The End of the World

In 1704, Isaac Newton predicted the end of the world. He said it would end in 2060 or sometime around or after that “but not before.” He based this on some strange series of mathematical calculations based on the supposed prophecies of the book of Revelation.

You might find it surprising that this astronomer and physicist would be doing predictions based on the Bible, but Newton (who also dabbled in alchemy) believed his most important discoveries might come from deciphering ancient scriptures and uncovering the nature of the Christian religion.

300 years later, people are still predicting the end of the world. Some of them are still using codes and clues they find in the Bible. I believe in science, and the two worlds of research don’t usually overlap.

For about 50 years, some industrialists and scientists with money who are known as the Club of Rome have been looking into conspiracies and the end of the world. They latched on to a computer program developed at MIT back in 1973 that was developed to model global sustainability. But instead, the program predicted that by 2040 our civilization would end.

Why should we believe the computer program? Well, some people would say because what the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true.

The program was called World One because it looked at the world as one system. It looked at manmade behaviors starting in 1900 and modeled where that behavior would lead.

The computer’s predictions are not pleasant. End-of-world predictions usually are bad. It predicted worsening population growth and pollution levels and dwindling natural resources.

By 2020, the model predicts that we pass the point of no return and the quality of life is supposed to drop dramatically.

The Club of Rome issued a somewhat hopeful report on the limits of growth.  It was hopeful in that it suggested that if some nations like the U.S. cut back on consuming the world’s resources it would lead to “low consumption prestige” for acting responsibly. That has not come to be.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 90% of the people around the world breathe air that has high levels of pollution. WHO estimates that 7 million deaths each year can be attributed to pollution.

If I had been asked to make a prediction back in the 1970s about where we would be in fifty years, I would also have predicted – without the help of a computer – that there would be worsening population growth and higher pollution levels and dwindling natural resources.

I learned about Robert Malthus in high school. Back in 1798, he predicted what has become known as a Malthusian catastrophe. It is a prediction that population growth will outpace agricultural production and that there will be too many people and not enough food. I would add water to that prediction. Although Malthus is known for his influence in the fields of political economy and demography, he was also an Anglican cleric and he saw this catastrophe as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behaviour.

Though I will stay on the side of science, consider what Jesus said (according to Matthew 24:35-36): “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

That hasn’t stopped predictions about the end of our world from first century CE Early Christianity predicting a Second Coming in that time, to a half-dozen crackpot dates in 2018 that were supposed to be The End.

We are still here. I can sleep more peacefully with the prediction that it will all end in the 200 millionth century (20 billion years from now). Based on the current rate of expansion of the universe, by then the universe could be expanding so rapidly that atoms will no longer be able to hold on to their electrons. This predicted event is known as the “Big Rip.” I blame dark energy.

The Occult of Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day 1642 or January 4, 1643. (I have found both listed online, the latter more often.). You probably learned about him in school. He was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and natural philosopher. He is considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived. His monograph Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, lays the foundations for most of classical mechanics. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries.

But he was also an alchemist, and theologian and he wrote many works that would now be classified as occult studies. He explored with great seriousness chronology, alchemy, and Biblical interpretation.

Many authors who have written about him believe that his scientific work may have actually been of lesser personal importance to him than his “fringe science” studies because for a good part of his life, Newton was focused on re-discovering the occult wisdom of the ancients.

On his scientific side, there is the “Newtonian Worldview.” Until the early 20th century, the classical mechanics of Newton and his followers was seen as the foundation for science as a whole. In fact, most people thought that the other sciences would follow suit.  But biology, psychology and other sciences didn’t really move in that direction. They did adopt a general mechanistic or Newtonian world view. And many people equate “scientific thinking” with “Newtonian thinking”.

So, did Newton have a purely mechanistic world view? If so, why did he search for the Philosopher’s Stone? Yes, that same stone that was the basis for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone which was originally titled in the U.K. editions  Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. Newton’s writings suggest that the discovery of The Philosopher’s Stone (a material believed to turn base metals into gold) was definitely a goal of his research. He also appears to have had an interest in finding the Elixir of Life.

Newton reportedly believed that a Diana’s Tree (an alchemical demonstration producing a “growth” of silver from solution and also known as the “Philosopher’s Tree”) was evidence that metals “possessed a sort of life.”

In the 1940s, economist John Maynard Keynes studied Newton’s alchemical works and concluded that “Newton was not the first of the age of reason; he was the last of the magicians.”

We should remember that Newton lived in a time when the distinctions between science, superstition, and pseudoscience were still being formulated.

Much of what we know about Newton’s studies in the occult is from his study of alchemy. Newton was deeply interested in all forms of natural sciences and materials science, an interest which would ultimately lead to some of his better-known contributions to science. During Newton’s lifetime the study of chemistry was still in its infancy, so many of his experimental studies used esoteric language and vague terminology more typically associated with alchemy and occultism.

It was not until several decades after Newton’s death that experiments by Antoine Lavoisier and others brought on analytical chemistry and the nomenclature that we are familiar with today.

There was probably more of Newton’s writing on alchemy that was lost in a fire in his laboratory.  Newton also suffered a nervous breakdown during the period of his alchemical work. Some historians think the breakdown resulted from the psychological transformation alchemy was originally designed to induce. Others think that it may have been some form of chemical poisoning (possibly from mercury, lead, or some other substance.

Newton wrote in 1704 about his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible. He spent much of his life seeking what could be considered a Bible Code and placed a great deal of emphasis upon the interpretation of the Book of Revelation and studying the Apocalypse. He estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060.

In Newton’s “The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms” there are several passages that directly mention the mythical land of Atlantis. He seems to have believed that Homer’s Ulysses left the island of Ogygia which was home to Calypso, the daughter of Atlas (after whom Atlantis was named). It appears Newton may have also believed that Ogygia or Cadis or Cales was Atlantis, a land as big as all Europe, Africa and Asia, but that it was sunk into the sea.

“Official” emblem of the Priory of Sion, partly based on the fleur-de-lis, a symbol associated with the French monarchy

Isaac Newton has also been connected to various secret societies and fraternal orders throughout history. The evidence is sketchy because of the secretive nature of such organizations, a lack of supportive publicized material, and weak motives for Newton’s participation in these groups.

One movement that seems to have  influenced Isaac Newton was  Rosicrucianism.  The Rosicrucian movement caused a lot of interest in the European scholarly community during the early seventeenth century. When Newton encountered it, there was less sensationalism and it influenced his alchemical work and philosophical thought.

The Rosicrucian belief that some are chosen for their ability to communicate with angels or spirits fit into both Newton’s alchemy and his religious beliefs.

Rosicrucians also claimed to have the ability to live forever through the use of the elixir vitae and they claimed they could produce gold from the use of The Philosopher’s Stone, which they further claimed to have in their possession.

Like Newton, the Rosicrucians were deeply religious, avowedly Christian, anti-Catholic, and highly politicized.

At the time of his death, Isaac Newton had 169 books remaining on the topic of alchemy in his personal library which was considered one of the finest alchemical libraries in the world. He had a heavily annotated personal copies of “The Fame and Confession of the Fraternity R.C.”  by Thomas Vaughan (which represents an English translation of The Rosicrucian Manifestos) and other alchemical classics.

Evidence that Newton was a Freemason is less evident, but he is often identified as being a member of several early Masonic Lodges including the Grand Lodge of England. There are few records of early Freemasonry but the modern structure of the organization was partly established during Newton’s lifetime in and around London.

Newton was a member  of The Royal Society and many Royal Society members have been identified as early Freemasons.  It is clear that Newton was deeply interested in architecture, sacred geometry, and the structure of the Temple of Solomon – subjects that also interested Freemasons.

It would be fun to believe that Newton actually a Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. But the Priory itself seems to be mythical.  This path is more like the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail of a novel like The Da Vinci Code. Isaac Newton’s membership in the Priory actually does play a role in Dan Brown‘s book as one of the plot puzzles. The “tomb of a knight a pope interred” refers not to a medieval knight, but rather to Newton’s tomb in Westminster Abbey, because Newton was eulogized by Alexander Pope (A. Pope but not the Catholic Pope).

Actually, Newton may have liked curling up in a chair to read our modern day Holy Blood, Holy Grail: The Secret History of Jesus, the Shocking Legacy of the Grail, and even Dan Brown‘s take on him in The Da Vinci Code. The occult side of Newton is as appealing to me as the scientific long shadow he casts.