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[Perspectives] Scientist, theologian, and heretic

Two centuries ago, William Wordsworth famously contemplated a statue in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, UK, and wrote in The Prelude: “Of Newton with his prism and silent face,/ The marble index of a mind forever/ Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.” Half a century ago, the mathematician and broadcaster Jacob Bronowski added another compelling comment on Isaac Newton in his history of science, The Ascent of Man, comparing him with his greatest scientific admirer, Albert Einstein: “Newton is the Old Testament god; it is Einstein who is the New Testament figure…full of humanity, pity, a sense of enormous sympathy.” Although neither of these observations appears in Priest of Nature: the Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton by Rob Iliffe, a long-time scholar of Newton, together they encapsulate both the challenge and the fascination of writing about the life and thought of this misanthropic, scientific genius.

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