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Sir Isaac Newton

1642-1717. Scientist, theologian, and master of the Mint. Born of a Lincolnshire farming family, Newton early showed a mechanical bent. Converted as a student at Cambridge, his paramount aim was to understand Scripture. Science was a “garden” given him to cultivate; every discovery he made was, he believed, communicated to him by the Holy Spirit. Though an Anglican, he rejected infant baptism, believed that Scripture taught Arianism,* and held that all who believed simply in the love of God were entitled to Communion in church. His unorthodoxy was rarely suspected; he avoided controversy in religion as in science. Among his main interests were church history, chronology, alchemy, prophecy, mathematical science, and the relation of science to religion. In science he is remembered for the law of gravity, the infinitesimal calculus (with Leibnitz), the separation of white light into colors by the prism, Newton's rings, and his work as president of the Royal Society.* In earlier years he was lovable and generous and helped in the distribution of Bibles to the poor. In later years with the acquisition of power, his character seemed to deteriorate, and he could be singularly ungenerous to those (such as Whiston and Hooke) who ventured to disagree with him. At the Mint he was merciless to counterfeiters of coin. Newton was knighted by Queen Anne in 1705.

See biographies by J.W.N. Sullivan (1938), E.N. da C. Andrade (1954), and H. Sootin (1964).