18 June 2007

Newton: world will end in 2060

Agençe France-Presse
Renowned British scientist Sir Isaac Newton, is known as the father of modern physics and astronomy, but he also came up with the odd crackpot theory.
Newton: world will end in 2060

A portrait of Newton in 1702 by Godfrey Kneller. Newton also spent four years in the 1670s preparing a work on alchemy, the erroneous notion that base metals can be turned into gold. Credit: Wikipedia

JERUSALEM: Renowned British scientist Sir Isaac Newton, is known as the father of modern physics and astronomy, but he also came up with the odd crackpot theory, a 1704 letter suggests.

In the letter, which went on show at a Jerusalem exhibition yesterday, he used biblical scriptures to predict the world would end in 2060.

Newton was a famed rationalist, and went as far as securing a royal exemption from ordination in the Church of England – which was normally expected of academics of his day – so he would not have to follow its teachings. Nonetheless, Newton based his prediction on the Bible.

Working from verses in the Book of Daniel, the elaborator of the classical laws of gravity, motion and optics argued that the world would end 1,260 years after the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire in western Europe in 800 AD.

Interest in superstitions

The letter, on show at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, in Israel, as part of an exhibition entitled “Newton’s Secrets”, is part of an array of papers of the British scientist bequeathed to the institution by a wealthy collector of scientific manuscripts.

The university said it was the first time the letter had been put on public show since 1969.

Newton’s late 17th century work, at Cambridge University in England, was the foundation stone of modern science until the discovery of relativity and quantum mechanics in the last century.

But it has long been known that the ground-breaking physicist also took a keen interest in superstitions of his day that have long since fallen foul of modern science.

Newton spent four years in the 1670s preparing a work on alchemy, the notion that base metals can be turned into gold.

As for whether it’s likely Newton’s prediction will come true; we’ll have to wait another 53 years to find out.

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