Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Leibniz versus Newton on God's Intervention in Nature (and Leibniz on Locke too)

Professor O'Connor pointed me to two interesting passages from the famous correspondence of Leibniz with Samuel Clarke, a philosopher and follower of Newton. See http://www.archive.org/stream/philosophicalwri029664mbp/philosophicalwri029664mbp_djvu.txt, number 192-193.

IT appears that even natural religion is growing very much weaker. Many hold that souls are corporeal ; others hold that God Himself is corporeal. Mr. Locke and his followers are at any rate doubtful whether souls are not material and naturally perishable....

Mr. Newton and his followers have also an extremely odd opinion of the work of God. According to them God has to wind up His watch from time to time. Otherwise it would cease to go. He lacked sufficient fore- sight to make it a perpetual motion. This machine of God's is even, on their view, so imperfect that He is obliged from time to time to come to its assistance especially out of the ordinary course, and clean it, and even to mend it, as a clock- maker might his handiwork; and the less skilful the workman is, the more often is he obliged to rehandle and correct his work. According to my view, the same force and vigour goes on existing in the world always, and simply passes from one matter to another, according to the laws of nature and to the beautiful pre-established order. And I hold that, when God performs miracles, it is not to uphold the needs of nature, but for those of grace. To think otherwise would be to have a very low opinion of the wisdom and power of God.

The web source says:

Clarke thinks that the passage to which Leibniz is referring is the following, from Newton's Optics: ' Whilst the comets move in orbs very eccentrical, with all variety of directions towards every part of the heavens; 'tis not possible it should have been caused by blind fate, that the planets all move with one similar direction in concentrick orbs; excepting only some very small irregularities, which may have arisen from the mutual actions of the planets and comets upon one another; and which 'tis probably will in length of time increase more and more, till the present system of nature shall want to be anew put in order by its Author.' (The translation from Newton's Latin is Clarke's.)

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