Did Boyle's materialism mean he was an atheist?

No, Boyle (1627-1691) was not an atheist. He was a very devout Protestant and wrote at length about how science and religion could be reconciled. His main publications on this subject were The Christian Virtuoso (1660) and A Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things (1688). However, in his Disquisition, he argued that, in everyday work, a scientist should only consider the primary qualities of particles. He meant by this that a scientist, unlike everyone else, would not focus on colors, sounds, textures, and smells.

What are primary qualities and secondary qualities?

The scientific distinction between primary and secondary qualities was to prove very important for subsequent philosophy. Primary qualities are size, shape, mass, motion, and quantity. Secondary qualities were color, texture, sound, and smell. It was believed that the primary qualities of atoms resulted in the secondary qualities that could be

Sir Isaac Newton was one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. (iStock).

Sir Isaac Newton was one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. (iStock).

sensed by us in objects made up of atoms. That is, the world of our perception is made up of secondary qualities, which are formed by interactions between the atoms in objects and the atoms in our sense organs. Secondary qualities are exactly those qualities of sense such as color, sound, texture, and smell that make up our everyday experience. But the "real" world was made up of atoms!

Who was Isaac Newton?

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was one of the greatest scientists and natural philosophers of the Western tradition. Alexander Pope wrote his epitaph:

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in sight.

God said, "Let Newton be!" and all was light.

Newton made coherent, mathematically sound sense of the Copernican Theory, Kepler's and Tycho Brahe's discoveries, and Galileo's findings. He united terrestrial and celestial mechanics in a comprehensive cosmological system that supported further research for over 300 years. His scientific view of the cosmos included a place for the God of Christians, which was much appreciated in his time. Newton's equations are still useful for calculations of motion in the middle range of medium-sized objects close to the surface of Earth. (Newton's theory is not useful for sub-atomic particle research and measurements made in light years.)

What were some of Newton's career accomplishments?

Newton (1642-1727) was born in Lincolnshire, England, and attended Cambridge University, graduating with a B.A. in 1665. Between 1665 and 1667, working independently while stuck at home when Cambridge was shut down due to the plague, he discovered the binomial theorem, the fundamentals of calculus, the modern principle of how light was composed, and the basics of his theory of gravity. He held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge after 1669 and was a fellow of the Royal Society from 1671 to 1703, after which he served as its president for the rest of his life. Newton's "system of the world" or his unifying theory of mechanics and his mathematical physics was published in Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.)

Was Isaac Newton rewarded for his scientific discoveries?

Relatively poor and without family wealth or a patron, Newton finally received the comfortable position as Warden of the Mint in 1695. He administered the complicated project of recoinage with expertise, echoing Copernicus' (1473-1543) contributions to recoinage in Poland about a 170 years earlier. (Recoinage involved calling in all of the coins in circulation and exchanging them for new ones.)

Perhaps like Copernicus, and also having the benefit of Gresham's Law (that bad coinage drives good coinage out of circulation), Newton knew that the presence of bad coins meant that people were hoarding the good ones. This was a serious economic problem at the time because England was an economy based on cash, and transactions depended on having enough physical money, or coins made of silver, in circulation. Newton's recoinage required calling in all of the silver coins that had been clipped for their metallic value (chunks literally cut out of them around the circumference) and reissuing milled coins that could not be clipped. Newton also advocated that counterfeiters be hanged!

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