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

November 17th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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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