other fields, such as the "sciences" of language, mathematics, and philosophy.
By 1663, a time when Puritans were in a decided minority in England, 62 percent^^ of the natural philosophers of the famed Royal Society of London were Puritans,^^ including Newton, who wrote far more on religion and alchemy than he did on science.^^ Newton believed in the inerrancy of scripture, biblical prophecy, and that the apocalypse would come in 2060.^' He was "not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians," said economist John Maynard Keynes,^^ who purchased a collection of Newton's papers in 1936 and was astounded to find more than one million words on alchemy and four million on theology, dwarfing his scientific work.
Newton went on to create calculus and to publish Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,^"^ upon which modern physics was founded.
Eighty-nine years later, Principia was one of the main sources Thomas Jefferson drew upon for inspiration as he sat in the two second-story rooms he had rented from Jacob Graff in Philadelphia, writing the Declaration of Independence.
Many religious believers mischaracterize naturalists as people without faith, but that is absurd. Eve^ryone must believe in something—it's part of human nature. I I have no problem acknowledging that 1 have beliefs, though they differ from more traditional kinds of faith. Naturalists must believe, first of all, that the work is understandable and that it knowledge of the world can be obtained through observation, experimentation, and verification. Most scientists don't think much about this point. They simply assume that it is true and get to work. But this assumption has relevance to people other than philosophers. When intelligent design creationists, for example, speak of replacing methodological naturalism in science classes with theistic naturalism, they are threatening to remove this assumption from the shared presuppositions of public discourse.
But just because naturalists do not believe in a life after death does not mean that they don't care what happens after they die. I am deeply concerned, for instance, about whether my family members will be happy and successful after I am gone, whether my friends will continue the traditions we have established, and whether the world will be a better place because of my actions. I hope that what I do in this life will make a long-term difference in the world, though I will never know whether this ambition is fulfilled. In fact, a strong case can be made that naturalists tend to care more about these things than do religious people, since naturalists are committed to an ethic that emphasizes the causal effects of our actions in the here and now, as opposed to a mythological hope for a better life in a supernatural realm. A core belief of naturalism is that this life is the only one we will ever experience, and therefore any hope for the betterment of our lives and the lives of others must come in this lifetime.
It's my firm conclusion that human meaning comes from humans, not from a supernatural source. After we die, our hopes for an afterlife reside in the social networks that we influenced while we were alive. If we influence people in a positive way—even if our social web is only as big as a nuclear family—others will want to emulate us and pass on our ideas, manners, or lifestyle to future generations. This is more than enough motivation for me to do good things in my life and teach my children to do the same.
One of the great advantages of the naturalist worldview is that it serves as a basis for bringing people together under a common set of ground rules. Knowledge in science is public, not private, because it must be submitted to others for verification or falsification. A naturalist believes that the empirical truth is waiting to be discovered, and that we can all agree on the empirical truth so long as we believe in a few important criteria. Science can exist in any culture and any nation. It is a worldwide enterprise where people with radically different backgrounds can converge on the same truth. In an age when disagreements on issues of truth and opinion loom so large, the ability of naturalism to forge agreement on hard issues is one of its great attractions.
I purpose, in return for the honour you do us by coming to see what are our proceedings here, to bring before you, in the course of these lectures, the Chemical History of a Candle. I have taken this subject on a former occasion; and were it left to my own will, I should prefer to repeat it almost every year—so abundant is the interest that attaches itself to the subject, so wonderful are the varieties of outlet which it offers into the various departments of philosophy. There is not a law under which any part of this universe is governed which does not come into play, and is touched upon in these phenomena. There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter the study of natural philosophy, than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle.
Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of man; whether those of Brazil, where the powers of Life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where Death and Decay prevail. Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature: no one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.
But shall gravity be therefore called an occult cause, and thrown out of philosophy, because the cause of gravity is occult and not yet discovered? Those who affirm this, should be careful not to fall into an absurdity that may overturn the foundations of all philosophy. For causes usually proceed in a continued chain from those that are more compounded to those that are more simple; when we are arrived at the most simple cause we can go no farther ... These most simple causes will you then call occult and reject them? Then you must reject those that immediately depend on them.
One of the greatest metaphors in Western Civilization is that of Christ who gave his life so that others might live, and I don't want to be sacreligious and I don't want to belittle that myth in any way, but a pig is giving its life so that we might eat, a chickent is giving its life so that we might eat, and I think the least that we can do is to think about that chicken, to think about that calf that we're eating. Not neccessarily to be sad for it, but to celebrate it, to be aware of the being that it was. That it wasn't just this bit of bioengineered protein that somehow managed to find its way onto our plate.
But if you have seen the soil of India with your own eyes and meditate on its nature - if you consider the rounded stones found in the earth however deeply you dig, stones that are huge near the mountains and where the rivers have a violent current; stones that are of smaller size at greater distance from the mountains, and where the streams flow more slowly; stones that appear pulverised in the shape of sand where the streams begin to stagnate near their mouths and near the sea - if you consider all this, you could scarcely help thinking that India has once been a sea which by degrees has been filled up by the alluvium of the streams.
There are certain general Laws that run through the whole Chain of natural Effects: these are learned by the Observation and Study of Nature, and are by Men applied as well to the framing artificial things for the Use and Ornament of Life, as to the explaining the various Phænomena: Which Explication consists only in shewing the Conformity any particular Phænomenon hath to the general Laws of Nature, or, which is the same thing, in discovering the Uniformity there is in the production of natural Effects; as will be evident to whoever shall attend to the several Instances, wherin Philosophers pretend to account for Appearances.