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Happy Newton Day! - Comments

retrotransposon's Avatar Comment 1 by retrotransposon

Happy Newton Day, everybody


Sat, 15 Dec 2007 02:47:00 UTC | #94399

Monosilabbiq's Avatar Comment 2 by Monosilabbiq

By Mithras, this winter solstice can be a minefield!

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 02:52:00 UTC | #94401

Duff's Avatar Comment 3 by Duff

Professor Dawkins, we Americans have been celebrating Newton's birthday for nearly a hundred years with a delightful, sweet cake filled with sweetened figs.

I'm sorry for that. I apologize.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 03:00:00 UTC | #94402

GBile's Avatar Comment 4 by GBile

... public display of cribs and similar Christian symbols is outlawed for fear of offending Jews and others ( not atheists )

How true.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 03:57:00 UTC | #94409

helen sotiriadis's Avatar Comment 5 by helen sotiriadis

no father holiday is necessary -- americans have santa, although that has christian connotations too, as it means saint.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 04:02:00 UTC | #94410

Noodly's Avatar Comment 6 by Noodly


Gamages was the Christmas toy Mecca for us boys of a certain vintage.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 04:07:00 UTC | #94411

Mr.E's Avatar Comment 7 by Mr.E

... public display of cribs and similar Christian symbols is outlawed for fear of offending Jews and others ( not atheists )t

I wonder why no one is ever afraid offending an atheist.
Oh wait I might make a good guess.

Happy what ever day to one and all.


Sat, 15 Dec 2007 04:24:00 UTC | #94416

physicist's Avatar Comment 8 by physicist

I have always believed that Newton is the greatest personality in the history of scientific development (and one of the greatest thinkers of all times, for that matter), contrary to pop culture that promotes and trivializes some of his 20th century peers (e.g., Einstein or Feynman, who did great things but, admittedly, "they were standing on the shoulders of giants".) Let us also not forget Maxwell and Boltzmann, the second one even being a tragic figure, driven to depression and suicide partly also because of narrow-minded, fanatical and almost "religious" ideas of fellow scientists, of all people! (OK, they were not strictly religious, they were "philosophical", whatever this means). Poor fellows, they lived long before the media-society offered publicity and glamour. But let us not forget, as Steven Weinberg has repeatedly pointed out, that there are also other impediments to scientific inquiry, completely unrelated to religion. Financial interests, political priorities and, worst of all, philosophical prejudices and overblown egoes being some of them.

I 'd rather have preferred it if Richard Dawkins had engaged a more positive tone; one bringing forward the truly revolutionary achievements of Newton as, to some extent, Steven Weinberg has done in his marvelous book "Dreams of a Final Theory". (I truly recommend this book to anybody wishing to read the physicist's angle on questions of Philosophy and God.) In his article, Richard Dawkins he simply used Newton's name at the title and at the closing sentences, spending the rest on a debunking of Biblical myths, which I find rather unfair to the great man.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 04:26:00 UTC | #94417

allanplaskett's Avatar Comment 9 by allanplaskett

Newton was a great scientist, but also an obsessional alchemist, misogynist and anti-socialite. He was a great mind, but a great man? I think not. He has never rid himself of the suspiscion of having plagiarised Leibnitz in the invention of the calculus. As Master of the Mint he caused the public execution of petty counterfeiters.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 05:00:00 UTC | #94421

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 10 by Cook@Tahiti

9. Comment #98978 by allanplaskett

Yes, always good to keep in mind - separating the scientific discovery from the uglier aspects of the personality that discovered them. Although, separating the two can be taken too far. The ban of Wagner's music in Israel is a iconic example of this - where an anti-semitic man writes operas that are not anti-semitic - so why ban the operas?

In addition, Newton was also obsessed with the apocalytic prophecies in the book of Revelation and often engaged in personal vendettas in the Royal Society. Even Einstein had a few character flaws, most notably the way he treated his first wife.

Darwin comes out pretty good though - certainly the most humble and gentle of the "big three": from what we know he was faithful to his wife and family and friends, generous to his rival Wallace, didn't engage in personal animosities, and wanted to accumulate data before advancing theories. The worst thing that can be said about Darwin is that he shot wildlife, which wasn't considered a problem in those days.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 05:14:00 UTC | #94426

physicist's Avatar Comment 11 by physicist

In reply to #9 (allanplasket) and #10 (Rtambree): let us judge people in their own historical context. I think this point is trivial, actually, and none of us, clear thinkers(!), should fall into this trap. Alchemy and astrology were fashions of the time; alas, misoginy too. What "anti-socialite" means, I am not sure but I can easily think of some individuals who don't enjoy much of social mixing with fools and they might be labeled as anti-social or whatever. Apocalyptic prophecies? Again, theology was *the* scholarly occupation of that time! That's why Newton deserves all the credit for raising above the constraints of his era and making it possible that scientific thinking (in terms of modern theoretical physics) could be born. Forgot already that Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford were founded as theological seminaries? Did you ever have a stroll around Cambridge's oldest colleges, including Newton's own Trinity College? It is obvious that they were designed as monasteries. Please judge people according to the standards of the times they lived, not the modern ones.

My characterization of Newton as "great man" pertained to his scientific achievements. He certainly had character faults, as we all do, a huge ego probably being one of them. He was human. If you are looking for saints, turn to religion, please.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 05:25:00 UTC | #94427

alexhouse's Avatar Comment 12 by alexhouse

This has reminded me of a campaign I was considering starting. In 2012 the Olympics is coming to London and quite frankly I'm almost chewing my leg off in embarrasment about the opening ceremony already. I want to try and get the London Olympic Comittee to build it around Newton and the Enlightenment as a whole. I can see it now - astronomical objects, equations flying by, all that good stuff. Bearing in mind we can't really celebrate the one truly remarkable (in the literal sense) thing about Britain - the fact that we led the largest empire that there has ever been - I think the seeds of the relative eutopia we live in right now (I know, I know, but compare western society now with any other period in history and I think you'll have to admit I have a point) were in the Royal Society and it probably the one thing of which I can say I am proud of from a "patriotic" POV. Whether any of this is accurate is very much open for argument - but as a basis for an opening ceremony, I think it beats a bloody stupid jousting competition. We could throw in the Beatles too at a push. I'm sure there's some way we can connect the Enlightenment and them.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 05:39:00 UTC | #94431

physicist's Avatar Comment 13 by physicist

Plus, the whole discussion on the term "great man" completely misses one of the main points I tried to make in my posting, I am afraid. What I am tried to say is that for us, practicing scientists, who earn our living by doing research, science is not the glorious, myhtical and glorified enterprise that many in this forum believe it is. It is ridden with many faults, traps and prejudices that humans carry in their minds and in their souls. By virtue of intellectual honesty, chastising religion in one thing and very much to the point in most cases, but a great deal of inhibition to scientific progress is self-inflicted, through hierarchical, political and financial structures of the scientific community itself. To some extent, science has a built-in process of self-healing, in the sense that scientific lies will be sooner or later discovered by means of peer review, attempts to reproduce results etc. But some results may cost an enormous amount of money and effort to be reproduced; and some truths may lie buried for a long time because power structures within the scientific community may prevent them from being aired -- and none, absolutely none of these has the slightest to do with religion.

Fair enough, this is an atheist site, so religion is going to be the prime target. But blasting away, repeatedly, some of the most obviously idiotic creations of pure imagination and superstition seems limited to me. One should also look at one own's "weapons", scientific thinking being our most powerful one, with the same critical spirit we claim to treasure.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 05:43:00 UTC | #94433

Chris Roberts's Avatar Comment 14 by Chris Roberts

It meant that Christmas, which was the main thing each boy had been looking forward to since his birthday, was really coming - and what bad luck on poor Jesus, having his birthday on Christmas Day.

Ho ho ho. Love it.

For better or worse, ours is historically a Christian culture, and children who grow up ignorant of biblical literature are diminished, unable to take literary allusions, actually impoverished. I am no lover of Christianity, and I loathe the annual orgy of waste and reckless reciprocal spending, but I must say I'd rather wish you "Happy Christmas" than "Happy Holiday Season".

All you politically correct idiots can shove it up your arse.
Christmas it is for me and my family, and the only vaguely religious symbol is a fairy (an angel really, but you get the picture) atop the tree - and only because my youngest made it at nursery school.
And as for me professor, I actually enjoy the monumental waste and self-indulgance!!
Thank god it's only once a year though.....

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 05:45:00 UTC | #94435

quicksilver's Avatar Comment 15 by quicksilver

Merry Newtonmas!

We'll need new -Newtonian- carols now.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 05:54:00 UTC | #94436

gyokusai's Avatar Comment 16 by gyokusai

Such seasonal opportunism continues to this day. In some states of the US, public display of cribs and similar Christian symbols is outlawed for fear of offending Jews and others (not atheists). [...] I am no lover of Christianity, and I loathe the annual orgy of waste and reckless reciprocal spending, but I must say I'd rather wish you "Happy Christmas" than "Happy Holiday Season".

In Europe, I think, this might be different again. When I worked for a free ads paper in the early nineties, for example, some people knew or at least surmised that I did not believe in God, and when my then-boss wished me the German equivalent of "Happy Holiday Season" instead of "Happy Christmas" with a genuine smile, I not only was totally delighted but suddenly felt enormously "accepted" in a way. Moreover, others from the staff who had not only overheard her "holiday" greeting but also registered the delight that had crossed my face, several weeks or months later came to me and asked me questions that I, again, was delighted to answer.

Here, the "Happy Holiday Season" greeting wasn't used at all to placate other beliefs; it even became a sort of "awareness" moment for atheism as such.


Sat, 15 Dec 2007 06:18:00 UTC | #94439

JackR's Avatar Comment 17 by JackR

"...the past scrumping offence of one non-existent man, Adam"

Oh, I like that. I'm going to have to steal that I'm afraid. :-)

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 06:31:00 UTC | #94441

Serious's Avatar Comment 18 by Serious

and a Happy Yuletide to you all.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 06:32:00 UTC | #94442

Diacanu's Avatar Comment 19 by Diacanu

Re: post #3.

*Laughs self to red faced and breathless*

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 07:14:00 UTC | #94447

bluebird's Avatar Comment 20 by bluebird

Interesting article, and posts!
Despite our P.C. society, I don't forsee 'Father Holiday' replacing Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Saint Nick, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, etc.

An early happy B-D to Sir I.Newton! You can take your hat off to the scientist, and put it back on for the man, if you wish.

The Brits gave us the Christmas card:
The U.K. has a great idea in recycling cards.

This weekend is Beethoven's birthday.
A neat pairing of Ludwig and astronomy:

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 07:16:00 UTC | #94448

home8896's Avatar Comment 22 by home8896

Oh, I only get irritable and rebellious about "Merry Christmas" because, around here, people really do believe they are being utterly attacked by secularists and that "Merry Christmas" is believed to be banned, though none of this is true. The woman in line with her friend, yelling about the horrid removal of Christ from Christmas and the evil secularists attacking her religion make me want to puke. So saying "Merry Christmas" around here is a symbol of Christian dominion solidarity, which gets up my nose.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 07:24:00 UTC | #94452

gruebait's Avatar Comment 21 by gruebait

I intend to celebrate Newton Day until I fall down.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 07:24:00 UTC | #94451

Shane McKee's Avatar Comment 23 by Shane McKee

While we're all on about not judging Newton outside the context of his time, let's not judge Jesus of Nazareth outside his context. In "Jesus the Jew", Geza Vermes shows how Jesus fitted perfectly into a well-attested model of the Galilean Hasid, an itinerant Jewish preacher, like many before and since.

He clearly was NOT the Messiah, but towards the end he probably was a Very Naughty Boy - starting a riot in the temple, and consciously emulating the classic (and hackneyed) Triumphal Entry. Pilate probably thought "Oh bollocks - here's another one." And he wasn't to be the last.

But as RD points out, it took the disaffected Hellenised Jewish wannabe extremist Saul of Tarsus to really take these disparate themes and make up the mother of all cock-and-bull theologies. Jesus himself was a much more straightforward character.

The genealogies are interesting - Matt & Luke are different, but they converge then diverge at Zerrubabel son of Shealtiel. If you remember Isaiah, this chap was the original Messiah - except he failed to perform. The bible is full of such crazy cobblers. One wonders what other treats are in there that we just don't have the reference points for...

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 07:46:00 UTC | #94454

errm...'s Avatar Comment 24 by errm...

Of course! That explains the tree. It should be an apple but the red, green and golden balls represent apples and the coloured lights are for his work on the spectrum. We have a star on top which is also appropriate. I suppose chocolate coins stand for his work at the mint.
By the by, does anyone remember Alan Coren's article "A happy Saturnalia to all our readers"? Very funny and showing how things 'might' have been. Froeliche Weihnachten zu Allen! Or Io Saturnalia if you insist (a lot too violent in some ways for me)!

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 07:59:00 UTC | #94455

kaiserkriss's Avatar Comment 25 by kaiserkriss

I agree with Richard on this one, I too wish my friends Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year rather than the truly silly Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings.

In fact I'll probably go on wishing people Seasons Greetings through out the year just to make the point of how silly it is. jcw

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 08:11:00 UTC | #94457

Friend Giskard's Avatar Comment 26 by Friend Giskard

Interesting fact. Newton was actually born on the 4th of January by the Gregorian calendar which we use today, but England was was still using the Julian system at the time.

(For the same reason the Russian "October revolution" really took place in November.)

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 08:46:00 UTC | #94463

lbq's Avatar Comment 27 by lbq

Very amusing contortions, these. We Scandinavians do not celebrate Christmas, but Jul (Yule), the old pagan solstice festival. Attempts to christianise it have not been too successful, it remains essentially the Great Pagan Pork-Eating Festival. No way you could assimilate that to either Chanukkah or Ramadan! And we do not have Santa or Father Christmas either, but Tomten - a sanitised and dressed up version of the old farmstead gnome, originally the spirit of the ancestral founder. If you did not put out a nice bowl of porridge to him on Julafton (Christmas Eve) he might get pissed off and burn the place down. God Jul to you all!

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 08:55:00 UTC | #94465

NormanDoering's Avatar Comment 28 by NormanDoering

Newton Day! Ahhh, so the war on Squidmas begins.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 09:28:00 UTC | #94472

_J_'s Avatar Comment 29 by _J_

I thought Johann Hari covered this very well last year.

Christmas is an entirely worthwhile thing, just not for the reasons that your average church will fervently remind you of.

Just caught the end of a discussion on Radio 4 between a rather breathless lady from The Scotsman and another lady from the NSS, on the presentation of religion in school around Christmas. There was enough to agree with in the words from the The Scotsman woman (the toleration of many faiths, the silliness of hiding Christmas' Christian origins for fear of causing offence), but she also proved to be yet another first-class example of the self-contradictions to which well-meaning religious people are prone. 'Yes, different religions should be respected and taught to children, of course, but Christianity must be presented not as myth, but as a truth that some people don't want to believe' - that sort of thing. I must have said things like this myself in the past, and felt comfortable that it made sense. It's amazing, really.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 10:31:00 UTC | #94484

jeepyjay's Avatar Comment 30 by jeepyjay

Calling 25th December "Newton Day" is something I've been doing for years, so I'm pleased to see Professor Dawkins picking up on it.

I've long thought that Newton's somewhat difficult (could one say messianic?) personality must have been affected by the circumstances of his birth. Besides being born on Christmas day (by the Julian calendar then in use), there were other factors. The English Civil War had started in August. His father had died before he was born, so in effect he had no father.

No doubt these parallels encouraged his lifelong interest in biblical chronology and prophecies.

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 11:11:00 UTC | #94490